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About Schmidt - Dermot Mulroney Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. In the last couple of years you’ve worked on Where The Money Is with Paul Newman and now Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt. Is it as thrilling as we imagine, working with such legends?
A. I’ve had nothing but amazing luck with the other actors I’ve worked with, and it is true that there are only a couple that approach the level of working with Jack Nicholson. That was new and unusual, and I embraced the whole process. I looked forward to having a shot at getting the part, and when I got it I couldn’t believe it, I met him and got straight to work. It was fantastic.

Q. It must have made prematurely cutting your hair in the mullet style of your character, Randall, worthwhile.
A. Yeah, it was worth it in the end. I’m not mad, I’m just determined sometimes. Maybe that’s basically the same thing.

Q. Do you ever get overawed by keeping such company?
A. I don’t, because I had been overawed years before with other actors, and I’ve found that effects how you do your own job. Going into About Schmidt, I made a conscious decision to view him as I would any other person I worked with. And it helped, because instead of being in a scene thinking ‘oh I’m saying lines opposite Jack Nicholson’, you’re actually doing what you've been hired to do. I’ve been a fan of Jack Nicholson since I’ve seen movies. So I didn’t have to do it on the set.

Q. Did either Newman or Nicholson inspire your original ambitions to be an actor?
A. They definitely did, maybe Paul Newman more so, because I was just starting to go and see movies when Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid and The Sting came out. He was one of the first people I came to recognise as a movie star. In our house we weren’t so focussed on films. I really only discovered cinema when I was about 10-years-old.

Q. Randall is an odd character, seemingly unlikeable but underneath the gauche exterior he’s a nice guy isn’t he?
A. That was clear from the way that Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor wrote this character, it was evident in the script that they loved and respected him. Nobody was interested in making fun of a guy who looked like that or behaves that way. I think his behaviour speaks for itself, he’s above board, kind and loving. He may make some bad financial decisions but what’s wonderful about this story is that your first impression of Randall is through the eyes of Warren Schmidt, and as the film progresses you realise that his viewpoint isn’t necessarily reliable. So Randall has a chance to make a case for himself, and I think he does it well.

Q. Is it necessary, or desirable, to research a character like this?
A. It was mainly just a case of working with what’s on the page. You never see him selling waterbeds after all. In contemporary things like this there really isn’t much to research unless you’re playing a scientist or something like that. In a period piece you might research a different time. But really he’s just a normal guy.

Q. What feedback have you had about your performance in the film?
A. Mainly, I’ve just heard from friends and other actors, everybody’s been incredibly supportive and thought it was a terrific movie. It doesn’t concern me that some might think it was an unnecessary risk or anything like that, that’s the kind of thing actors love to do. So the reaction I’m getting is like ‘what a great opportunity’ and ‘what a great character this was’.

Q. Any level of success must, presumably, mean that you get offered similar characters to play in subsequent films doesn’t it?
A. I’ve definitely gone through phases of being offered the same role each time. That trend was probably more identifiable after My Best Friend’s Wedding. I avoided doing some of that then, so I didn’t get further locked into that type of character. I don’t want to give the impression that I was beating people away at the door, it was just a period where I could be a little more selective. What I’ve found is that the roles that I enjoy generally, aside from having a great script and a great director and all those things, are the roles that are furthest away from myself.

Q. It must also be interesting to watch someone like Jack Nicholson work, as he is really a fine character actor who also happens to be a movie star.
A. I don’t think that this movie would have even been made unless [writer-director] Alexander Payne was already known for two extraordinary films and Jack Nicholson was attached to it. I can’t imagine anybody playing this part other than Jack. There are very few others who could have done it, and after seeing the way he played that role you can’t imagine anybody else doing it.

Q. From what we know of the real Jack Nicholson, Warren Schmidt is a quite different person. Is that a fair judgement?
A. Jack is definitely different from Warren Schmidt. But as we were working on the movie he was not the Jack Nicholson that I expected. It wasn’t method acting so much, or that he was in character all the time, he just chose to focus on this role. He was all business, and none of the wisecracking Jack that you kind of expected. It was very interesting to see how intense he was in this role. I don’t know that he was that concerned about being one of the guys, it was clear to everyone on the film how he was approaching the role with this level of intensity and focus. He was really in the zone through the whole thing.

Q. Do you find yourself observing these older stars and picking up useful tips from them?
A. I certainly learn more by watching these people rather than by bugging them with a bunch of questions. What I see in people like Jack Nicholson and Paul Newman – and this is true of Glenn Close as well, who I’ve just worked with – is the level of preparation and the seriousness of their approach to these roles. There’s no substitute for it. With some actors I think there’s an inclination to want to keep it fresh and be spontaneous all the time. But I’m starting to think that the way to do it is to know your stuff, to come to the set prepared then just buckle down and work hard.

Q. Of course, whatever level of success you find your feet are kept on the ground by your three-year-old son, Clyde, aren’t they?
A. I learned my place in the scheme of things on day one of being a father, and it’s been reinforced every day for the last three and a half years. It’s definitely reframed my perspective, there’s no doubt about it, but for the better.

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