Interview: Richard Short on ‘Crazy Famous’, Broadway and Asking Himself, “What Would [Mark] Rylance Do?”

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Actor Richard Short

“Oh, they’re horrible. They’re horrible, and they’re fake and their not inductive to good work. That’s the truth.” – Richard Short on Auditions

Richard Short stars in the new film, Crazy Famous, about a group of patients who escape a mental institution in hopes of finding Osama Bin Ladin, who Smith (Short) insists is still alive, in an attempt to become famous. Short, who had a “lot of fun” playing the ‘is he/isn’t he’ crazy role, said he modeled the character after Roger Moore’s James Bond. “I just did nothing but watch ’70s and ’80s Roger Moore Bonds every night after work. Which was great, just magnificent,” he said.

Short (Vinyl, Agent Carter) chats here about the film, living in Los Angeles, and his time on Broadway working with Mark Rylance in Jerusalem.

How long have you been over in LA now?

Richard Short: I’ve lived out here for about five years now. I’ve just got back from Europe, for the last few months. Yeah, been here five years, on the west coast.

How do you like the acting scene in LA compared to London?

Richard Short: That’s a deep thought. Well, you’re going straight down. But it’s a valid question. I mean, New York and London is certainly more to my taste because I come from the theater. So, not only are you on stage now and again, but daily you’re plugged into a certain energy, a certain electricity. You’re doing readings, you’re doing workshops, you’re going on stage each night, you’re doing a bit on TV. So, there’s a certain energy that helps you thrive creatively, it keeps you alive.

But of course, in LA, the biggest challenge for an actor is how to manage your own personal free time. Because even if with your scripts, most of the time you’re alone. You know? You learn to embrace that eventually, as long as you know there’s a job coming, of course. But for those that there aren’t, I imagine it’s more of an ominous struggle. All of which is to say I prefer … I think New York’s the ideal place for an actor to be, to be honest. A modern day Rome, after all.

I totally agree. I got sidetracked a second, so I’ll ask you about your theater life here in a couple minutes. But let’s talk about the movie real quick.

Richard Short: Let’s do that.

So tell me about Smith? It looked like he was a blast to play.

Richard Short: Oh, he absolutely was. Plus, the added benefit for me is that I got to watch Roger Moore James Bond films all day, every day. Which I seem to do anyway in my own personal life. I usually mix it up at least with a bit of Daniel Craig and a bit Brosnan. But I just did nothing but watch ’70s and ’80s Roger Moore Bonds every night after work. Which was great, just magnificent.

When we started shooting Crazy Famous, I’d gone straight from … The first few days I was overlapping doing Vinyl on HBO. I showed up with a big mustache and a bit of a mullet hairdo. Stopped listening to cool rock and roll and started watching Roger Moore a lot and reading his biography and stuff.

Of course, he was a blast. He was mainly a blast, honestly, because of the lads, because of the four of us. It was such fun. It was more fun off camera, is the truth. You never know about chemistry. We’d probably never run into each other in the same bar, us four, and yet now we would go out of our way to go to the same pub. You know what I mean?

You mentioned Roger Moore. Now that you say that, I can totally see you channeling him.

Richard Short: Or ripping him off, some might say. But let’s go with channeling, sounds so much better.

It seems it would be even more fun to play him, having mentioned that.

Richard Short: It’s a lot of fun. Actually, a lot of the fun lay in this real gray zone, which we played, which gave us cart blanche to go as silly as we wanted or as seriously and as dark as we wanted to go. Because there’s a big question mark that hangs over these characters, specifically Agent Smith, actually, which is to say, is he serious, or is he insane? The movie actually never answers that question. It’s not one of the life’s great ponderies, but it’s something for you to at least think about, another layer, another bit of texture to an otherwise outrageous comedy. It allowed me to get away with whatever I want, basically. You know? But there are certain moments where, as I’m sure you’ve seen, he actually becomes very serious and very good at what he does. There’s a fight scene that we took a long time studying. I spent a couple of weeks learning this like a dance, like a choreographed dance.

Really?

Richard Short: Yeah, yeah. With a very good stunt director and some great stuntmen. There were a few armed guards, or whatever. Security guards at the hospital. I liked how it came out. We worked on that so much. It’s funny, because precisely because of where it falls. It falls in one of the most classical moments of the movie, where I’m drugged up to the eyeballs to keep me calm in the hospital. Then it just happens to be that he can fight as well as Jason Bourne. It even makes it all the more funnier, or it gives you that question. Say, is he serious? What else? Of course, if he’s serious, then your story’s serious, and then you’ve got to ask yourself a lot more questions. Because it’s outlandish.

