As part of the press day for the new Paul Greengrass film “Green Zone,” I scheduled phone interviews with both Greg Kinnear and Amy Ryan. Their roles in the film aren’t huge, but they are pivotal and important, and they are connected. I like both actors a lot, yet this represents the first time speaking to either of them, so it was a good opportunity.
First up was Kinnear, and we jumped right into it:
Greg Kinnear: Hi, Drew.
Drew McWeeny: Hello, Mr. Kinnear. How are you?
Greg: Fine. How”re you doing?
Drew: Good. So is it a compliment to say that you are absolutely detestable in this film?
Greg: Oh, thank you!
Drew: It”s a really tricky role to play, I would think, because you are positively hissable the way Paul positions you in the movie, but you play this guy as an incredibly efficient political animal.
Drew: In getting ready to do this, who do you look at as role models? How do you get ready to play somebody like this?
Greg: Well, you know, I”m not sure that there was a… I certainly didn”t have like a prototype in mind. I felt like he was a guy who had a very strong ideology and believes in his country and in what he”s doing. And, you know, he is unyielding in his agenda to try and get the job done. And he obviously at some point starts to bend the rules and twist the truth in a way that it still kind of fits his agenda, but I don”t know that that”s only politicians who do that. So I think he”s, you know, a guy who, like I said, I think he believe wholeheartedly in what he”s doing, which is… I think you can say the same for Jason Isaac’s character. I think everybody in the movie believes in what they”re doing. And that”s kind of why Paul”s movies, I think, are pretty interesting.
Drew: Well, I”m really impressed by the way this one kind of walks that fine line between his “Bourne” films and his “United 93” or “Bloody Sunday” films. It must have been an incredible experience in terms of where you guys shot this. Paul”s process is fascinating. Even talking to crew members on the film when they were on their next movie, they weren”t exactly sure what they had just done.
Greg: (laughs) Yeah. Fair enough. I think that”s true. I think it”s true for the actors, too. I concede everything. He has a very unusual process that, you know, obviously not everybody can do. And I think you sign on with him knowing that you”re going to be outside your comfort zone. The moment you”re in your comfort zone, he”s going to drop a change on you, whether it”s through dialogue or the scene or improv-ing something, and fortunately I had worked with Matt before, and he called me and said, “Listen, you”re going to be on your back foot and you”ll be a little off-balance at times, but it”s great work. It”s a very exhilarating process and I think you”ll be happy with the outcome.” And all that turned out to be the case. I was really… I think the movie is just an edge of your seat, heart pounding thriller, is absolutely fantastic, and in the fact that it has kind of the tapestry and backdrop of a conflict that we”re still involved in, and raising questions that regardless of your political affiliation, you know ask you to maybe consider or reconsider or chew on the things… it’s all good.
Drew: It”s funny that you mention having worked with Matt before because you guys couldn”t be more different in this than you were in “Stuck On You.”
Greg: You think? Really? (laughs)
Drew: In terms of your relationship.
Greg: That”s your interpretation? (laughs)
Drew: How was that to go head-to-head with him in this film?
Greg: Well, you know he”s a frustration for Poundstone in that as long as he and to a long extent Laurie Dane don”t ask the wrong questions or they”ll just let the process unfold and stick to their job… if they just do their jobs, then there is no issue that stands in the way of Poundstone doing what he needs to do here. Because I think he is a guy who believes the ends justify the means, which is probably a philosophy that”s not unheard of for those kinds of guys who control that kind of power. But, you know, obviously those questions that Matt raises are real and I think that”s a nice kind of quality that Paul does, a very believable quality in terms of how those two guys interact. You”ve really got to buy that this chief officer is going to be somehow getting in the way of a guy who”s a high ranking Pentagon official. And that”s a pretty tough proposition to bring some authenticity to that storyline and again, I think Paul”s ability to take all these through lines and kind of throw them together and keep it real and feel honest is a testament to how good a filmmaker he is.
Drew: I always find it a fascinating prospect to take something that is so grounded in real life or grounded in real people and try and draw drama from it and you”ve done it a few times. “Flash of Genius” is a movie that I don”t think many people saw, but it”s a really strong picture.
Greg: Well, thanks.
Drew: And again, “Auto Focus” is just blistering and dark and really, really tough to take. When you look at a script that is based on reality and you know you”re playing somebody who actually lived, what responsibility is there for you as an actor?
