A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to interview the one non-Bill Murray person in Hollywood that I’ve had aspirations to interview since even before Flixist launched. For those that don’t know who it is (and really, you should by now), that interview will be up on Friday. As these junkets usually go, us press members go through a gauntlet of actors, some in 1:1 interviews, most in roundtable interviews, as we dissect and reconnect these actors’ lives and experiences.
At the gorgeous Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, I and a group of other writers had a chance to talk with Justin Kirk about his role as Billy in Nobody Walks. Of course, the roundtable shifted away from the film and towards his experience on the show, Weeds, as well as his new starring role on NBC’s Animal Practice.
Did [Martine] ever finish the project [in the film]?
In the original script, if I remember correctly, it ends with her at the gallery. I guess that wasn’t in the final cut of the movie, so I wonder if she didn’t want to make that specific or not. She probably found another sound dude to go and break up his marriage in Cleveland or something. You know, whatever you got to do to finish that movie. It’s Hollywood – you got to do what you got to do… or who.
Was [your character] based on any screenwriters you know?
No, none of them are that cool. No, not a screenwriter in particular. You know, this was real run and gun stuff. I did three days on this movie. I knew of the script, it was a very hot script amongst my actor friends, and I even called my people to inquire about it, and they’re like, “You’re doing Weeds, you’re not available.” But then I got the call a few weeks later with the offer. I was really excited to work with these guys. The answer to your question is the writing was all there. When the writing is that specific and that dense, and the guy is so charming and unctuous, you can just dive in.
Do you think this guy thinks that he needs therapy, or do you think he just likes going in and playing games?
I think the great question is where he’s coming from at all. Where we see him mostly in the movie [is] the therapist’s office, which is ostensibly a place of vulnerability and revealing himself, and yet he seems in full performance mode. Maybe, or maybe he’s really, not out of the real of possibility, falling for his hot Rosemarie Dewitt-like therapist, and he wants to see how far he can push that. Truth be told, I’m not sure where he’s coming from.
He’s doing research for his next movie.
Always a possibility.
You guys mostly shot in a house. Was that a very relaxing set?
Like I said, I had three days. I think the first day was the therapist stuff with [Rosemarie Dewitt], and the other two were the party scene at the end. The third day was an overnight shoot, and I shot a scene with Olivia that didn’t make the movie at about seven in the morning. Somehow, we made it through the night. It was a great set because Ry [Russo-Young] is one of the most joyous, positive-type people that you could ever meet and brought that energy to the set, which is how a movie set should be. We’re living a dream when we’re on a movie set, and people should be happy to be there. There’s no one’s happier as a person than Ry is.
You’ve done everything – you’ve done stage, you’ve done TV very successfully, [and] film. What is it that you look for with a role? Do you look for the script first? A character first? Director?
I think it varies. These days, I like to have something where I don’t have to leave town. I’ve grown homebody-ish in my old age. I guess it varies, I don’t know. For a long time, you just pick from the options, which sometimes are sparse and sometimes less so. And then stuff just comes along and you just do it one at a time, I guess. I feel that I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve gotten stuff that was different from other things that I’ve gotten. Honestly, the main part of being an actor is don’t think about that shit, stay out of your own head, and try to do the day’s work.
Was there a role, or any role, where you went really far to get it, or how far you’ve gotten to nailing a character?
And then not gotten it? Either/or. Well, I grew my hair out a little bit trying to get to play [Bpb] Dylan in Factory Girl with Sienna Miller. For the most part, you try to just be familiar enough with the words, and also, I hesitate to say it, I don’t get jobs I audition for. I’m pretty sure the last job I auditioned for that I got was Weeds, and that was 2005. I certainly do audition, and then I’ve also gotten lots of jobs, but they’ve all been straight offers. The casting process is an interesting [process]. I’ve been on the other side of it, like when I’m on a show and they’re casting someone to be on for awhile and I’ll watch them come in. It’s rarely the best person. I don’t know.
When you read the script, or a role comes your way, are you conscious like some actors of the direction that you’re building your career so that you say to yourself, “This role will help me in this area”?
No, I think I’m too old for that. I think if I was a hot 23-year-old girl, then I might think like that, but now, you just want to do different stuff. They all add up, and stuff that you never thought twice about comes back and gets you another job eight years later or something. I just try to mix it up now… as long as it’s in town. No no, you got to go where you got to go. I got a movie with Michael Caine last fall that was all throughout Europe, and it would have been anybody’s dream job: Paris, Brussels, and Cologne. It sent me off the deep end. I was like, “Oh my god.” I took a class in meditation and everything. Like I said, I like my couch. [You got to go wherever], especially when you want to do movies, although I was very happy to see Jerry Brown signed a new incentive program, so maybe that will change things a little and help our crew guys as well. But yeah, in the recent past, if you want to make a movie, you got to go somewhere out of town.
Is that wanting to stay in town part of the motivation for taking on a TV series at this point?
