An epic interview with Noah Emmerich on ‘The Americans,’ ‘Jane’s Got A Gun’ and ‘Blood Ties’

05.22.13 4 years ago 4 Comments


CANNES – This is not Noah Emmerich’s first trip to the Croisette. The character actor who has appeared in films such as “Little Children,” “Super 8” and who now stars as FBI agent Stan Beeman in FX’s hit series “The Americans” journeyed to Cannes for the premiere of Doug Liman’s “Fair Game” three years ago.  Now, he’s back to support the ensemble of “Blood Ties” where he plays a NYPD police captain caught in the middle of two feuding brothers (Clive Owen, Billy Crudup) in Guillaume Canet’s English-language remake of the 2008 French film “Rivals.”  It’s a nice break for Emmerich whose in the middle of shooting the troubled and controversial Western “Jane’s Got A Gun.” 

In a wide ranging conversation, Emmerich discussed working on “Blood Ties,” spoke indepth about the production process on “The Americans” (a must for any fan of the show) and gave his opinion on “Jane’s Got A Gun” (he’s having a great time).  


Q: What was it like compared to Fair Game because here you”re coming with…

Guillaume and Marion [Cotillard, his partner].  It felt like a royal wedding or something.  I mean, Cannes already feels like a royal thing to me somehow compared to like an American – have you been to the Palais for a premiere?  It”s incredible.  We walked – I mean, it”s a pageant.  It”s a total pageant.  It”s sort of old Hollywood glamor that doesn”t exist in Hollywood like it does here.

Q: Except at the Oscars or something.

Yeah, yeah.  But, I swear, I mean the journalists, the paparazzi are wearing tuxedos. You know, that doesn”t happen [in the states].

Q: Well, you know the rules, right?  They”ll only let you in…

Yes, I”ve heard them.  Because, you know, when I came here with ‘Fair Game I didn”t have a bow tie with me.  I didn”t have a tuxedo with me.  I was sort of last minute hopped on.  I wasn”t really officially invited.  Doug Liman who was the director invited me and said, “You”ve got to come to Cannes.”  I said, “Well, I wasn”t invited.”  He said, “So what?  You can crash in my room.”  I crashed in his hotel room.  I didn”t even have my own room.  So I was, and I really was like, “I”m not gonna get into this thing.” You know what I did?  I just put my arm in Naomi [Watts’].  I figured if – they”re not gonna kick me off Naomi”s arm…

Q: No, they would not.

And that”s what happened.

Q: I was talking to someone the other day and he was wearing brown shoes and they pointed it out.  I mean, they were shoes.  They let him go in but they were like, ‘Next time, no.’  And the best thing is you can only wear sneakers or something like sneakers if you”re the director of the movie

You”re kidding.

Q: Yeah, that”s it. 

That”s incredible.  It”s very French.

Q: It”s very French.  It”s not…

You know what?  I have to say my first time here I was just like, “This is fucking ridiculous.  And what is this French shit.”

Q: Now it”s fun.

You know, this time I thought I understand it more because if you”re not adamant, everything devolves into casual.  In the modern world there”s no such thing as formality.  A dinner jacket used to mean a tuxedo, you know?  I mean there”s all this formality.  And there”s something quite elegant and beautiful about it.  It”s really simple.  Wear a tuxedo.  You know what I mean?  And I get it.  I mean, I can”t believe I”m actually saying this but, you know, it”s like, ‘Oh no, I”m wearing jeans with a tuxedo jacket.’  Like, ‘No.  A tuxedo.’ That”s the dress code for this event.  Like it”s really simple.  If you want to like try and push and finagle and like say well, I”m wearing a tux but I have converse on.  It”s kind of a cool look.  No.  A tuxedo.  Like it”s just really simple.  And if you start to make exceptions, everybody would all of a sudden they it would no longer be like that.

Q: You know what?  I”ve worked in the industry a long time and like I”ve been to like ten Sundances and Torontos.


Q: And you”ve been to Sundance before, right?

Yeah, yeah.

Q: O.K., it”s like there”s this casualness.  Like it”s about the movie.  It”s not about the…

Right.  That”s the American [thing] and I love that.  By the way I love that, too.  But that”s not Cannes.

Q: No, it is not.

Cannes is about the tux.

Q: It is.

And you have to have a billion dollars to get here and to have the yacht and, you know…

Q: So here”s my question.  Compared to your night of extravagance for ‘Fair Game’ what was it like for ‘Blood Ties’ last night?  More low key?

