Interview: Jackie Earle Haley on ‘RoboCop’, Rehearsing, Auditioning and More!

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I think Jackie Earle Haley is terrific is everything. As a kid, I must have watched 1976’s Bad News Bears a million times and Breaking Away  is still one of my all-time favorite movies. If you haven’t seen that, make sure Netflix it because it’s great. 

But, as he got older, it got harder and harder for him to transition from child star to adult actor, so, he eventually moved to Texas where he started a successful production company. He directed a ton of commercials and as he told me, he just thought that part of his life was over. But Sean Penn and writer/director Steve Zaillian, who were making All the King’s Men, thought of him for Sugar Boy, one of the major roles in the film. That brought him back into the business and he’s been working non-stop ever since.

He was nominated for an Academy Award for his next film, Little Children;  he played Rorschach in Watchmen, worked with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island, he played Freddy Krueger in the new Nightmare on Elm Street reboot, worked with Steven Spielberg on Lincoln and tons more!

And each role is completely unique and different – not one of them are alike.

Now, he’s starring in the new RoboCop and has got some great kick-butt scenes. I liked the film a lot and of course, Jackie is terrific.

In the interview, we talk about the movie, some of his past roles, auditioning, Broadway and his advice to actors.

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes.

Let’s talk about RoboCop. Have you seen it yet?

Jackie Earle Haley: No, I haven’t seen. But I’m super excited. I hear it’s pretty awesome and I really… I’m looking forward to seeing it.

I can’t wait for this, but it’s got a fantastic cast, too.

Jackie Earle Haley: Yeah, some really good guys. I love the fact that they picked Joel [Kinnaman]. I was a big fan of The Killing.

He was great, yeah.

Jackie Earle Haley: Yeah, he was like my favorite character. So when I heard he was RoboCop, I thought, “Wow, perfect.” And of course getting to work with, you know, Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton and, you know, and just everybody. It was a really cool experience.

Have you heard about all the fanboys saying how it’s sort of blasphemy that this new one is PG-13?

Jackie Earle Haley: You know, I think every time we do any sort of remake like this, you just always have that kind subset of voices out there that just don’t like the idea. I’m of the camp that RoboCop in 1987 was an awesome movie. Paul Verhoeven did a great job and my buddy Miguel Ferrer was in it, he was wonderful. Peter Weller. But, you know, the film is dated now. I still think it’s cool to go back and look at, but in 2014 the production capabilities, the equipment, the crews have evolved. CGI has completely, you know, evolved and you can do so much more now that you couldn’t do then. So I think it’s… I think it’s gonna be pretty cool and I really dug the script.

The parts you play, you almost disappear into the roles. I was thinking this morning, I didn’t really know what your real voice sounds like.

Jackie Earle Haley: Well, a lot of times I just use my normal voice.

When you get a part, what is your process to figure out the character? Do you create a backstory? What do you do?

Jackie Earle Haley: Well, they’re all kind of a little bit different. This part was pretty much straightforward and in terms of preparing for it, I think the best process was the rehearsal process with Jose’. He had this great process where it wasn’t about sitting there and acting the scenes out over and over, rehearsal that way. What it was is he would take each character and go through their progression and talk about the scenes, find what’s working and what’s not, and that was informative on revisions that he would make. We’d help kind of pull out some logical problems here and there. So it was this really kind of cool process for finding the character together with Jose’. But, like I said, Maddox is, you know, he’s pretty straightforward.

When you’re doing like these really intense characters like Freddy Krueger or Rorschach and you’re in all the makeup, do you enjoy creating a character like that?

Jackie Earle Haley: Do you know what I enjoy? Is the diversity of it all.

I can tell you what I don’t enjoy, and that’s 3 and a half hours of makeup. And then another hour to get out of it. I’m talking about Freddy.

What do you do during that time? Are you just conversing or on your iPad?

Jackie Earle Haley: Yeah, I’m just kinda sitting there talking to the two makeup guys that are applying it. Because you can’t really read. You know? I guess some people probably do, I just didn’t.

But, yeah, that was pretty intense. And in this movie I wear this exo-skeleton suit and I’ve gotta tell you, man, this thing was pretty painful at times. It shouldn’t have been but it’s just kind of like.. there was just tensions in the wrong place or sometimes it was just digging into my back.

Do you have to stand the whole day or are you able to sit down?

Jackie Earle Haley: Yeah, that one I could… I’d be stuck in it for a good amount of time and there was a special chair that I would sit in that kind of half worked where I could kind of get the pressure points off or to move a little bit so I could get some relief out of it.

You don’t seem like a big complainer to me, so are you just kind of sucking it up while you’re on set?

Jackie Earle Haley: Yeah, pretty much. Just waiting. You know? I think the guys that were handling the exo-suit were… they were fully aware of it. So maybe I did complain a little bit.

jackie-earle-haley-joel-kinnaman-robocop

How do you go about choosing what roles you do or you’re going to do?

Jackie Earle Haley: Well, it’s kind of… I got my team, my agent and my manager, that kind of seek things out and then I read things and sometimes I pass on things. Sometimes I’m offered a part and take it or sometimes I audition for stuff and…

Sometimes you audition?

Jackie Earle Haley: Yeah, every now and then, sure.

When you weren’t able to book work, you moved down to Texas and you started this really successful production company. You were directing a lot, but did you still have your eye on acting? Did you think you’d come back to it or did you think, “Oh, that part of my life is done.”

