Marc Maron – Sword of Trust

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Interviews

Best known for his popular podcast WTF with Marc Maron and for his role on Netflix’s GLOW, comedian Marc Maron has been branching out as an actor over the last couple of years.

In his newest film, Sword of Trust, Maron plays Mel, a pawn shop owner in Alabama who attempts to help a couple sell a sword to a group of conspiracy theorists who believe it proves the South actually won the Civil War.

Along with Sword of Trust, Maron stars in the stand-alone film Joker later this year, which features Joaquin Phoenix as the title clown. Maron also has roles in the crime-drama Wonderland, directed by Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) and starring Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (The Departed), and in the U.K. drama Stardust about musician David Bowie’s first trip to the U.S. in 1971.

During an interview with me last month, Maron talked about expanding his horizons as an actor, the difference between film reviewers and film critics and why moviegoers who aren’t necessarily comic-book movie fans should be excited about Joker.

You’ve received acclaim for your role in GLOW and you do an amazing job in Sword of Trust. Was acting something that came second nature to you or did you have to hone it as much as you did with stand-up comedy?

Alongside comedy, I always wanted to do it. I did it a bit in high school and college. I would take classes here and there. I don’t know if it’s second nature, but I think I have the ability to be present and not notice there are cameras around me. I’ve been working kind of hard to learn more about it. I’m comfortable doing it, so it’s a mixture of natural ability and just learning on the job.

I’m sure as a stand-up comedian and as a podcast host, you have to be on your toes when it comes to what the audience or the guest might throw at you. Would you consider that practice for Sword of Trust since it’s a film that had more narrative freedom than most movies?

Sure. With most of my stand-up [comedy], I create it in real time on stage through talking. I can improvise like that. But that’s usually on my own. Certainly, the podcast has taught me how to listen better and engage my empathy with other people. As I act more, I went out of my way to have more actors on the podcast to get free acting lessons.

Well, the acting lessons seem to have paid off in your new film, especially the scene in the back of the moving truck. Where did that come from? Was that soliloquy you give all from your head? It was very touching.

Well, apparently this movie was all improvised, but there was an outline. There was a story in place. For that scene, the direction on the page was, “Get to know each other in the van.” [Director] Lynn Shelton had some backstory points that were somewhat similar to my life. Then there was this whole other element that I just had to create in the moment. But I’ve become pretty good at creating memories for the people I’m playing and locking into them and believing them. That was nine hours in a van. By the end of the day, I was at the end of my rope. It was hot and I was angry. The last shot of the day was that close up. I was really able to connect to the story emotionally.

Is there something specific you’re looking for when a script comes across your desk? Has that changed since you first started taking these acting gigs?

I really didn’t do much acting [before]. I didn’t really pursue it as a job. I was a comic. I really didn’t have an agent. I really didn’t like auditioning. It was too brutal. Acting is always something I wanted to do, and I’m grateful that I am able to do it, but I don’t have to do it. It’s not really my job. But I like to do it. In terms of projects, I want to take more risks as an actor. But until I feel really confident in doing that, I look at things to see if I can see myself in the part and whether it’s in my wheelhouse and how long it’s going to take and who I’d be working with and what are the chances of it actually happening or being finished. There’s a lot of little things that I look at. But I don’t have to do it, which is a nice place to be. The ability to say no and not worry about it is definitely a gift.

I know you don’t have to act, but I think you could definitely use Sword of Trust as a calling card moving forward if you want to show directors that you have range.

I hope so. I always wanted to do my own TV show and act as somebody who wasn’t really me in a TV show. Both of those dreams came true. The other thing I wanted was to have a solid, small part in a movie that would really showcase what I’m capable of. I thought it would be in a big movie, but it turns out to be in this nice, little movie that Lynn made. Yeah, I hope that it gets me some interesting opportunities to act. That would be exciting.

One of my favorite podcasts of yours – and I’m being biased because he’s my favorite director working today – was the one with Paul Thomas Anderson. Are there any directors working right now that if they called you up and offered you even a small part in a movie, you wouldn’t hesitate to say yes?

[Anderson] is definitely one of them. I think David O. Russell would be fun to work with. Obviously, [I’d like to work with] all the directors we’ve grown to know and love in our life, but there’s a lot of new people doing work that … I look at their movies and I think they do amazing stuff. I’m pretty open. As long as it’s collaborative and has big minds behind it and big creativity in it. I’m sort of excited about doing that kind of stuff.

Something I didn’t know about you until recently is that you minored in film criticism in college. How do you see that landscape today? Do you think it’s over-saturated?

There’s a difference between a review and real criticism. When you read thorough criticism that puts the conversation about the film into the context of art and film and literature and genre expectations, I like reading that stuff – if it has some depth to it. There are probably enough film reviewers around. I think real criticism is a different animal. I think there is always room for that.

