The action-adventure flick Big Game sees the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson) escaping from a crashing Air Force One into the rugged countryside of Finland. There, he comes across a young 13-year-old (Onni Tommila) on a traditional quest to prove he can survive 24 hours alone in the wild, and the unlikely duo must escape a group of kidnappers who are hot on their trail and looking to take the President.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Victor Garber talked about playing the Vice President to Samuel L. Jackson’s President, what attracted him to Big Game, how he approaches his roles, and his fondest memories from this shoot. He also talked about why Alias was such a turning point in his career, being a part of the DC comic book universe, playing Dr. Martin Stein on The CW’s The Flash and the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow, and his desire to return to the theater.
Collider: How did you get involved with this project? Did you just read the script and it appealed to you?
VICTOR GARBER: It basically came as an offer to do this part. I read the script and they told me who was involved, and I said, “I’ll do it!” It was fun to play that part, and to work with Jim Broadbent was a dream come true. I am such a fan of his, and we had a good time. It was relatively easy because it was all contained. It wasn’t spread out over months and months. And I thought it was an interesting little twist, or not so little. I didn’t know the director or his work. When I finally did see the movie, I was really impressed with the scope of it and how he managed to tell the story. The surprise element was really the fun of it.
How did you approach this character? When you’re playing someone who you know isn’t being entirely upfront with his motives, do you think about that while you’re playing him, or do you forget about that until the moments when you need it?
GARBER: After you read the script, then you actually just have to be in the moment you’re in, in order to make it believable. You can’t give it away. You can’t tip it off. For me, it’s always about being truthful in the moment I’m in. Hopefully, being able to reveal what I’m feeling, you have to believe it. You can’t tip the hat. You have you really know where you’re headed. It’s always about the writing for me. It’s in the writing. And then, the joy is when you work with great actors, it just comes to life in a way that you never even imagined. That’s the fun of it for me.
Since you never studied acting, do you have a process for getting into each character, or does that change according to the project and character?
GARBER: The only set thing I do is that I really, really memorize the lines. I’ve gotta be so comfortable with the words. I grew up in the theater, and you can’t improvise Shakespeare and Ibsen. You have to speak the language. But obviously, in a contemporary film, there’s often room for improvisation and spontaneous things that happen. As long as I know what I’m trying to achieve in the scene, and when something comes up, I know that the response is genuine, I’m comfortable. That’s really how I build everything.
What’s it like to be the Vice President to Samuel L. Jackson’s President?
GARBER: I only wish I’d had a scene with him. That would have been more fun. Movies are so fragmented. That’s part of the fun of it, but also part of the frustration. I knew Sam, slightly, from years ago, and I’m a huge fan of his. I think he’s one of the best actors out there, and I would have loved to, and hopefully will one day, be in the room with him and talk with him, as a character. That’s really a goal.
When you look back at this project, what are your fondest memories from the shoot?
GARBER: I have to say that my favorite moments were having dinner with Felicity [Huffman] and Jim [Broadbent]. We had a good time. We really enjoyed each other’s company, and acting with them was great. When you’re acting, you’re limited because you have to stick to the script. So, just being in their company was really wonderful.
Was it odd to shoot this in such a confined space, in only one or two different rooms, and then to see the film and see how wide open the space was in much of the rest of it?
GARBER: I honestly couldn’t believe it. I knew because I’d obviously read the script, but when I finally saw it, I was so blown away by the scope of it and how beautiful it was. The shots were just unbelievable. They didn’t have a lot of money on this movie, so I’m really impressed.
You’ve talked about how Alias was a turning point for your career. How do you feel it really helped shift things for you?
GARBER: Well, because it was the first regular series that I was ever on, and I was playing this incredibly interesting character. The role had so much dimension to it that it just opened up doors for me that would have never been opened. And the experience was obviously one of the major turning points of my life because it was five years of working with the same people. J.J. Abrams is arguably the most successful director in the world, and he also remains a friend and really changed my life.
Are you surprised that people still ask you if there will ever be a reunion and if you’ll go back and play that character again?
GARBER: People do ask that a lot. I know that there’s a tendency for people to do reunion shows, but I can pretty much assure you it won’t happen. But, it’s awfully nice to have dinner with them.
Have you taken pretty well to the whole comic book world that you’re living in now, with The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, or does it all still feel like a foreign world to you?
GARBER: Well, it is a foreign world to me. The only thing that isn’t foreign is that the character that I’m playing, even though he happens to be a meta-human, is really this crazy professor who is trying to sort things out. I really love the character. That’s why I was happy to go on and do this new series that we haven’t even started yet. Talk to me in a year and I’ll let you know if I’m still as optimistic as I am now. But, I really love playing this guy and I really love the writing. I think it will definitely be a new chapter, and I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to do it.
Could you ever have imagined, at any point in your career, that you would play a role where you were literally sharing a character with somebody?
GARBER: No, unless I was a Siamese twin, which I didn’t see in the cards. I really didn’t. This is a chapter that I did not foresee, for sure.
When you signed on to do The Flash, did you know, from the beginning, that it was going to lead to Legends of Tomorrow, or did you find that out later?
GARBER: It wasn’t until before the finale started of The Flash, which was awhile back, that word started coming up. When we did the Television Critics Association [Press Tour] in Los Angeles [in January], it wasn’t announced, but they were talking about it in a cryptic way. They contacted my manager and said, “We want to do this. Would he be interested in doing this?” So, I said, “Yes, of course, I would.”
The teaser trailer looks really awesome, and I can’t wait to see more!
GARBER: Oh, good! I’m glad! By the way, that’s all I know about it. I haven’t read a script, or anything. We haven’t shot a frame of this series yet. I’m definitely not that audience, but I love good storytelling and I love characters that are dimensional, and I think that’s what Greg [Berlanti] is really good at. And he hires really good people. It’s a pleasure to be involved with all of them.
You have such variety in your career, right now. Is there something in particular that you look for in a project? Is it totally instinctual when you read it, or is who you’ll be working with equally important to you?
GARBER: They’re equally as important. In this case, it came directly from Greg, who I’ve always had a great fondness for, and we worked well together in the past, years ago. That’s what started it. And then, I saw The Flash and thought the show was really interesting and really good. And then, the script came and I thought, “Wow, this is perfect!” But Big Game was just a script, and I knew Felicity [Huffman]. That was it. So, it’s a combination, definitely.
You’ve worked with some great directors in your career. Are there any that you feel you’ve learned the most from?
GARBER: No, I learn from everything that I do, for better or for worse. I have worked with great directors, like James Cameron, Ben Affleck and J.J. Abrams, and I’d work with any of them again. I feel very privileged and grateful, and they were all great experiences. I just feel really fortunate.
With as busy as you are now, what would it take to get you to return to the theater?
GARBER: First of all, an opportunity where I could squeeze in the time and do it. It’s a commitment. You can’t just do a play in a week, like you can a movie. Also, it would have to be the right part. I was talking to a producer recently who would like to do something, and I said, “If you come up with the right thing for me, I just need you to say, ‘We want you to do this.’” I don’t really have an idea in my head about what I want to do. It always comes to me from other sources. I also feel like I need to [do it again soon], so that I don’t get stage fright. If I stay away for too long, it’s going to be harder to go back.
Big Game is now available in theaters and on VOD.