2017 Berlin International Film Festival: After the premiere of “Final Portrait,” which was extremely well-received at audience and press screenings alike last weekend, I had the opportunity to discuss all things art, food, inspiration, stardom, politics and activism, as well as the film industry narrative shift toward streaming services and the making of “Final Portrait” with Stanley Tucci and Armie Hammer.
(Setting: Regent Hotel Berlin. Small, intimate conference room, round table discussion with 5 other interviewers)
Question: How many Cigarettes did you have to force Geoffrey Rush to smoke in the movie?
A lot. They were fake cigarettes. They have to be now, legally, you have to smoke fake cigarettes on a set or in a play. They’re all herbal cigarettes.
Awards Circuit: What kind of herbs did they use?
They’re these brands, they’ve been around forever, they’re disgusting.
Question: We talked in the film festival at Venice like 1 and a half years ago for Spotlight, you were mentioning that maybe you were gonna shoot a part that would be financed from Germany, and you will shoot the part either in France or in Germany, so now reading the press notes, reading the script, and picking up studios, so could you tell me the history of the involvement of this story and why this idea came through to go to England?
Well, I live in England, and, we could only afford to shoot in England. It’s that simple. We couldn’t afford to go to France. We thought we’d to go to France for maybe – first it was like “Oh we’re going to go to France for a week and a half, then it was like a week, then it was four days, then it was two days, then it was one day, then it was no days. Because it was too expensive. Couldn’t do it.
Question: Why did you choose to exit to England?
I got married about 4 years ago.
Awards Circuit: Congratulations!
Thank you very much!
Question: It’s not because Donald Trump, of course.
Well, no, but it was good timing, wasn’t it? Just removing the hair, it’s kind of grossing me out.
Awards Circuit: Honestly I look at the news every morning, and I don’t want to go back to the U.S. It’s tumultuous.
Then don’t! Don’t go. Don’t go.
Question: Why did you decide to tell us that moment of the life of Giacometti?
Because it all stems from this book, “A Giacometti Portrait,” and it was so beautiful this book, I carried this book around with me for years from the time I was a young man, and, it was such a beautifully written book about the creative process. I thought someday I can make a movie out of this, but what I liked about it was that, you know it has very specific structure, it’s finite, right, so we have – so instead of making a biopic, which I don’t like, I never liked them, you can’t cram somebody’s life into – you could do 6 episodes, or 8 episodes of a life, but you couldn’t do two hours, it’s just stupid. So, you have this thing that’s finite: guy walks into a room and he says “I want to paint you,” “Ok, how long is going to take?” “It’s gonna take this long, actually it takes this long,” “Fine.” So we can deal with that structure in a film, so it’s Giacometti’s life in microcosm, in a sense, and his process, and his complicated relationships and all that stuff.
Question: And that’s interesting because it allows to focus on the little moments, right?
Yes, you can focus on the detail, otherwise biopics become – it’s a series of expositional scenes and major events.
Question: And sometimes movies, they try to stay away from the routine moments, like the walks, and them going to lunch, and you go for that.
I do, I like all the in-between moments. I remember when my kids were little, instead of, obviously, you videotape, or take photos of birthday parties, but it doesn’t occur to me to do that. It occurs to me to take videos or photos of them when they’re just playing, or when they’re just eating, or when they’re just standing there looking out the – do you know what I mean? Or just talking to you about something, you know? That’s more interesting to me.
Question: And that’s what life is about.
Well it is, those sort of little moments in between things, and the space in between things is what interests me more than the major events.
Awards Circuit: The seemingly banal moments.
Awards Circuit: So you conceived of this story, of making this project in your 20s, right? Your father was an art teacher, do you think he influenced your pursuits of the arts?
Without question, yeah, I mean I grew up, you know, with somebody always – he was teaching art, he was talking about art, and, he taught art in the Summers too, to make extra money, and we went to Florence for a year when I was a kid and he studied at the Academia. He studied figure drawing and sculpture and bronze casting. So living in Florence when you’re 12 and 13 years old is a really interesting experience.
Awards Circuit: I lived there for 6 months.
Did you really? How old were you?
Awards Circuit: I was 20.
Wow, that’s nice! Lucky you. What were you doing?
Awards Circuit: I was studying abroad as well as tutoring children English.
Oh, fantastic! Do you speak Italian?
Awards Circuit: I do, si, parlo Italiano.
(Tucci reacts joyfully, turning and pointing to the other Italian interviewers)
Question: We too!
Question: So can you identify with Giacometti? Can you identify with the artistic process of Giacometti?