Greg: Well, obviously I think the “Auto Focus” experience or Bob Kearns are different in that those were very much guys who lived and this, you know… Clark Poundstone is a guy who”s a fictitious character. So there”s a different situation from the get-go on this. But, you know, I think that it stands to reason that there very much is a guy or guys who are represented in that character and I think in that sense the job is the same, as in trying to bring some authenticity to it and make the guy feel real and give him a fair shot of being heard. He”s not a villain in the sense that… he”s not like one of the villains from the “Harry Potter” movies where you”ve got to wear the black cape and everybody understands who you are. He”s more opaque than that and walking that line is kind of fun, but I have to say in working on this movie where stuff is shifting and changing day to day, it”s not uncommon to be a little lost. That”s why I kind of responded to what you said about certain crew members leaving this movie going, “I”m not sure what we just did.” I had those days driving home from the set where I was like, “I know that was something cool. I was good there and I know I was helping tell a story, but I”m not sure exactly sure what I knocked off there today.” And so Chris Rouse… you know, the editor that”s worked with Paul, and Paul himself… I mean, they just have a way of juggling a lot of different balls at any given time. And he”s great at holding your hand through it, but at times you can get a little lost out there.
Drew: Were you part of the second round of shooting, and was that something that was built in from the beginning? Because I know he likes to, after he cuts the film, he likes to build in a time where he can kind of go back, like, “Okay, maybe I need to do this, maybe I need to put this in, maybe I need to emphasis this.” Was that something from the very start that they told you keep yourself available for?
Greg: No, they didn”t, but at some point I knew that was coming and was available for it and did participate in it. Yeah, I mean a lot of… Woody Allen, I think, has used that and I think… obviously he”s not the only filmmaker to be able to do that. It”s quite a luxury, of course.
Drew: I think it”s kind of a brilliant move for a filmmaker to…
Greg: Of course.
Drew: … if they can pull it off to have that second round of sort of pickups.
Greg: Absolutely. I mean, if you have… like I say, I”m working on a movie right now that would benefit… any movie, I think, to a great degree would benefit from that, but partly the caché of Paul and Matt, and I think Paul”s history as a successful filmmaker gives him the opportunity to have that element. It”s expensive, but man, it helps a lot. Especially in this format, because the movie is a very kind of jazzy story that goes a lot of different places.
And then, consummate professional that I am, my phone crapped out and hung up on Kinnear mid-answer. And we were unable to reconnect, so the interview just ended there. That’s right… Drew McWeeny keeping it classy.
Things went better when Amy Ryan called, even though I was literally cooking lunch and contending with my freshly talkative two-year-old in the process. It’s a glamorous life I lead, indeed:
Drew: I hope this goes well. I”m in the middle of making lunch for my 2-year old, so...
Amy Ryan: Oh, no problem.
Drew: So, saw the film. I actually saw a rougher cut of it about a year ago with Paul.
Amy: Oh really? Wow.
Drew: And it was… at that point, it was largely the same film, just not quite as focused.
Drew: In the final version, you”re playing a composite of several real-life characters, it seems.
Amy: Yes, yes.
Drew: And your role in particular raises the question about the culpability of the media in terms of selling things they know aren”t true or that they haven”t researched. I would say in the last year, even since I saw it originally, it has become a far more interesting and pertinent question.
Drew: What sort of work did you do before playing the character and what sort of work did Paul give you in terms of who these people really are?
Amy: Yes, well, you know it”s based on not anyone in particular, but it”s more of a representation of a group in the press, whether it was U.K. press or U.S. press… people who wanted to get the story out first. And Paul and I were talking about that like, “What would drive a person to do that? With so much at stake?” And we talked about, “Maybe this is someone who really spent the majority of their career, like the last 15 years, writing about WMDs, and here they are in a situation where, you know, I don”t know how conscious a choice it is. It’s more…you know…wanting it to be true rather than any overt malice driving it,” you know? I don”t think anyone really went out there going, “I”m going to print lies so we go to war,” you know? But I think that it”s the force of wanting it to be true that gets in the way and then that character finds herself in the situation where now she”s trying to find out the truth, you know? And then I think at the end of the film that she represents the other part of the press, where they were out doing all the work to get the right story out, and the people that did double and triple check a source, you know? That end of the press as well. Because it is a staggering, staggering thing. And, yes that”s why we”re here.
Drew: It seems like Paul”s films are really about process more than a lot of filmmakers. There seems to be a… he starts from very strong screenplays, but then there”s a lot of finding the film as you”re working.
Amy: Yeah. Absolutely.
Drew: Can you talk about doing that on location? Especially a location as unforgiving as where you guys shot “Green Zone”?
