The indie drama Trade of Innocents shines a spotlight on the horrific and brutal realities of child exploitation, all over the world. Alex (Dermot Mulroney) has recently moved to Southeast Asia with his wife, Claire (Mira Sorvino), so that he can investigate human trafficking while his wife volunteers in an aftercare shelter for rescued girls. Still struggling with their own grief after losing a child years earlier, they both become very passionate about restoring freedom and dignity to those who are directly affected by such atrocities.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Dermot Mulroney talked about how he came to the role, why the subject matter became so important to everyone involved, the research he did to bring his character to life, working with co-star Mira Sorvino, and how he hopes he film will raise awareness of such a critical issue, around the world. He also talked about his current role in August: Osage County, adapted from the Broadway play, his roles in the upcoming films Stoker (from director Chan-wook Park) and Jobs (about the life of Steve Jobs), whether he’d consider doing work on television, and how he’s more focused on acting right now than trying his hand at directing again. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of this film? Was it a role that was brought to you, or was it something you pursued?
DERMOT MULRONEY: Well, this movie is very unique, in the way that it came about. It did come directly to me, but the movie was made by a single family who wanted to make a difference in this world and who cared about the welfare of children, in our country, of course, but also around the world. They didn’t know how to do that, until this script came to them. And that’s Bill and Laurie Bolthouse, who are the executive producers. They decided to make a difference in the world by making a movie. So, when you are addressing subject matter like this, about child sex slavery, it’s going to be a challenge.
I’m so pleased about how the movie came out and that it’s able to carry itself like a real movie, and still launch this issue for people who don’t know about it, in detail, or to raise awareness. It’s actually a tool that came in the disguise of a mainstream Hollywood movie. So, I supported the idea, very much, from the beginning. I learned as much as I know about human trafficking from this screenplay and from my research, subsequent to reading it. Like a lot of people, I kind of knew about it, just from news reports, but I knew no details or any of the drastic statistics that two minutes on the computer can help you find that out for yourself. It’s a global problem. Everywhere on earth, people are suffering from coerced prostitution. It’s very difficult to contemplate. How tough the material is was one of the challenges, in taking this role.
With this kind of subject, a lot of the time, it can come across very much like a preachy TV movie. Was it important to you that that not be the case here, at all?
MULRONEY: That’s what we were all trying to do. It helped, tremendously, that we were shooting in an authentic location. There was really grueling heat and very close quarters, in some places. A full Hollywood crew wouldn’t have even fit in some of these locations. But by the same token, we were working with an incredibly experienced, multi-lingual Thai film crew. With as many jobs as I’ve had, it was so unique because of the elements that were brought together to make this movie.
What further research did you do, after reading the script, and what most surprised you about what you learned?
MULRONEY: I had the rare opportunity to actually meet with one of these investigators now. You have to realize, this isn’t somebody who works for a government or any kind of law enforcement agency. These are independent people, many of whom are allied with or associated with non-governmental organizations or different charities that work on this issue. But, when it boils down to it, this is just a private citizen who takes the risk, the time and the effort to put himself in situations inside these brothels to try to extract these children or gain as much information from them, while posing as a sex tourist, to alert the government or the local law enforcement. It’s not being done by those people, in a lot of these places in the world, because they’re profiting from it themselves. There are a lot of challenges to trying to make a difference not just the established industry that’s in place, but protections that exist around it to support the economy of human trafficking. I think some of the dialogue in the film describes that. It’s not just one little girl or boy who’s being abused. It’s an entire industry with an industrial structure in place that corruption and greed and sex crimes are supporting.
Does it take on an extra sense of importance for you, when you’re part of bringing a story like this to people who might not be aware of what’s happening?
MULRONEY: Very much so. For an issue like this, that’s affecting so many children on earth, now that I know about it as much as I do, it blows my mind that we, as American citizens, aren’t more aware of it. Anything that those of us who have had the opportunity to be involved with a movie like this can contribute to the awareness and knowledge of this problem is a place.
What was it like to work with Mira Sorvino on this? Did you feel equally connected to the material?
MULRONEY: Mira has long been associated with issues, such as this, like crime and child welfare, around the world. She’s a UN Goodwill Ambassador, among many other organizations that she’s involved with. So, she came in, fully informed and guns blazing. I came in as an innocent, or as someone recently informed. I think both of us were coming from other jobs, so we really did hit the ground running, and I relied on her knowledge and experience to help prepare me to play this role.
In shooting content like this, that can be so uncomfortable and horrific to deal with, what was the atmosphere like on set? Were things more serious because of the subject matter?
