Passion and depth of films often times come from the people on the screen with less time than those with top billing. We often refer to them as “character actors” which is a term I have come to learn that they don’t find all that flattering because they feel it diminishes the depth of what they do. I agree, to label these actors is unfair because they are exactly everything that acting should be about. They take risks and multitudes of different roles in the experience and the challenges that it brings them. Character actors on occasion hit the heights they never dreamed. Just look at last years Oscar winner for best supporting actor, J.K. Simmons. Simmons is a classic example of a long time great actor who always worked for the love of it and the experience of working with people and roles that inspired him. Much like Bryan Cranston, who worked tirelessly for years before landing the role of a lifetime on Breaking Bad. But that hasn’t kept Cranston from challenging himself. He played former president Lyndon Johnson on stage and is set to re-create the role in an HBO adaptation as well as his very much anticipated role as Dalton Trumbo which is already generating Oscar buzz.
An actor with a very similar passion, skills and courage is veteran actor Chris Mulkey. His credits go back to 1977 when he appeared on the show Baretta. He has been working very consistently ever since. With over 200 film and TV credits to his name, he has worked with everyone from Buddy Ebsen to the afore mentioned J.K. Simmons (in his Oscar winning film).
Mulkey still seeks out roles that challenge him and connect with him, as should any good actor who is always looking to hone his craft. I recently had a chance to speak with Mulkey about one such upcoming film as well as his very solid career.
The film is called The Surface in which Mulkey plays Kelly, a man fallen on hard times and turns to risky and illegal moves to provide for the family he holds so dear. When his plane crashes in Lake Michigan, he is rescued by Mitch, played by Sean Astin whose life is very much in dire straits as well. The two begin to reveal themselves to one another and discover themselves along the way.
What drew you to the story and made you say this is something I really need to be a part of?
What drew me to the story was the obvious adventure that was presented to an actor in a movie on water about surviving. The subtext for me, and I really haven’t said this before. I had a niece who passed away and she DIDN’T find anyone in the water to save her. She took her life in the river. So when I watch the movie, it’s really hard for me not to think of Anna.
The chemistry between you and Sean really comes across and you mention such a personal connection to your character and the characters in the film, it really makes sense as to why things worked in the film.
Kelly gets angry at himself and wants to kill himself in the film and for a while I was angry at my niece for doing that and in an odd way she was the third person in the boat for sure.
Looking over your career, which is vast! There is no way you haven’t developed a palette for good writing and good storytelling.
Yeah, I do the seven page thing. If I open a script and if I’m thinking about lunch or something by page seven I say, ” aww I can’t not do this movie”. And when I read The Surface it was like one breath, I was just straight through.
Looking back on your career, is there one role where you think, I hope that’s the one at the end of time where they say, “That was him”?
Well, this movie might be somewhere in there in the mix.
I don’t doubt it with the personal connection, this would definitely be one to put on the mantle.
I did a movie that I wrote with my wife, Karen Landry called Patti Rocks, we won the Sundance grand prize and it played all over the world. That was about a guy acting fervently on bad information. I’m always kind of drawn to those kind of people. How the misinformed can dedicate themselves.
Is there one character that you think everyone identifies you with?
I’ve done so many, but the ones that keep coming up are Billy Regis from Patti Rocks, and Hank Jennings from Twin Peaks.
The genuine love of his profession that comes across can’t help but be admired and infectious. Chris Mulkey still has many projects pouring out and based on his love for the great work they, without a doubt will be worth checking out.
Look for The Surface coming soon.