A versatile actor with a complex career talks about his experience on his latest film, COME OUT AND PLAY.
Ebon Moss-Bachrach has created an interesting resume over the length of his career. He’s become the kind of actor that people see in a film and say, “Hey, it’s that guy! What else have I seen him in?” It’s been a varied career, and he’s shown a great deal of versatility in many supporting roles and a few leads. He’s done everything from LAW AND ORDER to THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, with some great indies like AMERICAN SPLENDOR in between. He’s had the chance to work with some of the more well respected directors in the industry, as well as some of it’s biggest stars. Fortunately, he’s also a warm and generous person in conversation.
I got the chance to speak to him about his latest lead role as Francis, a husband taking a needed vacation with his wife before the arrival of their third child in COME OUT AND PLAY. The longer I’ve had to think about the film, the more I respect it and will definitely give it another viewing soon. In it, Ebon gives a particularly strong performance that makes a significant difference in how well the film succeeds. We’ve got a review up here, and I was glad to get the opportunity to talk to Ebon for a few minutes. If you’re planning on seeing the film, there is one section that contains a minor spoiler, but it’s nothing a trailer wouldn’t give away.
AA: Was there anything in particular that drew you to the part of Francis or the film as a whole?
EMB: It was really the character. Because he’s a doctor in an emergency room, he’s really unflappable. He’s this quiet surgeon type and not the usual kind of action movie tough guy. So I felt like it was something different, and could be interesting in a movie like this.
AA: There’s some relatively difficult material and themes in the script. Was there any particular scene or anything in general that was difficult for you in shooting?
EMB: There was nothing in the script that I objected to. When it came to shoot the fighting with the kids though, that was hard. And when I had to point the guns at them… even though they’re fake and it’s all safe… That’s not something I’d do again.
AA: There’s a somewhat tragic aspect to the story of COME OUT AND PLAY. That’s something common to horror films, going all the way back to the black and white Universal monster movies. Is that something you found interesting in this particular script?
EBM: I found the relationship really interesting. The relationship between Francis and Beth was interesting to me, not tragic, but interesting. It wasn’t because it was tragic, but because it wasn’t a story of the happy couple going on vacation off into the wilderness… They’re having their third child and not everything is great and there’s some things going on there. They’re having some trouble. I thought that was interesting and something I wanted to do.
AA: There has been some controversy related to the director Makinov. He’s definitely carving out an interesting public persona, which doesn’t necessarily translate to be the same person who’s on the set directing. How was the experience on the set? (Note for readers: Prior to the films screening at the Toronto Film Festival, they showed a video of him giving a “manifesto” which caused a fair amount of controversy at the festival and after. Here’s a link to it.)
EBM: Well, I can tell you that his persona on set was exactly the same. He wore a mask on set the entire time. The masks would change. He’d wear a lot of different kinds of masks. He had a lot of Mexican masks, maybe because we were in Mexico. Sometimes he had a bag over his head. I think he’s got a beard because I saw little bits of what looked like a beard coming out from underneath one. Maybe that was a mask with a beard on it underneath another mask. (Laughs)
He was also a completely opinionated kind of guy. That was also one of the things that attracted me to the movie, was that it was a relatively short shoot and he said a lot of really smart things. Really incisive things. He seemed like a real artist to me, someone with great vision, who really believed in it.
A lot of times in movies you wind on something that’s like “Okay, there’s a bunch of producers, everyone has an opinion,” there’s no real leader, ya know, and I think a lot of movies suffer because of that. And I knew that going into this movie, this was going to be one man’s production, this was definitely going to be a Makinov movie. Sometimes you just gotta make a decision and say “Okay, well let me sign up with this and let me help this guy try and make his vision.” And he seemed like he had a burning desire and a burning vision and I figured I’d take my chances and see. Whether this movie turned out good or bad, it’s nice to work with someone that really knows what they want.
And I found him very civil. I didn’t have a lot to do with him. I went out fishing with him once, I went out drinking with him once. I was telling somebody else that he drinks through a straw. With the masks and stuff, it’s hard for him to lift up the masks. He only eats stuff like beef jerky and little carrot sticks that fit through the holes in the masks. But we both really like fishing and there were a lot of octopus around the island, so you’re not fishing, you’re kind of hunting in the water. It was hard for him to see. You have to go out into the rocks a little bit, you don’t go out on a boat, you get them from the rocks and he would have a hard time seeing into the water. So I was invaluable to him in seeing into the water and we sort of forged a friendship that way. Through octopus hunting. I know… That sounds completely crazy. I’m listening and I sound like I’m nuts. (Laughing at himself)
TD: No, that doesn’t sound crazy at all. I grew up on Long Island and lived in New Orleans, so I’ve spent lots of time fishing and hunting all kinds of creatures around the water. It’s definitely a good way to get to know somebody.
EBM: Yeah, exactly.
TD: In an interview with The New York Times in 2005, you said that you saw yourself as more of a character actor than a leading man. Now, you’re in COME OUT AND PLAY, and there are essentially only three or four speaking parts throughout the whole movie. Do you feel differently about that now or was this something you felt like you couldn’t pass up?
EBM: Oh, no. I don’t see a character actor as someone who’s just like in supporting parts. I just kind of see that as actors who play different kinds of parts as opposed to an actor that kind of gets known for doing their thing time and time again. That’s not something that seems interesting to me. I don’t think I’d be able to do that anyway, even if I wanted to. I’m interested in playing all sorts of different parts, different movies, different plays. I’m interested in a wide diversity and having a range of work experiences.
TD: Well you definitely seem to be succeeding in that. You’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of other really well respected directors and actors. Is there any particular experience that’s really stuck with you or helped shape the way you look at your career or even film on a more broad spectrum?
EBM: I wouldn’t say that there’s one kind of crystal experience that kind of encapsulates everything. I can say that I’ve worked on all kinds of things and I can say that from doing this for like fifteen years that I’m definitely attracted to smaller movies. I like a smaller set more than a big huge budget kind of thing. I feel like the work that comes out of there and the work that actors are allowed to do… on a movie that there’s not so much money riding on the finished product. I feel like I’ve always had much more fun on those movies.
TD: It looks like I’m just about running out of time, so I’ve got one last quick question for my readers. Do you have a favorite horror film?
EBM: I don’t know if this qualifies as a horror film, but I’d say DON’T LOOK NOW with Donald Sutherland.
COME OUT AND PLAY is currently available on VOD and iTunes and opens in select theaters on March 22nd.
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