Without question, yes, I think all those – I mean – would I love to be an artist of his caliber? Yes. But can I – do I identify with him? Yeah without question, I think a lot of people in the arts do, I mean I think that’s why I like the book so much, because it expressed sort of what you what you were feeling but couldn’t quite articulate. And a lot of that is – Giacometti was incredibly articulate, and he was really intellectual, but he never let the intellect get in the way of his work, that’s one of the reasons why his work is so brilliant. But yes, those doubts, that frustration, the inability to create something that’s truthful, and the struggle for it, of course, yeah.
Question: I suppose there is a Giacometti estate, how did you work with them?
The Giacometti foundation in Paris, they were very reticent at first, because they think that you’re going to just sort of copy the work and sell it on the black market or something like that, and, I mean, you’d have to be a moron to think that these works of art were recreated in the studio are actual Giacomettis. But I can understand their concern, there have been fakes around, but eventually they ended up being very helpful.
Question: What happens to you when you see a Giacometti? Would you say it goes straight to your heart?
It goes straight to my heart, still to this day. I just went to the Louisiana Gallery outside of Copenhagen, and they have an amazing collection of Giacomettis. Not a huge collection, but sort of, kind of perfect collection of Giacomettis, and the owner there had collected them in the early 60s, and Giacometti had gone to – I think one of the last photographs of him was taken at that in there place so beautifully within that space and that landscape. It’s just – it’s gorgeous, and still when I see them, I’m just *gestures to put his hands to his heart* you know they just hit you.
Question: Do you see a parallel when you’re doing research about an artist, and then you’re doing research for a part? Because there might be these struggles part of your life as well, you know, to take the role, to play the character, how do I achieve it, to say yes and no, “oh it’s Meryl Streep again, so I’m gonna do it” even if the script is not so good, you know these kinds of discussions.
Exactly. Right, yeah, without question, yeah. I mean you do different movies for different reasons. Sometimes you make a movie because you have to make money, sometimes you make a movie because of the director, sometimes because of the actress, or sometimes it’s because of the role. Sometime it’s because of the location. So you never really know, but the process of creating a character, it’s always different. Some characters you need to do a lot of research before, and some, you see it on the page and you go, “Oh, I know what to do,” and it’s just all there.
Question: There was this wonderful quote from Michael Caine saying, “I never saw Jaws 3 or 4, whatever it was, but you have to see the wonderful house I bought during the movie.”
Exactly, yes, exactly. And theres’s nothing wrong with that.
Question: He was kind of an eccentric, because he was a genius and everything. That could easily be translated into like a caricature on-screen, but you guys did a good job, so it’s not. How did you work on that?
We just had – you just have to be truthful, as Giacometti is attempting to be truthful to his work, we have to be truthful to him. So everything has to be underplayed, I mean there are moments of, you know, sort of cheap comic cheekiness, but you have to play it – it has to be completely real, it cannot be commented on in any way. Everything has to be brought down. You have to play against stuff.
Awards Circuit: There’s a moment in the third act, one of the last conversations where Lord and Giacometti are walking through the cemetery, and he finally discusses his opinion on the past artists before him, and, you know he’s both critical and bitter, but at the same time sentimental. He criticizes Picasso for sort of plagiarizing Cezanne, which I thought was interesting. Cezanne was influenced by Impressionism and Pointillism obviously, and he kind of provided the foundation for Cubism, and then Cubism evolved, you see Dada [the found object art movement founded by Marcel Duchamp], and then the Abstract Expressionists [led by Jackson Pollock], and then Modernism [Andy Warhol onwards]. So where does Giacometti fit in? He’s kind of in his own genre.
Exactly. Yeah, he is. He is. We don’t know where he fits in, and that’s kind of the beauty of it. At the beginning he was part of the surrealists, but, you know, he broke with them because he needed to get back to the figure, he couldn’t help but get back to the figure, and that was anathema to the Surrealist Manifesto. First of all, that there’s a manifesto to begin with, I mean I can understand it in theory but art can have no – should have no rules, there can be confines, that’s kind of the point of it. That’s kind of the point of it, it’s actually one of the reasons it exists. So, to be dogmatic about art in any way shape or form is absurd. So, I think knowing that, he breaks with them, they boot him out, you know, what, was there like a surrealist building? “Get out of the Surrealist building!” You know? And also what would that look like, a Surrealist building? So, he’s kicked out, and he does the thing that he wants to do, and he doesn’t, as you say, fit into any category, I think that’s what makes his work so profound and singular. It’s at once ancient and modern, his work.
Question: Why did you cast another actor (referring to Rush in the main role)?
Because he’s so perfect for it, and he’s a great actor.
Awards Circuit: Phenomenal. So he was attached to the project for two years. What took so long to cast the other characters? Was it just scheduling?
