Justin Kirkhas earned high praise for his roles on television, in film and on stage. In Ry Russo-Young’s ensemble drama, Nobody Walks, about a young New York artist (Olivia Thirlby) who moves to Los Angeles and becomes a catalyst for lust, denial and deception, Kirk plays a screenwriter in therapy that’s used to talking his way into anything. His therapist (Rosemarie DeWitt) finds herself fending off her patient’s projective impulses as her once idyllic existence starts to unravel.
During our roundtable interview, Kirk talked about why it’s fun to portray a well-drawn character that behaves like a cad, why he only lasted a few months the first time he tried therapy, how he enjoyed working opposite DeWitt, why TV is good training ground for the movies, and why he wouldn’t mind making a multi-million dollar movie if the opportunity arose. He also discussed finishing Weeds, his new television series Animal Practice, and co-starring with Michael Caine in the upcoming feature film, Mr. Morgan’s Last Love. Hit the jump for the interview.
Justin Kirk: I’m glad you did. I keep hearing about what a great guy he is today and I’m like “Fair enough.” I’m not sure who this guy is because we see him in the therapist’s office which I guess is supposed to be the place you tell the truth, but I don’t know what his game is really.
You didn’t think about that when you read the script?
Kirk: (joking) No, I don’t think about shit, man. I read the words and memorize them.
If you’re going to unload and give all your deepest thoughts to somebody, it’s possible you’re going to develop a crush on them. I mean, it happened in The Sopranos so it could very well happen here.
Kirk: I suppose, depending on the shrink. I know the one time I tried therapy, I did after a month or two, and I only lasted a few months, because I started to worry about being entertaining. I kept driving there once a week for an hour and I’m thinking “What am I going to talk about today?” Then, I just remember being very conscious of being charming. Maybe that’s just an actor or something. So, I think that might be an element of what this guy is doing.
The other characters had an uncontrollable urge to act on their impulses, whereas I thought your character was a little more calculated in everything he did. Was that the direction you were going in?
Kirk: Maybe he just wasn’t as smooth with it. When I saw the movie, I noticed a similarity between mine and Olivia’s character. First of all, she’s a pretty 23-year-old girl so it comes off better. Mine’s a little more insidious. But, it was a similar feeling out the limits of what they could get from the people around them, even though she’s super coy about hers. I also think he likes being kind of a rake, a cad, and he especially likes to test that out with Rosemary’s character, like “Oh I can’t believe I just said that. Can you believe what an asshole I am or do you think it’s hot?”
Kirk: Not me. Three days.
That was it?
Kirk: Yeah. I think the whole movie was probably an 18-day shoot. I did one day for the therapist stuff and two days at the party.
How much rehearsal did you do before then?
Kirk: None. I knew Ro. I’ve known Rosemary as a friend over the years. That was nice because when you walk onto a set, it can be a strain, especially if you’re not the star. They’ve been going for a while so to have her there was good and I’m certainly a fan as well as friends. On a movie like this, for the most part, maybe the three of them (Olivia Thirlby, John Krasinski and DeWitt) hung out for a week or something, but I just showed up on the day and went right to it.
Was it tricky bouncing in and out of your character so quickly in such a short time?
Kirk: If the writing is good, that does most of the work for you. Yeah, it is. (laughs) No, it’s not. It was a very specific, really well-drawn character, so when you get speeches like that it’s just fun. And then, obviously, the director will come in and say maybe a little more of this, maybe a little less of that, and you see how it goes. But no, I knew what to do with this guy right away on some level.
How did the part come to you?
Kirk: Well, the script was a hot script. My friends were talking about it and Tiny Furniture. I didn’t know Ry’s (director Ry Russo-Young) work at the time, but Tiny Furniture had come out and my friends had talked about going in and meeting on it, and I was like oh, I want to go in too. So I called my agent and they said that I wasn’t available because I was doing Weeds. They thought I wouldn’t be available for it. But then, I got an offer. I just got a call. They made it work for three days. They were good about that over at Weeds, rest in peace.
