Corey Stoll on First Man and that Sopranos prequel
Corey Stoll is one of the greatest character actors of his generation.
You probably saw him shine in House Of Cards, before bossing the big screen as the bad guy in Ant-Man – just like his hero Gene Hackman in the Superman franchise. Small wonder the iconic Oscar winner is Corey’s acting hero.
The 42-year-old can now be seen as the second man on the moon Buzz Aldrin in the excellent First Man, which is out now on home ents. We caught up with the great man, who also gave us an update on the eagerly anticipated Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints Of Newark… But first, First Man.
HOW DID FIRST MAN COME ABOUT?
I got the script and started reading through it, thinking my character isn’t in here, so started skimming through it and I come in around the second third. I was thinking, “This better be good!”
They really show the whole mission and it’s really amazing how the shape of the movie starts really big, we’re on Earth and then in the last mission they never cut back to mission control: it’s the audience and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins stuck in this tin can, so it was really exciting to be a part of film history in that way and be the first people to portray, in a major motion picture, that moment.
Then meeting (Director) Damien Chazelle, who is so smart and clearly eager to collaborate on all fronts, technically and with actors, it became really clear that it was a very exciting project.
FIRST MAN CONVEYS HOW NEIL ARMSTRONG WAS A MAN OF FEW WORDS, WHEREAS BUZZ ALDRIN IS A CHARISMATIC KIND OF GUY…
Yeah, he’s a complicated guy, he has a complex charisma and he’s someone you can’t ignore when he’s in a room. On the last day of shooting and the last scene, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins came and had lunch and then watched us shoot our last scene. Everybody on set, all eyes were on Buzz because you just don’t know what he’s going to say next and he’s so clearly brilliant and just one of those people who you really can’t ignore.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO MEET HIM?
It was scary! I had been asking to meet him and it had just logistically been impossible so our last couple of days of shooting were in Florida, where he lives. So I showed up to the make-up trailer and someone asked me if I was excited that Buzz was going to be here. No one had told me about it and the first scene of the day was a very dialogue heavy scene when they’re seeing the Saturn V for the first time. Some of the most dialogue I have in the movie is in that scene, so I was sweating bullets. And then I realised he wasn’t going to show up for that scene; he would be there for a silent scene of us in our space suits, which was a relief. I approached my portrayal with love and admiration but let’s not sugar coat it: you never know how someone will react to someone else portraying them.
OH MY GOSH!
From what I hear, he was a very good sport and really liked his portrayal and that it was accurate, so that was an incredible relief. In terms of the public scenes like the press conference, all of that is verbatim so we were able to really study it. You can go online and listen to the recordings of every single thing that’s said from once they strap into the Saturn V rocket until they come back, because it was all recorded. So we were able to really listen to it, we did some editing and tweaked some of the delivery, because it’s very flat. It’s incredible to listen to the audio as they are running out of fuel and running out of a place to land and are getting computer error messages that they don’t really understand and it really is pretty hairy. Yet these guys are so professional and so well trained and have run it in simulation so many times that you’d think that everything was working perfectly and they’d done this a million times before. I think there definitely was a poetic license to keep the drama going in terms of the way we delivered our lines but, for the most part, it’s all the real thing.
WHAT MADE YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH FILM?
Definitely all those great 70’s stars, like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman. The actor I would say I identified with most and wished to be like in terms of his range was Gene Hackman…
I KNEW IT!
Ha ha. He just has this simplicity and, of those actors, he’s the one who seems the least weird and idiosyncratic. When he’s saying his lines he seems to just be saying them and I definitely identify with that the most and, when I’m playing a role, I’m trying to say things as simply as possible. He’s funny and soulful and there’s no frills on that and the laughs he gets are from the character and the situation and not because of bizarre behaviour. And, when he’s scary, it’s because of his intention, not because of some weird thing he does with his face or body. He’s simply just a good actor who pays attention to the given circumstances.
YOU AND I BOTH HAVE A ‘SHAVED HEAD’. HOW DID SHAVING YOUR HAIR CHANGE YOUR LIFE?
I’m 42 now and, when I was in my late 20s, I gave up the charade. Aside from the ease of getting out of the house, all I have to do is wear a hat in the sun. It wasn’t as dramatic for me as I never thought of myself as particularly good-looking. I was very heavy when I was in high school and my identity was not wrapped up in attractiveness so it was a bummer, but I felt more anxiety about not being cast-able. I wasn’t that stressed out about it frankly and it did the opposite – I became more attractive, so it was win-win. The irony is that when I was in high school and a lot heavier I actually had long hair and was using it to hide and I thought that I could hide behind long hair. Then losing weight and losing hair made that impossible and I was exposed in a way. To be exposed and accepted is an incredible relief.
HOW LOVELY HAS IT BEEN TO BREAK-THROUGH IN WHAT FEELS LIKE A RELATIVELY SHORT SPACE OF TIME?
I feel incredibly lucky and the industry is amazing. If you talk to any actor, regardless of where they are in their career, and 9 times out of 10 they are restless and in their weaker moments are looking at other actors and the opportunities that they have and asking why that’s not them. I have moments where I think I’ve never done this kind of role, and in a positive and negative way that is what keeps me moving forward. I do have this hunger to do what I haven’t done before, and when I’m being clear-headed and positive, I am in wonder of the diversity of roles and media that I’m given access to. I really do feel incredibly grateful for that.
NOW, THERE IS A CERTAIN PREQUEL YOU’RE CURRENTLY FILMING…
It’s so incredibly exciting and the irony is, I’ve played Ernest Hemingway and Buzz Aldrin, but who I’m playing in this movie? We’re stepping into a world of a lot of pressure. These characters are so beloved and I’m currently more than halfway through my third viewing of the series. I’m sure there are are a lot of fans who can claim to have watched it many times more than that. The show was just so good in so many ways and on so many levels that the bar is set so high that it has my attention. I was disappointed that I was never able to be a part of the original series so that fact that this has come around now and I can be a part of it this time is really special. Again – it’s got my attention!