We’re at that time of year again, where The Hollywood Reporter gathers together supposed Oscar front-runners to discuss their craft. This year, eyeing the Best Actor race, they wrangled Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea), should-be winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge and Silence), Dev Patel (Lion), and Joseph-Gordon Levitt, because Snowden happened this year. You know, that movie about a man many Americans confuse with “The wikileaks guy” and that came and went like a fart in the wind?* K. Just so we’re on the same page. (Pssst. Noticeably absent is Denzel Washington who’s earning serious buzz for Fences.)
It’s a difficult thing to conduct an interview with more than one person at a time, because you want to avoid being rude and giving too much time to any one star. Which means questions rarely get deep. So, my heart goes out to reporter Stephen Galloway, especially because with these actors who don’t have a project in common to keep the conversation focused, and among them are some characters. Well, there’s Jeff Bridges, who at 67 gives no fucks in the most charming way.
When the conversation turned to how you can’t take your craft—one Bridges admits still gives him “flop sweats”—too seriously, The Dude busted out an anecdote from the fiercely forgotten supernatural-action flop RIPD, saying, “Oh, I had some great advice recently. Do you guys know Kevin Bacon? I worked with him recently and he told me a great bit of advice. We’re talking about this anxiety, and he huddled us all together, doing this scene, and he says: ‘Now remember, everything depends on this.’ (Laughter.) You know how ridiculous that is! But also, it does in a way.”
Then asked the softball question “Do you have fun when you act?” Bridges unfurled this random bummer story: “I did a movie — oh, this makes me sad to even say this —Hal Ashby’s last movie, 8 Million Ways to Die . I can see how this would drive the financiers crazy, because the script was just an outline. You would just show up, and Hal would say, ‘Let’s jam.’ But they had no respect for him, and this one producer sabotaged Hal terribly. He sent a spy to watch us and report back to him. And finally this producer showed up — we had about three days to go, big scenes — and he said, ‘I’m shutting you guys down. Today is your last day.’ We said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘Yeah, this is it.’ So Hal went into his trailer — he probably burned one, you know? He came out and truncated a three-day [scene] into a [single] telephone call. Hal gave it to his editor and the producer went in there, fired Hal, kidnapped the film and just cut it against the grain, and then Hal died. I mean, shit, you know?” As the journalist, how do you continue the interview from there? Uh. Ask JGL if it was “fun” to work with Oliver Stone.
Yet the most classically Bridges response was when he was asked what he’d do if he gave up acting, and he answered: Ceramics.
Garfield’s responses scored headlines, because he admitted being disappointed in his Spider-Man movies and (more importantly) that he loves Emma Stone. But otherwise, his answers were respectful, but predictable. Martin Scorsese is great. Such an honor to play the role. Being famous is a pain in the ass sometimes. A lot of his and Levitt’s answers feel interchangeable.
Because the draw of these interviews is the incredible talent assembled in one place, the questions are routinely soft-balled. Yet Patel gave an intriguing answer about what he liked about doing Lion. He appreciated that playing an Indian guy in this film didn’t mean playing an Indian stereotype. The roguishly handsome ingendude explained, “It sounds really cliched, but I don’t get roles like that — ever. To be shot like that, to say such words of gravitas and not be pandering or playing a sort of tech geek, was a transformative journey. It was also something I could relate to: about someone who has suppressed his culture and a part of himself for a while to try and fit in, and then all of a sudden those memories come back. When I first went to India for Slumdog Millionaire [Patel is British of Indian descent], it was a lightbulb moment, you know? And all those cliches I had about the country and the people were dispersed straight away.”
Also, this photo from the THR shoot. Why does dirtbag facial hair make this clean cut actor so damn hot? Like on paper, this should be a mess. But in print, lions, amirite?
Patel and Ali were asked directly, “Are roles more limited for non-white actors?” Which, yes. We all know this. But to say that as an actor of color could get you labeled as “difficult.” So Patel shrewdly responded by saying everyone faces some degree of pigeonhole, and, “My motto is, you’ve got to take on the mold to break it.” Then Ali took the opportunity to praise Moonlight’s acclaim-gaining writer/director, saying: “It has to change from the inside out, like from a Barry Jenkins, someone who is from Liberty City, Florida, and having his own experiences that are worthy of a narrative. But part of the challenge is to transcend race, so you bring something unique to a character that maybe wasn’t written for a black person.”
Then Affleck chimed in, because of course some white dude had to give lip service to the importance of diversity.
Perhaps because of the allegations of sexual harassment, everything Affleck said annoyed me. Like when he tells Bridges, “Jeff, not to draw attention to your age or anything, but I just want to point out that when I was born in 1975, you had already worked with Peter Bogdanovich, John Huston and Robert Benton.” The living icon says, yeah. And Affleck responds, “So you were bushed before I was born, man.” What does that even mean.
Ali addressed type-casting when discussing his Moonlight character, a kind-hearted but conflicted drug dealer. “I’ve been able to make a living playing characters that are in a certain world — [like in] House of Cards and these FBI-type parts,” He detailed. “At a certain point, you find yourself being thought of a certain way. You can become very narrow. And so it becomes a fight to be thought of in a different light, and to fight your own fear, wondering if you can do something beyond what you’ve done already. What probably concerned me most was that I was literally doing three other jobs, and so every day I was traveling. It was [about] trying to really be conscious of what part I was playing on that day, and I had a lot of fear about bleed[-through] from one part into the other.”
Reminder: Ali is a beast. In 2016, he appeared in Moonlight, House of Cards, the critically heralded drama Kicks, (the critically panned Free State of Jones), and the upcoming Hidden Figures, as well as playing the delectably vicious Luke Cage villain Cottonmouth. Basically, if Pajiba ran the Oscars, Ali would be a lock. Or hell, maybe we’d make a special Oscar category: Best All-Around, because Ali is just that damn good.
You can read the full roundtable, and see exclusive video and photos at THR.
*Kristy Puchko did not see Snowden, so won’t/can’t speak to its quality. But movies that make so little impact with critics and audiences rarely score major Oscar notice.