Dermot Mulroney ('About Schmidt')
”Salesman Of The Year”
Dermot Mulroney was born in Alexandria, VA on October 31, 1963. He developed an early and ambitious love of acting and music and participated in youth orchestras and plays. After graduation he attended Northwestern University and studied film, theater and music. A classically trained musician, Mulroney’s body of work consists of over 30 films, but early on his squeaky-clean Irish good looks brought him a steady diet of roles in made-for-TV movies. Movies like the incest-themed ‘Sin of Innocence’ (1986), the teen pregnancy-themed ‘Daddy’ (1987), and the anti-drug diatribe ‘The Drug Knot’ (1986).
Mulroney was rescued from after-school specials with a feature-film assignment playing Roddy McDowell's son in the easily forgotten 1988 Western, ’Sunset.’ Later on that year, he was given a career breaking roll in the Brat Pack-ish ensemble cast of the abominable western ‘Young Guns.’ Mulroney was given the opportunity to eschew personal cleanliness and portray a coarse character named "Dirty Steve."
Following his appearance in ‘Young Guns,’ Mulroney ducked into independent films, surfacing in a string of little-seen, if critically respected films like ‘Longtime Companion’ (1989); ‘Bright Angel’ (1990), and ‘Where the Day Takes You.’ (1992). His gritty portrayal of a teen hustler's fringe existence on L.A.'s mean streets in the latter film garnered him the Seattle Film Festival's Best Actor Award.
The following years offered little in the way of standout opportunities, but after the horrid western flick, ‘Bad Girls’ he was able to redeem himself with strong performances in some other films. Films like ‘Copycat’ and ‘How To Make an American Quilt’; and appropriately acerbic as the eye patch-wearing cinematographer in ‘Living in Oblivion’ in which he co-starred with his Oscar nominated wife Catherine Keener.
The films kept rolling in and soon he had under his belt roles in Robert Altman's ‘Kansas City’, the paranoiac power-outage flick ‘The Trigger Effect,’ Roland Joffe's "sarcastic thriller" ‘Goodbye, Lover’ (1999) and now his latest is the already-Oscar buzzed ‘About Schmidt’ with the great Jack Nicholson.
In ‘About Schmidt,’ Jack Nicholson stars as Warren Schmidt, a man who is set adrift following retirement and the sudden death of his wife. Uncertain about his future as well as his past, Warren packs up his 30-foot Winnebago to set out on a journey across the Nebraska plains to attend his daughter's (Hope Davis) wedding to a waterbed salesman (Dermot Mulroney). But every step he takes seems wrong, and Warren seems destined to end his life as he lived it: a failure.
Not so, Dermot Mulroney though for he is most certainly a man of many, many talents. I was lucky enough to get a few minutes alone with the “young gun” himself recently and first wondered what he thought of his new role as a waterbed salesman in ‘About Schmidt’: ”Well, I think Randall’s just a terrific guy. Warren Schmidt disagrees and that actually has a lot to do with propelling him out of his mournful slump. But, I don’t know if he directs his energies in the right place. In fact, I would disagree with him wholeheartedly, but what I love about this character is if you take your opinion of him from Warren Schmidt then you’re only seeing half the guy and the story really gives Randall a chance to make a case for himself. He never let’s anybody down. He’s sweet and reliable and madly in love so what’s the complaint.”
What was it like working with the big Jack N. ? ”He was great and he IS the big Jack. He just kinda had a way of really being at ease, he kept to himself, but he took his job incredibly seriously. Here we are making a comedy, or a drama with comedic elements in Omaha, Nebraska and everyone’s taking it dead serious. I think everyone was just being true to these characters and loving them, and respecting them because the story will always take care of the rest.”
Do you still have that gaudy moustache from the movie ? ”No, no. I shaved that as soon as I got the camera report back. I made sure there were no scratches on the negative and then it came right off.”
It seems like your character was very ‘retro-minded.’ Was that fun ?! ”Well, I don’t know. I think that there’s a larger element of American society out there that would not consider it ‘retro.’”
Does the infamous ‘Mulroney Curse’ still haunt you ?! ”No, but I had done a series of movies in a row where I was killed or died in some ghastly way, but I think I’ve survived to the last reel in most of my recent films. So that may be obsolete now.”