No, it was higher key.  It was like being with the prince and princess of France because Guillaume and Marion are sort of that.  It was like being with a French movie.  The film”s an English language film but it”s virtually a French film.  So, to be in Cannes with what is essentially a French film was different.

Q:  And yet, you shot in New York, right?

Yeah.  We shot in New York.

Q:  Was it like the New York crews you”ve worked with before?

No it was French crew.  The crew was half French.  The director, the cinematographer, the first AD, you know, all the key positions were Guillaume”s crew that he had worked with on all his films.  So, like this French family came over, adopted a bunch of American cousins to help them and made this movie.  I mean, all the talk on set amongst the crew was in French.  And the wine was French.  The lunches were French.  You know…

Q: Was it still union?

Yeah, and it was quite frustrating for the French crew.  It was interesting because the rules are so different in France.  And it was quite interesting to see the French crew try to navigate the rules and regulations.  You can”t do this, you can”t touch a light.  They”re like, [In French accent] ‘What do you mean?  We”re making a movie.  Let”s go.  We”ve no time.’  No, but, ‘You can”t touch that.’  ‘I can”t touch that?  What you talking about?’  You know, it was really funny. 

Q: After all these years, I’ll never understand how you can be a director and can’t say, ‘I want to go move this light.’

Right, well that”s what Guillaume said.  He was like, ‘This is ridiculous.  What is this?  Oh my God, it takes three hours?  I have to wait to call the electrician to move the light?  Now we blew time, you know.’

Q: Did it feel like you were shooting an indie movie or a studio movie?

Indie, it was indie.  We were in Brooklyn in June without air conditioning on this – did you see the film?

Q: Oh yeah.

So the precinct set.  I just remembered – I had forgotten until last night…

Q: Well it looks like a real – it looks like a real precinct.  Whatever they did, they did a good job.

Beautiful set design.  But there was no air conditioning in there, man.  It was like 110 degrees.  And you”re wearing [those 70’s clothes].  Oh my God.

Q: Those polyester clothes. They just don’t breathe.

Oh my God.  It was like flammable.  We almost self-ignited many times.

Q: And is that why there”s that scene with you with your shoes off sitting on the couch?

That”s so funny.  I”m so happy that people are really noticing that scene, man.

Q: It”s funny like when I think about the movie that’s one of the first three things I think of.

It”s incredible.  I”m so proud of that, right? That was just a choice I made like, I thought, you know, it was my office and I”m doing paperwork and Billy [Crudup’s] coming in to talk to me but I don”t know he”s coming in to talk to me.

Q: Right.

And I thought, you know, when I”m alone on my couch I kick back.  I was doing paperwork and I said to Guillaume, ‘I think I want to just lie down.’  And he”s like, ‘Oh, yeah, why not.’  And I said, ‘I”m going to take my shoes off.’  And he said, ‘Yeah, I love it.’  And I didn”t think it was such a big resonant choice but it seems to like pop out for people.  Because like four different people have said to me just today like, ‘I loved it when you had your socks on.’  I think, really?  I can”t believe you noticed that.

Q: One of the things I thought was remarkable about the movie, and I don”t know if you noticed this yourself, but I didn”t know you could still make New York look so easily like the ’70s in 2013.

I don”t know how they did that.  There”s no money.  I mean I don”t understand it.  The chase scene.  The first time I saw the film was last night so I”d never seen a frame.  So, I also obviously had never seen anything that I wasn”t involved in the shooting of.

Q: Right.

Because I”m shooting ‘The Americans’ now which is a period thing in New York.  We shoot New York for DC, but it looks like they had 20 million dollars in this film because, I mean that whole chase, all the cars.  I don”t understand how they did it.

Q: Well, it”s an interesting comparison because another movie that has a low budget that you wouldn”t necessarily think of but is ‘Inside Llewyn Davis.’

Oh yeah, I haven”t seen it.  I want to see it.

Q: It was shot in New York in the 60s, but the same thought went through my mind. 

It must be digital.  It must be post.  I mean, you can”t dress 20 blocks – I know one thing that we did because I was talking to Guillaume about it last night. But there”s a bunch of stuff in the movie that”s winter.  And they took the leaves off the trees digitally.  They made the trees bare.

Q: The whole movie looks much cooler temperature wise than it must have been.

It was steaming.  It was a heat – I don”t know if you remember.  It was last June.  It was the heat wave.  And it looks wintery.  It”s incredible.

Q: So having seen the final film, was there anything that you were in that didn”t make it in?

