Take This Waltz - Luke Kirby interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
LUKE Kirby talks about playing the role of Daniel, or ‘the other man’ alongside Michelle Williams in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz and some of the challenges it brought, including remaining non-judgemental and handling some of the more brazen elements of the script (such as the seduction speech).
He also talks about his own career to date, what made him decide to become an actor and why playing an artist rekindled his own passion for art. He also gives us the lowdown on his new series, Rectify, for AMC.
Q. I’d imagine there was a lot to be impressed by when you first read Sarah Polley’s script for Take This Waltz…
Luke Kirby: Yeah, I really was drawn to it. After I read it for the first time I kind of felt a little bit haunted by it and I couldn’t quite shake it. I didn’t know why but it stuck with me. I think a lot of it had to do with the complexities of the relationships and sort of how the film doesn’t come at it from any direct point of view. It’s limited in its judgement of the characters, who all have faults but who are clearly beautiful people. I don’t know that I’ve seen a movie that’s sort of about that time in a relationship… the lull in a relationship. And I found it really compelling.
Q. Did you have any problem judging him, or at least his actions, from a personal point of view?
Luke Kirby: Well, in earlier drafts of the script there sort of was more insight into his past. As he stands in the film, and I think it really works, he kind of comes out of nowhere and almost doesn’t feel real in some ways. But I like how that works. As an actor playing him, however, I knew more about him. I knew more about where he was coming from, I knew about his pain and the loss he’s experienced in his life. So, knowing all of that, I felt a degree of the surge that he feels from meeting Margot [Michelle Williams] and how his world is illuminated because of her. I spoke to a few people before doing it who, when they read it said ‘oh, you’re playing the other man’ or ‘the bad guy’ and they asked me how I’d do that. But I hadn’t thought of it that way, so I asked Sarah [Polley] about it and she hadn’t thought about it that way either. When making this kind of film you really do have to be careful with judgement. But we didn’t get into it too deeply. We just sort of took it as an act of trust.
Q. There’s a speech in the film, where Daniel seduces Margot, that would make When Harry Met Sally’s Sally blush. How was that to shoot? Was it daunting? Or did you have a hard time keeping a straight face?
Luke Kirby: That was a lot of fun to do. We actually shot that on the first day [laughs], so it made for an interesting introduction! But I think we just went for it. And I think we gained a lot out of making it our first day. I mean, first of all I was there with the incomparable Michelle, who was so incredible… to just sit there and to be able to see her listening and to feel this incredible availability from her, it gave me a surge of confidence. And then with that writing… it all kind of made for a perfect storm and I think it raised the level of heat between Daniel and Margot that we would need to be aware of for the rest of the shoot. So, it was a great launching pad.
Q. The way it was written, the sexual frankness of it, reminded me of Mark Ruffalo talking to Meg Ryan in the film In The Cut…
Luke Kirby: That’s true. That’s a good comparison. I hadn’t thought of that.
Q. The film is also quite physically demanding with you, given that you play a rickshaw operator. How was carrying Michelle and Seth Rogen? Did you have to get into shape?
Luke Kirby: I did a fair degree of it. Going in, I was aware that this was a man who had been doing it for a while. So I was aware there would be a physical element to the role as well – and I’m no gym rat! But I used it as an excuse to befriend my lungs again and find some new muscles [laughs]. Having a role like this is a great motivator for a lazy man such as myself! It makes you actually go out there and do something. So, I did the whole thing, working with trainers and eating the right rood and after all of that l felt great. I don’t do it anymore but I would go back to it in a heartbeat if I had the right role. And I recommend it. As for the rickshaw itself… it’s very easy to pull a rickshaw with nobody in it, and it’s still fairly easy with one person. But with two people it gets a little more challenging! But I also liked symbolically the idea of carrying those two people and me being in love with Margot. So, that was another scene that was fun to do.
Q. You also studied with a real-life artist as part of your research?
Luke Kirby: I did. The artist’s name is Balint Zsako and he and I both live in Brooklyn. So, we were able to meet up before I went up to Toronto for the shoot and he was very open with me about his process and was very giving. He shared a lot of his work with me and how he approaches it. And it did sort of function as another little ‘in’ to Daniel.
