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Matchstick Men‘s Bruce Altman Cultivates Our Fear of People in Power

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For nearly 20 years Bruce Altman has been Hollywood’s go-to white-collar baddie. (He plays the perfectly unlikable psychiatrist in Ridley Scott’s 2003 film Matchstick Men .) Altman spoke with AMCtv.com about what makes therapists so troubling, and which character is the favorite of his career.

Q: What attracted you to the part of Dr. Klein in Matchstick Men?

A: I thought it was a great role. I remember as I was reading the script thinking to myself, “Wow, finally a psychiatrist is a nice guy!” I’ve watched other people play therapists, and usually they’re always manipulating and doing terrible things. And then when I got to the end of the script my stomach dropped. I was really horrified by that.

Q: Hod do you identify with that type of role?

A: I do play a lot of white-collar criminals. Therapists are in a powerful position, and powerful people in movies often betray us. I guess it’s a reflection of a deep fear for people, like the reason you go to an amusement park – you want to have the thrill and the fear of what could be, but know that it’s not really happening. You’re experiencing it vicariously and it’s safe, and for whatever reason I’m capable of embodying certain people that are perceived as these powerful and intelligent people.

Q: What are your favorite moments from the film?

A: I love the score, I love so many of the shots. I enjoyed the shots of me smoking a pipe, I have to say. My dad smoked a pipe, and I thought I smoked it with great aplomb. I thought I looked very natural smoking a pipe. You never want to smoke something on screen that you’re not comfortable smoking. Even with the pipe, I had them get me tobacco that I liked. The camera really captures things you’re completely unaware of. All of us have no idea what registers on our face. I’d never seen myself smoke before, and it reminded me of my father.

Q: You were recently in the movie Recount, which told the story of the 2000 U.S. Presidential election. How did that come about?

A: Sidney Pollack cast me for it — I didn’t audition for it and I always like when I don’t have to audition. But I liked the script and I read Jeffrey Toobin’s book, so I had a sense of what this stuff was about. It was also fun to meet Mitchell Berger during the filming and to speak to him on the phone beforehand. I’ve never before played a role that was so specifically based on a person.

Q: What is your favorite role from your career?

A: I think the role I played in To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday was nice. I’m a supporting player, but I really had a leading role in certain ways. Usually a supporting character does not have so many complex emotional twists and turns. He had lots to do and a lot to feel, and that was very exciting for me. I don’t know, I’ve done about 30 movies now, and it’s still very exciting when I get work. I feel like a little kid, “Oh gee! I’m going to act in a movie!”

For a complete schedule of Matchstick Men on AMC, click here.

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