Part II (click here for Part I)
Had you worked with Zoe Saldana before?
No, I hadn’t.
How did you create your intense connection?
Guillaume was adamant that we spend time trying to create a very vivid sense of what that relationship was like. So we talked extensively about what our relationship was like before. What had happened. What happened since. So at the moment when we first see each other it’s already filled with all of that history. It took quite a bit of creativity, writing it down, brainstorming ideas, but nothing particularly interesting to hear about. Most of it was just actorly office work. It required more work than Clive and I needed to play brothers. That took no time at all. We both understood sibling rivalry right away.
Guillaume made a good choice to set the story in the 1970s.
The classic Seventies drama was “The Godfather.” It was great we had James Caan. There were a lot of cop stories then: “French Connection,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” and “Serpico.” I can remember going to see “Fort Apache: The Bronx” with my dad at a drive-in.
It was a period of time in cinema, and in America, where people weren’t taking the iconic personalities for granted anymore. There was this real sense that our government was not exactly what we thought it would be. Our military wasn’t what we thought it would be. Our infrastructure, our country, there was all this second-guessing so I think that bled into second-guessing our heroes and these archetypes that we had. I’ve always had a great affection for that.
We’re never going to be absent simplistic stories told about protagonists and antagonists. Those are always going to be mainstream. So, in order to broaden the scope of the continuum, I think it’s great to tell these stories where the characters are neither good nor bad but they’re conflicted like so many of us in the world are. Still it can be very dramatic and and entertain us for a couple of hours but also give us something to think about.
You do a lot of theater and films. Would you be interested in working in TV?
Some of the great writing right now is for TV.
Like “True Detective”?
Yes! But I’ve been fortunate so far to be able to do theater and film. You know, that’s one thing about being an actor. You can’t manufacture your own material. You’re at the whim of the market and right now it’s got me on stage, but I’m happy to go wherever it takes me. The work is the work.
How was it working with William H. Macy?
That was film called, “Rudderless” that we did last year, which was just a phenomenal opportunity for me. It was a really daring, interesting screenplay and I’ve always been a big fan of Bill Macy. There are actors that you look to because you hope that you share the same aesthetic. I look at his work and he creates such a complicated, nuanced, entertaining, charming, vivid characters and I’ve always been interested in being that kind of actor. I mean, I’m not the kind of actor that he is but he’s somebody who I’ve always admired and aspired to be like so to get a chance to work with him was a remarkable experience. He did such a confident job of directing this.
When you’re working on stage, what happens if you forget a line?
It happens all the time. It depends on the production and on the actors. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are amazing. They will improvise occasionally but it’s more paraphrasing. I’m doing “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett and “No Man’s Land” by Harold Pinter and they’re both masters of the English language so you don’t want to paraphrase around them too much. The idea of doing a play is getting it word for word. But, the other option, when you “go up” as they call it or you’re “dry” — those are things they call it when you forget your lines — is to sit and wait. So we have a lot of times where the other actors don’t come in because they can see you’re forgotten a line and they’re just sitting and waiting and there are these long, intense pauses, which actually build a lot of tension and you have to have great trust in the other actors that they’re going to come around in the end.
I can remember doing a play a number of years ago, a Tom Stopper play called “The Coast of Utopia” and there was this long monologue where I was lecturing everybody and there were maybe three or four actors on the ground looking up and listening to me and one night I “went up” in the middle of the monologue so there was no other actor that could come in with another line because I had a couple more pages that I was supposed to say and I didn’t know where I was. It could’ve been New York or Paris, it could’ve been anywhere and to watch the actors go from pretend listening to real listening when they realized I didn’t know my lines was fantastic because you can watch an actor do a subtle body shift with real tension because they’re on stage with someone who doesn’t know what to say. So sometimes it’s a real thrill. It can also lead to panic attacks and hospitalization but mostly it’s a thrill.
It worked out because you won a Tony for it.
That’s right. I brought it here with me. [Laughs]