Q. Have you since taken up art yourself?
Luke Kirby: I’ve always been inclined that way. My father is an art teacher in junior high, so growing up that was always around and definitely any time I was acting up as a child, his way of dealing with it was to hand me a pencil with some scrap paper and let me draw. So, it’s always been a part of my life. He [Daniel] and I are both a bit challenged in the painting realm. I’ve been trying [since filming] but it’s finding the time. Whenever I do zone in and find the patience, it is really gratifying. And it’s a good way to quell my newfound ADD, which I think the Internet is responsible for [laughs]! But it’s really satisfying whenever I do manage to do something and it reminds me of a simpler time [laughs].
Q. Daniel describes himself in the movie as a coward for not pursuing his artistic talent and making it a career. At what point in your own life did you decide to overcome any fear and go for it as an actor?
Luke Kirby: I think the fears came later. Growing up, I was in a place where I was so detached from the reality of the business of it, which allowed me fall in love with the work itself and not really consider the possibility of even making it a living. That part didn’t make sense to me. All I knew was that I wanted to do it, so I kind of made a vow of poverty that I’d do whatever it would take because I was so kind of wired into it [acting]. I think I was 14 when I said to my parents that I wanted to do it. And my mum said she had to hold back from bursting out laughing because I think my personality didn’t lean towards being a showman. I was pretty quiet and shy back then, so it didn’t make a lot of sense. It was a different time then, too.
Now, there’s so much awareness of that kind of stuff because of the Internet and TV is just talent shows. So, it’s a different world. Back then, none of that stuff really occurred to me until much later… and then you start to think ‘do I need to maintain something?’ But I don’t know if any of that stuff really helps even now, so I try to hold it at bay as much as possible – although I’m certainly susceptible to it still!
Q. What was the thing at 14 that made you decide ‘this is it, this is what I have to do for a living’?
Luke Kirby: I don’t know. I think just being on the stage felt like home. I kind of always knew that feeling existed but I never knew where it was until that point… but being on stage felt like I was there. I was such a make believe kid and I was always disappointed to have to come out of it, so d surrounding yourself with people who seemed to have that same compulsion or sickness felt comforting. So, I think maybe that had something to do with it.
Q. Has being in a film like Take This Waltz opened more doors for you given that there is now more of a global awareness of you as a result? I know you’ve worked with David Yates before on Sex Traffic…
Luke Kirby: That’s right, I did. But yeah, maybe it has. I’m down in Georgia this summer working on a TV series, so I’ve been entrenched in that. That’s been my focus for the summer. So, we’ll see what autumn brings.
Q. What’s the series?
Luke Kirby: It’s called Rectify. It’s a new series by a really great actor called Ray McKinnon. He wrote it and Sundance is producing it alongside AMC. It’s the story of a man who is released from Death Row after 19 years and this almost completely solitary life. New DNA evidence doesn’t prove his innocence because the story is the case but the show follows the first seven days of his release. It looks at the controversy of whether to not he did what he was accused of doing and the effect his release has on the community and the families of the people involved. It also sees him going through that change after having been consigned to four walls for 19 years and seeing this new world that’s in front of him. I play the lawyer who is representing him. I’m part of the same kind of organisations that work with convicted Death Row inmates and which use DNA evidence. It’s fascinating and really interesting.
Q. Has it been picked up?
Luke Kirby: Yeah, AMC picked it up immediately and we’re shooting six episodes straight away, which should be due to air in February. So, they’re taking some bold steps with it. But like Take This Waltz, it’s one of those things you feel good about all around.
Q. Going back to Take This Waltz, what is your favourite memory of working on the film?
Luke Kirby: Working with Sarah was great and working with Michelle was a gift for me. I didn’t get to do a lot with Seth [Rogen] or Sarah Silverman. In fact, while playing Daniel I really did become convinced at some point that we were making a story about two people falling in love and then I saw the finished film and I remembered there was this huge, huge problem to that whole thing [laughs]!! So, the whole thing was charmed for me. But I think that probably being on the scrambler on that ride while Video Killed The Radio Star was playing… that was pretty beautiful.
Q. That’s reminded me… the underwater sequence at the pool is also beautifully shot…
Luke Kirby: That was a lot of fun too… super, super fun. But being in a pool for 15 hours does take its toll in terms of… you really start to notice how much chlorine there is in public pools after four hours [laughs]! But that was another one of those scenes that was really just this beautiful portrayal of two people falling in love. And I delighted in it.
Take This Waltz is released in UK cinemas on Friday, August 17, 2012.