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Mulroney and Amazing: A Conversation with Dermot Mulroney

From big-budget hits to low-budget indies, actor Dermot Mulroney always keeps an open mind when selecting a project. Here, he shares feelings about his profession and his most recent feature, Lovely & Amazing.

filmcritic.com: First of all, I’d like to compliment you on Lovely & Amazing, an excellent film in which you delivered a fine performance.

DM: Thank you very much. I loved the movie, myself.

Your films have great variety, from Goodbye Lover to Copycat, Point of No Return, and My Best Friend’s Wedding. What attracts you to certain projects?

DM: Like everyone else, I try to do quality work with great directors. But much of it has to do with luck. I thank you for your nice words about my choices, but it’s mostly luck of the draw or timing. This one wasn’t quite that because Catherine [Keener] and I, we’re married and we’re friends with [director] Nicole [Holofcener] from them doing Walking and Talking. I knew her very well, I knew her sense of humor, and I just loved the script, so this was an easy choice. Some of them aren’t. Goodbye Lover was hard to decide to do. I’m glad I did even though it didn’t get the notice that it could have. But everything is a different decision. There’s not as much reason to it as you may think. But I can tell you I avoid crappy movies, while not everybody does. Or I try to. I’m not always correct.

What attracted you to Lovely & Amazing? Was it just the script?

DM: Yeah, very much so. And like I said, I loved Walking and Talking. I also know Nicole to be a very honest person. She was the main reason, really. By the true definition, this was an independent film because it is really her viewpoint. The way the film was made, there was nobody to interfere. I just trusted Nicole to make another great film, and she did.

How do the directors differ from a high-budget studio flick to low-budget independent films like Lovely & Amazing?

DM: That’s the one thing you can’t really say differs between big and small films because a great director is a great director. They don’t need hundreds of million of dollars to prove that. The economics of the industry might think there’s something different, but to me, you either know what you’re doing or you don’t. A lot of studio directors don’t, and a lot of independent film directors don’t. Actors like myself always look for those directors who do know what they’re doing.

You play a big movie star in this film. How was it playing something so close to home?

DM: It’s a typical part. In recent years, there have been a lot of movies where a real movie star plays a movie star in a movie, like America’s Sweethearts and In & Out. I can think of any number of films that have that part. I wasn’t drawn to the part because I got to play a movie star. In fact, that may have been a deficit in my original thinking just because it’s viewed as a typical part. But, you look at the whole of the script and how this part fits. It does poke enough fun at someone like that, but in turn, Nicole provides him with an opportunity to be challenged beyond the self-absorbed level. A lot of other films just leave it at that. In the scene in which he’s asked to critique this woman’s nude body, he does so. He respects her request and does it kindly, not necessarily complimentary. That scene itself puts the character in a different category than those other characters.

What does your wife think of you doing a scene in front of a nude actress?

DM: No resistance to it at all. By the time we started shooting the film, we got to know Emily. It was obviously going to be awkward, but only slightly. We have both had to kiss other people in movies. It is just part of the job. You do it without thinking and it doesn’t become a part of your real life either.

Do you and Catherine collaborate before you accept any projects?

DM: Yeah. In fact, this one in particular we talked a lot. Of course, ultimately it was my decision, but I was curious of what her thoughts were on it. Often, I’ll say there’s this part I’m considering and I really need you to read the script and help me decide.

Is this the first film you did with her since Survival Quest?

DM: No. We were both in Living in Oblivion a number of years ago. I don’t know that we’ve actually acted opposite each other since Survival Quest. In Living in Oblivion, we barely had scenes together, and in this we don’t at all. In the story of Lovely & Amazing, the character she plays, Michelle, and my character, Kevin McCabe, never meet. So we didn’t even work on the same days, mostly.

Lovely & Amazing is a very calm film. On the set, was it a similar atmosphere?

DM: It was, very much. I think Nicole is responsible for that. Obviously, it wasn’t trouble free. It was a low budget film and had a very tight shooting schedule. But none of that ever intruded on the making of the movie. For me, it was easy. I had a couple of days to finish up a handful of scenes in the supporting role. It was completely painless and a lot of fun-another thing Nicole brings with her.

Do you enjoy these low-budget films more than the bigger ones?

DM: In some ways, yes. You can approach them without quite as much pressure on yourself. Once you start worrying, then it’s harder to act. So, it does make it easier that way. But I think acting is pretty hard across the board. I really think it is something that you can easily go wrong with, in any type of part. I approach all projects with the same amount of seriousness and preparation. So, in that way, there’s no difference. Even high-budget films can be very relaxed, so it just depends on the filmmaker and the production. In this case, like I said, they might have had trouble getting it made, but I would never have known.

Would you say it was more challenging, acting wise, playing something so close to home?

DM: No, I think this was pretty easy to do. The way the script was written, and Nicole and I being friends already, we were able to just work out how we though it should be. But the blueprint was right there. There was clearly no reason to add a bunch of stuff or overthink it. It was pretty smooth.

What’s next for you?

DM: I have a couple of films that are completed. One comes out in the fall called About Schmidt that Alexander Payne wrote and directed. You know him from Election. Jack Nicholson stars and I play a supporting role. It was a great character for me. It was also great working with a director of that caliber. But the future beyond that is, as always, nobody knows.

What’s your favorite project?

DM: I’ve been really lucky. I’ve only ever worked with great actors who have been nice and f
un. I’ve left some films with really good friends. Between Catherine and myself, I think we’ve worked with James LeGros about six times. We become friends the first time we worked together on Where the Day Takes You, which was a great project, come to think of it. Young Guns stands out just ’cause you get to ride horses and play with guns. Plus, at the time, we were in our mid-twenties. So that one was rather memorable in terms of the making of it. In terms of which film I liked the most, that’s not possible to say. It’s hard to be objective.

Have you ever considered writing, directing, or producing a film, or are you just going to stay on the screen?

DM: Yeah, I’ve considered that. Everybody does at some point. I’m on my seventeenth year of acting professionally. Anything could happen. But I’d be more than happy to keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t need to prove that I’m some great international filmmaker. It’s not really on my list of goals. I was a film student. I became an actor but I thought I’d be pursuing filmmaking originally.

If you could make a film, what would the genre be? What would the style be?

DM: Well, I read history all the time. I don’t know if it would be some sweeping epic period piece. More likely, it would be some obscure, human story inspired by something that I’ve read. Something history based, whether on a person or incident, I don’t know.

Walking away from Lovely & Amazing, what did you learn most about your profession?

DM: The film confirms that, when it comes to comedy, the truth is what makes things funny. Nicole knows that innately. She wouldn’t let anyone get away with trying to be funny. It’s always good to be reminded that the less you do, the more it comes across. I also learned that it can be great working with friends and people you know instead of meeting people as you go and learning about them after the fact.

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