It”s all there pretty much.  There”s nothing like missing storyline for my character.  Other than the affair that I had with Marion, with her character I mean.  We had a big love story.

Q: Right, they cut it out. [Laughs.]

Yeah, they cut it out. Or maybe I dreamt that.

Q: Yeah.  With her husband right there.

You know, when I met Guillaume – this is an embarrassing story.

Q: You didn”t know that they were together?

I did not know.  And there was a picture of Marion on the wall behind him.  He had the head shots up of the cast he was assembling.

Q: Oh, right, right.

So, I had a meeting because he had called to meet me.  I said, ‘Oh my God, I have such a crush on her.  She”s so incredible.’  He said like, ‘Thank you.’  I was like – that”s a funny thing to say, ‘thank you.  Why would you say thank you about an actress that I was…?’ And then I realized like during the meeting what an idiot, you know? Luckily he still gave me the job.

Q: Well I have to tell you, I”m a huge, huge fan of ‘The Americans.’ It is one of my favorite shows on television.

Oh, thanks man.

Q: So, warning, you could be like, ‘Stop with The Americans questions.’  In fact, our TV critic Alan Sepinwall”s a big fan of the show.

Oh, Alan Sepinwall.

Q: Yeah, yeah, that”s our site.

Oh yeah, he”s a great critic, man.  He”s a really smart critic.

Q: He spoke to the producers after the season finale and they were talking about the fact that as they went through the season they weren’t always sure where some of the story lines were going to end up.  And your character, especially with you and Nina at the end…


Q: Whether that was gonna be there.  You”re laughing.  Is it like funny because you”re thinking about…

No, because I didn”t know either.

Q: Oh, you didn”t know either.

That”s the interesting thing to be part of.  You know, a movie you read the script and you know the end, you know the middle, you know the beginning.  You know everything what you”re doing.  And then you go do it.  And in a television show you don”t.

Q: Did they give you an arc for the season for the character?


Q: Is that frustrating?

No, it”s not frustrating.  At first it was quite unnerving you know. because in television you try and build a character and you know you”re backstory and you know your details.  You know everything about this guy so you can move forward and go shoot and portray him.  And then episode four they write a line in like, ‘Oh yeah, your ex-wife in Cleveland.’ It”s like, ‘What?  I had an ex-wife?  I didn”t build that into – like what?’  So, there”s a sort of evolutionary improvisational changes that happen to the character retroactively.  So, I laugh because my friends are like, ‘What”s gonna happen?’  I”m like, ‘I don”t know what”s gonna happen?’  I get the script sometimes maybe a week, sometimes maybe three or four days before we shoot it.  It”s always a surprise.  It”s like Secret Santa. 

Q: So, at the beginning did they tell you about this mysterious bad FBI experience in his past?

It”s in the pilot but it wasn”t.  He had this three year undercover thing with the white supremacist group.

Q: Which then got alluded to again.

Yeah, it”s been alluded to a couple of times.  When we shot the pilot originally that didn”t exist.  And then we did some rewriting on the pilot and shot a couple of extra days later. That was part if it then.  But originally Stan was conceived as a very different character.  Originally Stan was sort of like the affable friendly guy, kind of light.  Almost comic.  I mean, the pilot had a little bit more comedy in it.  Stan has some funny moments like with the brownies in the kitchen. And then it became darker and, you know, different tonality to him.

Q: Are you enjoying that process, though? Showing up and not always knowing where Stan is going?

Yeah, I”m loving it.  I started out incredibly begrudgingly resentful and angry that there wasn”t more time.  Like this isn”t how I work and I need time and I like to prepare and I like to do my research and I like to figure [the character] out.  And I could do a hundred takes.  [And then I thought to] myself ‘I can go through this experience resenting it, begrudging it, wishing it was a movie that we had time, wishing that there was more advanced notice and work to be done.’  And then I thought, ‘I”m not making the most of this opportunity.’  And then once I clicked into the notion – and I call it sketching.  It”s like oil painting versus charcoal, you know, or pencil sketch.  Sketches can be gorgeous and beautiful.  There”s no qualitative, necessary difference.  It”s just a different process.  And film is like oil painting, you know.  You have tons of time and you revisit, you layer it, you revisit it, you hone it, you work it.  In television there”s not time for that. 

Q: But you have these great scenes with you and the actress who plays Nina…

Yeah, she”s great. 

Q: And it looks like you”ve rehearsed them for like…

Never rehearse.  We never rehearse.

Q: It”s all just natural reaction?  Like if you”re doing a Woody Allan movie where you”re just walking in.

