The dramatic thriller Inhale follows Santa Fe District Attorney Paul Stanton (Dermot Mulroney), who is in a desperate fight to save his young daughter. Diagnosed with a rare degenerative condition, she is on a long list to receive a double lung transplant, and her time is quickly running out. As her health worsens, Paul sets out on a quest that will send him to Mexico and force him to decide whether to expose a massive illegal harvesting operation and save the lives of hundreds of children, or save the life of his daughter.
During an interview at the film’s press day, actor Dermot Mulroney talked about taking on the subject of murder for profit, the challenge of playing a complex character and the fact that he approaches his acting career with absolutely no game plan. He also joked about shooting with animatronic whales for Everybody Loves Whales – about individuals working together in the effort to free three California gray whales who have become trapped under the ice of the Arctic Circle – shared his experience directing his first feature Love, Wedding, Marriage starring Mandy Moore and Kellan Lutz, and expressed his relief that the Rockford Files reboot he was signed on for at NBC ultimately didn’t get picked up by the network. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
DERMOT MULRONEY: What people actually refer to as research nowadays is really just Googling. I already have a complicated relationship with research. It used to be going to the library and looking up archival photos, etc. So, yeah, I Googled it, if that’s what you mean by research. I also played a lawyer in this, but my dad is a lawyer, and my brother and sister are lawyers. There’s some serious issues around that in my household, on the holidays. We talk about how research has gone down the tubes. Anyway, that’s off topic.
There are plenty of stories to be found about this subject, but it’s never really been front page news, not that this movie’s purpose is to turn it into a front page story, nor did anybody really set out to increase awareness. I think it’s just a good place to put a story and it’s a good way for these characters to ride through the danger and the moral dilemma, in saving the family. I’m not saying it’s not something that shouldn’t be taken seriously, but in all honesty, it’s like the coat rack and the rest of it is what goes down.
By the same token, when I read the script, I thought that it was one thing to try to jump the line on the normal organ donor process, whatever that is, but this is actually drastically different. This is murder for profit and harvesting fresh, bloody organs from the body and selling them. It’s a pretty provocative storyline. So, yes, I looked into it and found out as much as I could, but I focused much more on who the man was that I was playing. Then, for an actor, it really becomes about the imagination and that part of the creative process.
Have you ever known a child that was really sick?
MULRONEY: No. I have kids, but none of them, thank God, have ever been sick in a drastic way. Page one of this script, I was already launching into, “How would I feel if I were in this position?” That’s an actor’s job. What’s fascinating about acting is that you put yourself in somebody else’s mind or in their shoes. But, fortunately, I had no personal experience to reflect on, other than being a father and being related to some lawyers, but that’s stretching the comparison.
What was the most striking part of this story for you?
MULRONEY: For me, it’s how the movie ends, or doesn’t end. There was a time when movies were allowed to be more oblique at the ending. Something as simple as that, where you leave an unanswered question at the end, or makes you wonder what you would have done, was one of the most attractive things about this movie and, to be frank, it’s one of the things that makes it hard, in this day and age, for a company that has less balls than IFC Films to pick it up and put it out because they know it will put some people off. I support that, wholeheartedly.
What I liked about it, from the beginning, was that I finished reading the script and thought, “Wow, did he really make that decision? What would I have done in that man’s shoes?” You hope that, as an actor, you’re able to draw the character out in such a way that the fact that you’re asking yourself that question makes sense to the character. He goes so far away from what a normal guy would do, in a normal city with his family, that you can understand why he’d make a decision that any number of other people wouldn’t make. The challenge of making that unresolved ending work, as an actor through the character, was what was interesting.
What was it like to work with Kristian Ferrer, who played Miguel?
MULRONEY: I had never seen him before and, to me, he was incredible. The first day of shooting with him, I was thinking, “Uh oh, I better get serious. This kid’s for real.” We actually got to be really good friends. I speak very little Spanish and he spoke no English. He was working on it, as we were filming. The little English that he speaks in the script he was basically doing phonetically. Some of it had a real thick accent. But, I thought he did a great job. He’s a great kid who comes from a nice family out of Mexico City and they brought him up for this role. I just thought he brought a lot of personality to what could have been a stereotypical part. I’m sure he’ll go far.
What was the most difficult scene for you to shoot?