Kirk: Well, the other thing about movies is it takes a while so you’ve forgotten a lot from the script about what it becomes. I saw a scene I had with Olivia that was a lot of fun that wasn’t in it, but that’s the nature of movies that sometimes it doesn’t always make the final cut. But I was really pleased. That’s the thing. You never know. Once you walk off the set, if you’re an actor, the rest isn’t your responsibility, which I like a lot. I’m not responsible for the final product, which is why it’s always a pleasure when you see it’s in the hands of the people afterwards putting it together. I just loved it. I felt like it was both a strong narrative, but then also the kind of movie that has that sort of amorphous like feeling that bleeds on you when you’re done, and it’s a little gross in a good way. When you leave, you can feel all these people’s imprint on you.
That scene with you and Olivia must have been interesting, because you’re kind of like birds of a feather in a way. Was it a romantic scene?
Kirk: It was the end of that party, so I’ve been out creeping on Rosemary in the back and it’s late in the night. The thing about the scene was that we were shooting overnight at this house in Eagle Rock, and by the time we got to it, it was about 7:00 in the morning and I really was not well. I’d just hit a wall trying to stay up. I made it through. It was pretty much just me sloppily hitting on her at a party. I can’t remember what the lines were, but they were good. It was really funny writing the things that I was saying to her. Maybe they’ll be on the DVD.
Do you know why that scene got cut out?
Kirk: No. I think it probably just didn’t add to the general flow of the storytelling. I choose to believe that rather than it was a terrible scene.
So they needed a good deleted scene for the DVD?
Kirk: That’s right. Sometimes you just need something to put in.
Kirk: That was super cool. It was great. He’s got lots of great stories. He likes to take a drink as you know and as do I. When you’re living in a hotel in some random European city with your cast, it’s good to have people who are going to be down at the bar, and especially if it’s Michael Caine. I mean, when I got that call, I was like when am I going to get a chance to do that again, so it was really great. It’s a sweet movie. I’ve done ADR on it so I don’t know what stage it’s in now or when we might see it, but I’m looking forward to it.
What’s your character?
Kirk: I play his son. There’s a lot of father-son angst, so we go at each other a lot.
Is TV a good training ground for the movies because you do everything a lot faster and more economically?
Kirk: It’s the same as a movie that doesn’t have a lot of money and that’s pretty much been my movie career. I’ve never been in a hundred million dollar movie, but it seems to me that spending three days on a scene would be difficult. It’s less about the actors obviously by virtue of what the deal is there. It’s about lighting and stuff, which is not to say I’m not amenable to trying my hundred million dollar movie, but my experience has been that. Both Weeds and Animal Practice are single-camera shows, so they’re essentially like shooting a movie that doesn’t have a lot of money.
How do you feel about Weeds ending? How’s the withdrawal going from that?
Kirk: I jumped directly into another television show two days later, if that. We were actually reshooting the pilot when we were doing Weeds, so I haven’t had time to mourn, and I don’t know if I’m a person who does mourn stuff like that so much. I mean, late at night maybe after a few drinks occasionally it dawns on you, but you try to move forward. This new job that I have I pretty much work crew hours, so I don’t have the time to think about anything except don’t get stomped by that ostrich. I play a veterinarian on Animal Practice. Perhaps there’s a billboard over your house somewhere.
Kirk: It’s great. It’s one of the weirdest jobs I’ve ever had, but it’s a great set. I love my cast. I love what the show is becoming. I’d hoped that it would become this weird, unique, broad and yet clever comedy and we’ve got about six in the can and I’m having a blast.
Do you feel like the monkey sometimes out-acts you?
Kirk: (laughs) You know, I’m happy to serve that monkey. And believe me, she does. She is like no other. We have different animals every week, every day. Like I said, yesterday was an ostrich. But I think of Crystal more like I think of the other actors on the show.
Do you think you’ll win an Emmy next year maybe?
