Friday, November 2, 2007

Interview: Shea Whigham

"It was special, but you can’t go in thinking that. You can’t act from that place."

Shea Whigham, at this point, is more recognizable for the power of his performances than his face—it’s a bit strange that this isn’t a measure of great success in Hollywood. Nevertheless, Whigam has played a number of powerful performances over the years in award winning films like David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls and Schumacher’s Tigerland. Now he finds himself in his biggest role yet and, surprisingly, a comedic one, with his portrayal of an eccentric Russian named Eugene in Wristcutters: A Love Story. Shea tells about the transition into comedy, Tom Waits teaching him how to play a singing saw, and how hard it is to leave a good cast in a good film.

In 2003’s masterful All the Real Girls you played a very dramatic, nuanced role as “Tip”, and now 4 years later you are playing a very different character with the charismatic, outlandish Eugene in Wristcutters. My question is: Do you find that your experience in the field of drama has helped you flesh out a comedic performance more and vice-versa?

This is the first time I got a chance at a comedy really. Goran took a shot with me. The way I play comedy is serious and real and I let it land. This film isn’t that “wink-wink and look at me”-comedy. This film is all Goran’s world and us moving through it. It’s a very funny film, but you can find yourself in these situations where it rings true.

According to Wikipedia, you were inspired by Eugene Hütz of the band Gogol Bordello in your performance; is there any truth to this?

Half of it is based on Hütz, who is a good friend of Goran. I approached it with a lot of pressure to be this guy, so I decided not to meet Hutz and make my own Eugene that would stand on his own 2 feet. It’s really an amalgamation of a couple people that Goran knew and Keret [Author of the short story that the film is based on] knew.

In the movie you can tell that Zia and Mikal had a very strong quest, what was Eugene looking for?

With Eugene, I don’t think he is consciously looking for anything and that’s the beauty of it. He’s failed at many things before, the glass is always half empty with him I think. If you don’t push things, they come to you. He is looking for friendship, but he also finds love in the end.

Does this movie have a special place in your heart?

It does have a special place; The world and the friendships we made meant alot. When you come out with an experience--this isn’t a job--you come out and think “Jesus, we went through something together” and that’s what I get out of it. It’s a heavy subject, but not told in a heavy way; it’s gorgeous in its nature.

You spent so much time with Patrick Fugit, who plays Zia, in the film. A great portion of the film is just you and him in the car. How did things work out between you two?

It was very easy to be with him in that car and act with him. Patrick really has heavy lifting to do since he is the straight man in the piece. You don’t try to force a relationship; you have to let it come out. So you hang out and it grows on an organic level; it shows on screen.

Was there a favorite moment in the making of the film?

When we got to work with Tom Waits--that was one of the attractions of doing the film for me. There was a scene where I was going to play guitar at this camp fire, but then they said, “You know, Shea, we are going to let you play singing saw instead of a guitar”. I am trying to play the saw, trying to get a note out, and Waits comes over and laughs at me. He says, “You know some people take 5 to 15 years to play one of those things”. He said he hasn’t played on for 20 years, but he gets these magical notes out of the saw. I start watching him and that was one of those moments where I thought, “This is why I do this!”

You were born in Tallahassee, could you give us a brief history?

I was born there. When I was about 5, I moved out to Central Florida (Orlando area) and finished high school. I found myself in New York, from there I moved into the city and ran a theatre company. I got my Tigerland role and have been fortunate ever since.

Looking through the press notes there have been a lot of awards. Did you have a feeling it would be that special of a film?

It was special, but you can’t go in thinking that. You can’t act from that place. That said, when we went to Sundance we knew we were touching people. I did have a sense after I saw it but not before. Goran, as a first timer, did a tough task and went above and beyond.

What scene did you enjoy the most?

The part where my headlights come on and I just grab Shannyn out of nowhere. I love those moments where moments just happen that weren’t scripted.

The actors can’t laugh or smile during their performance, was that hard?

It was very difficult. Try to go a day without doing it--its difficult! As an actor you are expressing, which is something you do automatically.

What are you’re feelings over the controversial issue of suicide in the film?

I think it does deal with a subject that affects a lot of people: suicide. I think Goran handles this as well as you could possibly handle it, but it’s basically a dramedy…a very funny and beautiful film. It’s not about suicide, at the end of the day. But, yes, I think at times you have to think outside of the box to get people into it.

The movie is titled Wristcutters but it has a strange uplifting sense to it. How is it uplifting even though it deals with suicide?

It is uplifting; I want to let people know it is okay to laugh at this piece. Everyone in the piece ends up finding love. I think what makes it magical for me is that it doesn’t try hard; it’s out there but I truly bought into everything—the black hole, a fish turning from blue to green. All of it!

Wristcutters is now playing in wide release. Shea Whigham will return to the big screen with Edward Norton and Colin Farrell in March 2008 with Pride and Glory

1 comment:

claire said...

i am an african american/white irish girl and i fell in love with eugene the first m,oment i saw him,,he is so hot,but exspecially with that accent