In the thriller “Bad Samaritan,” Scottish actor David Tennant plays Cale Erendreich, an arrogant, rich guy with a bit of a grisly secret. His private life is accidentally unearthed when he hands his car keys over to Sean (Robert Sheehan), a scheming valet at a restaurant, who decides to drive Cale’s Maserati back to his home to rob him while he is inside having dinner.
When Sean breaks into Cale’s home, he discovers a young woman beaten and chained to a chair. With little time to react, Sean must decide how he will handle the situation as a vast amount of scenarios run through his head.
During an interview with me a couple of week ago for the release of the film, Tennant, 47, best known for his role in the popular British TV series “Doctor Who” and in Netflix’s Marvel series “Jessica Jones,” talked about what it was like to portray a psychopath, how his role in “Doctor Who” has impacted his career and his experience giving voice to Scrooge McDuck in the reboot of “DuckTales.”
What is it about Cale that makes him such a great antagonist for this particular film?
Yeah, it’s kind of hard to see him from a rational point of view as anything other than a monster. He, of course, feels justified in everything that he does. Hopefully, that’s what makes him horrifying.
Well, not only that, but he takes it a step further than most bad guys. Did you find that aspect of his character interesting?
I started reading the script and what immediately had me captivated was the story of the valets robbing houses. I thought it was [a] likely [story]. Twenty pages in, [the script] takes this hand-break turn into this whole other world of pain. Cale emerges as this coldblooded monster. I started reading the script and I didn’t stop till I finished it. More than anything, that indicated to me that it was a project worth pursuing. It all fell into place as a fantastic project to be a part of.
As an actor, did you tap into anything mentally to get to some of the darker places your character goes?
You’re trying to find the route into what that kind of psychology is. If you’re talking about psychopaths, you’re trying to remove the notion of guilt or empathy. If you can get to that place, then it starts to make sense – that place where other people’s suffering means nothing to you. I guess that’s the kind of trick you’re trying to pull on yourself. You’re trying to imagine what the inside of that kind of a brain might feel like.
Is there something these days that you look for when you’re reading scripts?
It can be slightly nebulous. It might just be that [a script] connects with you and gets you excited. Whether that’s an extraordinary plot or the fineness of the characters, it’s hard to really know. Until you see it, you really don’t know what is going to excite you or what’s going to make you decide on the next project you want to be a part of. You just hope that you’re fortunate enough to be in a position where people keep asking you to do things. If those things create new challenges and take you to places you’ve never been before and provide you with characters that might feel like a bit of a stretch, then that’s all I could ever really hope for. I don’t really think very tactfully. I don’t really have a five-year plan or fantasize about what my next professional move might be. Fortunately for me, I have a few things coming up that feel challenging and exciting.
There are some elements in “Bad Samaritan” that felt like the film was borrowing from other movies like “Rear Window” and “Se7en.” Are those comparisons welcomed or would you rather the film stand on its own?
It depends really. Of course, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. I think there are certain elements [in “Bad Samaritan”] that feel a little Hitchcockian and a little cinematically old-fashioned in the best sense. I don’t have any problem with that unless it’s something too similar that has come before that would prevent it from having its own character. Inevitably, things are going to remind you of other things and suggest other movies. You’re always looking for that spark of originality or that story you haven’t imagined before. It’s hard to define, really. If you’re fortunate enough to stumble across it, you’ll know it when you see it.
When you get offered a project that is not specifically for a Scottish character, is that something you revel in more than most roles?
I think early on in the U.K., I was quite lucky that I did quite a few English parts. So, early on, I think I confused people about where I came from. I’ve always enjoyed the idea that an accent can help you disappear into a character. I like the idea of transforming and losing yourself in a character. But I do enjoy playing characters in my own voice, too. If people are willing to see you as something other than what you are, that is part of what you’re chasing as an actor.
When you’re so well known for a specific role like you are with “Doctor Who,” do you find it difficult to shed that skin? Do you ever wish people might forget about that role and not automatically connect you with it?
You sort of just move on when the job is over as an actor. Once the job is over, you’re looking for the next one. The public might see you as something else, but I think as actors we sometimes believe we can do anything.
An actor I think is doing a really great job of moving on is someone you’ve worked with, Daniel Radcliffe. I know there are a lot of people who might only see him as Harry Potter, but I think he’s making some interesting decisions with his career post boy wizard.
I don’t know that Daniel is doing that consciously. When I see the things that Daniel’s gone on to do, he’s done a variety of things and has been convincing in all of them. It’s something I always want to do – to be allowed to keep doing different things. I’d rather be limited by my own limitations than by any objective sense of who I am from other people.
Do you think people have put those limitations on you at any time in your career?
It’s hard for me to know because I’m only aware of the things people ask me to do. I’m not privy to conversations where people go, “No, we don’t want him!” I’m sure that happens regularly. I have a sense that “Dr. Who” opened more doors than it closed for me. I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity to do that and what it has allowed me to do since. I think audiences are used to seeing actors doing different parts and getting excited about that. Maybe that’s more of a modern phenomenon. Maybe typecasting was something that happened more in the past, although it still does happen now.
For your voice work as Scrooge McDuck in the reboot of “DuckTales,” did you have to prepare for it by flapping around in a big pile of money?
I certainly hung out with some ducks for a while. And I lived in a pond for a fortnight. The Scrooge McDuck role has been great. I didn’t realize how beloved those characters were. I sort of missed “DuckTales” the first time around. I think I was too old. I took on Scrooge McDuck with great joy and with a slight underestimation of what it meant to be that character. It’s been a huge pleasure to hear the reaction that “DuckTales” has received. It’s a fantastic cartoon. I’m so proud of it.