In The Rum Diary, adapted from the Hunter S. Thompson novel, actor Giovanni Ribisi plays Moberg, the derelict crime and religious correspondent at The San Juan Star. When journalist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) travels to Puerto Rico in 1960, he gets a job writing for the local newspaper, where he meets Moberg and Sala (Michael Rispoli), a talented but deteriorating photographer, and they all end up as roommates, adopting the rum-soaked life of the island.
At the film’s press day, Giovanni Ribisi spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about reuniting with his Public Enemies co-star Johnny Depp, how he had originally wanted to play a different role in the movie before taking on the eccentric Moberg, and the freedom in wearing the same costume throughout the entire movie. He also talked about currently shooting Gangster Squad and why that story was so appealing to him. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
GIOVANNI RIBISI: I had heard about this movie, after working on Public Enemies, and I wrote Johnny a little note, saying that I was interested and that I was passionate about this role. I forget what the note said, exactly. It was probably something a little bit more inarticulate. And then, the next thing I knew, I was in front of (director) Bruce Robinson. We had a chat about the character and the project for a couple of hours, and then we found ourselves in Puerto Rico. That’s the broad strokes of it.
What was it about the character of Moberg that you identified with?
RIBISI: I had originally wanted to play a different role in the movie, and Bruce wanted me to play this role. I thought, “Oh, okay.” And then, I saw it as a way to have a moment, in my life, of utter abandon, and just explore or release that valve. I’m not saying that somebody should do that, but I saw it as a moment of just utter debauchery. Not for the sake of partying like I was in a frat house, but for the sake of revolution. That sounds pretentious, but you have to use that word in this context because you’re talking about Hunter S. Thompson and the ‘60s and newspaper journalism and a time when it wasn’t pretentious to use that word “revolution.” That’s what attracted me to it.
RIBISI: There’s a great description in the book, when Hunter S. Thompson first talks about Moberg, and it’s fantastic. It really encapsulates Hunter S. Thompson’s genius, in just his terse way of being descriptive. So, there was that. Everybody has their own interests with what they do. Chekov said that the writer has one concept, and then the director has the exact opposite concept, and together they make theater. What’s an interesting thing to watch is somebody who’s actually in front of you, trying to break the mold. My acting teacher – who hates that I’m bringing all this shit up, but I will anyway, I don’t care – always said that acting is ephemeral. It’s not like making a painting that lasts forever. You’re doing something, and the very action which comes and goes, is being demonstrated in front of you. Within that process, you’re trying to go against the grain. I think it’s interesting to play a character like that and rebel against everything, and also to try to embrace this beautiful aspect of violence that Hunter S. Thompson had, that was erratic and illogical.
How did you see the relationship between Moberg and Paul Kemp?
RIBISI: In so many respects, Moberg was the voice of reason, but he was also a glimpse into another reality, and possibly an inevitable reality, if you stay a certain course. That’s partly how he’s relevant.
RIBISI: Working with Johnny, he’s such an incredible person, which is a really general thing to say. He has this really charmed presence, and his environment follows him along, in the most wonderful way. We went down to Puerto Rico with this incredible crew and Bruce Robinson, but it was really Johnny. You feel like you’re entering into a universe, which you want to do on movies. You want to go and live in that world. It was definitely a passion project, absolutely. This is something where you go, “How am I going to prepare for this?” You don’t want your staunchy process and your pretentious actor training to get in the way of something like this. I felt that, in order to do this, I needed to experiment and break the mold of my own crap and my own way of working.
Did the wardrobe really help you find the character, especially since you pretty much wear the same costume for the entire movie?
RIBISI: Yeah, there was a certain freedom in that. It’s open and there’s a smell, and you get used to that, and you start to have mental anchors that get hooked into that stuff.
RIBISI: He was an actor. He was in Romeo and Juliet in the ‘60s, and he played Benvolio. He was really handsome with a beautiful face. And then, he had another life. He became this writer/director. He comes from that, and I really appreciated that he had had his own experience with acting. A lot of writers, because they don’t understand actors, feel like, in order to be better at their performance, they have to change the words around a lot. That wasn’t him. You respected his direction because you knew that he knows what he’s talking about.
Are you currently shooting Gangster Squad?
RIBISI: Yeah. There was recently a [paparazzi] picture in US Weekly, of me up on a telephone pole in a harness, like a monkey, making a face.
What was it about that story that appealed to you?
RIBISI: Oh, man, it’s really great! It’s based on a true story. The police force was so corrupt at that time, that they actually had to go undercover within the police force, in order to get this guy, Mickey Cohen, who’s portrayed by Sean Penn. It’s really good. You wonder, “Who’s the bad guy here? What is going on?”