MULRONEY: They were, yes. If you break down the scenes, I don’t think there’s ever a time in the movie where even the young actors are actually put in a situation that is unseemly or inappropriate. The context within which you see these children is authentic and is accurately depicting the crimes that take place around human trafficking. For me, going so far away from home to Bangkok and working in these really extreme conditions on location, that’s what brought the most sense of reality to this story.
How do you hope this film will raise awareness of such a critical issue, around the world?
MULRONEY: When I looked into the issue of human trafficking, I discovered how many organizations there are out there, working around the clock. If anyone who sees this movie has any curiosity or drive to follow it up, the information is out there. There are people not only putting their money but their lives on the line to make a difference with this issue. As people become more and more aware of this film, I have no doubt that people will get off their chairs and get on their feet and make a difference.
What do you look for in a project and role, these days?
MULRONEY: I wish I could say I had some sort of master plan where one role leads to the next role, but a lot of it really is persistence and luck and being prepared when you are asked to jump on a project. There isn’t any one rule that I follow. Obviously, I’ll always shoot to work with the best actors, directors and filmmakers. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to do that.
What are you currently working on now?
MULRONEY: I’m doing a role in August: Osage County, which is a play by Tracy Letts, that John Wells is directing.
Was that a play you were familiar with?
MULRONEY: No. It’s funny, I knew the title and I knew of the play. My mother and father saw the play, but I never saw it when it was running in New York or Chicago. I was just working off of it as a screenplay, when I was in the audition process. With YouTube, I can see clips of scenes from that original production, but there was no place local, where anybody was putting on the play. I actually tried to find out if I could go see it in a high school production or something, but I wasn’t able to find anything. Instead, I had to come at it without that picture in my head, of having seen the play production. But, the screenplay is written by the playwright and it’s all in there. It’s going to be an amazing film. The cast is incredible.
Who are you playing in it?
MULRONEY: I play Steve Heidebrecht, who’s Karen, the youngest daughter’s, boyfriend that comes with her. Juliette Lewis plays Karen, so I’m opposite her.
What was it like to do Stoker?
MULRONEY: That should be a phenomenal movie. It was an incredible script. Wentworth Miller, the actor/screenwriter, wrote it and it really blew me away. By the time I was being cast, Chan-wook Park was already on as the director. It’s funny, I have a role where I play Nicole Kidman’s husband, but I never worked with her on that film. Our scenes aren’t together. I didn’t even cross paths with her.
How was Chan-wook Park to work with?
MULRONEY: He will wow people with this, for sure. The story is remarkable. The movie plays between horror and thriller, and it’s kind of a murder mystery. It’s a very unique film that should be phenomenal.
The lives of almost everyone on the planet have been affected by Steve Jobs, in some way, so was it fun to get to be a part of telling his life story, by playing Mike Markkula for Jobs?
MULRONEY: It was a really surprisingly fun job. I have to admit that the script read kind of dry, like a biopic or point-by-point markers on this 20 years in recent American history. But then, when you’re in the wardrobe for the ‘70s and the ‘80s, and the director (Joshua Michael Stern) really had a great viewpoint on the characters and the story, and you’re opposite Ashton Kutcher who looks mind-boggling like Steve Jobs, suddenly I was in a situation where it was coming alive, each day on the set, in a way that I didn’t expect from reading the screenplay. I’m pleased that you asked about that because I think it’s also going to be a terrific movie. It’s going to be even better than I thought, but I don’t want that to imply that I didn’t think it was going to be good. I always did. Some jobs are exactly what you expect, some are worse than you expect, and some have more going for them than you think, going in. This was one of those.
Would you like to try your hand at directing again, or are you too busy acting, at the moment, to even think about that?
MULRONEY: Well, I’m really only an actor, at heart. I’m going to stick with what I do. I’ve worked almost back-to-back, so I couldn’t begin to contemplate the time and effort that goes into directing, at this point.
Even though things didn’t work out when you did The Rockford Files pilot, would you still be open to doing something in television, especially on cable, if something came your way that interested you?
MULRONEY: Yeah. I’ve noticed, and everyone has, that the quality and intensity of material on television has gotten better and better. In fact, I just came from looping parts of my role on Enlightened, which Laura Dern stars in for HBO. I had a really nice role in that for their second season, and I got a taste of what that type of job would be like. I’m open to anything, anytime. I have done television recently, and have been very gratified by it.
Is there still a dream role or a genre that you’d love to work in, if given the opportunity?
MULRONEY: Every time I’ve made a plan in my Hollywood acting career, something else has happened, so I’ve gotten out of the habit of trying to predict the future. It’s such a speculative business, and this type of work is so unpredictable. My way of answering that question is, not really. I know something great will come around the corner, and that’s what I’ll be doing next.
Trade of Innocents is now playing in theaters.