Scheduling and all that stuff, you know, just trying to – you know there are lots of actors who won’t be as generous as Armie and Geoffrey. It’s a lot, you have to work around your schedule, I mean Armie lives in LA, you know, also we had to be careful because we only had so much money, so you thought, if we could cast everybody living – you know you even try to cast people in England because you can’t afford even to bring people in and put them up. I mean there’s so many factors that go into casting a film and people have no idea. I remember I looked at something online yesterday, someone was sort of tepid about the film, which of course makes me right away go *hand gesture of frustration*. But, you know, they said, “I don’t believe it was Paris, or I don’t believe it was so and so and I don’t know why this person was this, and why was it like that?” And you kinda go, “Have you ever made a movie? Do you know anything about making movies?” Do you know what I mean? Really? Really.
Question: Why did you still read it?
Well, it’s kinda – you know – it’s like beating your head against the wall, it feels good when you stop. I don’t know, you know, I don’t know, you can’t help – well because somebody showed me good reviews, so then once you see the good reviews you go “Let me see the bad reviews, you know?
Question: Have you ever felt like Giacometti when starting from scratch again. I remember when I interviewed Thelma Schoonmaker some years ago, and she said that she and Scorsese, when they work, they edit the film, they look at it, they throw it away, and start from scratch again. Have you ever felt that way when you were in the editing room?
Yes, I’ve done that, I’ve done that, yep. With certain scenes you do, you go, “Alright, wait, this is wrong, it’s all wrong, let’s revisit it. Let’s go back. Let’s think about what this really is supposed to be.
Question: But do you have footage, then, to cover for that, that you want to –
Sometimes you do.
Question: And when you don’t?
Question: You were talking about not having enough money. Do you think that the industry is gonna change somehow because, I mean, you’re – it’s the kind of movie that Netflix, Amazon, they’re going for, and they have money, and they’re showing that you can be huge success, and there is a public for that.
Right, and that’s where independent movies are going to go. There’s no question about it. They have to. I mean this model isn’t really working the way it used to work, not with television, not with digital, not with –
Question: But do you think that the industry is gonna go back and rethink that maybe?
Question: Yeah, and make more movies like yours, and they’ll give them more money in order to make the kind of character-driven film.
Only if they make money from it. Right? It’s not an altruistic venture. It’s-
Question: It’s just amazing to me that they are not part of this big business now, right, so they may try to steal some of the ideas and get back to that.
Who? Do you mean Amazon? Or the –
Question: The studios, they’re part of this?
No, they’ll never do that. They never really have done it, and they’ll never really do it. I mean there was a time when the studios created their sort of specialist division, their art division, art-house thing, you know, but they –
Question: Like Fox Searchlight?
Right, but they did that in reaction to the success of independent films about 20 years ago. When you think about the year that “Shine” came out, “Big Night” came out at the same time. All the movies in that awards season, ours wasn’t in the awards season, but the others were. They were independent films, and there was one – I think there was only one studio film that was nominated, and suddenly there was this incredible surge of – where all these independent companies you could make – I remember you could get money for a movie, it was fantastic. I mean you could really make movies pretty, fairly easily. I mean if you think about it “Big Night” had a budget 20 years ago, 21 years ago, of $4.3 million. This movie was 2.6 million pounds, which is, what, about barely $5 million (looks at me for confirmation of currency exchange), right?
Awards Circuit: Right.
Yeah, so something like that. So that’s 21 years later, so you’re struggling to make a movie that is similar in a lot of aspects to this movie about two Italian guys who run a restaurant and nobody even knew who anybody was in the movie with the exception of Isabella and Minnie Driver at the time. So it’s really changed for the worse. And what happened was, and suddenly the studios sort of catch on that, “Hey, there’s all these independent [films], let’s start our independent divisions, and then they started basically coopting that model and those businesses themselves. So all those independents, all those little independent studios, all those little independent movies shot disappeared, and then they made their own, and then – but they were basically making studio movies just for less money. And then those divisions disappeared, so then the whole landscape, for the most part, becomes barren. Think about it, the only ones that are left are Sony Classics, they’re the only ones who still exist.
Question: Fox Searchlight? I think they’re –
Fox Searchlight, yes, but it’s a different Fox Searchlight. Fox Searchlight is great, but it’s still not – it’s still a slightly higher scale, a slightly higher budget scale.
Question: But the situation with nowadays, what does it mean for you? Would you say that you go with your next idea to Amazon or to Netflix?
Without question, yeah, because, I mean, it’s very hard to – I mean when I see a lot of this stuff that’s written, I’ve been sent stuff, you know, people who are making stuff with Amazon, with Netflix, I mean, it’s really, really interesting stuff. I mean to me it doesn’t matter where the – who has the money and who’s gonna make it, but who’s gonna make the way it should be made. And that used to be independent film screening in theaters and so on and so forth, but that’s harder and harder to do. There’s money there but the distribution costs are huge, the advertising costs are huge. How do you keep it in the theater for so long when you have huge huge huge budget movies that eclipse everything. So how do you do it? It’s not a viable business model. Doesn’t really make any sense, does it? It’s unfortunate.
