Foxcatcher UK premiere: a chat with Steve Carell and Bennett Miller
The American Express Gala presentation at this year’s BFI London Film Festival was Foxcatcher, a true-crime wrestling biopic from director Bennett Miller, starring Steve Carell (in heavy prosthetic makeup) as millionaire murderer John du Pont. The film has attracted rave reviews, and plaudits have been especially forthcoming for Carell’s performance that marks a shift from the lighter comedic roles for which he is better known. Miller’s previous two feature films (Capote and Moneyball) have earned Oscar nominations, and pundits are suggesting that Foxcatcher may be the film with which he finally scoops a statuette.
The Upcoming caught up with Miller and Carell at an event at Whitehall’s Corinthia Hotel ahead of the film’s UK premiere to talk Oscar buzz and fake noses.
Bennett, how did you first come across this story?
Bennett Miller: I’d never heard of this story until a stranger approached me in a store with newspaper clippings, and said “You’re gonna want to make a film about this”. I think most people in America are only vaguely familiar with it. It’s a little mysterious that it wasn’t a bigger story – there was not a lot of coverage of it and it went away pretty quickly. I learned about the story eight years ago and committed to it immediately. I’m attracted to these type of characters – outsiders who don’t belong.
Steve, you’re known primarily for comic roles. Were you surprised to be offered a role that seems such a departure for you?
Steve Carell: Yeah, I was surprised to have been asked to meet with Bennett. Apparently it was my agent who threw my hat into the ring immediately – I was not actively pursuing the movie, or any kind of role like this. It wasn’t necessarily something that was on my radar.
BM: What happens when every agent in town knows a film is casting is lots of names tend to get sent, to accumulate on the list. There were dozens of names on the list and Steve’s name cropped up… I was aware of what I did not want, and he immediately passed that criteria, and all the other names began to fade away. Other than the fact that he’s a great actor, mesmerising to watch… everything I learned about du Pont suggested people underestimated what was inside of him, and I think in a similar way, opinions had formed about what to expect from Steve.
SC: I didn’t think of him as a villain. You can’t have contempt for your character, because that filters your performance. I saw him as a guy who was a product of his upbringing and his mental state. I had a certain amount of sympathy toward him.
Steve, were you able to look at video footage of du Pont in an effort to capture his essence?
SC: He did have a very specific way of talking and a specific demeanour, and he had a specific look as well. I think just his physicality was very off-putting to many people. There was footage of him – he had commissioned a documentary on himself. The most interesting footage there was the raw footage that showed a side that he didn’t want people to see. There was a sharper, less tolerant edge to him than in his public persona… the way he spoke to the documentarian and the camera crew. He had a very specific idea about how he wanted people to perceive him. To get a glimpse of that was helpful. I spoke to various people who had worked with him, who had been “coached” by him, and they all spoke about how unnerving he was to be around; I did a lot of research in that fashion too. The character got under my skin a lot. I still talk to [co-stars] Channing [Tatum], and Mark [Ruffalo] about the experience, and it’s very present in all of us.
How did the prosthetics affect your performance?
SC: I don’t know what you’re talking about [laughs].
BM: Steve actually acted that nose.
SC: It influenced the performance more than I expected. Once all that makeup went on, people reacted and responded to me differently on set. People naturally wanted to be separate from me, I was off-putting to them. So, organically, I stayed in character because I didn’t have a choice, because no one wanted to talk to me. In terms of technically working with it – I was never really conscious of it.
The film has had a lot of Oscar buzz around it since Cannes, particularly around your performance in terms of Best Actor. How does that feel?
SC: You can’t really put any stock in it. It’s nice people are talking about the film in that way, but you can’t really give it too much credence… at least I can’t.
Foxcatcher is released nationwide on 9th January 2015.
For further information about the BFI London Film Festival visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for Foxcatcher here: