Christopher McDonald discusses his part as a corrupt politician, David Chase's feature directorial debut and much more
Christopher McDonald is an actor you all surely know. From his memorable performances as Shooter McGavin on Happy Gilmore, to Tappy Tibbons in Requiem for a Dream, Christopher McDonald has made a habit out of turning in solid supporting turns in any role he takes on. The actor's most recent project is Cat Run, due in theaters April 1, where he plays a shady ex-Senator who is trying to secure defense contracts in Eastern Europe, when he becomes involved in a murder and a government conspiracy. I recently had the chance to speak with this talented actor over the phone. Here's what he had to say.
This is quite an interesting role you have here. It's almost like an extreme version of Charlie Wilson.
Christopher McDonald: (Laughs) Exactly. He's in big trouble, but he pushes the envelope a little bit more and it makes for interesting viewing, I think.
I agree. Was that one of your first impressions you had of this character when you first read the script?
Christopher McDonald: Pretty much, yeah. That scene, when we shot it that day, it gives you a little pause. Being an actor, I thought, 'Well, I haven't done this role yet.' I figured, these guys exist out there. You see them on the news, Congressman and Senators stripping down and trying to hit on Craig's List. You laugh and say, 'It happens.' Back in Charlie Wilson's day, it was much before the time, so they just amped it up to keep it more current. I'm sure when people are doing those international deals with guns anti-terrorism, when work gets done, it's time to embrace the other side of life, and get a little crazy. It was interesting and, hopefully, on the DVD extras, it won't be too embarrassing.
I thought it turned out great. It was a lot of fun to watch.
Christopher McDonald: Oh, good. My wife isn't going to like me grabbing girls' asses, but hey, honey, I'm an actor.
Can you talk about how they first approached you for this and the kinds of things you did to get into this character?
Christopher McDonald: Well, I was probably one of the last people cast for this. Mary Vernieu is an old friend of mine. She's a great casting director who has put me in a lot of movies. She thought I could do a really good job with this, so I read the script, and was literally on the plane within three days. It was crazy. I don't know if they had anyone else in mind, I never heard anything about that. There were no coffee stains on my script. I had to live up to the material and I thought, 'This is interesting. This is going to be difficult,' but the movie is such a romp. The two lead guys, Scott (Mechlowicz) and Alphonso (McAuley), they're doing like a road movie and they run into this thing, which I think my character was more of the motor, to get the chase going. I would do anything, as unscrupulous as it was, to get this tape back, which I didn't even think I was really responsible for. And I had a lot of interesting problems to solve, and that's what actors do, they try to make it as real as possible. The preperation was ongoing throughout the whole thing, except the whole orgy part. I could do that. I was trying to get some girls to orgy with me in preparation for it, but they wouldn't go for it.
For you, at least, it seemed fairly rushed to go into this. Were there certain kinds of people you looked at for reference?
Christopher McDonald: Well, I would say, it's kind of ripped from the headlines. You see these major politicians shoot themselves in the foot by having extra-marital affairs. I see that part in the movie, where my wife comes up and you think, 'If only she knew what I was doing behind closed doors.' Like you said, it was Charlie Wilson. He's in the hottub with all these naked girls, taking care of business and, meanwhile, he's got an eye on the bigger prize. My character, Krebb was doing. His bigger prize is getting the right contracts for these missiles. That's big, big money and he's just blowing off some steam, one thing leads to another. After that, it becomes one issue and one issue only: get the girl, get the tape and put a silencer on this whole thing. There's a great hatchet-man, if you will, in Janet McTeer, playing the James Bond-type girl. Oh my God, she was terrific.
She was fantastic. I was just riveted by her performance.
Christopher McDonald: Yeah. She is one great actress and it was one of the reasons I wanted to do the movie. I have known Janet for a long time and I've always loved her film and stage work. She's so fun to work with and we hang out after shooting and on weekends. Then, of course, Paz Vega, who I totally fell in love with in Spanglish, and then John Stockwell, who I've known for awhile. It had all the right reasons for me to do it. There was a part that scares me the most is why would they ask a middle-aged man to disrobe with these Croation beauties? It's like Murphy's Law. A movie I did after that, called Balls to the Wall, I played a male stripper. What are they asking me to do this now for, when I'm middle-aged and out of shape, instead of when I was in my 30s and a rock star? (Laughs)
We really only see the tip of the iceberg with this character. There really seems to be a lot more going on with him that there likely wasn't time for in the movie. Did you go through a full back story as you were going on?
