Hollywood’s popular supporting player, Dermot Mulroney, dusts off the Julia mystique and rubs elbows with Jack in ‘About Schmidt’
Dermot Mulroney is not a puer aeternus, but he does a damn good job playing one in the film About Schmidt. As Randall Hertzel, Mulroney morphs into a quirky yet loveable mandolescent, a mamma’s boy who sports a ridiculous mullet haircut, sells waterbeds and is about to become the son-in-law of Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson), a 66-year-old retiree who’s got symptoms of “I-can’t-believe-this-is-all-life-has-to-offer.”
About Schmidt is one of the best films of 2002—**** (out of four). It’s humorously and painfully real; the story of a guy who suddenly finds himself wondering what the hell has happened to his life; a chronicle of how natural it is to assume that all of life’s answers arrive hand-delivered, perfectly-wrapped from someplace, or somebody, outside of us. It begs to ask: why do I feel so empty when I should be feeling wonderful? Ultimately, About Schmidt suggests that even the most seemingly small emotional contributions are the greatest gifts of all—that everybody has some effect on somebody else and, yes, we do make a difference in other people’s lives.
Nicholson is top-notch here playing a befuddled retiree trying to adjust to big changes. Kathy Bates, who nearly steals the show playing Mulroney’s liberal mother, is the ultimate earth momma, a woman who knows nothing of tact. Nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, About Schmidt is now being primed for the media-grabbing Oscar derby in March.
As for Mulroney, riding backseat to Hollywood’s finest puts him in smack dab in the middle of the spotlight. Still, he’s no stranger to the fuss film mongers make. He’s a familiar face, seen mostly in solid supporting roles, but his standouts like Longtime Companion, Young Guns, Point of No Return, How to Make an American Quilt, Copy Cat and HBO’s Long Gone, in which he was nominated for a Cable ACE Award, make him one of the best supporting players around. Then, of course, there was My Best Friend’s Wedding, which brought him lip to lip with Julia Roberts in a big, mainstream feature, a film that busted the box office bank.
GT recently snagged an interview with Mulroney during a recent press tour in San Francisco. Here’s the lowdown:
Good Times: You’re on the receiving end of a lot of questions about your look in this film. How would you describe it?
Dermot Mulroney: They seem to be calling it a mullet haircut. I don’t if that quite covers it. Randall’s got it all. He’s hard to describe. You have to take a look at him. It (the haircut) was conceived that way originally by a writer so I was cast in the role knowing that I had to try to look like that guy—that handlebar mustache and everything.
GT: We heard that during production some of the younger female visitors on the set couldn’t believe that it was really the same guy they remembered in My Best Friend’s Wedding. How did it feel being in Randall’s shoes?
DM: It’s a very different appearance. I tried to keep within myself. When I first stepped out of the makeup trailer there was a lot of finger pointing and laughing, but I took it without making it register. I love this character. I have a lot of respect for him. Nobody, with the exception of Warren Schmidt [in the movie] is making fun of the guy, and certainly the filmmaker was sentimental to the character to begin with.
GT: How much of Randall is you? Or, rather, how did you research what is really a geek role?
DM: I definitely have an inner Randall, and I definitely unleashed him for this part. He is a guy who is completely comfortable with who he, and I don’t know any actor who is. He’s not concerned with making an impression.
GT: Tell me a little about why you thought this movie was such a terrific opportunity?
DM: I jumped at the chance to audition for this. I met Alexander [the director] before and knew he was a sharp guy, but I didn’t think I had much of a chance here. Nicholson was already in the film and I really thought that this part was going to go to somebody else. But Alexander and I definitely saw eye-to-eye about whom he (Randall) was, and he saw it in me. I think Alexander really loves Randall. I got the sense that he had a real soft spot for him. And the rest of it—I was like, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the whole look of the character. Without sounding the wrong away, this was a really easy thing. It was great, very low key filming. The director kept everything anxiety-free. It doesn’t happen that often. Also, you see in this film that you don’t have any intensely emotional scenes. I let myself enjoy it and took it the way it was coming. There were no wrinkles, no dramas and that’s rare.
GT: Finish this sentence: Jack Nicholson is …
DM: He’s a sweet guy. He’s has a way about him—until you meet him—of giving off power, but in person, he’s just average guy. Extremely well read, a gentlemen. That’s it … Jack Nicholson is a gentleman.
GT: What did you learn from Jack?
DM: Well, I was definitely incredibly impressed with his focus in approaching this. He had fun but it was not fun and games. He was incredibly prepared, straightforward to work with. There was no goofing around, which you think you might encounter with him because he can be a smart ass. But after all these years, he’s still trying that hard.
GT: Kathy Bates rocks because she is ….
DM: Earthy … she’s very much in touch with the warmer side of life and she is an awesome actress. At least in this part, she’s, you name it … she is out of control.
GT: The film’s theme, of accepting change and coming to terms with things in life is very universal. Why do you think we, as humans, have a hard time owning up to change and our own pitfalls?
DM: Well I don’t know, expect it goes back to the brain. It’s that whole Medulla Oblongata thing. We’re pack animals and we like to herd in safe warm groups and stay there. When you have to move [into] a house, or somebody dies, or you’re getting married, there’s always some degree of turmoil. The question is, how [do] you manage it when you go through it?
GT: Ever since My Best Friend’s Wedding, which you starred in with Julia Roberts, people have taken notice. That role must have helped in landing the roles you wanted?
DM: Sure it helped. That was the most mainstream film I’ve been in to date. The roles that I have played are more luck of the draw of what the life path brings your way. I’d love to think I have a say in it, but luck and timing makes it happen. I’ve done my best to avoid stuff that doesn’t appeal to me. After My Best Friend’s Wedding, I had varied opportunities. Actually, I have worked less than I did before that film. Maybe because I’m more selective now.
GT: Tell me about your band, The Low and Sweet Orchestra and the release of your first album through Interscope Records.
DM: Yeah, we had an album come out and I am still playing, but not so much with that band, but music is a big part of my life. It’s as fantastic a pursuit [as acting]. I come up with songs, I sing and play and goof around. I play the cello, mandolin and bass.
GT: We’ve heard about your next film, Investigating Sex, which was filmed in Berlin.
DM: It’s completed, but it’s not ever going to be seen here. (Laughs) It was kind of boring but it’s a really good movie with Nick Nolte and Neve Campbell. It just got tied up in German production—blah blah blah. That’s the first one I’d done that’s, like, not even going straight to video. It will never be seen. It’s one of those late-night movies you’ll find in the discount bin. But it’s quite a beautiful, smart movie.
GT: Meat or veggies?
GT: Wine or Beer?
GT: Survivor or Friends?
DM: You mean TV? Friends.
GT: Hour of therapy or a 10 minutes at the beach?
DM: Ten minutes on the beach—an hour at the beach!
GT: Biggest influence in your life?
DM: The sun.
GT: Best advice you’ve received?
DM: Let’s see… tough one… maybe I haven’t gotten enough yet.
GT: Best advice you’ve given?
DM: Back off.