Interview by Paul Salfen
It’s not often that Stephen McHattie becomes available for interviews, so when the beloved character actor opens up, it’s worth immediately taking. The diverse actor that is often described as “brooding” or “gruff” is most notable for his roles in “Watchmen,” “The Fountain,” and “Pontypool” and continues to delight genre fans with his appearances, especially this last year with “Rabid” and “Come To Daddy.”
Now he stars in the mysterious and baffling “Dreamland,” co-starring Henry Rollins and Juliette Lewis, which has early reviews praising McHattie’s dual role but also trying to figure out where this action crime drama that inexplicably becomes somewhat of a vampire movie came from. Well, the official tagline is almost as odd: On the night of the strangest weddings in cinema history, a grotesque gang boss hires a stone cold killer to bring him the finger of a fading, drug-addicted jazz legend.
But would you expect any less from a reunion of “Pontypool” director Bruce McDonald, writer Tony Burgess, and McHattie? “” was meant to be weird and wonderful like its creators. Given that it was a favorite at genre festival Fantastic Fest, that might help categorize it.
In between long pauses, McHattie gives some interesting insight to the film, his career, and rare glimpses into his personal life.
Here’s more from McHattie:
AMFM Magazine: We’re happy to get to talk to you because this is one of the craziest movies of the year. Well, we should have known given its buzz at Fantastic Fest.
Stephen McHattie: [Laughs] Yes. Great!
AMFM: You’ve played a lot of different and interesting roles but playing against yourself – that must be difficult.
SM: Yeah, it’s hard to boil it down to the basics of what you’re doing, you know? It’s hard to think about it. That’s the hardest thing to get straight. I like to get myself to a place where I’m not thinking about it too much when I’m in front of the camera. When you don’t have the real character – when you have a stand-in to play to, the scene isn’t there. You’re waiting for yourself to run around to the other side of it to make the scene complete. So it’s kind of hard to think about. You just have to trust that the diretor is watching for all of the possible problems. And you have to get the guy who’s standing in for you to repeat what you’ve already done, which no actor likes to do. Those are the many problems with it.
AMFM: At least you know you had a good co-star in yourself.
SM: Yeah, I didn’t have any fights with my co-star.
AMFM: Speaking of co-stars, Henry Rollins and Juliette Lewis must have been great ones.
SM: Yeah, they are. And I didn’t know either of them, really. He [Henry] was a friend of Bruce’s and I had seen him in Black Flag but I had never seen him in movies before…but Bruce had worked with him before and he just came in like an actor. He was great to work with.
AMFM: And it must have been great to work with Bruce again given how beloved “Pontypool” is to genre fans.
SM: Oh yeah. For the last 20 years we’ve been looking for things to do trying to cook up little schemes and this had come out of a little 5 minute movie that I had done called “The Death of Chet Baker”. I showed it to Bruce and he said, “Eh, I might be able to do something with this.” So we got together with the writer Tony [Burgess] and Lisa Poole, my wife, and started mapping out a story. Then Tony came up with the idea of splitting the character. We wrestled with it for a while then went with it. It was mostly because I had been doing a lot of reading on Chet Baker and was being affected by it. I was captivated by his gentleness. He was quite effeminate with the high voice, the high singing, and lyricism of his playing. I looked at all of the footage of him and he just came off as this badass cowboy so we were trying to play with those two things.
AMFM: You’ve had such a fascinating career and I know younger actors look up to you. What would you say to them?
SM: You have to see yourself in it. The problem with acting is that you do a part and you handle it, it goes good and then you get presented with another part and go, “Holy fuck, haven’t I done this before?” You have to start from scratch again. You can’t depend on what you’ve done before. Am I going to carry it all? And one thing doesn’t necessarily lead to another – it may lead to something you really don’t want to do. So I find it difficult to keep a perspective – I’m obviously not in it for the monetary rewards, so you have to find the enjoyment in trying to do it well.
AMFM: And, of course, we always ask people about their Hail Mary Moments, the moment in their life or career where they just had to go for it and it worked out for them. What was that for you?
SM: [Laughs] I feel like I have Hail Mary Moments every day. Way back, I did a thing on James Dean. I took a lot of auditions and flying across the country to get the part but I was always like, “Agh, I don’t know if I should do this” because it’s another actor…you might get branded as trying to imitate another actor in everything you did – people would see you that way. But they offered me the part and I took it and said, “Fuck it, I’ll go for it and see what I can do with it,” so that was one of them.
AMFM: The sets in this film were striking. Was this a pretty special shoot?
SM: Luxembourg, to me, was a complete surprise because of how beautiful it was. I thought it was just a bunch of banks in the middle of Europe. The whole day was delightful. The food was great, it was great being there, and I had a bunch of friends with me, so what could be better?
AMFM: We always get excited to see your name pop up in a movie. What will we see you in next?
SM: I have a movie called “Gut Instinct” coming out in the summer but they changed the name to, well, I can’t remember because I don’t like the title. [Laughs] I had a movie with Guillermo del Toro but the plug got pulled on that back in March before I could do my part so who knows? I don’t. I got an email saying that they were hoping to do it in September but that doesn’t look right to me.
AMFM: What have you been doing with your quarantine?
SM: I have a little farm that I have to take care of and I grow a bunch of stuff so I’ve been busy with that. And I paint. And I’ve been drawing a diary of life in lockdown. And my kids are home, so it’s not that bad. You know, I work quite a bit and when I’m not working, I like to hole up in my studio and paint and do that kind of thing and when this whole thing started, I said to my wife, “This is fucking awful” and she said, “What are you complaining about? This is how you usually live.” I know, but taking away the possibilities is hard.
AMFM: Will we ever get to see your art?
SM: Yeah, I’m trying to get it together to build a website and I’m trying to do a show in Toronto but right now? Nope.
AMFM: This movie is nuts. I’m not even sure how to describe it to people. What would you say?
SM: [Long pause] We all live – especially in the last 10-15 years, in a world where we know we’re being lied to and we’re going to have to face it in one way or another. Our betters aren’t looking too good these days. They aren’t looking very friendly. That’s about all I’d say. [Laughs]
Dreamland is available to stream now.