Award Circuit: It’s interesting, you know, director Mel Gibson recently in an interview said “Hacksaw Ridge” is considered an independent film, but that’s gotta have a budget of at least, I would guess $50 million ($40 million upon checking).
$50 million? Jesus, I could make a lot of movies with $50 million.
Awards Circuit: Is that even an independent film at that point?
Well, independent only in the sense that a studio didn’t back it. So it is independent.
Awards Circuit: And speaking of “Big Night,” I’m sure you this has come up, but, you know, this is your [third on-screen reunion] with Tony Shalhoub.
Right, we did “The Imposters” together, which was a huge bum, for Fox Searchlight!
They were really generous. Lindsay Law, who was running it at the time, he loved the movie, he was the only person who laughed, you know? And then he left Fox Searchlight.
Awards Circuit: I’m sure it was nice then, reuniting professionally, and, you obviously stayed friends. Have you ever thought about following up [with the story]? What are Primo and Secondo (characters in “Big Night”) doing 21 years later?
Just still trying to get a job. That’s all we are trying to do. Yeah, people have talked about, “Would you make a sequel? Could you make a sequel?” I don’t see that, no I don’t know how to do that.
Question: But you’ve published two cookbooks, so…
Yes. I love cooking, it’s a huge part of my life. And it seems to be more and more as I get older, I love it, and, you know, I put together a book 15, 16 years ago with my parents, and then it was reissued about 4 or 5 years ago, and then my wife and I did a book that came out a couple years ago. So my hope is to do another book in the next two years.
Questions: How do you describe your cooking style?
Completely uneducated and spontaneous.
Questions: What’s your best dish?
I like to make Risotto.
Awards Circuit: Seafood [Risotto]?
Seafood Risotto or Mushroom Risotto. But, I also love veal milanese, I mean the equivalent of the wiener schnitzel. I’ve eaten like 8 wiener schnitzels since I’ve been here. That’s all I want! That’s all I want, I love wiener schnitzel!
Question: Where did you get the best one here?
Oh at [the Berlin restaurant] “Big Bascha.” That was very good. But I still like at home when we make it, because the Germans make it differently than the Italians. *points at one of the Italian journalists* “She goes like this” *shrugs* meaning not as good.
Question: It’s quite different. It’s not the same.
It’s different because it’s deep-fried, and it’s more like a batter, and the breadcrumbs are in the batter.
Question: We don’t use batter.
No. No, so the Italians will –
Question: Olive oil and bread.
Olive oil, yeah. Although, a lot of recipes in northern Italy will call for butter, just butter, which I don’t like because it gets too heavy and greasy. I do oil, and then maybe butter, just a smidgen. A hint. But I love it, my kids love when I make the veal. Oh my god, it’s fantastic. You know, with the arugula and a little bit of tomato, and a little bit of parsley, and olive oil, and then lemon. And they eat – I mean I’m going broke buying all this food. And they say, they get up and the morning, my son gets up in the morning at like 7, and he’ll go, first he says, “What are we having tonight?” He’ll do that. And I’ll go, “I don’t know…maybe I’ll make the veal -” “- Oh yeah!!!!” Then you hear somebody upstairs go, “Veal!?!?”
Awards Circuit: And cooking is just as much of an art form as any of these other mediums, I would consider. Like painting, filming, whatever you wanna say – the process that goes into it, the layout of the food, it’s all art.
It is. And then you look at people that really know how to do it, and it’s incredible. I mean it can be elevated to point of like Heston’s, Heston Blumenthal stuff, and you know, you have that, and then you have Georgio Locatelli which is, you know, somewhere in between, who’s a brilliant, brilliant chef.
Question: So this was one of the reasons why you did “Julie and Julia.”
It was. Well, Meryl said, “Do you want to play my husband in this thing?” and I said “No” (jokingly). I said, “Yeah, of course I’d wanna play your husband.” And I love Julia Child, I had always loved Julia Child. But Nora said, she said, “Oh, you made ‘Big Night’, you made the food movie to beat.” I didn’t know it was a competition, but, you know.
(PR informs Tucci in is time to wrap up the interview)
Nice talking to you, thank you! Bye! Have a good festival!
Question: Beautiful performance.
Thank you very much, thank you.
Question: So how does it feel having two major films at the festival [the other is Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name]?
Double the fun I guess!
Question: Both of them dealing with friendship with two men.
Yeah, it’s great, you know, I mean it’s great to get to come to the Berlinale and all that, but then it’s also great to ride the coattails of Stanley Tucci and Luca Guadagnino, so, it’s been really nice.