Tell me more about your upcoming appearances on NBC’s hit show, ‘Friends’ ”I took over Rachel’s job when she went to go have her baby on her maternity leave. So, I got to play opposite Jennifer and we’re kinda at odds at the beginning and then the rest of the story ensues.”
So, you’re a classically trained musician that once was a member of the Sweet & Low Orchestra ! ”Yes, I’m classically trained musician on the Cello, but the band had a meteoric rise and a just as meteoric fall probably ending in around ’97. We made an album for Interscope, they declined to pick up the option after that. We never really hit radio play, but here in Los Angeles, we were a hot band there for a while.”
Based on that could you have chosen that profession instead of acting and still been as successful ? ”Yes, in a certain sense. I think I was good enough at 14 and 15 to commit then to a full-fledged, classical music career, but if you start much later than that you don’t really have the time. You’ve really got to start working three and four hours plus a day on the instrument and at that age; at sixteen, I wasn’t ready to do that. I would never have been a world class soloist, so I decided against it at an early age only because it didn’t feel like it was going to work out for me.”
When you exploded onto our screens in your film debut, ‘Young Guns’ did you suddenly sense that things were headed your way ? ”Yeah, not so much before it started, but once I started auditioning around I could see that there was room for me working out here, working in television and films. But I didn’t pursue it as my end-all before my profession started. I was one of those guys that got big strokes of luck and hooked up. I was ready though and very prepared. I’d studied acting in college, but it’s not what I thought I’d be doing !”
Why, what did you think you’d be doing ? ”Well, I studied film so I thought I was going to be pulling cables and working my way up the camera department. I thought I’d be a photographer by now.”
You’ve played an athlete, singer, cowboy and even an homosexual guy, but what role has stood out the most to you so far ? ”Well, you’ve mentioned several. I enjoyed playing all of those, but I think I’m most comfortable when I’m having fun. I like playing parts that are different than myself which is half the fun. That’s just what actors do really. Randall ranks right up there though, just because he’s got a peculiar way about him and is important to the story and it’s a great cast. So, I’m gonna keep trying doing that, I think.”
Did you have to do any special research to pay a character like Randall ? ”Not so much in this part. You know, I’d love to tell you there were hours of research and all that, but it did take quite a bit of time to figure out how to pull off the wig and all of that, but frankly, because of the quality of the script, the director and the cast, it was a rather easy job ! But, I don’t think acting is easy, it’s just what I mean by comparison, But I wasn’t anguished artistically; no artistic suffering whilst I was making this movie, that’s all”
It seems to have a lot of Oscar buzz already attached to it ! Do you think it’s Oscar material ? ”It certainly is,” he defiantly replies. ”For Alexander (Payne - the director) , Jack, Kathy, sure. I say nominate them all !”
Any behind-the-scenes secrets or any moments during filming that were just too funny to do in one take ?! ”Well, yeah, we were all making a lot of noise while we were eating, Alexander tells me and I looked closer this time and I don’t quite see it. But he tells me he used a take of me slurping apple sauce in which I am actually laughing during it. But, I’m not sure that he’s right, but we did have a bit of trouble round the table when Kathy Bates was eating so vividly, gnawing on her pork bone. Some of that was a little bit funny, but generally all of us took these funny parts very seriously and that was just the tone of the piece. So, it wasn’t like a bunch of laughs on the set. Everything went smoothly.”
How long did it take to film ‘About Schmidt’ ? ”About nine weeks. I however only worked portions of six weeks or so.”
Tell me more about your next movie, ‘The Safety Of Objects’ ”Well, I think this is a really weird, wonderful movie. Rose Troche
adapted some short stories to the script directed it and it stars Glenn Close, Patty Clarkson and Timothy Olyphant and a great number of children actors and it’s a very bizarre, yet wonderful movie, I think.”
What’s the most interesting thing to know about Dermot Mulroney ? ”Oh boy, I don’t know. To be honest with you I’m not that interested in people knowing what’s interesting about me,” he laughs. ”Nothing more than any other interesting actor, ‘cause I think actors are interesting people that’s why they end up being actors a lot of the time. It’s just what you see. I have a young family; a three-and-a-half year old son, so that keeps me busy.”
Finally, please describe yourself in 3 words ! ”Pretty damn cool,” he gently laughs.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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