WD: Oh, God. [Laughs.] Okay.

AVC: The movie’s…

WD: Yeah, yeah.

AVC: But it’s a fantastically unleashed performance.

WD: Yeah. Sometimes you get something that’s like a fantasy. For all of us, we can do some imitations, and other ones, we don’t feel as deeply. How does that happen? I don’t know. It’s just that somewhere, we have a deeper feeling for certain masks than others. That was a good mask. That was a good mask, the Boondock Saints one, in terms of a self-loathing, smart, gay FBI agent that has these kind of special powers. I like it. Sweet, but abusive, you know? I mean, this is really fun. [Laughs.]


AVC: Using the word “masks” harks back to The Wooster Group. It’s not the Actors Studio approach to a character.

WD: No, no. I don’t have that Actors Studio approach. But I think, somewhere, I relate to Stanislavski’s approach, because, for me, it’s about action and task and often, mask.


Shadow Of The Vampire (2000)—“Max Schreck”
WD: Max Schreck: A perfect mask. That was sweet, particularly, because I had such a specific model. That’s a case where you really start out by imitation and then you take off from there. For every role, you have to always find a different way to approach it, one that’s specific and suits what the key is. Every role’s a mystery. I think if you know what it is, you probably shouldn’t even do it. So you’re always looking for that key. I had a beautiful mask. I didn’t look like myself, I didn’t feel like myself. That really invites you to be someone else. And when you have something to work with, then you fly with it. It’s an invitation to make something, and that’s when actors are free, and when actors can address impulses that they aren’t even aware of. Truly creative without being a showboat. They’re created in the sense that they’re connected to an action/reaction thing that starts to gain its own momentum, and then it operates by itself, without making choices. Without thinking, it does it by itself.

AVC: How much does it help to have a face that’s not your own?

WD: It helps a lot. On some level, I always want to disappear. I mean, literally. [Laughs.] Because I think that’s my actor’s impulse, to become, and not have me be there anymore. Who I am, we can only figure that out by kind of getting an idea that’s expressed through preferences and habits; all the things that can block you. So once you take away those preferences and take away those habits and those points of view, then you’re open for anything, and if you know where to direct your energies, then something really beautiful and special can happen.


AVC: Is that something you get better at, entering the stage or the set as empty as you can be?

WD: I think so. I mean, it’s a theory, you know? Sometimes, you need nothing; sometimes, you need a lot.


The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988)—“Jesus”
WD: [Laughs.] Jesus. Ah, there we go! You needed nothing. That was important to be empty. That was the most essential thing, to cleanse myself of any expectation. Now thankfully, the role is a passive role; it’s a reactive role. That’s the whole point of the story, that he’s handed a job, and he’s saying, “I don’t want it, I don’t want it, I don’t want it.”

AVC: “Let this cup pass away from me.”

WD: Yeah. I could really not need anything and just react to the story, and then once that something was established, then it kind of played itself. But really, it was essential to forget I was playing Jesus, which is kind of a no-brainer, you can imagine, because that’s a pressure you don’t wanna have.


AVC: There’s obviously no Christianity at that point.

WD: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. [Laughs.] Yeah, that was important. That was sort of a revelation that the most important thing was to… That was the first time that I started thinking of this concept of, “You have to start from zero.” Because every learned thing is in your body and it’s in your brain. It’s instinct, but you don’t have to recognize it, you don’t have to call on it. It’ll be there. All is readiness. Although, sometimes, you have to be a more active character and you have to drive the narrative. So you have to make different kinds of choices. But even that, you group them into actions. So there’s a practicality to it.


Antichrist (2009)—“He”
WD: Now, that was interesting, because I had a [psychiatric] methodology to stand behind. And since he was so tied to it—his identity was his profession—that was the role. That was where it started. Now, stuff happens to him, but that’s where to start. I had a bible. It was like being… I don’t know what the equivalent is. Evangelist? No. What do they call it? People that really believe in the Bible. Whoever takes the Bible literally. An orthodox person. I don’t know, that was my bible. In everything, I always referenced that. And my actions were very clear, because my whole thing was to make her well, and my technique was [Slaps hands together] the bible. Not that bible, but…

AVC: It makes it easier that your character doesn’t have to succeed in the film. There’s no chance he’s going to cure his wife.


WD: True. Lars wouldn’t let me. I don’t think he liked his therapist very much, and I was using the therapy that he uses.

Heaven’s Gate (1980)—Extra (uncredited) 
AVC: I gather that you were, and then weren’t, in Heaven’s Gate.


WD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s a whole story. That was a whole experience. I’m working at The Wooster Group, and through a series of weird events—because I’m not really soliciting work so much—they say, “Oh, would you like to work?” And I was very happy, because I liked The Deer Hunter, and [director Michael Cimino] had just come off the Academy Award [for The Deer Hunter]. A week later, we were shooting. We were going to shoot in Kalispell, in Montana, this beautiful landscape. It was a special Western, it was going to be great. Even though I had a small role, I didn’t care.

Well, all of a sudden, my small role becomes huge. I’m only supposed to be there for a couple weeks here, a break, then a couple weeks, and then I’m done. So I walk away from The Wooster Group, saying, “Excuse me, I’ll be back in a couple weeks.” And I get there, and they rip up my contract and say, “Baby, you’re here.” So I call home and say, “Hey. [Laughs.] I don’t know…” And they’re like, “What are you doing? You said you were gonna…” I said, “It’s changed.” And they said, “Okay, we’ll wait for you.” Well, it ended up being three months. And it could’ve been eight if I hadn’t been fired, but I was fired one day because we were sitting in a lighting setup, and someone told me a joke. I laughed. Cimino, in a very agitated state, at this point—previous to that, I got along with him great—he turned around, told me to step out, and they put me on a plane. Last laugh, maybe?


AVC: You might have gotten off easy.

WD: I mean, I don’t like to gloat, because that movie has some things to recommend. It wasn’t my absolute favorite.


AVC: A lot of its reputation as a disaster has to do with the business. When you’re watching it, you don’t care how much they spent on wagons.

John Carter (2012)—“Tars Tarkas” 
WD: Right. And they’re experiencing that right now with John Carter, which I think is a good movie, a very good movie. I think people will really enjoy it, and I think it’ll have the last laugh. But there’s so much negativity and so much obsession over budget. The world’s having the last laugh here, because it did really well internationally, but they’re obsessed with this first week here. Did you that article in the Business section of The New York Times?


AVC: The Ishtar thing.
WD: That had to have been written last Wednesday [before the film opened]. Do you remember how it was written? Very well-researched, very methodical, really tracing how everything went wrong to this guy’s project. I thought, “This was written last Wednesday, before he even knew how it performed.” And he dubs it a failure. I’m not sure that’s true. I hope it isn’t, because it’s a good movie, and it deserves to get free of this obsession about budget.