“Most of acting is about preparation, so that if you are armed with a visceral understanding of this character, you can get to set and essentially just play and be in the moment. And I’d say or do anything formed by that understanding.” – Jeremy Strong
In the film Armageddon Time, filmmaker James Gray depicts scenes inspired by his upbringing in Queens, New York in 1980 with Succession star Jeremy Strong playing Irving Graff, a character inspired by Gray’s father. In an interview with IndieWire, Strong spoke about what drew him — but also frightened him — about the role, and the challenge of playing a character who was inspired by someone very close to the director.
“This role was a role I was very frightened of and drawn to at the same time, which is what you’re looking for,” remarks Strong. He later adds that he often measures characters that he is considering to play by how much “trouble” the character is struggling with, explaining, “One of the first questions I ask, not intellectually but feelingly you try and sense out if a character is in trouble somehow, and the more trouble a character is in, the more there is for you to work with.”
Once he is cast in a role, Strong devotes time to developing a deeper understanding of the character to aid in his performance. He says, “Most of acting is about preparation, so that if you are armed with a visceral understanding of this character, you can get to set and essentially just play and be in the moment. And I’d say or do anything formed by that understanding.” He notes that he asks himself, “How far do you go? And what length do you go out on?” as part of the challenge of characterization, “but there’s infinite ways really to play any part. So you have to discover what feels necessary.”
With that said, Strong notes that he can’t know the character in the same way that James Gray, who wrote him, understands him. He continues, “I don’t know [Irving] the way James knows him. So I had to put that together for myself until it felt inevitable. This is who he is. So that was a lot of work to do, and a lot of blind intuition, and a lot of research and trying to absorb as much as I can from James about the source and about his experiences, but also being very specific about rendering a certain man from Queens in 1980, which is not me.”
Knowing that the film reflects some of Gray’s own experiences, Strong explains why Gray refers to it as a “ghost story.” He says, “It is in search of a past. We’re covering that past and distilling that past. And so that becomes a journey for you as an actor, both searching for James’s past, but also your own, and then trying to express that as purely as possible.”