Brad Pitt recently said that he faintly remembers agreeing to star in Inglourious Basterds.
“Quentin came to visit some time at the end of the summer, we talked about backstory, we talked about movies – I get up the next morning and see five empty bottles of wine right on the floor, five, and something that resembles a smoking apparatus – I don’t know what that was about – and apparently I had agreed to do this film.”
From Moviefone: How did you prep for the role of the Pope’s right-hand man, the Camerlengo Patrick Mckenna?
I had to get a sense of his world. So I had to get all the background on the Vatican and being a priest, but that’s quite difficult to do. We weren’t allowed to film in the Vatican, [and] we didn’t get any help from them in terms of background, so I had to look at some documentaries about the … workings of the Vatican and Swiss Guard and stuff. But to be honest, they’re very boring to watch … really quite tedious in fact, so I watched as much as I could. But I had a very good adviser that was a father from New York who was my priestly adviser. He was on set all the time whenever we had to do any of the ceremonial stuff, or any of the ritual stuff, things in the Catholic church, because I wasn’t really familiar with those. And then also he was on hand to talk to me about being a priest and fill me on the kind of pecking order between cardinals and priests and high priests.
Did the controversy surrounding the movie affect your decision about taking on the role?
No, because I didn’t think that there was any. I didn’t feel like when I read the script there was anything controversial about it; there’s nothing that’s anti-Catholic. If there had been anything that I felt kind of dissed someone else’s religion, I wouldn’t have been involved in it. I’m not interested in doing that kind of thing. I just thought it was a really good thriller, a fast-paced kind of edgy thriller set in the world of the Vatican, which is a world we don’t know much about, and it’s a high-powered world, so that makes the stakes quite high. The people in the Catholic church in the movie who are the evildoers get their comeuppance in the end, and it’s quite clear that the Catholic church shuns them and punishes them and isn’t condoning their behavior in any way. In any walk of life there are people that are good people and there are occasionally people that do crazy things for whatever reason, you know?
You mostly act in smaller or independent films, but ‘Angels & Demons’ and obviously ‘Star Wars’ were huge studio productions — how do the experiences differ?
As actors, we don’t have low budget performances and big budget performances … And I think you’d find that [we actors are] enormously committed no matter who’s making the film, or what the budget is. I love my job and … I just pick scripts [based] on the story and the script and if I think the character would be interesting to play. That’s really it … and I’m lucky enough to go from small independent films to big studio pictures, you know … it’s the same job at the end of the day.
You play Gene Vidal in the upcoming ‘Amelia’ — because he’s a real person, did that affect how you played him or how you prepped for the role?
It does in a way … I’ve found a great many photographs of him and read about him … but I [had to] trust that he was in the script. Whenever I’ve played somebody that’s real, I find that photographs … are really telling to me. When I played James Joyce [in 'Nora'], the pictures of him were very important to the way I acted physically, and I suppose with Gene Vidal it’s the same
You’ve been on so many hit TV shows. How do the different sets compare — because each I’m assuming has its own culture and dynamic? Which was the most tight-knit family? Friday Night Lights. I was doing Friday Night Lights and Nip/Tuck simultaneously one year. Friday Night Lights shoots in Austin, and Nip/Tuck shoots in L.A. So I was literally splitting my week back and forth. Those two sets are really different. For starters, the Lights’s cast is all out there in Austin together. But more specifically, it’s because of the shooting styles. They shoot all handheld, no rehearsal, you never go back to your trailer, everything is on location, and if you’re moved to say something, or do something, or leave, or literally cook bacon — you just do it. There’s no wait for set up. When they would “turn around,” so to speak, it was just three cameramen scooting around on these stools, and we’d just do it again. Performance-wise, that was the closest thing to theater that I’d done on camera.
On Nip/Tuck, I really loved working with Ryan. He is so specific, and so stylized, and the lighting is so deliberate. You could wait 20 to 45 minutes until they lit in a different direction, or switched something up. So they were the opposite ends of shooting styles. And culture-wise, Nip/Tuck was maybe more what I’m used to. But in Lights, it had literally become an extension of the show. There was a real life intimacy to the cast and the crew.
Was it hard to switch back and forth between the two characters?
They were very different, but to your original question, the environments did most of the work for me. On Nip/Tuck , I came and went over so many years, and I would walk back onto set, and immediately feel as though I’d been absorbed into the world as if I’d never left. And on Lights, they’re so adept at the style of shooting, that you basically just run to catch up. You have no time to reflect on how you’re doing, because they’re just so good at it.
Actors know the crowd on Saturday night has more heat than the little old ladies who drop in for Wednesday matinees. Do you (and your fellow actors) adjust your energy accordingly? — longfellow
I am pleased to report all those little old ladies laugh just as hard on Wednesday afternoons as those who come on the weekends. As for our approach, we only know one way to do it and that’s all out.
Do you think being nominated for the Tony will in any way influence you to do more on Broadway or elsewhere on the stage? — Megan Burnham
Nomination or not, more theater was on my To-Do List. Kathleen and I left New York and moved back home to Michigan in 1986 to raise our family in a place we understood. While there, however, I missed the theater life, so I created the Purple Rose Theater Company. With my kids now in college and beyond, I can see doing more stage acting. Broadway. The Purple Rose. Frankly, I like being known as an actor who can do both film and stage. New York’s full of them.
How has your playwriting influenced your acting, and vice versa? — Jeremy Gable
Having written, I have a far better understanding of story structure. Also, since I know first hand how much goes into the writing of a script, I tend to bend over backwards to make what’s been written work. Having acted, I know each character I write has to be fully realized, have things to do that impact the story, and on a nightly basis, be someone I would look forward to playing. Otherwise, I cut it.