I feel like he is the most sane, rational person in the film, or the group

Richard Short: Oh, absolutely. It’s funny because I’ve heard him described both ways. He’s the most sane, or he’s the most insane. Because he really could be off the charts. But the truth is, I went into it playing, as somewhat, a straight man. Right? It’s almost as if I speak a different language than the other guys. Not a different accent, but a different language. We’re on a different intellectual plane of characters. That is, Smith to the other three. So I’m playing it absolutely straight, which is usually, I think, the best way to play comedy. It’s usually that much more funny. If I’m completely 100% committed to what I’m saying, right? Because of that, I’m the straight man. You’re right. And the other guys are tripping over and doing pratfalls, and it makes them funnier and it makes me funnier in association. So yeah, I think he’s completely sane. I think he’s real and I think he’s a wonderful spy. But I would, wouldn’t I?

A lot of the movie sort of depends, like you kind of said earlier, on the chemistry between you guys. Did you guys hangout prior to any filming at all, or just sort of getting friendlier on set?

Richard Short: No, we didn’t have time because, again, I was working on something else. I’d come in from LA to do it. Went straight over. A couple of days, the first couple of days, overlapped another job, and I think that was the case with one of the other lads, too. So we met on set and went from there. But we clicked right away. Again, as I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times, and from other projects, the chemistry, that’s great unknown. Right?

Absolutely.

Richard Short: Usually its male/female or lover’s chemistry or whatever’s traditional. But even with friends. It’s so key to the movie, and thank god that it worked so well, because I think that’s the heart of the movie, right? These four lads on their crazy quest. But no, I’ll say, they’re all lovely guys. Here’s the difference though, they all have comedic background, the other boys. Some of them actually even standup comedians in this movie, and it’s a very comedic cast. So I was … Not hesitant. I don’t want to use the word excited either. But I guess anxious would be the right word … To enter into it, because I’m usually doing such dark projects. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m English everyone thinks I’m evil and dastardly. Right? It seems to be the standard course. So I’m coming in thinking, “Yeah, I can go funny.” Then of course I’m the straight man in it, so I guess it works, hopefully.

I was really thinking, oh, I’m stepping into a farce here. I’m stepping into what I think is an almost old fashioned kind of film. Right? I don’t know if you agree with that, but it feels like something that was shot in the ’80s, or maybe the early ’90s. Maybe a Dumb and Dumber kind of tone. I didn’t know anyone in it. I didn’t know any of these guys. I didn’t even know their work, anyone’s, which was all the better. Then we could just go in, work, and you appreciate them day one. You see, “Oh, this guy’s funny. He can improv.” Certainly, I love doing that. And so can he and so can she. So suddenly you respect everyone around you and you say, “We might have a bit of a blast here.” We shot it so quickly. I forget the number of days, but certainly no more than a few weeks, because we weren’t afforded any more than that. You just got to get on with it and hit the ground running, right? Which is so often the case with indies.

You’ve done a ton of theater.

Richard Short: Yes. Yeah, quite a bit. Yep.

What was the last show that you did?

Richard Short: The last show was Jerusalem.

I saw that.

Richard Short: You saw that?

Yeah. I try and get to New York at least once a year and see as many shows as I can.

Richard Short: Right. You go plug into that energy I was talking about.

How was your time on Broadway?

Richard Short: Oh, fantastic. I mean, you get to be backstage every night with the maestro, Mark Rylance.

Oh my god, yeah.

Richard Short: I think he’s possibly the finest actor working on the planet today. I’ve done Shakespeare workshops with Mark before … Well, I was still doing my first professional job, so it was about 22 years ago now, in London. On the weekend, I was part of the Shakespeare troop, and I would do some Shakespeare with Mark. I’ve never had an opportunity to work with him professionally until then. But honestly, just to be in his proximity is … It rubs off, hopefully.

But you learn so much, so much. You learn the simple thing that there’s never a take that is the same. Or as we’re on stage, there’s a never a performance the same. You try to take that with you into every job you do. Give them something different every night or every take. Why not?

Don’t be afraid to look foolish. Go big or go home. All of those idioms that we hear from actors. He’s a proponent of all of those, actually. Certainly someone that I … I have this mantra now, actually, that I take before any audition, screen test, any job. Right as I think I’ve got it ready, I think I’ve got it correct and I’m ready to go, I’ll say, “Wait. What would Rylance do? What would Rylance do? What would Rylance do?” The second I think that, suddenly something else comes, another huge idea, and it’s usually something big or physical or loud. It makes you not afraid to try it. It just takes you up that extra level.

Because just when you think you’re comfortable, and you think, “No, that’s as good as this role can be read.” Because you do get to a point, with every little bit of audition, you read them and you think, “Yeah, pretty good. I think that’s how this scene is meant to go.” Of course, because you have to at least be somewhat happy with yourself at some point. Otherwise, we’d be hitting our heads on the wall. Then suddenly you say, “What would Rylance do?” And you go, “Oh, no. He’d do something like that.” It just reminds you. No, no. He’s a yardstick, basically. Someone to which I very much aspire and respect, and a lovely gentleman too.

I think it would be like a gift to just work with him.

Richard Short: Absolutely.