How do you confront reviews of your own work? Do you read them? Ignore them? Do you take them to heart?

If someone is smart and they’re thinking about the film, then maybe I can learn something about myself and my performance from that. I’ll only take things to heart if they make me look at it in a different way. I’ve always learned stuff from smart people who have the ability to be honest and whose opinion is founded in something logical or intelligent. I don’t Google myself or anything. Certainly, I’ve been offended by things that are just mean or nasty or condescending. But if someone is smart and they have a point, I’ll take it to heart and think it through.

Well, you definitely have a lot of smart people as guests on your podcast. As engaging as I’m sure each of them are, is there a topic that might come up where you would immediately feel out of your element? Would you slink into your chair for 18th century Russian opera?

I don’t slink into my chair, but I certainly – at some point in my life – realized that it’s better to say, “I don’t know,” than to pretend like you do. Generally, I won’t slink into my chair. I’ll say something like, “I don’t know much about that. Can you tell me what I need to know so I can learn something?”

Do you still enjoy the podcast aspect of your career as much as you did when you started a decade ago? Or has it become a chore as most things do if you do them for a long time and aren’t loving it as much as when you first started?

It’s a job. We have a schedule to meet. We post two new shows every week. I find that anytime I get tired of it … I talk to new people and I never know what’s going to happen. I always get the same amount of anxiety and dread and nervousness behind every conversation. Every conversation is a new thing. Almost none of them have I not been completely engaged or interested to have. Talking about myself at the beginning, sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to say. But we just keep doing it because there’s no reason to stop. No matter how much I get tired of it, I still love talking to the people that I talk to.

In the past, you’ve said you do limited research on your guests. Do you still work that way?

It depends on how interested I am and how much research I have to do. I like to be familiar with people. Sometimes I go out of my way to get a deeper handle on people than I used to. But I still don’t write a list of questions.

I’m not a big comic-book movie fan. I loved Logan, but I’m not going to die if I’m not the first one in line to see Avengers 12. That said, I am very much looking forward to Joker. Why is someone like me, who is not invested in comic-book movies, so excited about this particular one?

I think it’s because there’s a different approach to [Joker]. It’s not a cape and leotard movie. There are no flying people in it. I think it’s because of the way [director] Todd Phillips approached the character of the Joker – with a certain amount of license around an origin story movie. I think he took it on as a gritty character study of a mentally ill person whose journey through life molded him into this character who compromises his sense of morality and becomes this monstrous presence. I think there is a bit more intimacy and grit and humanity to it. I think it’s going to be an exciting movie.

Kevin Macdonald – Black Sea

January 30, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

In his new British action-thriller “Black Sea,” Oscar-winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald (“One Day in September”) literally puts himself in a tight spot to tell the story of a group of working men who team up with a former submarine captain (Jude Law) to search for a Nazi sub rumored to be brimming with gold. Once below the surface, alliances are formed as the men begin to realize their stake in the sunken treasure increases with every man that dies.

During our interview, Macdonald, 47, talked to me about the true story that inspired him to make an underwater thriller and what it was like shooting in the confines of a real submarine. We also discussed casting Law in the lead role and why it took some convincing for Macdonald to finally agree it was the right decision.

Where did the inspiration for a submarine film like this come from?

Well, I really wanted to make a submarine movie, particularly one that wasn’t a naval film – a military film. I wanted to make something like a heist movie. The inspiration was originally the Kursk disaster that happened in 2000 where a Russian submarine went down and a bunch of sailors were stuck at the bottom of the Bering Sea. They were only 100 meters down, but they couldn’t be rescued. Eventually, they all asphyxiated after a few days when the oxygen ran out. I thought that was a terrifying setting and an interesting idea for a movie.

Your screenwriter Dennis Kelly had never written a film before. What did you see in him to create this particular story?

I went to Dennis because I had read some of his plays. He was very good at black humor and storytelling. He tells a good tale. I thought this story was very much like a play. You’re stuck in one location for the whole thing and you have a big ensemble cast. So, that’s why I hired a playwright. Since he wrote this, he has gone on to write a TV series called “Utopia.” If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. It’s very weird and strange and amazing. He also wrote the upcoming musical “Matlida,” which was a big hit on Broadway.

What was it like shooting a film in such a confined space? Can you compare it to any other shoot you’ve done before or was this all new ground you were experiencing?