Amy: Well, we were in Morocco. I wouldn”t say it was so unforgiving a place, but finding it… the process is really fun. It”s not tedious. It”s not… there are times it”s frustrating only because you want it to be so good and you”re not quite there yet, but Paul has such patience in waiting for it to reveal itself and whatever that means for our characters, and then if it”s right for the movie, you know? We come up with a bunch of scenes or different versions of it. There was one day it took us up until lunch to even start rolling cameras because myself and Matt and Paul were just talking about, “Now, what would lead Miller, Matt”s character, to come to me? Why? Yes, it”s in the script but why? Why does he need information from me, you know?” And we spent hours and hours and we didn”t rest until we found that missing piece. So you know, the frustration only comes because you want the answers quick but the process is pretty thrilling because it really is a true collaboration.
Drew: It has been an interesting last few years for you in terms of being able to show off a range of what you can do. Obviously “Gone Baby Gone” launched you to a different level of awareness, but then something like “The Office” is so sweet and so silly and such a different sort of personality than we”d seen from you before, and it brings you to a totally different audience. Are you finding there are different opportunities now coming up as a result of being able to finally display that range?
Amy: Oh yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I knew that was one thing that was important to me that I knew, same as you say, like being launched after “Gone Baby Gone” that I would still have to try to stay ahead of what people thought about me now. And shortly after “Gone Baby Gone” a lot of the offers that came were, you know, single mothers with some drug addiction or you know something like that. That”s why I was so eager to do “The Office.” And then this movie came out of that time as well. This was the next job I was able to do and so again, as long as I could keep the world very separate from the job that I had done before, I think that”s the way that…
Drew: My wife is a huge “Office” fan and I don”t think she”s ever been more disappointed in a TV show then when you weren”t immediately made a regular. She was so upset.
Amy: (laughter) That show is so much fun and they were very sweet. They asked me but I had these other film commitments to do, like “Jack Goes Boating,” and I was just happy to come in when I could and they very generously would have me back. But yeah, I get asked that probably more than anything and my career so far. Like, “You have to go back to Michael. You”re soul mates.” So your wife is not alone.
Drew: I think that”s a real testament to you and Steve, and the way the chemistry clicked between you on screen.
Amy: Yeah, I love working with that man. I really, really do. He”s amazing and yeah, I agree. I think we really do have a good chemistry as actors together, and I actually would love to do more stuff with him. It”d be fun.
Drew: Now you mentioned “Jack Goes Boating.” Were you in the original stage production?
Amy: No, I wasn”t. No. But John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega were in it with Philip Seymour Hoffman. I was the new kid in school for the film.
Drew: Obviously Phillip Seymour Hoffman has a tremendous body of work but as a first time director for film, it is a different skill-set. When you stepped into that, what was your experience with him as an actor now moving behind the camera?
Amy: You know, we both also… we didn”t have scenes together but we worked together on “Capote” and then in “Before the Devil Knows You”re Dead”, and he stole from Sidney Lumet, who rehearses all his films as if they were a play. You”ll rehearse for two weeks in a room and map it out with the actual furniture laid out, and we did that with “Jack Goes Boating” for two weeks. It”s such a great technique to have, but also for Phil, since he was directing it. This way, you can get a good feel for the character. So I knew enough of the process that that”s going to work because it worked so well with Sidney”s film, but you know… someone like Phil you trust. You have to trust with every film you go into. I knew it was going to be exciting and I knew he”s an incredible actor that doesn”t rest. His mind just never rests until he”s satisfied with what we have. So I knew I was in good hands there. I knew he wouldn”t hang anyone out to dry including himself, you know?
Drew: On “Green Zone,” were you involved in any of the additional shooting? Because I know there were several different rounds of it.
Amy: Yeah, yeah. We went back… I think it was six months later, I went back for a month to Morocco and then London for re-shoots. There was one scene… I think it was a timing thing as well, like Matt had to go away and film “Invictus” and “The Informant,” so we were going to have to shoot it later. But in terms of story, I don”t think it was because the story changed. It was just more about timing.
Drew: Well, I have to say I”ve loved your work for a long time. I love that in the last few years the roles that you”ve been given have been so diverse and I hope it continues for you, so we see you in more and bigger things in the future.
Amy: Oh, thank you so much. That”s really sweet. I really appreciate that.
Next up, I’ll have a chat with Greengrass himself, and I think I asked three questions in the 25 minutes we talked. Or rather, the 25 minutes he talked. It’s a great read, and I”ll have that for you as soon as possible.
“Green Zone” opens in theaters everywhere this Friday.
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