How was working with Judah Lewis?
I think most children, or young kids who are actors who have talent, it’s always sort of an interesting sort of epiphany for the audience to see someone do something. That cross section you have where you don’t exactly have that craft, that performance after performance that you need to cultivate, but he does have an inherent sense of talent, and he is really charismatic, and I think you’re right …. The character itself, too, was written so well by Bryan [Sipe]. I think it’s the most, clearest sort of, most loved character by the writer in the whole piece and so it’s sort of a mixture of the two of them but yeah Judah’s a wonderful actor, wonderful.
Is it to your benefit, having started so young yourself, to work with a younger actor? Do you come in with certain recollections of when you started?
Uh, yes and no. I think I have a rule, like a bit of a mandate, when I work with a kid … I mean I worked with this young wonderful actress named Oona Laurence, on this movie Southpaw that I did, and my rule was always just to follow them, I have this belief that- Paul Simon says “I was born before my father and my children before me”, you know, and I think the idea is that they’re just closer to some sort of, their instincts, maybe some sort of wisdom, and so my rule is to always just follow them. It’s generally my rule in life too. They’re usually going to show you something that you didn’t see. Being an adult, we tend to ignore, so that’s just my general theory when working with kids.
So this, was there something specific that you felt like you’ve learned from him, or that he showed you that you weren’t aware of? Do you think, with all these heavy subjects and all?
No, I think it’s more technique. I don’t think it’s I don’t look to children to tell me how I’m supposed to feel. (laughing) But I do see them as arbiters and harbors of a wisdom that they might not be totally aware of.
Can you speak about collaborating with Jean-Marc Vallée and what you admire about him as a filmmaker?
Well I think essentially he is a man of the process. He is all about process, even though he started off as an editor and primarily exists as an editor, in a lot of ways, but then, as a result of knowing that, if he puts choices sort of in a bucket, that’s how I tend to look at my work, I put a lot of choice into a bucket for a director, and they take that bucket and they hook me up with that in the fridge, then we need to cook something up, take this or that, you know? And he is simultaneously sort of boundary-less and slightly controlling, and so he moves around you. Obviously there is practically no vanity in his process, so there is no, literally no vanity, in that there is no makeup, and no lighting and the camera is always on someone’s shoulder. There are no real particular linear angles in his filmmaking. Everything is sort of existing on a 360 degree world. I would say even more so than that, up, down, everywhere…wherever something is existing and is honest, he’s going to go find it. He wants to have the agility to do that. That’s the way he works. And it is actually the way I love to work as well. I mean, you adapt, because that’s craft, and that’s experience, you adapt to a director’s style, or to a crew’s style, that’s how it goes, but ideally I love just trying to move faster than my brain, and listen to the universe as it shows you things, and try and capture them, and that’s his process.
What’s your process for playing a character who doesn’t show or have emotion so much on your face? That’s a different kind of role for you.
Yeah. I have a different kind of belief, and I learned that from this movie, that I think apathy is equal to empathy. I think we don’t give it the equality that it deserves because convention continuously tells us that we must be feeling, we must be, this is the way to become a better person, but I think the way to become a better person is to understand yourself and how you move through the world. Then you can do something. It’s like you got to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you do anyone else, you know? And in that way, it was an interesting journey. It’s hard as an actor, you want to emote, just out of ego, you think acting is about that. You think expression is about emoting. But really expression can be, I think as we all know, in profound silences, and sometimes non-feelings, as much as it is in huge primary color expressions of feelings.
You’ve tackled many roles over the years. “Brokeback Mountain,” gosh, all the films you’ve done. And it always comes back to characters. Is there a particular genre or something that you feel is your proudest work you’ve done over the years or something that you feel comfortable doing? Or do you just take anything as it comes? You tackle everything that comes to you, it seems-
I try, well I’m always scared, you know? I try and put myself into –
You’ve never been a superhero.
Right, yeah. I don’t know how I could do research for that, though. I love preparation and I just don’t know what superhero I could talk to. But, I think I don’t really have a favorite. I think each one of them, as I’m sure everyone here has in their life and their work, each thing is a lesson and each movie for me or experience, whether it turns into a movie or not, you’re developing something. It’s always a lesson. A great lesson in letting go of expectations. I mean, there is a movie that is a seminal cultural movie, like Brokeback Mountain, I’m proud of that as an American citizen and a citizen of the world, but at the same time, I’m proud of the little moments, I’m really proud of weird things. It’s not movies altogether. It’s moments, things that I think were honest. These movies are not my creation, I’m a piece of them. When I see them, the things I love, they’re odd. When everyone’s like what’s your favorite color I’m always like that’s an interesting question. So it’s hard to tell you that.