Kirk: Well, let’s see. What category? I guess it depends if she goes for supporting or lead because those Modern Family guys might have that in the [can]. I guess we’ll have to see.
When you got the script for Animal Practice, did you think about how many shows with a monkey have worked and what was it that made you realize this will be a good one?
Kirk: I’ll tell you, we did not know. That was not immediately apparent. First of all, that character was a chimpanzee in the pilot and it was just hanging around in the back. Then, when we made the pilot, Crystal arrived and we were like oh, okay. And then, they went out and tested it and everyone was like “Monkey!!” So that sort of revealed itself in time. But, what I would say about that is, I think the challenge of our show and what we’re trying to do — what they’re trying to do…I just go up and act — is to use her, and her talents are limitless. So, it’s to use her in clever ways to aid the show. When you think of a monkey on a show, you think of cutting to things, but Crystal does crazy things. If we can actually tell the story of this sad, dark guy whose best friend is this monkey that we’re not quite sure about – like is it his roommate, is it someone who works at the hospital? — I think there’s a really weird, fun story to tell there if it’s done right. It’s a tough line to ride. Sometimes we go over it and we say okay, we can’t, this makes it a little in this direction, but if you do it right, whatever right is, then I think you’ve got something weird and new.
Isn’t Crystal off shooting Hangover 3 right now?
Kirk: She’s negotiating. (laughs) No, we need her every day and all day on the set of Animal Practice. No, I don’t think she is. That’s a good question. She had time to do a cameo on Community.
Kirk: No, that’s the magic of television. We’re picked up for thirteen. It doesn’t mean they can’t call today at 5:00 and say don’t come to work tomorrow, but that’s the nature of the beast. We’re just trying to make as good a show as we can.
Is it hard to not have that in the back of your mind though? Do you worry about that kind of thing?
Kirk: When I do worry about it, I remind myself that it’s stupid to worry about it, because in my lucid moments, I know that if it did end tomorrow, it was still a great job. I got paid well. I got to work with the world’s greatest monkey and all these animals and this cast that I love, and we made seven episodes of a show that I thought was great. I hope we make more for our crew because I think we still have a good show to make, but you don’t know. That’s TV. There’s no use complaining about it.
I keep thinking of W.C. Fields who said “Never work with children or animals.”
Kirk: He did say that, but he was a very greedy performer. I can say that because he’s no longer with us. (laughs) I’ve worked with both, and Crystal does a lot more than any kid I ever worked with. Baby, I mean. I’ve worked with some teenage actors who were very strong. But listen, you always want everyone around you to be great, and that includes the monkey or whoever it might be because that’s what makes a good show. Anyone who’s worried about someone being better than they are, you’re kind of fucked out of the gate, especially television. No great television show has ever rested on just one person. They’re all about great ensembles and storytelling.
Have there been any tantrums about the size of her trailer or anything like that?
Kirk: Probably, but they keep that away from me. (laughs) No, I happen to know my trailer is much bigger. That’s why I’m calm about it.
But isn’t it a little bit more unpredictable when you’re working with animals and there will be some moments, even good moments, that will unexpectedly happen during shooting?
Kirk: Well, I was making jokes during the pilot, probably distasteful jokes, about how it was a matter of time before I was maimed or killed by whatever, but the truth is, now we’re a couple of months in and it’s a fairly calm atmosphere. Maybe even more so because we’ve got a bunch of cute dogs and cats around so everyone is in a good mood.
Kirk: I know this sounds like I’m being cute, but she’s very aloof. Monkeys are not like cats. They don’t come up and [rub up against you]. Tom (animal trainer Tom Gunderson) let me pay her the other day. He always has something for her, so when she does her trick, he has a finger full of whatever it might be. That was pretty crazy to get to do that. She’s always there even if she’s not working that day because she and her handler have one of the most unique, intimate relationships I’ve ever seen between two creatures. He’s pretty much the guy who runs all the animals on set, and so when he’s there, she’s just on his shoulder. They’re walking around and doing everything together. It’s something to see.