Well, that’s the nice part. Both Weeds and Animal Practice are 10 minutes from my house [in] different studios. I like other things about TV series. One of them is I like to keep moving. Earlier, somebody asked me, “Oh, you’ve done a lot of independent films.” You know, I’ve never been in a $100m movie or something like that, but boy I can’t imagine having three days to do a scene. I think that would be a nightmare. And so, what I like doing a TV show is, and having said that, I am waiting for my $100m movie contract… But I love getting a new script every week. We go, we do the table read, then we do five pages in a day, then I come back at 6:30am and do it again. That’s my idea of happiness.
Independent films have similar schedules.
Exactly. Same shooting situation, because both Weeds and Animal Practice are single camera, so it’s like shooting a movie where you got to go fast.
You just mentioned Animal Practice. How have the animals been cooperating with you?
Yesterday, I spent all day with an ostrich, an ostrich from Texas.
And they’re known not to be too nice.
Well, I don’t make judgments about nice or mean. I think he was fearsome, I will say that. He didn’t strike out or anything, but he’s a big, beautiful animal, and made some great poses. Maybe my favorite, so far, I don’t count Crystal [the Monkey] because Crystal is one of the actors on the show, so I think of her the same way I think of Bobby Lee; she’s just one of the performers. But no, in fact, it’s been this special surprise gift, this job. First of all, working with Crystal, but having some strange animal everyday that I never would have gotten anywhere near, you know? It’s just actually a weird perk to the job. No, it doesn’t make things difficult.
But is it a whole different of preparation?
For the animal, maybe. What do you mean?
Well, like you said, it’s a different challenge. Like, you work with an ostrich one day, so I’m sure you have to be briefed on the ostrich.
Yeah, that’s fun, though, because you learn stuff you wouldn’t bother to learn before. There’s a vet tech on set so whenever I have some scene where I have to look like a real doctor, he’ll talk me through that. For the most part, it’s a combination of learning about these things and the weirdness of it all, but it also makes for a very warm, chill atmosphere, which is not always what a set is like, you know, to have fucking dogs and cats everywhere, you know? And the people who are the animals’ people are all these people who have dedicated their lives to animals, and most of them live with these animals that are there, so it’s a totally unique and cool part of that gig.
Are your visits to the zoo in the future going to be more enlightening?
I don’t need to visit the zoo! I live it. Well, for better or worse, for the time being, I am the face of American veterinarians.
Do you have a favorite animal that you would like to work with?
You know, I have been saying armadillo, but I think that’s just because I like the name, the word “armadillo.” It’s like when people say, “Is there a part you want to play?” I don’t think like that. I just say, “What does the day hold? Oh! It’s an ostrich,” or, “Oh! It’s Nobody Walks.”
And they could be intertwined.
Very similar. Olivia Thirlby is a rare… I don’t know.
One more question with the animals. They all have different types of personalities. Can you distinguish that in these animals, and does some of that kind of rub off on you where you’d go, “I better be more ostrich-like in this situation.”
That is a theme in our scripts often, is that he talks about the nature of the Animal Kingdom and how we behave like them. But yeah, absolutely.
We do have that history: the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions; we do have that association with animals.
That’s right. That’s another that makes our show like nothing else on is that you’d think you would have seen a workplace comedy at a veterinary office before, but now you have.
Is all the TV work affording you time to still do film projects?
Well, Weeds was three months a year. That was cable’s schedule. This one remains to be seen.
Are there any films on the horizon?
I don’t have any to do. I have a couple coming out. I have Vamps, which is an Amy Heckerling movie. [It’s] Clueless with vampires, essentially, because it’s the Clueless team, and that was a lot of fun even though it was in Detroit, that lovely city. Then there’s the Michael Caine movie, Mr. Morgan’s Last Love. I don’t know when that’s coming out, but Vamps is next month, I believe.
Did Michael Caine give you his speech about, “This will be my last movie and I’m retiring.”
No! Is that a speech he gives?!
Like every movie.
So this could be his final film.
…has he worked since then? I don’t know. I should check his IMDb page. No, he was really great and really spot-on and filled with stories. [He] likes to take a drink, which was cool, you know, when you’re living in a hotel with your cast. It’s good to be able to go downstairs and see people there, and [there were] lots of great stories. I’m glad I suffered through Paris.
You seem to be one of those bi-coastal actors. With Nobody Walks, the title has its double meaning, and it could be seen as a very LA movie. What do you think it says about LA?
I don’t know if it says anything. New York is the exact same as Los Angeles, but [with] different weather, and you don’t drive. There’s plenty of cool people, plenty of pretentious people, plenty of shallow, stupid people in both of them in my experience that I’ve come across. I lived there for 10 years, so I reserve the right to say that I like living here now. And also, I like to say, “I prefer Los Angeles,” because no one ever says that. You’re allowed to say, even if you live here, “Well, of course I prefer New York.” But no one in their right mind would think they would, anyway.