When you interview Anthony Michael Hall, you learn quickly that he is an intense human being – which makes him perfect to be playing Michael Flynn in David Michôd’s War Machine (currently on Netflix).
Well, technically, Hall is playing a character named General Greg Pulver, but Pulver is based on General Michael Flynn as depicted in Michael Hastings’ book, The Operators – which depicts the (as Hall puts it) “hubris” surrounding General Stanley McChrystal (Gen McMahon, played by Brad Pitt in the film) and his team that eventually led to McChrystal’s dismissal.
It’s funny, because Hall had literally no idea what he was signing up for when he agreed to play the role based on Flynn. Filmed in late 2015, Michael Flynn wasn’t yet a household name and it’s kind of ludicrous that Hall has to go out and publically talk about the man who is possibly under more scrutiny than any other person living in the United States right now. But here we are. And at times Hall grew audibly irritated, but he eventually conceded that this experience was like being on a debate team. Did I mention he’s an intense guy?
Ahead, yes, we “debate” all things Michael Flynn, then Hall shares a really nice memory about shooting National Lampoon’s Vacation with Harold Ramis.
When you filmed this in late 2015, the world didn’t really know who Michael Flynn was.
When did you first realize, oh, this guy is becoming famous, or infamous?
Yeah, it’s an interesting question. You know, he wasn’t the center of the storm, if you will, two years ago. There was no forethought. There was no thought of that. He wasn’t a news-maker. He wasn’t in the zeitgeist, if you will. You know? So that’s my answer. So I didn’t try to imitate him, I didn’t try to grab any mannerisms. So, to me – and this is also part of our campaign here – is to say that this movie is pro-military. It’s pro-soldier. To me, it was all about honoring the men and women who serve our nation around the world, and that was my impetus. I wasn’t thinking about scandal; I wasn’t thinking about anything.
But was there a moment in between right now as we’re talking and when you filmed it where you’re like, this guy’s starting to get a lot of attention? That people might be paying more attention to my role than they might have before.
You know what? I can’t deny that. And at the same time, it’s not about me as an actor not politicizing it. You know what I mean? It’s not that. But I definitely thought, “Well, wow, this is incredible timing.” But quite honestly, much smarter minds than I at Netflix and Plan B had the intelligence and the taste to time this perfectly. And one thing they wanted to do is to delay the release of the picture until after the election.
I see what you’re saying with the “pro-military” angle, but these guys also got a little full of themselves. That’s pretty apparent in the movie, things got out of hand.
Let me speak to that. Yeah. So that’s a great point. And I think the word is hubris, and Mr. Pitt uses that in some of the interviews and so did Mr. Michôd. I mean, the bottom line is, that’s what it comes down to, I think, is arrogance.
Before the world knew Michael Flynn, did you worry people would accuse you of being too over the top with your performance? Because now it’s like, “Oh, yes, that’s him.”
Well, I want to say one thing. It kind of blends two things there: That’s perception and then it’s also sort of media and political perception, because that scene is a smooth transition. But it was not my intention to imitate him or to cast any aspersions on him. I just thought, well, this guy was a brother to General McChrystal. I mean, they’ve been through war together and he was his number two guy.
Right, but you play him as super intense, and we have all seen that intensity now.
Well, that was my choice. I want to make that clear. It wasn’t like I was depicting some version of General Flynn. It was just that I had the free range to take it in another direction. I have a lot of buddies that were Marines. So even though these guys are Army Rangers, I kind of played it more like a Marine, hence what you’re saying. The intensity was important. Because, again, I wanted to be a throughline. But I appreciate your comments, but I just want to make it clear that it wasn’t intended to shed any light on General Flynn in any negative way.
When you were researching him, were you ever thinking there’s something a little peculiar about him?
No. No. I just wanted to honor the military and the fact that I was playing a general. To me, these guys are steel, the men and women of our military…
And I realize you’re in a bizarre situation of having to talk about a person who is under more scrutiny than anyone in the country right now…
Yeah, but what I’m saying is I’m not going to be sold. But I want to be clear, you’re not going to sell me on your perception of Mike Flynn. What I’m saying to you is that’s your perception and you’re tracking it based on how you’re looking at it. Right? Somebody says truck, you might think Ford, I might think Chevy. I’m not saying what you’re saying. What I’m saying is something else, Mike. That’s all. And with full respect to your opinion.