That”s right. I mean, might be a rehearsal before we start.  One rehearsal on the set ten minutes or five minutes before you”re gonna shoot it.  Just to get the blocking, you know.  So, we”ve rehearsed it like ‘We’re shooting scene 17 today.  O.K., let”s go.’ ‘O.K., get in hair and makeup.’  ‘All right. Come to set.’  ‘O.K., let”s just run this scene.’  What are we gonna do?  You want to walk – oh, you want to cross there?  O.K..’  The DP is like, ‘He”s gonna cross there.’  O.K., you know, boom, boom, boom, 10 minutes and then they light it and then you shoot it.

Q: So you make a movie and you”re like, ‘Oh, I just don”t know which scene they”re gonna do but I have an idea of myself what we did at the time in like certain different shots.’  Is this a situation where you watch the episode and you”re like, ‘Oh, we did that so fast I didn”t even know that this came across.’? 

Yeah, sometimes there”s surprises in the edit. Even in the coverage. But there”s just no time.  And I ultimately found a huge amount of freedom in that because you go with your instinct.  You trust your instinct.  You trust your sort of accumulated experience.  For me it was sort of an empowering realization to think I don”t have to start from scratch every single time.  Like the work that I”ve done is – manifests.  Now I”m more experienced and I should trust my instincts sometimes.  And sometimes I feel like some of my best work has been on this show.  And it”s sort of like, ‘Maybe I”m working too hard.  Maybe I”m doing too much work on films.’  I don”t think that”s really true but, you know, it just – you know when you want to take a picture.  You see something and you go, ‘That”s a great shot.’  And you pull out your phone or your camera and you click it. And you go, ‘I better do it again because I”m not sure if it”s good.’  And you take three more.  But the first one”s the best one.

Q: Yeah, yeah. 

But the first one”s the best one.  Sometimes the third one”s the best one.  We”ll never find that out on ‘The Americans’ because there is no take three.  But, you know, sometimes the first one”s really the best one and so there”s a freedom in that.

Q: I remember one of your strongest episodes was when Stan and the FBI arrest the Russian diplomat who might be KGB. It”s sort of a vengeful moment because your partner has been killed.  So, you at least got that one a couple days before.

Yes.  I got that a week before actually.  That one I got a week before.

Q: How much did that help? Do you remember shooting that episode?

I do very well.  Yeah, very well.  Because it had that monologue in it. That monologue where he”s glad that the KGB guy is – I have him tied up in the chair and I go on the hunting the dog, hunting monologue about retriever.  It was quite – it was, you know, two page monologue which is…

Q: A lot for TV.

Which is a bunch, a chunk.

Q: Yeah.

And when I read it, you know, I had the same shock probably as the audience had when I read that Stan blows his head off.  I was like, ‘What the…Q:’  I mean, I couldn’t believe it.  It freaked me out.

Q:You didn’t even think his character would do that?

Noah Emmerich: I didn’t think so, no.

Q: Because of the production schedule you all knew the show was a hit and that the critics liked it while you were shooting it.  Did that give you more confidence in what you were doing?

I heard that obviously we were getting picked up and that it was getting [good notices]. Joe Weisberg would say, you know, ‘People are really liking you.’  I was like, ‘I don’t wanna know.  I don’t wanna know.’  That’s the weirdest thing about television for me is that you’re getting feedback in the middle of the work.  Working for me is a very private endeavor, oddly enough, [even though] it’s meant for public consumption.  A movie set or any set is a completely private place and it feels very insulated.  It’s a bubble of imagination and  and with a film you finish that and you’re free and a year later people tell you I thought you were good, I thought you were bad, I love that scene, I hate that scene, whatever it is but it doesn’t intrude, doesn’t bleed into the actual daily of the work because the work is private.  With television people are commenting on your work when you have to go back to work the next day and you’re not done with it.

Q: Have you gone back?  Have you looked at any of like the recaps and like the…

Noah Emmerich: Well, I looked at a couple.  Despite my protestations, my friends would send me sometimes things and I’d be like,’What are you doing?  I don’t want it.’  Even if it’s good, it doesn’t matter.  Even if someone says, ‘I loved the way Stan…’  Even it’s a positive thing. If I said to you ‘I love the way you rub your ear sometimes.’  Then you’re going to be self-conscious every time you touch it you’re like, ‘Oh, am I doing that.’ I don’t want to know the audience’s opinion of the work when I’m in the middle of doing it. 

Q: Is it worse to know the audiences opinions of Stan’s choices compared to what you’re dictated to do in the script?

