Interview: Joe Anderson Talks ‘The Grey’, Rehearsing the Film and Acting in -20 Degree Weather

In Joe Carnahan’s excellent film, The Grey, Joe Anderson plays Flannery, a loudmouth who constantly gets under the skin of his fellow oil-riggers. When their plane goes down, he and the rest of the survivors (Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, James Badge Dale, Ben Bray and Nonso Anozie) are forced to work together to fend of packs of wolves hungry for their blood.

Anderson is the son British theatre actors and he told me that even though he grew up surrounded by the profession, he didn’t think he’d ever actually be an actor. After backpacking around the world, he decided he wanted to become a director. But since he couldn’t afford coming to America and go to film school, he thought he’d go to drama school to learn about actors. And the rest is history.

Joe talked to me about the shoot and what it was like to work in freezing weather, working with Liam Neeson, and one particularly bad audition where he had to play an espresso machine.

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

I saw The Grey the other night. Freakin’ fantastic film.

Joe Anderson: It’s a fun one. It’s intense, right? But it’s got a lot of heart in there, a lot of heart.  It took me by surprise, the script.

Before I read it, I was thinking of kind of a dude’s movie with guys in the snow and fighting wolves and it is but it’s kind of a way more than that. I was kind of really surprised by that.  

What was in the script, was that the movie that it turned out to be?

Joe Anderson: Yes, very much so, very much so. But also I know that Joe, Joe was working a lot on the script and as we were shooting, you know, his style is very much… he likes to just make it real. 

Sometimes, when you’re observing, I guess as a director, I know for sure as an actor, you see this hole that could be filled or there’s a little clunk there in the scene that could be ironed out with the use of, I don’t know, maybe some additional dialogue here and there. And he’d just throw us stuff every now and then and say, “can you just say that here or say that there?”  And with the ease and the confidence that he’s there with, you kind of trust him and believe him 100% and then when you watch the movie, there’s the line that you what you thought of. It’s like you’re cooking. It’s like, “I’ll just add a bit of this.  I’ll add a bit of that.” It’s kind of magical to be a part of in that sense without sounding cheesy.

Your character, he adds moments of levity to the early parts of the movie. As an audience member, everyone is  tense and on the edge of their seat and then you’ll say something funny.

Joe Anderson: You know, it was an interesting one for me to get my head around to be honest. Because one, you can look at the guy and just sort of find him as an asshole because essentially, he’s that guy.  He’s that annoying guy who just shoots to mouth off all the time. He’s young and he’s scared, and he’s that guy.

I think it’s very brave of Joe to write a character who speaks like that and to give that character that screen time where he’s speaking about stuff that, neither here nor there, drives plot. He just lets you know about this guy so that when the shit hits the fan, when you see how each individual character reacts to this situation, I think you have a very true cross section of what it would actually be like.

And I think that you would have guys that are raging against it. You’ll have guys that are out of it completely, that are in denial about the situation. You’ll have the guys that just won’t shut up. So I thought it was totally clever in that sense.

How did you get the part?

Joe Anderson: I went and met Joe and just walked in and he went, “Flannery” and I said, “Okay.”  I was like, “Do you want me to read?” and he was like, “No.” Then I went home and they called up and said, “Oh, actually, can you just put something on tape?” And so I just sent them a tape and they were like, “Okay, we’ll see you up in Vancouver.”

Nice.

Joe Anderson: Yeah, it was a busy time though. I was doing some other projects, so it was busy. I could only meet Joe briefly In LA and then it didn’t work out to meet again so I had to put something on tape, and then yeah, and then we got to do it.

But it was great because I’ve been watching his movies since I was at drama school back in England, watching Narc and what-have-you. It was just awesome to get to work with him and he’s a fantastic director.  It was cool, yeah.

Did I read, when you guys had rehearsals before filming?

Joe Anderson: Yeah, yeah, we sat around a lot in Vancouver and discussed and debated, and kind of just got to know the landscape that we were dealing with mentally, you know? The mental landscape. Like “Where, hang on, where is our head going to be a for how many weeks?”  And you know, just people sat and bonded and they just discussed things and sometimes it becomes personal and there were some quite moving moments because I think we all shared something. You know, it’s not like we were sitting around in a circle holding hands.

It would be a pretty good story if you did though.

Joe Anderson: [laughs] Yeah, right. I was holding Liam Neeson’s hand. No, no.

