So let’s take Sideways. Short of soul storage, what kinds of preparations would you undertake to nail a role like that?
That was a hard part, and I’ve never felt like I actually got that part right. I always felt like I was too serious or something. I don’t really know how to play jokes as jokes; it’s easier for me to play all the comedy deadpan. I had a hard time doing that part. [Pauses] It’s interesting to use the metaphor of the soul-storage thing. If I’m going to define myself as an actor in some way, I’m more of the outside-in kind of actor than the inside-out. It’s often easier for me if I have an accent or an eye patch or something, you know? A funny walk — if I have no legs or something? Something like that is easier for me to hook on to. I didn’t have that with that part, and I had to find my way into it. The wine stuff, actually, was what I started to use. The behaviorisms of that stuff. What do they call them? Oenophiles? That was sort of the “in” with that. So in some ways, yeah. I had to find the right soul for that guy, I guess. It wasn’t an easy part. None of them are, but that one especially.
One of the implications of the soul trade in this film is that your actor’s soul might be damaged when it goes to a soap-opera actress. Do you ever sense similar consequences for going more pop with your work?
The pomposity of that was funny, but I don’t feel that way. I don’t necessarily feel like because I’m going to do some pulpy action thing, then that’s it, I’ve ruined my soul somehow. Obviously doing Chekhov is probably going to hone you a little more than doing a bad guy in an action movie, but it’s just as rewarding. They’re different rewards. I think a steady diet of being just the pulpy guy might get [you]a little complacent. You’ve got to do something with it to keep yourself sharp.
Do you ever go through this process [analyzing dreams]with other characters? Where you might analyze their dreams or their subconscious? Even, say, John Adams.
I have, sometimes. Yeah. Well, he’s an interesting case; all those guys were interesting. He had the clearest spiritual life of any of those guys. He had a very simple relationship with his faith, and that was definitely a part of that character. He was conflicted about things, kind of puritanical. There were definitely spiritual struggles he was having with himself. But sometimes I do. I remember playing a part on stage where it seemed like the part was causing me to have certain dreams that were relevant to the part. And it helped with things.
Well, it was a Commedia [dell’Arte] piece. It was this clown piece, and I was playing a guy who keeps flip-flopping between these two personalities. And I kept having dreams about different opposed… things. I don’t want to go into the whole thing. But it helped me to think, “This is a good, simple way to think of this personality, and that is a good, simple way to think of that personality.” So yeah. It did sort of work.