Awards Circuit: *Shakes hand* Alex, by the way.
Hammer: Hey man, Armie, nice to meet you!
(everyone laughs at the ice breaker, prompting proper introductions)
Question: Do you also have a feel for cooking and recipes like Stanley Tucci has?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, oh yeah, there was a lot of time spent onset talking about cooking, because, I mean, Stanley is such an accomplished Chef, and he has two cookbooks, and you know the whole thing, so, we spent a lot of time, if not talking about food, then eating food. So it was – this movie was like a culinary delight.
Question: And that’s in London (cheekily making fun of their food).
Question: But did he invite you for dinner?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Question: What did he cook for you?
What did he cook…he did like slow-roasted lamb, I mean he really – he can cook anything, and he is a terrific chef.
Awards Circuit: You mentioned yesterday in the press junket that acting alongside Geoffrey Rush – you likened it to playing against an all-star tennis player a-la John McEnroe or Andre Agassi. What did you learn from Geoffrey Rush in your scenes together, because you have a lot onscreen time together, and most of the film is obviously you two, so what did you learn from him, if anything?
I learned from Geoffrey that you can get older and wiser and smarter in this business in every sense without getting lazier. He has the most voracious work ethic of any actor that I have worked with, period. Period. I have never seen anything like it. We were shooting 6 days a week, and on Sunday he’d call and go, “Armie, um, would you mind coming over to my room, let’s talk about these scenes that we have coming up.” And I’d go “Great,” and, you know, you show up at 11 o’clock in the morning, and you’d be there until 7 o’clock at night, going over the scenes for the whole next week. And I’d go, “Geoffrey, I’m really tired, man, I’m gonna go to – we have to wake up early, and I’m just gonna go to bed.” And he was like “Yeah, yeah, well let’s just do this one more scene, let’s just talk about this real quick. And watch this video I have, this documentary. And also, look at this source material.” And he’s just, it’s nonstop, it’s amazing.
Awards Circuit: It almost parallels your characters’ chemistry onscreen.
Totally! Totally, totally. And, you know, I mean it’s not an accident that he is celebrated as much as he is as an actor. I mean he earns every single accolade by his hard work.
Award Circuit: Yeah, and that onscreen chemistry is apparent, so did you guys naturally hit it off offscreen?
Yeah, I think that there was just a recognization of, you know, “I get that you’re here to do your job, and you’re a professional,” and I like that, like that’s – “Good, me too, I feel the same way.”
Question: But did you change your attitude toward journalists or critics after the experience of doing the movie (he plays one in “Final Portrait”)?
Not necessarily. Biographers are really sort of a special bread. I’m fascinated by – I’m reading a really interesting biography right now, and it’s so interesting to see someone struggle with wanting to be unbiased and neutral, but also you only really take the time that it takes to write a biography about someone if you’re fascinated by them, or if there’s some sort of admiration, or else why else would you do it? It’s a really interesting tightrope walk, because James Lord was obviously fascinated by, and enamored with Giacometti, but still his biographies were incredibly, sort of unbiased, or as much so as he could do.
Question: And how much did you know about him before playing the character?
Not much. The only book of his that I was even aware of was his Picasso biography. I hadn’t even read the Giacometti one or anything like that. So, I was aware that he was an art biographer, but that was really all I knew about him.
Question: Were you familiar with the art of Giacometti before this?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah I’d seen some stuff and I was aware of his sculptures. I was more aware of his sculptures than his actual painting.
Question: Is it something that you like? His art?
Yeah, oh yeah. Great art is hard to argue with, you know, I mean it might not be your exact cup of tea, but in the case of Giacometti, like I really enjoy – you see this man – what you’re able to see I think in his sculptures is a man who just doesn’t see the world like you or I see the world. And the fact that he’s able to get that across the medium of sculpting is really impressive.
Question: And how did you feel, I mean, modeling?
Uhhh, if I actually had to sit in that chair like James Lord was, I think I would have lost my mind. I would been like, “You know what? Just keep the portrait! I’m going home. I’m fine. I quit. But when you’re doing it while making the movie, you know, you do it for 15 minutes, and then you stand up, and then you move this around, and then you gotta do it, and then you do it again for another 15 minutes – so it’s not so – it was fun. It never got dull or sort of arduous when we were making the movie, it was always just fun.
Question: It looks like this was also filmed with not much talk in it. It’s more about gesture and mimicry, and looking at people. Do you think, generally speaking, that you see so many scripts where jus people talk talk talk the whole film instead of telling the story through images and pictures?
