Breach - Ryan Phillippe interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
RYAN Phillippe talks about playing an FBI agent in Breach and why films that pose difficult questions are more interesting to him…
Q. When you heard you were going to play a young, thrusting spy, did you, “think, great gadgets and everything”?
Ryan Phillippe: Well, first of all I loved the thrusts! [laughs] No, I mean, I knew enough about the Hanssen story. I remember reading the Time magazine article and seeing a piece on 2020 and some of the news shows. I grew up on the East Coast, only about two hours outside of DC, so there was some kind of a proximity that would give me a familiarity to know that Q isn’t giving me the car that shoots spikes and stuff.
The most exciting part about the opportunity was to tell a true story that I thought was really interesting, to work with a really enthusiastic director who I think has a huge future, and I think the best working actor in the business, Chris Cooper. They were my gadgets. They were the cool toys in a lot of ways.
Q. The character you play is, in a way, acting himself for this period of his life. Did you see a parallel between the life he led, and your own, and did it give you an insight into the pressures he was under to maintain thar role?
Ryan Phillippe: Yeah, I think there’s an element to what these guys are asked to do within that world, and what we are as actors in a lot of ways. You tend to keep a lot of things close to your chest. I think a lot of time we’re paid to lie, in a sense, or to pretend to be something else. I think there are those things that are relatable to the job of someone who is a secret agent; as someone who has to keep truths close to them, or put out aspects of their life or a life that may be untrue. I think those things are relate to acting. Pretending to be something you’re not and hoping people believe it.
Q. You’ve made films about war involvement [Flags Of Our Fathers] and now one about spying. How important is the political message of a film? Is it something that would make you turn down a role?
Ryan Phillippe: I like making movies that make people think and that push buttons. Or make people uncomfortable or question the world around them. I think that’s an important thing. It’s something that’s satisfying to me when I choose to take time away from my children to dedicate to work. I enjoy the fun movies to watch. But to put my time and focus into, I like the movie to resonate and mean a little something more. I think the best art in any regard challenges people, pushes buttons and pisses people off.
Q. Do you feel happy talking about your own political views?
Ryan Phillippe: I just don’t know how relevant it is to the rest of the world? I’m an actor, y’know!? I definitely have very strong opinions that would polarise a lot of people, but I just don’t think it’s my job to talk about them.
Q. How much assistance did you have from the FBI?
Ryan Phillippe: I had a huge amount of assistance. Eric was there in pre-production and helped me enormously. For Chris, I think it was difficult in some ways because he couldn’t meet Hanssen; there was no footage of audiotape. But Eric became a major resource for him also. Eric and I come from a similar background. We’re similar in age, Catholic schooled, middle class and from the East Coast. We connected as friends, so it was kind of a cool thing to be able to hang out with the guy and talk sports, drink a beer, get to know who he was and have his personality affect my work. That was a huge thing for me. The cool stuff that goes along with that, like Billy said, was being at the FBI Headquarters and being shown around the classified areas. Working there and getting to experience something most of the world would never get close to.
Q. How much does working with the likes of Chris Cooper and Laura Linney force you to raise your game as an actor?
Ryan Phillippe: I’ve been really fortunate in the people I have been able to work with. This case in particular I felt was like an opportunity to take a master-class in acting on a daily basis with Chris. I would say to Billy so often, that if one day I could do 10% of what he’s capable of, I’d be an infinitely better actor. There’s an intimidation thing you get away from through experience. I’ve gotten to work with a lot of amazing, legendary people, but I really believe that Chris is about as good as we’ve got in our country as actors go. I knew from day one that there was a real opportunity for me to learn.
Q. Your audience has changed a lot since your early career. Are you aware of that shift in audience?
Ryan Phillippe: The reason for choosing movies when you’re 19 are vastly different to the choices the guy who has kids and is about to turn 33 makes. I also think, rather than being conscious of who the audience is, make the best movie that you can and see how that audience develops. Then you don’t care so much about box office. You know why you made the film and you know what your intent was and you can feel happy with that.
This movie is really un-Hollywood, which is what I think is super-cool about Universal having made it. There are no gimmicks, it’s not manipulative. It’s a very real, raw drama and that appeals to me. I think to tell a story that exists, within a fair amount of people’s knowledge, and then to have it have a whole new life and have this suspense was a real accomplishment.