Most often recognized as Robin Williams' son in Mike Nichols' The Birdcage, Dan Futterman's profile may be raised by his starring performance in the new Shooting Fish. But Futterman has also appeared in some prominent stage productions, like the Broadway run of Angels In America, as well as an episode of Caroline In The City. Futterman recently spoke to The Onion about London, the stage, Hollywood actors, and the difference between silly and ridiculous.
The Onion: How did you get involved in Shooting Fish?
Dan Futterman: [Screenwriter] Richard Holmes and [writer/director] Stefan Schwartz came to New York about a year and a half before they made the movie, and saw people for two to three days. We hit it off, and they gave me a note saying, "Keep us in mind, but we're having some trouble producing the story." The truth is that the investor had pulled out, and they had lost all their money. It took about a year to get it back on track. I was doing a play in New York when I got a call saying, "Listen, we're back. Do you want to do this? We have Kate Beckinsale."
O: Did you enjoy shooting in London?
DF: It was great. They wanted very much to make a movie that showed London in a way that hadn't been shown in a long time: not grim and depressing and gray, with people on the dole. There's some notion that says if you make art, it has to be about something. But you've got to work to make a movie without a lesson, in opposition to all that stuff—you know, great stuff like [the works of] Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, but they make a certain type of movie that doesn't necessarily attract an audience. [The filmmakers] got really lucky with the sunny August and September weather, and the brightness of the movie is an important part of it. There's also kind of a rebirth going on in London; there's so much going on—so much great theater and a vibrant art scene.
O: Have you received much attention from your role in The Birdcage?
DF: Yeah, from gay men on the street. But that's about it. Well, I did this movie because of it. Had they had the money from the investors settled when they first auditioned me, they would probably have said no, but in the interim I did The Birdcage, and that was a deciding factor. It had just come out in England, and it was doing well. It's kind of opened doors, but it hasn't attracted, you know, a stack of offers. But not that many actors do.
O: Do you prefer stage acting or film acting?
DF: I think they're completely different. I think I'm kind of attracted to the material more than the medium. I'm not opposed to doing a television show, though. I actually think there are a couple of good ones. And there is some terrible theater. Film is a very different kind of acting.
O: You would think it would be easier than stage.
DF: I don't think so. In one way, there is an effort to be completely natural, but there's also this consciousness of how it will look on the screen. There's a lot more to be worried about in terms of lighting and pacing. With a play, there's more of a definable arc because of the nature of theater: You know, there's no editing, so there's something more natural about the arc a character follows in a play. I think theater is more an actor's medium, whereas film is more a director's medium, because that's who controls the final feel of the film.
O: Then do you think, from an acting standpoint, that film acting has less artistic merit?
DF: No, I don't think so. Does Shooting Fish have less artistic merit than a play like Angels In America, which I did? Well, probably. But it's good for something. It really depends.
O: But you never really encounter actors who just do a play for money, do you? A lot of people will appear in a crappy movie for some quick money, but you can't just hop into a new play for a couple of months to make some cash. Have you noticed a resurgence of Hollywood actors doing stage work?
DF: Sure. It's become kind of cool to do it. It's this sort of post-Rent "downtownizing" of Broadway, with some good results and some bad results. But people forget that some actors like Marisa Tomei have been in a ton of plays—in Europe and off-Broadway—so she's really a theater actress. When she does something like Wait Until Dark with Quentin Maraschino, people sort of skip the background and just see it as another Hollywood actress onstage.
O: Shooting Fish is a really silly movie, but somehow you rise above fart jokes.
DF: There is a constipation joke.
O: But it's not the usual dumb comedy, though it is dumb.
DF: We are breaking new ground in the territory of dumb with Shooting Fish. Dumb, but in good taste. Silly, but not ridiculous. It's just sort of Stefan's taste. As an actor, you have to trust the director, because in a comedy, it can be disastrous. Stefan would just kind of sit there, and if something was funny, he'd say, "Great, let's move on." But if it didn't make him laugh, he'd get Richard the writer and huddle with you and try to make it better. And I think that kind of really dumb stuff just doesn't crack him up. There's a cleverness to the movie that rises above irredeemably ridiculous. There was a good deal of deviation from the script, as well, but since we were barred from the dailies, I had no clue what the film would be like until we showed it to a bunch of Korean buyers at Cannes. They loved it. We're going to be huge in Seoul.