Right, yeah, you, well that used to be really the thing in movies, was using images to tell the story as much – whether it be if, you know, if you wanna create tension in the old movies where you have a camera slowly pushing in towards a rotating fan, “Char char char char char char char char char,” to make the audience nervous, you know, you don’t do that anymore, really. Film is changing so much. I think that there’s a time and place for both. You know, I think that there are great dialogue-driven movies where people do literally but talk.
Awards Circuit: “Social Network.”
Yes! “Social Network,” “My Dinner With Andre,” those are – any Aaron Sorkin script, you know, I mean, that’s the thing, so it’s like, “Is there artwork done with spray paint?” Yes, does it make it less of an art form? I’m not one to say.
Question: Talking with films with tension, how was it working with Tom Ford? Because that was one of my favorite films of last year [“Nocturnal Animals”]. I really, really liked it. How was that experience?
Oh, great. It was amazing. Tom really sold me on it, and he goes, “Listen, I’d love for you to do a part in my movie,” and I was so excited that he was just gonna direct a movie again that I said, “Sure,” and he goes, “Well, do you wanna read the script?” I’ll go, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, sure, I guess I’ll read the script too.” And he’s like, “and you get to shoot in LA,” and you know the whole thing, and I was like, “this is like the greatest experience,” and then being on set with Tom and sort of seeing – when you’re on set with Tom and you watch him direct a movie, you quickly realize that it’s not accident this man has been able to be so successful in so many different things. Whether it be developing and growing fashion houses or creating his own fashion empire, or directing movies, he just makes it look almost too easy, but it’s because he’s so smart.
Question: You are very lucky you worked with the best directors until now. Do you want to direct yourself?
Yes, directing myself is sort the end game, like I would love to do that. I would love to be responsible for my own content. It will just take me overcoming the hurdle of not feeling ready. I’m excited I’m gonna work with Ben Wheatley again, which I’m really excited about, and then a great Australian director named Anthony Maras, who I did “Hotel Mumbai,” which was his first feature film. So I’m excited for the world to see what he’s able to do and all that.
Question: Have you done it already?
Yeah, we shot it already.
Question: How was that experience?
Very intense. Very intense but very fun. You know, we shot it down in Australia, we also shot it in India. I play sort of a guest who just gets – he’s in the hotel, in the Taj hotel when it gets attacked. He’s having dinner with his wife downstairs, and all of the sudden gunfire and grenades start going off in the hotel, and he realizes he’s not with his baby, and his baby is upstairs with the nanny. So he has to make the decision of – I’m not gonna drag my wife through this lobby of gunfire and death, but do I have to go risk my life to get the baby? Do I leave my wife alone? You know, it’s one of those situations.
Question: I have to ask you, having worked with Alicia [Vikander], how do you think [of her rise to stardom]?
It’s incredible, it’s incredible and honestly so well-deserved. She’s so phenomenally talented, but even more than that she’s just like such a lovely person that you want it to happen for her.
Question: Can you see her as Lara Craft now?
I saw the pictures and it looks great! Yeah, it looks great, I’m excited about it.
Awards Circuit: She’s perfect for the role.
Question: Can you reason, in your own mind, why “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” didn’t have a big success at the box office?
I don’t know, you know, I don’t know enough about the process of, sort of rolling out films about how to – I just, I don’t know anything about distribution really. I’m an actor, my job starts when the director says “action,” for the first time, and really my job on a movie ends when he says “cut,” for the last time. After that, no one ever comes to me and goes, “So how many screens do you think we should open on,” or like, “Now, with the campaign, do you think we should focus more on this or more on that?” I don’t know what works and what doesn’t. I know that I have these movies where I have the distinct pleasure of going to make it. Making “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had making a movie. I got to work with some of the most fun and also phenomenally talented people all around the world, throughout Italy, throughout England, I mean really just kind of going around and having a great time. So for me if it performs, if it doesn’t, I have to not let that affect my experience with making the movie because, for me, the day before it opens, I should feel the same way about it as the day after regardless of how it went, you know, because it’s my personal experience – my personal experience is the only thing that I’m responsible for.
Question: But when you see the script, and it comes to you, and then you look at it and see the talent involved and say “Oh, well, I’m gonna do that, this is a safe bet.” Did you ever have the idea that, “I’m gonna do it” because it will help, you know, rise –
No, I don’t – I agree with you that when you at the list of talent on a movie and all that, and it’s a good list, it’s very exciting, but I never allow myself to get excited for the future. I allow myself to get excited about the process of making it, of going, “I’m gonna watch how Guy Ritchie directs a movie. How does he get that tone? How does he get that sense of humor in there?” I’m gonna watch, know, whomever, I’m gonna watch Hugh Grant do his thing, I’m gonna watch Henry Cavill do his things, so it’s – you get excited but it’s – you have to stay in the moment, you know, while you’re making the movie. If I was already thinking about what the box office was gonna do, blah, blah, blah, then I’m only setting myself up for failure, you know?
