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Interview: Actor Gary Craig talks ‘American Hustle’

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Gary Craig may not be a recognizable name, but he has built quite the resume working as a background actor. Some of his roles include small parts in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and David O. Russell’s “The Fighter,” as well as the television shows “30 Rock” and “Boardwalk Empire.”

For his latest role, Craig plays mobster Jerry Catone in the newest Russell film, “American Hustle,” which opened in limited theaters on Friday, Dec. 13, and will expand nationwide on Dec. 20.

The Chico Movie Examiner contacted Craig on the social media site, Stage 32, and he was kind enough to do an over-the-phone interview about his work and his role in “American Hustle.” Check out the full interview below.

David Wangberg: Go ahead and tell me about the character that you play.

Gary Craig: I play Jerry Catone. I’m a mobster along with some other mobsters that are at a bar, and the main characters played by Christian Bale; Bradley Cooper; Jennifer Lawrence; Amy Adams; and Jeremy Renner, basically, get in bed with politicians and the mob. It’s all about the ABSCAM controversy of the 1970s. I play one of the mobsters who they come to see at this particular bar.

DW: Are you just in one scene, or is this a bigger role?

GC: I’m actually in two scenes. There’s a scene where we all march into this meeting hall, and I’m escorting Jennifer Lawrence; I’m kind of like one of her bodyguards. Later on, she walks up to us at the bar.

DW: I was reading online that the movie is loosely based on the ABSCAM investigation. In that situation, I know that filmmakers will bring in true events that did happen, and some of the characters are based on people actually involved. Is your character inspired by someone involved in the investigation, or is he completely fictional?

GC: I actually don’t know. I’m not sure that I’m playing somebody that actually existed.

DW: I remember seeing on the Stage 32 post you made months ago about getting the role. I think someone made a comment saying that you didn’t have an agent when you got this role. If that’s true, how did you get involved with the project?

GC: I auditioned in Boston, because that’s where the film was being shot. I’ve done many auditions up there through Boston Casting, and they just called me and said, “We want you to come in and read for this role.” I went in, read for it, and I thought it went pretty well – of course, you never know when you audition. When you audition for something, you just gotta do your best and just forget about it. Otherwise, you’ll just drive yourself crazy thinking, “Did I get role? Did I not get the role?” And then, there was a callback. I went in again and did another scene, and I had not realized that David O. Russell was sitting at the table in that audition room. I did not know it until after the scene was over. He looked up and he made a comment. He said, “Well, there’s a gold star face” …whatever that meant. That led me to the role.

DW: I saw in your resume that’s posted on your website, you actually were in another David O. Russell film, “The Fighter.” Did you go in for one scene and then leave for the day? How did that role work out?

GC: Yeah, I was in one scene. It was basically background work. I was a featured extra; I played a ringside fan. And I just went in for that one scene. I had not made the correlation between the two films that it was David O. Russell. I realized afterward that he had directed “The Fighter,” but he was not directing the scene the day that I was there; it was another director. It was probably a second unit director that was directing the particular scene that I was in. But it’s funny because Amy Adams was sitting right in front of me in that scene.

DW: For the most part, this is a reunion project for you and David O. Russell. But you also did a part in “Boardwalk Empire,” which also has Jack Huston and Shea Whigham – both of whom are in this movie. Whenever you do these background character parts, do you ever get to meet or work with any of the actors, or do you just go in, do your part, and then leave?

GC: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Once you’re on the set, you’re on the set. And you’re privy to anything that could be happening that day on the set. When you go in as a day player, you’re there for a very short period of time and depending on what project it is depends on how much exposure you have to the principles. You might be in a scene with the principles, and you might not. Mark Wahlberg was right in front of me in the scene, because we shot a boxing gym scene. So, he was about 10 feet away from me in the ring. When I did “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” that started out as just a day player, and then at the end of the day, I was kicked up to principle, because I had lines, and they basically kicked me up. So, that was kind of cool.

DW: Being a background character, is there any moment where you wish you had a lead part in a project, or does being a in the background not bother you at all?

GC: Well, I’ve done a lot of background work, and I’m only speaking for myself. As an actor, you get to a point where you say, “OK. Done that. Been there.” Now I’m looking for the least I’ll do, which is a featured background. There are different levels. You’re an extra, and that is strictly background. That means you have no lines; you’re just background; you could be a pedestrian; you could be one of the patrons in the bar or the restaurant; and that’s basically it. But it’s a fun job. You hang out on the set; they feed you well; you get to be in the production; and you get paid. What’s better than that? But, eventually, when you have done enough of those, you just say, “OK. I’m not going to do this again, unless I’m featured.” That means you’re still doing background, but you have a lot of screen time – a lot of face time. So, people can see you; you might be in a very small scene where you’re featured a lot; and that’s the in-between between that and a principle role where you have lines.

DW: I saw that you play a lot of background characters, and, in some, you don’t even have a name. You’re just “Man #3” or “Political Lobbyist” or something like that. You don’t have an actual name for the role.

GC: Right. Those are basically uncredited roles. And usually, you’re not in the credits. Sometimes, in rare instances, depends on who the director is, they like giving credit to everyone. I’m sure you’ve seen a movie, where you’re watching credits, and it says, “Man in the Cab” or “Patron in the Restaurant.” So, sometimes, you can get credit.

DW: And usually, these aren’t characters that are just walk-bys. They actually say a line or two in the movie as well.

GC: Sometimes, yeah.

DW: Now, “American Hustle” is based on the ABSCAM investigation. If you could place yourself in another film that’s based on, or inspired by, a true event, what would it be?

GC: I’d love to be in anything that has to do with Vegas and the 40s, and the Rat Pack. It’s funny. When most casting directors look at me, they think mobster – immediately mobster. It’s either mobster or a politician or that kind of thing. I don’t have a particular genre that I’d like to be in. I just think that, as an actor, you just have to keep working, and you have to be challenged. I’d like to take on any role that makes me grow, especially roles where I think, “Maybe I won’t be able to pull this off.” Those are the best, because you have to really push yourself.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, those three days that I shot [“American Hustle”] up in Boston, I was working with a torn meniscus in my left knee.

DW: Oh, wow.

GC: I mean I was in constant pain for three days.

DW: So, did you just have to ignore it and just get on with the role?

GC: Oh, yeah. I was popping Advil for three days. And the role that I was doing was all standing. We shot the bar scene for two days, and we shot the previous scene – walking in the hall – for one day. So, there was no real sitting around. Once cameras started rolling, I was on my feet for 10 hours each day.

This concludes the interview, but the Chico Movie Examiner would like to thank Gary Craig for taking the time to talk about “American Hustle.”

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