MULRONEY: Without a doubt, the scene in the basement of the strip club. That was kind of hairy. That was another really terrific actor who was well-suited for that surprising role. The soda shot with the bottle of tequila, which was water, but real soda, was not something I would recommend. It was a near-drowning experience. I knew that it was going to be uncomfortable, but it was unpleasant, for sure. And, that scene will be a memorable scene for the viewer too, for all the story reasons, the character reveal, the blood and the beating. That was a tight set. It was a real basement of a bar.
At what point did you decide to be an actor?
MULRONEY: Even through my college years, I was trying out plays and shows, but I never really thought it made much sense to try to be an actor. I thought it was foolish, really. I figured there was not a chance in hell that it would ever happen. I trained and I knew that I had a good knack for it, but where I went to school was very competitive, so I was outside of that completely. Part of me thinks that because it wasn’t do or die for me at 20, that’s why it happened.
Who influenced you growing up?
MULRONEY: My early influences are probably the same as who they are now, like Mickey Rourke and Paul Newman. Growing up, Paul Newman seemed like the ultimate manly actor. And then, I got to work with him and we became friends, so that was nice. And, in my college years, I learned about Sam Shepard’s plays and his movies. I’ve worked with him a couple of times too. We were shooting this movie and they hadn’t cast that part yet. I kept thinking, “You guys might want to fill that role?,” and then it turned out to be him and I was thrilled because I knew he’d be great in that part.
Is Sam Shepard really as intense as he seems?
MULRONEY: I worked with him in 1986 or 1987, and I played his son. I was 22 and he was 42. And then, a little less than 10 years after that, he directed a movie I was in, called Silent Tongue, with River [Phoenix], Richard Harris and Alan Bates. It was a really weird, beautiful movie, like his plays. Then, I ran into him again and we did a little theater thing. On a regular basis, I’ve come across him, and the deal with Sam is that he was never very nice and now he is unbearable. He’s a very intimidating person. Not to me, which is why I can speak freely about this. We’re actually friends and we see each other every seven years, whether we like it or not. But, 20 plus years ago, when we worked together, he was one thing. He’s grown crotchety over the years, for sure.
The director of Inhale, Baltasar Kormakur, is a big guy. He’s handsome with a powerful personality, and even he was a quailed a little bit around Sam. Sam is a very forceful person. It’s funny to me because I’m like, “Sam, will you please,” and everybody else is, “Yes, sir. Right away, sir.” I think he’s just had it. It’s interesting because he’s working a lot lately. If he doesn’t, I think he’d just live by himself in a cabin and kick his dog. I think jobs get him out of his house, and he’s been doing incredible work. He was great in Brothers. That was really subtle good work there. And in this, I think he’s fantastic. Great casting to have that guy be tough and then have to just break and spill the beans. It was a cool part for him.
Do you have a career game plan?
MULRONEY: No. I wish. That’s something that’s a goal of some actors to have, but mine’s always been what came to me. I’ll pursue roles, and I’ll either get them or I won’t. No, it’s a mess. It’s all over the place. Really, it’s just that my fate is in somebody else’s hands, and I accepted that a long time ago. As a younger man, I used to think, “Well, one day I’ll get to that point where I’ll achieve some level where I can then pick and choose roles,” but here I am, 25 years later, and I still don’t know what’s next or what’s around the next corner, but now I embrace it. I love living like this. There’s no moss growing.
Did you ever have a Plan B?
MULRONEY: No, I wouldn’t do anything else, for sure. If I did, it would be music or some other pursuit in this same area. I have been acting and playing music since childhood. It’s what I enjoyed most.
What don’t people know about you?
MULRONEY: I don’t know. There’s not too much to tell, really. People know about my music. Back to the Googling thing, when you Google, it tells you everything. There was a time when you would have to actually find out about the person. There’s nothing to tell. I’m not that interesting, really. That’s the answer to that.
Can you talk about Everybody Loves Whales and who you’re playing in that?
MULRONEY: I’m currently working on this project for Universal, and Ken Kwapis is directing it. It’s this true story about these whales that got trapped in Barrow, Alaska, up in the Arctic Circle. We’re shooting in Anchorage because you’re a little more able, since it’s Alaska and it’s fucking cold up there. I go back up for three weeks and then I’m complete with my part. But, it’s a great cast. Many different walks of life are drawn to this story, including Reagan in the White House.