Question: I’m Italian, so I’m really curious about your experience with [Luca] Quadagnino. I read very beautiful reviews, someone was talking about a masterpiece, so I wanted to see, which kind of experience – how much intensity? Because it’s a love story, very deep.
Right. It was – man – I mean, it was the superlative experience of shooting a movie because of Luca, because of the material, because of where we shot it, because of how we shot it. We shot the entire movie on one lens, so there was never massive camera changes, there was never anything – and it felt like a perspective piece of just “La Dolce Vita,” I mean it was just really – it was a beautiful, sanctual experience making that movie. And it was – it was something that I would go back and do again in a second,just to be with Luca.
Question: So, do you hesitate to play gay men?
No, I mean, I’m an actor, you know, it’s like, where do you draw the line of going, well, “I’ll play a serial killer, but I’m not gonna play a gay guy.” I want to do things that are different from what I am. That’s what acting is, it’s not being yourself, it’s sort of getting lost in something else, and, what better opportunity than something that’s that different from me? I viewed it as like, a good opportunity to do some acting, which is what I love, and what I’ve sort of trained to do my whole life.
Awards Circuit: “Final Portrait” is by all means an independent film in an intimate setting. You know, you’ve got two cameras, handheld cameras, the entire time. And you’ve been on big budget movies like the aforementioned “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “The Lone Ranger,” so how does working with big budget studios differ from the intimate setting of, say “Final Portrait?”
Well, I mean, there’s obviously a lot less money in “Final Portrait,” so there’s a higher level of efficiency that’s required. There’s no waste, you don’t get to deliberate on things, you don’t get to have days where you shoot a page and half for two days. I mean we were tearing through this, doing sometimes 6, 7, 8 pages a day, you know, and I like that. I like the pace. You never sat around and got bored. I don’t think I ever went to my dressing room because we were just always working. Some of those big movies, you’re afforded opportunities you don’t get on the little ones; there’s definitely perks of the job when you do big movies just because they have so much money. But at the end of the day, you know, it’s all a tradeoff, you know?
Awards Circuit: Yeah. Is it a little more hectic with more cast and crew and set pieces and lighting [with bigger budget films]?
On the big movies it can be hectic because you just have a lot of stuff going on. Whether it be, “Well now we need the ten tanks to come through. Oh one of the tanks isn’t working!!!” “Oh my god, now what do we do?” “Hold on, we gotta get – blah, blah, blah.” With small movies like this, we got two guys in a room, you never have issues like that.
Question: Do you think this has to be a decision from your point, well, “I’m gonna make an action film because it might expose very good,” and be seen everywhere in the world, and then have to do the small ones because it’s more satisfying? And do you have a plan of things going on? Say, “Well I have to go this one, this one, this way, this way, just to establish yourself or make a career?
Yeah, I would like to tell you that I have a plan, but, I have no delusions of control. I’m really just trying to do the best I can with every opportunity that I’m lucky enough to have come my way. You know, every movie that I did, I did for specific reasons, and those reasons mostly were to work with the people involved. If it happened to be a big movie, then it was a big movie. If it happened to be small movie, it was a small movie. I’ve really enjoyed the last sort of year and a half, or maybe two years or so of making smaller films. It is extremely satisfying from an artistic standpoint to make these movies that you’re passionate about, and that you’re doing them because you’re passionate about it, not because, “It’s going to be a big movie!” Or, “You’re going to get paid so much money,” you know, and you’re not for these movies, but you do it because it’s a passion project. And that feels better when you put your head down at night on the pillow than if you you put your head down at night on a really expensive pillow but don’t like your job.
Question: When did you realize that you wanted to be an actor? You were very young?
Yeah, I was really young, I was about 12 or 13, and I just – that’s when I fell in love with movies. And I didn’t really have the technical knowledge of the business to know what an actor even was, or, you know, what part of a role an actor has in making movies, but I just knew I loved movies and I wanted to be involved in making them.
Question: Which film –
Awards Circuit: Wow, so that was the movie that got you into acting?
(laughing) I was 12! You know, yeah, of course!
Awards Circuit: For me, it was also at 12 years old, for me it was, oddly, “Edward Scissorhands.”
Ahhhh, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Awards Circuit: That’s what got me into movies.
Question: Mine was “The Red Shoes” (1948).
Question: Because you’re a bit older than they are.
Question: When you talk to journalists nowadays, politics is always a subject, and the name Trump is always on the table. Is it important for an actor, an artist like you to say your opinion, to say something, or is it better to say nothing?