Well I’m crazy.  I conflate myself.  I mean, I am Stan, right? So, I have to be Stan.  So, if people start criticizing Stan from a writer’s point of view, I take it personally, you know.

Q: Right.  ‘Cause, yeah, you’re him.

It’s very dangerous.  That’s the most difficult part of this process for me is how to navigate that.  How to keep out response from the creation, you know. 

Q: You’re excited to go back though?

Oh, I’m psyched.

Q: When are you guys starting up again?

I think we’re going back in September or October.  Somewhere in there.

Q: So, it will come back at the same time?

It’ll be January. But it is weird, even now that we’re not in production, the same thing applies.  It’s unprecedented to have people say, you know, I like Stan this, I don’t like Stan that, I like the show this.  And then I have to go back and do him again.  Like a film you don’t have to go back and do it again.  So that’s the hardest change for me is how to figure that out.  I didn’t do any press for the show while we were shooting.  I think I did one phone or two phone interviews.

Q: Well thank you for talking about it so much now.

Yeah, it’s O.K. Actually, I had one day off.  We wrapped the season and I had a day and I flew to New Mexico to start shooting ‘Jane’s Got a Gun’ where I thought at first ‘How am I going to do this?  Like, I’m empty, man.  I’m so tired.’ But the truth is changing characters, changing centuries, changing everything was quite refreshing.  I was tired of Stan. I wasn’t tired of acting it turned out.  I didn’t recognize that in the moment, but it turns out it’s quite actually energizing to be doing somebody else, to not be Stan for a little while.

Q: I was going to ask you about ‘Jane.’ Are you done or are you going back?

No, I got to go back tomorrow.  I think we have another three weeks of shooting.

Q: So what are you, half way through?

Noah Emmerich: I’d say over half way, yeah.  We’re definitely over half way.

Q: Has it been one of the more interesting film experiences?

You know, it’s a really interesting sort of dichotomy.  The outside world and the buzz about it and the talk.  I came in after the first director left and I came in with Gavin O” Conner.  This is my fifth movie with Gavin.  For me it’s just been all pretty normal, to be honest.  I’m having a blast and I think we’re making a really special movie.  I think the script is great; the cast is great.  All I’ve experienced was one cast change and it was supposed to be Bradley Cooper; we got push ’cause schedule this.  His movie got pushed ’cause of ‘Bosses’ so he fell out and now it’s Ewan McGregor but he hasn’t started shooting yet.

Q: It’s more of a supporting role for him right?

No, it’s a great role, but it was boarded that it was at the end of the movie schedule.  All I’ve experienced was I thought it was going to be Bradley and now it’s Ewan but other than that like we’re making what feels like a regular movie, you know? But it’s funny ’cause all the outsider stuff was like ‘This is a disaster.  What the hell is going on?’  I don’t know.  I go to work every day; it feels really good.  We’re making a really good movie.  Gavin’s a great director.  Natalie’s a great actor.  Joel Edgerton is a great actor.  We have a great cast.  We’re having a great time.  I think it’s really solid.  I think it’s going to be surprising to people only because they have some expectation that there’s some sort of…

Q: The industry has such expectations.


Q: Because they read all this stuff.

Yeah.  But man it”s a good movie and I”m having a blast.

Q: Who do you play in it? 

I play Natalie Portman”s husband.

Q:  And it’s period, right?

Yes.  It”s 1870, it”s 1861 to “71.  I”m just going to show you something because I can”t resist.  This is how much fun I”m having.

[Emmerich pulls out his iPhone and shows three images of himself in cowboy gear inside what appears to be a saloon with guns pulled out.]

Q: Nice.

Right?  That is not Stan.

Q: Not at all.

Yeah.  That is not Stan.

Q: You”re almost unrecognizable.

Noah Emmerich:  Oh, there”s one more.  Hold on.  This one.  I mean how could you not be having a blast doing that man?  It”s brought back the joy of acting to me.  I mean not acting, it”s the dress up, it”s dress up. I”m learning how to horse ride and I”m shooting six-shooters and I”m kicking down doors.  I mean it”s so much fun.  So much fun.

Q: Do you know what you’re doing after ‘Jane’ wraps?

No.  I”m not doing anything after that.  We finished the end of June, I have July and August to just recharge and get into my skin, you know.  It”s great, I love working and I”m grateful for the opportunities but you do need some time inside yourself sometimes, you know?

“Blood Ties” was just acquired by Lionsgate and should hit theaters within the next 12 months. “The Americans” will return in 2014.

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