I play the International Guard Colonel that’s helping the native Eskimo tribe. Ted Danson plays the oil magnate. The local news and the national news comes in. They’re using real footage of Tom Brokaw. This is all real. It happened in ‘88, right at the end of Reagan’s administration, culminating in a Russian ice-breaking ship that bashes the ice wall and lets the whales out to the open sea. In reality, that was the first time that the U.S. had asked Russia to help with anything. It was part of the end of the Cold War. It was right in that period of time. Drew Barrymore, who’s delightful, is playing the Green Peace girl, Kristen Bell plays the L.A. newscaster, who comes up and freezes her tits off, and John Krasinski, who’s fantastic, is the local guy who gets the original footage. There are a lot of really good actors in the film. Rob Riggle and James LeGros play this pair of guys who are hilarious. Vinessa Shaw has a part. There’s comedy, and it’s a heartwarming love story.
Are you shooting real whales?
MULRONEY: No. Well, they did do a little underwater footage. There is a scuba dive, so they used a fake fluke there. I guess they did get some sort of mammal swimming by, but just not the real 80-foot whale that these were. They had three animatronic heads made in New Zealand. Ken Kwapis, the director, liked the fact that the whales were on a ship, being freighted across the Pacific from New Zealand to Alaska. That’s an interesting trip. So, there is some animatronic, a lot of computer generation, some non-eye blinking puppets, every piece of green screen, fake Arctic wasteland, fake snow, cotton and literally everything is going into making this. For me, it’s an interesting movie for that very reason. It’s a huge cast with tons of scheduling. It’s a real producers’ movie, in a lot of ways, ‘cause there’s so many elements. Inhale had a lot of elements, with turning New Mexico into Juarez, multi-lingual actors and an Icelandic director. Everybody Loves Whales is off the charts for degree of intricacy of the logistics. It’s just fun to see how they do stuff like that anymore.
What’s the biggest challenge with being a father and having a career? How do you juggle that?
MULRONEY: Interestingly, I’ve had a lot of time off recently, so that makes it easy. Then, you have time for your family for toddler class, PTA meetings and all that sort of thing. I’m involved with all of that. But, everybody gets it. My mother even knows that I’m going to call less when I’m working. You just get busy, you go away and put everything down, and then you come back, you scramble and you catch up with your dry cleaning and your bank account. That’s just been my cycle from the beginning. It’s not that hard. Maybe I’m downplaying it. There’s times of real intensity. I’m in post-production on a movie and I’m trying to make these frantic phone calls to the music editor, and I have charity work that I do with Education Through Music L.A., so there’s some intricate scheduling.
Is the movie you’re in post-production on the one you recently directed?
MULRONEY: Yeah, it’s called Love, Wedding, Marriage. I had a really good time working on it. It was fun. It’s very difficult, not so much to direct a movie, but to get a movie going. The whole pre-production process was eye-opening. Usually when I come onto a film, they tell me when they need me there in two weeks and I go for one fitting before I get there. I’m like, “Oh okay, great!” Then, I get to the set and I say to the director, “Great, let’s go!” The guy looks like he’s been through the war and I’m like, “What’s your problem? Come on, we’re shooting a movie!” Now, I get it. I always knew it, but now I’ve actually done it.
What is the film about?
MULRONEY: Mandy Moore, who’s fantastic, plays the lead with Kellan Lutz, who’s just coming into the lead parts. They’re just married and, right after that, her parents announce that they’re getting divorced. She’s a marriage counselor, and she gets so caught up with trying to save her parents’ marriage that it affects her own. It’s just a totally simple movie, but even a movie as simple as that has a lot of complexities with logistics. Not plastic whales and weather problems, but they’re there. Right now, we’re very much at the tail end of post-production. We’ve done ADR. Blake Neely did the score and it’s fantastic. I think the movie works great. It’s a very simple, mainstream, straightforward romantic comedy.
What happened to the Rockford Files reboot you were going to do for TV?
MULRONEY: That did not get picked up. I think it worked out well. I never saw the pilot, but I thought it was fantastic casting. That’s why I did it. But, to even spend a minute in the mind of NBC television executives doesn’t interest me. For some reason, whatever it is, they decided to go with some other shows, which is good. I’d have been a multi-millionaire, which I’ve never been, but other than that, I don’t miss the amount of work or playing the same part for as long as that would take. There was no minus. In fact, getting it and having it turn into eight years of a series was actually a bigger minus than what I already do.