I don’t know. The truth of the matter is I don’t know the answer to that question. I know that I’ve gotten myself in trouble by saying my opinion. I know that if I don’t say my opinion, then I can – I know that if I do say my opinion, then there is someone out there who might get mad, or go, “I disagree with him. What does he know? He’s just a stupid actor,” you know, blah, blah, blah, “I’m never going to go watch his movies again.” I don’t care, you know, ultimately, but I don’t know if it’s my place as an actor to be a voice of politics or political reasoning or anything like that. I know that I’m allowed to have an opinion, just like everybody else is allowed to have an opinion. I happen to have a lot of opinions, but – I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to your question. I think that you can – I think that it’s dangerous throwing your opinion out there about anything too much.
Question: Are you a protestor, would you go on the street for certain things?
Yeah, I mean I definitely have before, you know, just been like, “I believe in this enough to, like, show my support in the form of going,” you know? And just going and being there. I’m not sure that every single protest is necessarily done in the most efficient way, or necessarily in the most pure of intentions, but, at the end of the day, this is what humans do. If we don’t like what’s going on, god bless us, we let people know! You know, we go, “Actually, you know what? I’m not ok with this. Are you ok with this?” “No, I’m not ok with this either! Come on, let’s go tell some people.” “Alright, let’s go!” You know, and that’s it. And then a spark becomes a conflagration.
Question: What is it like to be in the spotlight more or less? I mean how do you cope with that?
I try to avoid it, you know, like, if I’m – I’m in the spotlight here when we’re in the middle of a press tour, and when we’re making movies, and we’re in this sort of environment. But then when I go home, I wake up in the morning, I cook breakfast for my family, I take my daughter to the park. You know, it affects my everyday life less than – I’m sure it could affect my everyday life more if I chose to let it, but at the end of the day –
Question: Do you need bodyguards?
No! I could literally walk all the way across this city (Berlin) *points to window outside* and not a single person would say something or recognize me or anything, which is really nice.
Awards Circuit: Aside from the fact that you’re 6’5″!
Yeah, yeah, yeah. If anything they just go, “Oh, he’s tall!”
Question: When started, people were commenting on good-looking you are. So, you think that now it’s behind you?
It’s all downhill from here.
The Mona Lisa’s falling apart! I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it that much. You know, I guess if – oh, man – I guess it’s – honestly I don’t know how to answer the question.
Question: It’s the first time you didn’t find words. You have a wonderful sense of humor, you should do some more comedies.
I’d love to, I’ll take any job.
Awards Circuit: Speaking of the attention you get. People obviously comment on your good looks, but the fact is that you’re a seminal and extraordinary actor who has evolved. And, you know, as a result of that, it’s launched you into superstardom, but as you’ve said, you’ve managed to stay humble and avoid the spotlight as much as you can, which is, in this industry, often hard when people experience superstardom. So, has your family been a means of avoiding the spotlight and staying grounded and humbled?
Oh, for sure! My wife would slap the shit out of me if I started acting like I thought I was a movie star. Yeah, family is very grounding. You know, it’s a nice anchor to have to – you know, I mean, I might have a day where I’m on set working with the wonderful talents of Stanley Tucci and Geoffrey Rush, and then I’m coming home and I’m changing poopie diapers. You know, so it’s all like – you know, I mean, it’s life, man, this is my job, and I’m lucky enough to work with great people. You know, but I’m still just a dude, you know? This is my job.
Question: I hope it’s not private, but I’m surprised to see tattoos on you because – so, is there any meaning, or is it too private?
No, no, this one – this is my last name in Russian. My dad’s got it, my brother’s got it, it’s kind of like a family tradition tattoo, and then this one is for my wife, it’s just her initials. And then, on our anniversaries I add to it.
Question: Are you Russian?
My dad’s family is all Russian.
Awards Circuit: So was the accent then easy to do for “The Man From UNCLE?”
Yeah, I was familiar with it.
Awards Circuit: Did you you have a language coach?
Yeah, we did, we definitely had a dialect coach for the movie, a wonderful guy named Andrew Jack. But, you know, Russian was a language that – and sort of like a sound and feel that I was kind of familiar with.
Awards Circuit: And your [great] grandfather, was an art collector and seller?
Yeah, great-grandfather, yeah.
Awards Circuit: Did he ever happen to come across any Giacomettis?
Yeah, oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Awards Circuit: Really?
He had some Giacomettis and – I mean he really had all kinds of stuff back in the day.
Question: How did your experience of “Hotel Mumbai” change your views on terrorism?
What was really interesting was how humanizing it was. The movie does, I think, a really good job of not making these guys with AK-47s and grenades these faceless, soulless, monsters who are just hell-bent on destruction. It makes them scared kids who have been, sort of thrust into this situation and manipulated into a situation where they’re being controlled by these other guys who are making them do these things. And they believe, but at the same time they’re scared, so it’s humanizing, you know?