It was hard because you can’t move the camera and the actors. There was nowhere for anyone to really stand. It was tight. A few years ago I did a movie called “Touching the Void,” which is a mountain climbing film. We filmed that in an ice crevasse in the Alps. That movie was really about something quite similar to this movie. It was about people being where they shouldn’t be. When you’re up a mountain in the death zone, you shouldn’t be up there. You can’t live up there. Climbers who go that high are impossible to rescue. Helicopters can’t even go that high. They’re cutting themselves off going into a place like that. The same happens with the men in this submarine. They were relying on that vessel to keep them alive like a spaceship in space. But if something goes wrong, you’re finished.

From a psychological standpoint, what do you think it takes for someone to decide to go to a place as dangerous as the top of a mountain or the bottom of a sea?

A mountain climber will do it because there is some inner need in them to go somewhere they haven’t gone before to test themselves. That’s probably the reason so many of these extreme sports have taken off in the last 50 years. We are the generation that hasn’t really experienced war, for the most part. Well, the whole nation hasn’t been to war in the same way as we were in WWI or WWII. So, I think it’s a way of testing yourself and asking yourself, “Can I do this? Can I survive in this difficult environment?”

Was motivation important for you in this story? I mean, did you think money was enough of a reason for these men to risk their lives like this?

I think the characters in “Black Sea” feel themselves to be on the scrap heap of society. Society is telling them they don’t matter anymore. I think that loss of identity, like losing your job, can drive someone to do something as desperate as this. In a funny way, it’s not even about the money. It’s more about self-respect.

Since you’re part of that generation you described earlier who really hasn’t experienced war as a nation, do you need to fill that void with something, or is filmmaking enough of a rush for you?

I’m not into extreme sports, but I do think filmmaking puts me into some physically challenging environments. (Laughs) Maybe that is my way of testing myself, yeah.

With all the time you spent in this submarine, do you now know all the ins and outs of it? Can you explain how it works or are a lot of those buttons still a mystery to you?

(Laughs) I would like to say in principle I understand it, but if you put me on it and told me that I had to pilot this submarine, I would not be very competent.

How did the crisis in Crimea last year affect the film?

It’s interesting because when we started off, the character the men buy the submarine from is a Ukrainian admiral. But before we finished post production, the Ukraine no longer had a navy. We were left behind in history in some ways. I took that scene out, but not for that reason. I took it out just because it was slowing things down. Also, we were going to try to go back to the Ukraine to shoot on one of their submarines underwater, but because of what happened, we weren’t able to go back.

Did you have Jude Law in mind from the very beginning? What were you looking for in a leading man?

I didn’t have Jude in mind, no. I didn’t have anyone in mind, honestly. Jude wasn’t the first person that occurred to me or Dennis. Jude’s image is someone who is suave and debonair. He’s done some fantastic performances like in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Road to Perdition” and “Anna Karenina.” He read the script and got in touch with me and said, “I really like this. Do you want to meet?” I thought, “Well, yeah, why not? There’s no harm in meeting.” He showed such passion for it and such an understanding of the character and a commitment to transform himself. It was so appealing to me to have an actor so interested in doing something so extraordinary. So, it took me a little while to be convinced, but then I ended up being completely convinced he was the right guy. I think he does an amazing performance. I think it’s very different from anything people have seen Jude do before. He’s so masculine. He feels like a leader. He’s aggressive.

Oscar nominations were recently announced. I’m wondering since you won an Oscar for the 1999 documentary “One Day in September,” what were your thoughts on the nominees for Best Documentary this year?

Well, it was very exciting when they announced the nominations because my wife (Tatiana Macdonald) was nominated.

I did not know that. Congratulations.

Thank you. She was one of the production designers on “The Imitation Game.” Well, I don’t think it’s been a vintage year from my point of view. There were not many films that I really loved. I did like Nick Broomfield’s film “Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” and that didn’t get nominated. I thought “Citizenfour,” which I think will probably win, is a good film, but could’ve been a great film. The material is fantastic, but I wasn’t completely bowled over. I really liked the film “Virunga,” which was nominated. But there isn’t one that stand out to me as being “the one.”

Last question: Do you think you might try to get back on Marc Maron’s podcast to promote “Black Sea?” (Note: In 2013, comedian and podcaster Marc Maron agreed to interview Kevin Macdonald thinking it was “Kids in the Hall” actor Kevin McDonald. When Macdonald showed up to Maron’s home for the interview, Maron had to excuse himself and do some quick online research on Macdonald to find out who the person he was about to interview really was. Ultimately, Maron was able to conduct the interview without much of a hitch and ended up releasing it as a double episode after he got a hold of McDonald, told him what happened, and McDonald agreed to do an interview with him, too.)

(Laughs) Funny enough, you are the second person to ask me that today after having not met anyone in the past year who has asked me that. I didn’t realize that Marc Maron was such a big deal. (Laughs) That was quite a funny experience. I tell that story to quite a lot of people. It took me quite a long time during our conversation to realize he didn’t know who I was. But I was still impressed by him.