Christopher McDonald: Oh, absoultely. He's an ex-Senator and he had a falling out in his home state. We built on that kind of stuff and he has had some nefarious choices that he's made in the past, so you know he's a good-time Charlie. I have known guys like that and they have a little bit of a destructive streak. It wasn't really about that. We really wanted to stick close to what they were trying to sell. It was very interesting to go to this part of the world. It gives the movie such production value and the beautifulness of the mountains and the lakes of Montenegro, the beautiful structures and shooting in the royal palace. It really helps the movie, and it wouldn't be the same movie if we had done it in Washington or Louisiana or Detroit. This girl could have picked up 911 and gotten out of there, but no, you can't do that in Europe. It gives you a chance to bring in a lot of European actors. My other henchmen were European actors, so that part was good.
I talked to Scott earlier, and we were talking about how it really does add a lot to the movie. It has a very distinct look to it.
Christopher McDonald: Yeah. The movie is a real romp. It should be entertaining and visually arresting so it enhances that journey. When you're watching it, it's an escape, and that's what a movie is for. I think this movie will surprise movie and do very well, because it's a different take on the heist movie. It has so many different layers of comedy and the intense thriller, with a European flair. That's fun filmmaking.
Yeah, it really does combine a ton of different genres in here.
Christopher McDonald: We didn't know that when we were shooting it. I mean, I was trying to play it pretty truthful, because it is some crazy stuff like blowing up buildings. The story is really made in the editing room and you gather all these pieces together. I was talking to John Stockwell, and he said they had a chance to push the envelope even more. After every take, he would say, 'That was great. Now let's do one that's a little bit more out there.' It was just great. And with the sex scene, he wasn't like, "Caress her buttocks here,' it wasn't like that. He just said, 'Make it look real and have fun.' I got it from 19 angles, so... (Laughs) I was like, 'Are you sure you don't want a penis shot in there?'
Well, there is a fairly memorable penis shot already in here.
Christopher McDonald: Oh, of course, yeah (Laughs). That's a good laugh, right?
It was. I did not expect to see that coming.
Christopher McDonald: Different genres, man, all put together in one. It's pretty funny.
Can you talk a bit about working with John? He was an actor for many years. Does that help, him having that experience?
Christopher McDonald: Oh yeah. I've had very good experiences with actors turned directors, starting with Robert Redford, who is a brilliant director. John was very big at the time, when I was first starting out, and he segued into a lot of very successful movies already, and I hope this is another one. They know how to create the space for the actor, as far as the atmosphere and the mood. I'm a very fast worker anyway, and I watched him how he directed other scenes and there was a real calmness to it, to keep the actors in the right zone, and also he had that A.D. mentality, like 'Let's do it, let's get it and move on.' He's very good and I learned a lot from watching him. I'm going to step out and do that director dance myself pretty soon. That's another reason I like to work with these actor-directors, because I can see what kind of choices they make and how you can do it faster, but not overshoot it, if you will.
That directing project is called Wildwood Inn, I believe. Are you going to start shooting that soon?
Christopher McDonald: Well, if I can just get the financing. It's out to several people and it's fallen apart twice with the money. I'm hoping we can get it by this autumn, when we'll have time to get it out and then I can spend all my time editing. It takes place over several years so I have to get a lot of different seasons in it.
I'm not sure if there's an official title for this yet, but you're working on the Untitled David Chase Project. It's been called Twylight Zones, it's been called Untitled David Chase Project. Are you still filming that right now?
Christopher McDonald: I am. What's fun about that is it's David Chase's almost autobiographical story, about when he was breaking into the music business as a young kid and how it took him to the West Coast. Of course, he blossomed into a brilliant writer and producer, but it's a very beautiful time in American history. I love that period, the early 60s, and music had just taken off, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. It's a great thing. I wish I had more to do in it, but I have the honor of being the father of the lead girl, Bella Heathcote. She's unbelievably good. There's another girl they found to play her older sister, Joy, who's just a delicious, wonderful, gifted, charming actress and she just brings it. I was really impressed by this choice of actors. They're great and I have three more scenes to shoot and they're shutting down in April and we're going to pick it up in June for the parts in the summer.
Is there a title for this yet then?
What is up next for you then? You have a number of other projects in various stages of production.
Christopher McDonald: I have this Disney film coming out with the kids, this new musical called Lemonade Mouth. That opens the 15th of April. Harry's Law is still going, we have one more episode left of that and hopefully we'll get picked up on NBC. Working with Kathy Bates and David E. Kelley is just a blast. Then I go right back to New York to film two more episodes of Boardwalk Empire. It's a busy time.
Excellent. What would you like to say to anyone who's curious about Cat Run about why they should check it out in theaters on April 1?
Christopher McDonald: That's a good question. It seems like it's shameless plug time. My shameless plug is this. It's an escapist romp and it's got it all. It's not for everyone, but if you like pushing the envelope, this is the movie for you.
Thank you so much for talking to me. It was a pleasure.
Christopher McDonald: Thank you, Brian. Take care, man.