Jackie Earle Haley: You know, it’s… it was a long process, but that part of my life was definitely done. And I was out here in Texas working with my production company, and I do recall having a conversation with a friend of mine as we were kind of sitting out in the back in the evening just hanging out. And, you know, we were kind of thinking, you know, he was kind of saying, “Man, you should try to get back into the acting thing.” And I was kinda contemplating it and I really saw this huge uphill battle with us just being busy with my production company, but it was like trying to go to LA, to get an agent, to start that process, or maybe go and see if I could get some stuff going on in Austin, and I just never did it because I was busy directing commercials and running that company.

So it was really just an incredible bit of fortune when Steve Zaillian thought of me for All the King’s Men and brought me back into the business and then that led immediately within 4 months after that I was working with Todd Field on Little Children. So it’s just… to me it still feels kinda unreal. You know? When I look back and think about it. But it’s just what great luck.

Are you having a blast right now?

Jackie Earle Haley: Yeah, pretty much. It’s been a while now and I’ve done a bunch of stuff, so it’s, you know, sometimes it’s really fun, Sometimes it’s work. You know? So it’s a little bit of everything, but what a great, you know, I certainly can’t complain. All I can do is say how lucky I am and how fortunate it is to get to do this again.

Are you still living in Texas full time?

Jackie Earle Haley: San Antonio. Yeah, absolutely.

And I love it too because when I do need to audition for something, I don’t have to go into some office somewhere with my shaky hands in front of producers and director. I can just, you know, make my own tape here and, jeez, nowadays you don’t even have to mail them. You just upload them. So it’s a great process.

I hate auditioning and I just get so freaking nervous. It’s a pain in the ass.

Jackie Earle Haley: It really is. It’s like… I gotta tell you, to this day when I have to go in and actually audition in front of somebody, it’s just… it’s horrific for some reason. You know?

And it’s interesting, it’s not like that on the set. You know you got the part. My process, I do find myself a little nervous on that first take on that first day, and I’m perfectly ok with that. It’s like, give me a couple of takes and then I’ll settle in for the rest of the movie. That’s kinda how it works for me, but the audition thing is you never get those… you never really get to take 3 or 4. You know what I mean? So you always see the nervous one. So that’s kind of a pain in the butt.

 I think auditioning is a totally different skill though.

Jackie Earle Haley: I agree, but I think the only reason why it is that way, because I think we kind of psych ourselves out for it.

I’m so much better when I’m driving home in the car.

Jackie Earle Haley: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Than in the actual room. You know?

Jackie Earle Haley: Dude, that’s the same for even if you were shooting all day. And you’re driving home. “Oh, I should’ve done that. Oh, why didn’t I think of this?” When you’re lying in bed going, “Oh, gosh.” You have ideas but the scene’s already in the can.

Do you ever watch your films and your stuff that you do and think, “Oh, crap. I could’ve done that so much better.”

Jackie Earle Haley: No, not really.

Do you tend to watch your stuff?

Jackie Earle Haley: Yes, definitely. I like to see how the whole thing turns out. And I think the way I really only judge myself after stuff that’s, like, you know, when something’s done, or when I’m looking at the monitor seeing a take back. The only thing I really do, I’m not looking at it for what else I could do. I’m literally looking at it just to see if my bullshit meter goes off. So if I’m watching a movie that’s done and the bullshit meter goes off, that’s a bummer because the movie is done.

But if I’m watching a take and the bullshit meter goes off, that’s great because then I can just do another take and stop doing what it was I was doing that is making me think it’s not real.

What’s the worst audition you’ve done?

Jackie Earle Haley: The worst audition? I can’t recall.

Have you ever thought about doing a Broadway play?

Jackie Earle Haley: You know, I did one a long time ago called Slap Boys. I think it was, I wanna say like 1982 or 3 or something like that. It was with Sean Penn, Val Kilmer, and Kevin Bacon. And that was a really cool experience. That was a scary experience for me. I’m much more used to film acting than stage acting.

You wanna try it again?

Jackie Earle Haley: You know, maybe. That, to me, seems like a lot of work.

Yeah, for little money too.

Jackie Earle Haley: Yeah, that… so it’s… I don’t know. Maybe one day. I’m not real interested right now. I am kinda getting ready to direct a movie…

Oh, nice.

Jackie Earle Haley:  …but that’s all I can really say about it at this point because I’m not ready to talk about it, but that is something I’m working on.

Nice. Yeah, that was another one of my questions. That’s awesome to hear.

Jackie Earle Haley: Yeah, it’s a really cool script and all. I’ll tell you more about it when it’s time.

And then just my final question – because I know you probably are tons busy – but what’s your advice to actors?

Jackie Earle Haley: In what way?

Let’s say, someone who’s been toeing around, has done some movies and TV shows and but just hasn’t…

Jackie Earle Haley: Busted through?

Yeah, exactly.

Jackie Earle Haley: Well, you know, it’s all really contingent on the level of passion. If you’re… if you’re a real passionate actor, and that means that this is something that you want so bad that you’ve just gotta keep at it. There just has to be perseverance. Do what you need to too survive and in all the other waking moments do what you can to move forward and keep trying to do work until it leads to something that somehow busts out. I mean, it’s really a Rubik’s cube and I don’t know, I mean, this stuff started with me when I was 6 or 5. So, you know… it’s a tough thing.

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