The manner in which you’re able to basically transform yourself and become these amazing characters has always been astounding to me. Would you say that it is analogous to, just getting information from a hard drive, or an artist molding a piece of clay into a sculpture? What would you think would be the best analogy for it?
I can only give you an example based on where I am about to go, because I am in the middle of a journey of creation, and my biggest thing always is this aspect, that David Lynch-ian thing of trying to catch the big fish in a way: you have to listen. I’m trying to find ways in which I can listen. I’m not always that good at it, particularly at a junket where I’m talking about myself, which I really enjoy. But I think that’s what I try and do, I try and trust that, somewhere, and this is going to sound lofty, but I trust that the universe is going to give me a clue, because I pick something out that I actually believe in. So if I’m doing something I actually believe in, I know I’m going the right way and that I will get clues. It’s when I know I’m going the wrong way, then I’ll be like, shit there’ll be no clues, I’m lost. What I would liken it to is I get these odd feelings and then I move towards them. Like, you know, what I’m struggling with right now in my next movie, is we have a whole rig because I’m playing a guy who’s lost his leg. What I’m interested in is what it’s going to feel like to be like physically trapped in a space, what that is, how that feels, what that will make me feel. It won’t make me feel good. But ultimately the movie is about love, and how somebody brings someone through something, great love. So to trust that someone will be there, I don’t know, it’s hard. I likening it more to that, this is a cliché too, but that structure, that piece of rock, you chip away a little piece but-oh fuck! The whole, well, alright, that’s what we have now. And slowly try to form it into something that looks like you had some sense of what you were doing early on. And then people go like, oh that’s really cool. Or they think it sucks, and you know, it’s a crapshoot.
Don’t cut off your legs for this next movie! What is this next thing?
I’m playing a guy named Jeff Bauman who lost his legs in the Boston bombing, the Boston Marathon bombing, and it’s really not a story about the Boston bombing. It’s a story about him and his journey with his then girlfriend, now wife, their journey through it, and his sort of quirky, really complicated family around it, really ultimately their love story. Which with or without his legs would be just beautiful. So, it happens to be about all of that. And he’s just an incredible human, you know, and hilarious. It’s actually funny, I hate to say it, but it’s actually funny. He’s a lovely, really funny guy.
You made a visit to the hospital, I read that you talked to people. Did you learn a lot from that?
Well there’s a wonderful rehab facility, place called Spaulding, maybe you’re talking about that, in Boston, that is probably one of the most incredible facilities that I’ve ever been to or seen. The work that they do, and just the structure, of a rehab or hospital where there’s light pouring in from everywhere, there are these beautiful views, you walk in and you feel loved and welcomed no matter what. Whether you’re suffering from something, trying to move through it, or you’re not, you’re just visiting, it’s a place you want to be. I visited there the other day, so maybe that was it, but I’ve been to a number of hospitals and met a number of people. Another place, United Prosthetics, that provides Jeff with his genium legs, the prosthetic that attaches to his leg, which is an incredible thing, they’re artists over there, I was there the other day, the company that makes the genium leg, which is like mind blowing, he’s an above the knee amputee, and he can walk, he has motorized legs that can walk. They do incredible work. So I’ve been meeting with a lot of people, doing a lot of different things, but to really see the artists that create these things is beautiful. So that’s next.
When I see this film, demolition is part of the building. In your acting that, do you have a similar experience, where you have to demolish first in order to reconstruct yourself, in life?
It’s funny, I really believe that creating something is so much harder than demolishing it. Demolishing it is like waking up that inner child in you, that inner four-year-old, holding the little blocks, and they kick it over in like satisfaction, that need to destroy something. And I think we all have that kid in us, you know? And so I also think though there is a mature part- there is a book, a long time ago I studied Eastern religion in college, but I was also interested in other extracurriculars in college, outside of that- I read this book called Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, which is written by this psychoanalyst but also Buddhist, and I think that’s kind of more the idea- it’s possible to do that, and you should be able to do that, search for finding yourself, you have to break apart those pieces and sort of lay them in front of you, or wherever, or try and discard them and they come back, whatever the process is, in order to understand yourself. It’s why I love this movie. You start off with a guy who made all these conventional choices, up to the moment of this tragedy that happens to him. And because he was not listening to himself but listening to what society and convention told him, when this tragedy happens, he’s absolutely lost, and doesn’t know what he feels, because he doesn’t know his own feelings. Then he spends an entire movie trying to figure out how to get back to himself, so he can feel what he wanted to feel about the event what he wanted to feel in the first place. And so in a way it’s this crazy journey, but it’s also, it’s hopefully a little bit of a message. Yeah, take from convention what works for you, but f— the rest.