Sure, but it’s fair to say he’s under a lot of scrutiny. And you have to sit here and answer questions about Flynn, which is crazy.
Oh, right. Oh, I see what you’re saying. No, that is. That’s why I want to be clear about it. And I am being diplomatic, because it’s out of respect to the military. I’m not trying to politicize my conversation or an interview about a movie.
And I completely understand that. I understand the situation you’re in. But this situation itself is unusual.
It is, it is. And for that reason, if that brings more attention to the film, great. Because again, despite anyone’s political preference, there’s a lot of stuff going on in this film. And I think it’s a beautiful film because it speaks to a lot of themes. And again, that’s dependent upon the viewer’s perception. That’s all I’m saying.
I agree with that.
This is good, man. It’s like we’re on a debate team in college.
It really is.
Because I think it’s honestly the best movie I’ve ever been in and I have no question about it.
Well, come on. You’ve been in so many good movies.
Again, perception, because you’re going to sit there and people can harken back. I’ve had a 40-year career. I’m not trying to pat myself on my back. I said what I said. What I’m saying is that’s the best movie that I’ve been in if you ask me, but I appreciate if you want to conject.
We are back on the debate team now. I will say, the BBC is polling critics on the best comedies of all time. And I put National Lampoon’s Vacation on that list.
Oh, thank you, sir.
There are a lot of little subtleties in that movie that are so great. Like the interaction between you and Chevy Chase about the Wyatt Earp who wears jogging shoes.
I agree. No, I do feel the same way about it. Let me just speak to that, because the two gentlemen that enlisted me for that were the guys who started my career: Matty Simmons, who was the founder of National Lampoon magazine and Diner’s Club and many other things; and the great Harold Ramis, who I put on the same level, of course, as John Hughes. I mean, this man wrote some of the top comedies of all time: Ghostbusters, Stripes. I mean, there’s so many that he did. So it was my great honor to have been discovered by those two men. And I tell you, Harold was great. And what he shared in common – if I can draw a parallel between me and Mr. Hughes – these guys had a love of it, man. They loved what they did. They were on the set and they were laughing and joking. They weren’t at the monitor, they were sitting there watching the film unfold. Because in that day, everybody didn’t have a smartphone. There wasn’t a video village onset, if you will. So those guys were pioneers.
Right, you couldn’t just watch the dailies immediately.
Yeah, yeah. And the reason I want to bring that to light and illuminate the point is because John Hughes and Harold were very similar. They’re both incredibly intelligent guys who had incredible gifts as writers and directors. And they were mavericks. And they were humble, down-to-earth family guys, too. You know what I mean? So I only salute those guys. I don’t know who’s credited for writing the ubiquitous statement we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants. That’s how I feel about my career. I’ve been so blessed to work with these guys, and all through my career. And certainly, Ramis and John, if you will, represent that for me. They were honestly complete geniuses, and I’ve had 30 years to think about this, and I think they were.
We’ve discussed Michael Flynn at length, but the most controversial thing you’ve said is that this is your best movie, because you were many good ones.
Oh, well, you’re a gentleman.
You’re going to be the first one in probably a very long line of actors to play Michael Flynn.
In other words, what you’re sensing is that he’ll be depicted again in the future, right?
Trump and the history, right? You know what? There you go. I think you’re a little Nostradamus there. You might be seeing into the future. You’re right.
You spoke about your 40-year career. When you’re just in front of the TV and flipping channels, you have to see yourself like eight times a say.
You’re in a lot of stuff that is on TV all the time.
I appreciate that. My mother raised me a good Catholic boy and I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I’ve been so blessed by the good Lord to have a 40-plus-year career, and I’m only 49 years old. I’ve been at this for 41 years already. So my father used to say you’ve got to chip away at it. You know? So I have a workman’s attitude about it, like a military person, like an athlete, like anybody. Whatever you do in life, you’ve just got to stay at it. And so I appreciate that. And by the way, it is surreal. I mean, I’m not going to deny it. It’s kind of weird to see myself from puberty to War Machine.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.