Interview: Michael Ironside on His New Film, ‘Knuckleball’

Ironside also chats about how he chooses his projects and why he likes to help out indie filmmakers.

Interview with Actor Michael Ironside

Michael Ironside has made a career of playing memorable tough guys over his 40-year career. From classics like Top Gun and Starship Troopers to his more recent work in X-Men: First Class and The Alienist, it’s a sure bet you’ve enjoyed his performances over the years.

He’s now starring in the the thriller, Knuckleball, about a 12-year old (Luca Villacis) who goes to visit his grandfather Jacob (Ironside) on his farm, located far away from town. Ironside, along with the young cast (including his Turbo Kid co-star, Munro Chambers), is terrific and director Michael Peterson delivers the chills.

In the interview, Ironside talks about his role, how he chooses his projects and why he likes to help out indie filmmakers.

Michael Ironside: You’ve seen the film?

Oh, yeah. It was not like anything that I thought it was going to be, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Michael Ironside: Yeah, isn’t it great?

Yeah, it really is good. How did you get involved in it?

Michael Ironside: Well, the script was sent to me through a friend. Michael Peterson, we had a mutual friend.

I get about 4 or 5 unsolicited scripts a week. I’ve been doing this for a long time, almost half a century, and I tell people that if you have something, send it to me, make sure it’s copy written, so I don’t get any legal problems. Usually about 1 in 25 is worth giving notes on. Most of the time, it’s ‘thank you very much, but I’m going to pass.” But Mike was one of those scripts.

We talked over the phone. He was going to be down near me, so we had breakfast together and we clicked. My ideas on the script and his ideas about the story were very, very similar. And we hit it off.

The story for me is about miscommunication. Never in the universe have we ever had more opportunities to communicate: cellphones, internet, Twitter feeds, all these things. And so little is being said honestly. And that’s we wanted to talk about. We have all these people who are, basically connected in some way but absolutely isolated, in communication. An inability to say and be heard what is going on.

Whether it’s generational from Jacob to his daughter to his grandchildren. Whether it’s the husband and wife. I mean, you look at the first 5 minutes of the film, when we drop into the universe in this stark landscape and inside that BMW. The husband’s talking and not being heard, the mother’s taking medication for anxiety, the kid’s on his cellphone playing a game in the back, and nobody can hear you talk until the kid says, “No, no, there’s the turn.” And they almost missed the turn.

The first time the daughter and I got together we made a choice and all of us did not touch. There’s no hugging, there’s no touching. The first touching that happened was when I put my arm around my grandson.

You know, the script was wonderful. Mike and Kevin Cockle did a great job on their basic script, and we altered it, and changed it slightly. I brought some of my own experience to it.

I mean, I suggested Munro Chambers. Munro read it, and he was in. You know, Munro, I told him, “You’ve got to take a chance and show people what a wonderful actor you are.” We’d done Turbo Kid together and I’ve known him for a while. And so he committed to it, Michael Peterson said, “My God, that’s such a great idea.” I mean, Munro got artificial teeth made, he did prosthetics to his face slightly, he slightly changed his hairline. Stuff you wouldn’t really notice. They’re very subtle, but it changed the way he walked. It’s just wonderful stuff.

Watching it, I felt like your character was different things to different people. Then I read an interview where you said that you were basically playing three different characters.

Michael Ironside: Well, I say two characters and I changed one for one sequence. But there’s two complete characters. There’s Jacob who is the organic person I chose to play and then there’s the Jacob that is seen through Dixon’s eyes, through Munro Chambers’s eyes. He’s a completely different character. Has a different emotional foundation, they’re completely different characters, where I just chose to create a completely different persona for him, and I think it worked.

If I do one large project a year, I can go out and find these unsolicited smaller projects that I can help, with my ability to get press and things like that. And I hope it gets seen by a lot of people. This is not something that you’re just going to be able to forget 10 minutes after the film, or 20 minutes after the film. It’s gonna stay with you for a couple of days. It’ll stay with you, because it really has an organic base to it. The fear of not being said or heard or loved.

Knuckleball is in theaters and streaming everywhere, including Amazon.

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