We formed a team before we hit the mountain basically and we needed to do that because not only are you acting it but you’re acting through this insane landscape and conditions and wind and snow and ice.  And minus 30 degrees Celsius. I think it was vital that we had that time together just to get to know each other before we hit that mountain, you know?

Dermot Mulroney said that Joe Carnahan was determined to make a movie where the actors were truly suffering.  Was that the case?

Joe Anderson: Yeah, because it’s an interesting thing as a director to take on board, I’m sure, to take on board, you know, do I want to do a movie that shoots in Miami or do I want to do one that shoots at the top of a mountain in minus 30? [laughs]

Even watching the movie I was cold.

Joe Anderson: I can honestly say, I don’t think that any of the visual stuff that you see is enhanced at all. That was what it was. I remember filming when we couldn’t even see the camera and we were just, “Is this pointless? Can they see us?” It was that bad.

On most sets, you have a trailer, hot food. What were the comforts on your set?

Joe Anderson: We had a, I wish I knew the make of it because when I’m old, I want one. I don’t know why, I just want one to play with in my backyard. It’s like a snow cat thing. It’s extraordinary. It’s basically a metal box on wheels, well not on wheels, on caterpillar tracks and it’s got a bucket on the front of it. I’ve never seen one of these things coming from England. This thing would just sometimes at a 45-degree angle plow us up the mountain. That would be it. They would be on top of the mountain and we would sit in the back of those things when we weren’t shooting and they would be running a lot all those time. The heaters would be on and so we had an, I don’t know, an 8 x 9 box just to sit in it and that was that. So it wasn’t glamorous at all. 

What’s it like working with Liam Neeson? I know if that were me, I’d be nervous and intimidated but excited at the same time.

Joe Anderson: Yeah, you said it. That’s exactly how I thought I was going to be until you meet Liam. I met Liam for the first time, he came into one of the rehearsal rooms and we were sitting there and he just came in and sat down and then started chit chatting. And then within about five minutes, you know that you he is… don’t me wrong, the guy is 6 feet something and he’s got a presence and you gravitas to him and a voice that is like no other but at the same time, he’s just a sweet, genuine guy.

How did you get your start?  Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?

Joe Anderson: No, I didn’t. I’m completely dyslexic so school was never an option for me. I mean, I loved going to school but like my brain was somewhere else. I knew I wasn’t dumb, I wasn’t stupid. I don’t know what the PC word is.

My folks were theatre actors so you grow up in this environment where there is a lot of, it’s a lot of fun, it’s fantastic, and it’s wonderful and there’s a lot of magic but then there’s also a lot of pontification and a lot of intellectual snobbery that sort of goes on and especially in England.  And being a dyslexic, I was never an avid reader and so my childhood was movies and I was always watching movies.

I bailed out of school at 17, 18 and went and backpacked off around the world for a bit. And it was when I hit Australia, I was in Sidney and there was a group of guys that were basically just about to go to film school and I thought I was going to go and direct. I came back to England and thinking about it, couldn’t afford to go to America to go to film school so I ended up thinking, “Well, maybe I should learn what actors are about so I can direct actors.” I ended up going to drama school and one thing led from, you know, to the next, to the next and here I am. So, it wasn’t a plan. It was a little plan in the beginning but then it sort of worked and I wasn’t going to jump off the ball while it was rolling. I mean, I was just happy in doing it.

What’s the worst audition you’ve ever had?

Joe Anderson: I’ve had millions. [laughs] I got asked to go… This was when I first started and I came out of drama school and my agent was like, “I’ll just start sending you up for stuff to get you used to it.”

And they sent me up for an espresso advert. And the guy came in and said, “Joe, can you come in?” and it was a huge studio space with one little table.  Honestly, it was a like joke with three people sitting on it and they said, “Can you go to the other side of the room over there and impersonate an espresso machine with your back turned to us? And could you hold your arms out?”

So, I walk over, I hold my arms out and I’m doing [makes espresso noises] and I thought, “I can’t do this. I’m an actor.” I just had to walk.

I take it you didn’t get that part.

Joe Anderson: No, I didn’t. My milk frother was off.

What’s your advice to actors?

Joe Anderson: If you can possibly not do anything else to do this and do it 100% all the time. Just don’t stop doing it. I think a lot of people, especially a lot of my friends always had this idea, and people have this idea that yes, it is tough. Yes, millions of people want the same jobs but isn’t that the case everywhere kind of, you know?  Yeah, sure you can go and get a job that maybe doesn’t pay as well or whatever just for the sake of security or you can just kind of go on an adventure.  Just stick with it and I think that’s the best piece of advice I can give.

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