You’re going to be seeing a lot of Michael Stuhlbarg in the next month. Then again, that’s not all that unusual these days. Stuhlbarg had taken on the occasional film and TV role before starring in Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man in 2009, but his work as that film’s morally conflicted physics professor changed his career at the age of 41.
Since then, Stuhlbarg has been hard to miss, appearing in films as diverse as Steve Jobs and Doctor Strange and doing memorable work as Arnold Rothstein on Boardwalk Empire and, more recently, appearing as an ineffectual tough guy on Fargo. Stuhlbarg can anchor a film or work as a memorable part of an ensemble, as he does in Luca Guadagnino’s remarkable new film Call Me By Your Name.
Stuhlbarg plays Professor Perlman, an archeology professor and father to Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a young man whose coming of age is complicated by the arrival of Oliver (Armie Hammer), his father’s summer assistant. In some respects, it’s the quintessential Stuhlbarg performance. He lends able to support to every scene in which he appears. Then, when called upon, he owns the screen, delivering a monologue that draws his character from the background to the foreground in one of the film’s most powerful moments. With Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water and Steven Spielberg’s The Post, it’s one of three major movies in which Stuhlbarg appears this year, all coming out as 2017.
While in Chicago, Stuhlbarg talked to us about the film, his year in facial hair, and more.
Watching this movie I found myself thinking it’s nice that Michael Stuhlbarg is in this, but I don’t know if it needs Michael Stuhlbarg. Then we get, of course, to this amazing scene at the end. Was that your experience reading the script?
I loved what I got to read in the script. I loved the story. We shot more footage of things that Professor Perlman was in, that in the end Luca and probably all of us felt was unnecessary in terms of the story that was foremost meant to be told. There were aspects of him that I found challenging, in terms of what my preparation might be in showing up and being believable as a Latin/Greek scholar, someone who was passionate about archeology and art history and all those things, as well as being fluent in Italian. So there was a lot of stuff to dig into, you never know what’s gonna make it to the screen and what isn’t. The scene at the end of the film with Elio was… That on top of getting to work on a script by James Ivory, to work with Luca, whose films I had seen and knew and thought was a very dynamic filmmaker, I was excited about every aspect of being part of it.
In terms of preparation for the academic lingo you have to spiel off, it’s almost like doing Star Trek or something, I would imagine.
In some ways, yeah. It is its own language, its own world. That’s one of the challenges… one of the great challenges with what I get to do periodically is submerge myself in a world I know nothing about, and try to learn about it and familiarize myself with whatever the lingo happens to be, and convey a passion for it to those around me. This was challenging, because the dialogue could come off as quite dry, and in some cases it’s almost secondary to what the story is. It’s almost background to what’s going on emotionally for the other characters at any particular time. It is really interesting at the same time.