British actor Stephen Moyer has an extensive resume but Stateside, he’s best known for his role as the soft-spoken Bill Compton on HBO’s “True Blood.” In a recent departure, his latest character in Michael Brandt’s directorial debut The Double, isn’t so friendly. Moyer brandishes a stellar Russian accent and a nasty facial scar for his intense portrayal of Brutus, a link in a convoluted chain of gangsters with a faceless leader. We recently got a chance to speak with Moyer about his prisoner performance, his love for Danny Zuko, and how to properly execute a “twist” ending.
Check out our full interview below…
One of the things we like about The Double is its homage to multiple genres. You’ve got the perfect mix of the buddy and spy-cop thriller with a real Silence of the Lambs vibe. What about this project spoke to you?
Stephen Moyer: I think you hit it on the head in many respects. My favorite stuff to watch if I’m looking on Netflix or iTunes is still the same. I go to thrillers. I want to see thrillers. I love the Bourne movies, The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, and right back to 39 Steps. I love those films. I love the way they’re constructed. I love the way they make me feel. [I love] edge of the seat stuff, you know? So when I read this I was very attracted to that aspect of it. And the fact that it was written by the guy that did 3:10 to Yuma. I love that movie. Also, that Richard [Gere] was attached. I’ve always been a fan of Richard’s so for me, that was a big part of it. And also, there was this really great character that I could really get my teeth into and play with and bring craziness to.
Richard Gere plays a common type of character. He’s a retired old guy that just wants to live his life and watch little league baseball. But he’s distraught about something that he may or may not have done in his life. What do you think he brought to the character that was nuanced and original?
SM: I think what Richard has is this kind of enigmatic quality. He doesn’t need to say a great deal for you to sort of wonder what’s going on behind his eyes. I’ve always thought that when he’s really at his best, is this stuff where you’re trying to read him. You’re trying to see what it is that he’s thinking. It was just so great watching how confident, how relaxed, how comfortable he is on a film set. I spent a lot of time trying to get information out of him. I’d pull up my director’s chair next to his and ask him hundreds of questions. I’m sure he was bored rigid with me by the end of the shoot.
Was there anything particular that he said to you that stuck or was it more just watching his performance?
SM: Richard began in musical theater and I did too. I asked him a little bit about how he started out and I think he rather enjoyed going back over it a little bit. I don’t think its something he gets asked very often. So once we set up that common ground, we rather enjoyed going over it. He played Danny Zuko (from Grease) many years ago, and I played Danny Zuko when I was 17, so we talked about that and it was a lot of fun.
We see a lot of “Russian Gangster” character types in film. There is something so great about the it that it’s recurrent. Why do you think that is?
SM: I think that one has to remember, without being stereotypical is [that character] comes from a very different place to our own understanding of the world. Most of the people who have been portrayed or we are portraying have grown up under the iron curtain. It’s only in the last 20 years (1991 or something) that there was a kind of Glasnost and freedom of speech. They represent to us, in a way, a world that we don’t understand or know about. As much as we’ve read about it, it is obviously very interesting to view stuff we don’t know as much about. Where we can understand the reasoning or the ethics or the moralistic side of a Westerner in a similar gangster situation. There’s an enigmatic quality to somebody from the East in the same boat.
With your character Brutus, you’re obviously a gangster. You’re hard. You’re in jail. You’re isolated. You’re ruthless. But you’re also very fragile when you find out Cassius’ identity. Was that something you brought to the script or was it something Michael Brandt asked of you? How did the dichotomy of that character come out?
SM: I think that that’s something that I tried to instill in him – the idea that he’s this monster, but he has one Achilles heal and it’s one person. That would be this character, Cassius. He’s like a father figure to him, but also a terrifying icon that he’s grown up with. I wanted to set up this monster who’s not afraid of anything other than that. I spent a bit of time in the prison cell. We were working in a working prison in Michigan so that was very interesting because we had to get through a lot of security to get into the prison. The floor we were filming on had some solitary cells so I got put in one of the solitary cells for a while. I liked it. I liked the way it made me feel. I made them lock me in there in between takes. It was a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t want to spend much time there. I tried to use that as an idea of him. In that first scene, he has the ability to leave his cell and I based the idea on the fact that the character doesn’t have a chance to do that very often.
With most spy thrillers, we know we’re going to get a twist when we watch. We know that something’s coming or that someone’s lying. How do you think The Double makes good use of that without having a M. Night Shyamalan kind of moment?
SM: I think that our story [pays] a lot of homage to everything from Three Days of the Condor all the way to No Way Out. What you don’t want to do is something so unbelievable that the audience doesn’t buy it. You want to make it as believable as possible. I remember reading somewhere or being told somewhere along the line that you have to have told the audience about every single character within the first ten minutes. In a whodunit, the person that is the killer has to have been revealed within the first ten minutes of the movie, otherwise people won’t buy it. I think that’s something The Double does. It’s almost like you have to create the end and then you pick it apart until you have the ending.
(Possible spoiler territory)
Did you really swallow the batteries?
SM: I’m rather proud of that shot.
It’s incredible but also disgusting.
SM: I don’t think Michael will mind me telling you that I came up with how to shoot it. It was one of those things. There were lots of ways discussed of how to shoot it. I said the only way to make this truly work is if we do it in one shot. Film and theater and magic are about slight of hand and misdirection. And that’s all I’m going to tell you. I don’t want to give too much away for people reading this.
The Double hits theaters October 28, 2011.