I know when I haven’t done a show in a while, theater wise, I start to get like an itch. Are you getting that itch now? Any plans to do anything?

Richard Short: 100%. 100%. Best question so far, from anyone. Completely. I used to do at least a play a year. At least. Quite often more. In New York, quite a lot. People like the Vineyard, the Roundabout, et cetera. Having not done it for a while, and I spent so much time doing TV … I mean, it’s great, because your career gets somewhat elevated according to IMDb and according to agents, et cetera. But inside you start to feel a little emptier, a little less worthy of your place. You know? I very much miss it.

I’m lucky enough to do the occasional reading out here with studios, et cetera, which does make you feel like at least you’re in a rehearsal studio. No, I absolutely want to get back and do a play in London or New York, either would be fine. The sooner the better, as far as I’m concerned. Yeah.

Last summer, I experienced my first eight show a week run. Oh my god, it’s grueling. How did you survive it?

Richard Short: It’s a very good question. How do you survive it? You struggle every time. I think what it is is you have an end in sight. But it’s a finite amount of time. So you tell your mind, you say, “Okay, I’m doing this for 12 weeks.” Or, “I’m doing this for six months.” Whatever it is. My first job took me two years. I started in a musical, Grease, in London. I don’t know if I could do that anymore. Too old. But you know the end. So you say, “Okay, so August the 25th is the end of this run. Can I do it?” You pour out your whole being, as you say. Not just psychologically, but more physically than ever.

It’s still sort of the same when you’re filming. Especially if you’re doing a big role on television, because you’re doing the whole season or taking months. So you say, okay, if I can just really kill myself, pedal to the metal, for three months, there’ll be a release. You can fall down, collapse on the floor. You can catch up with your sleep, et cetera. Because of course the hours on TV are brutal, and they’re just as exhausting. It’s good to hear someone at least respect what goes into an eight show week, because it’s taxing. You know what? You have to get your rest. The first thing you want to do after a show, I don’t know if you agree about this. But the first thing you want to do, the adrenaline high, you want to go grab a beer.

Or just have a moment, or you want to talk a lot loudly, rambunctiously about the performance, about the audience, whatever. About anything at all. You want to watch a movie. You need to be awake for a couple of hours minimum, even though you’re getting out of the theater at eleven o’clock at night. Then all of a sudden, come midnight, there seems to be a crash quite often. Right? Then you realize, “Oh, I got to do it all again tomorrow.” Honestly, so much of me absolutely hates it. I know, when I get back on stage, hopefully fairly soon, come the second performance, I’ll want it all to end. I do.

I look so forward to going back to the theater. I love the month’s rehearsal, I love creating one of those new families that we do, as actors. We’re like travelers. We all grow very close very quickly, and then let go. I love that about it, actually. It’s just my personality.

But, I also know that come the second performance, once opening night is done and dusted, I’ll be waiting for the end, and I’ll be counting the days to the final performance. I don’t know which bit I’m happy with. You know? I guess the moment is the answer. I guess the at the very moment. The moment of the decent monologue, and when you look at someone and they’ve just given a wonderful performance, and you stood opposite and you just want to give them a hug or something. Those little moments are I guess why we stay alive and stay in it, right?

Totally, yeah. What’s been your worst audition?

Richard Short: Oh. Let me see. Certainly a laundry list of them. Okay. Off the top of my head, one comes to mind. It’s for a movie, New York. It was with an extremely famous actress. I certainly won’t say who. But a movie star actress, who I respected and et cetera. The scene is myself and her, we end up making out, et cetera. You know, it’s the play, the partner of her. So we go in, it’s a chemistry read. I go in, we do the thing for all the people in the room. They’re shooting it. I lean in, because it’s what we have to do, and then we kiss, et cetera, and we talk. As I lean in the actress gets very embarrassed and starts laughing and pushes me away, and says, “Geeze. Really?” I felt like an absolute buffoon. I felt like an idiot for going there.

Yet, it certainly wasn’t anything inappropriate. Far from it. It was the scene. I thought, “what?” It just suddenly struck me as … I know it’s not necessarily a comic, an anecdote, but it was certainly, you asked my worst audition. I came out of that one feeling low, because I felt like, “What did I … Had I stepped over the line?” No, the scene was the scene. Then I just went, “Well, that was ridiculous.” There’s got to be some sort of professionalism at play, which there obviously has been with every other person I’ve ever worked with actually. But just in this particular one moment, it was odd, uncomfortable and rare. Didn’t happen either, ultimately. I guess that’s one that I would like to strike from the records. I guess now tell a reporter about it.

But you know what? There’s probably worse and I’ve just already wiped them from my conscious.

I wish I could do that on some of mine.

Richard Short: Oh, they’re horrible. They’re horrible, and they’re fake and their not inductive to good work. That’s the truth. You don’t see the best one in those rooms.

Crazy Famous is available to watch on all services, including Amazon.

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Lance Carter is an actor and the Editor of Daily Actor.

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