In the Psycho World: Robert Carlyle on California Solo
California Solo opened in Los Angeles on December 7 and star Robert Carlyle joined director Marshall Lewy in L.A. for opening night. We scored a one-on-one with Carlyle earlier that day and Lewy sat in with us. Carlyle plays Lachlan MacAldonich, former guitarist for The Cranks, who has lived in the U.S. for over a decade working as a farmer, recording a podcast on the side. A DUI arrest triggers an immigration inquiry that threatens to send him back to the U.K. Carlyle explores every trigger that sets Lachlan off and Lewy makes his second feature film, which premiered at Sundance at the beginning of this year.
CraveOnline: We love this intense quality you bring to so many of your characters. Is that just the job to you?
Robert Carlyle: It depends on the character. I think the most important thing for me is the honesty, the believability. If I believe it and if I’m honest enough then hopefully the audience will. If that comes across in an intense way, maybe that’s merited within the character. Other times it’s maybe intense in a less obvious kind of way. The show I’m doing at the moment, “Once Upon a Time,” [there are] two characters. You’ve got Rumplestiltskin, incredibly intense. You’ve got Mr. Gold, not so much but there’s a kind of real calm there but an intensity within that calm. It depends how you play it.
When you’re playing an alcoholic, do you look at classics like The Lost Weekend or Leaving Las Vegas, either for things to avoid, or to learn?
Robert Carlyle: No, I don’t. I’ve never done that. I’ve never looked at stuff. Occasionally I’ll look at a film that maybe relates to something but never in terms of characters, because you’re on your own. You can’t look at something else and think, “I’m going to pin it on that or pick up on that.” Each performance and each film is what it is. It’s right and belongs within that moment. You look at it and try to make it fit your particular part of your character and your particular film. I don’t think that works, that [watching other films]. It doesn’t work that way for me.
Do you ever find it hard to identify with a character like Lachlan or Begbie from Trainspotting?
Robert Carlyle: No, not Lachlan. I understand him. Begbie, strangely enough, I can slightly understand as well. It’s when you go a little bit further down the road to people like Hitler, that was very difficult. That was very, very difficult. That was something that took a long time to get into and took an equally long time to get out of as well because it’s so [opposite] my experience and who I am as a person that it’s very much pure acting. That’s really, really pure acting.
Do you not get offered many comedies, even after The Full Monty?
Robert Carlyle: No, not really, which disappoints me, because I think, if I can say so myself, I think it’s a strength that I have. I think I have a natural, if I can say that, got a kind of natural ability in comedy. A lot of the stuff in the script in this, the way the comedy came out [was in] the way I played it. So I always saw myself more in that world to be honest than being in the psycho world which I’ve inhabited for 25 years now, 30 years playing these kind of parts. I think personally if I had to write a critique on me, I would say, “I think he’s easier and more believable in these more comic or slightly less crazy roles.”
How do you like to be directed?
Robert Carlyle: I don’t. I don’t think many actors do, to be honest with you. I like to collaborate and we talk about scenes and stuff, because I would say that in most things that I do, most directors that I work with, certainly the age that I’m at, that most things they’ve thought of, I’ve already thought of them because I spend an awful lot of time in these characters. It’s not a question of I’ll spend an hour looking at this or I’ll spend a couple of hours. It’s literally weeks and weeks and weeks of thinking about it and even going home at night during the shoot and still thinking about it, thinking about it, looking at the scenes, looking in the script with half an eye thinking about it. So when I come in onto the set, and most of the directors I’ve worked with will tell you that, I’m ready. I’m ready to go. It would really take something quite exceptional to take me away from that path. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I don't know but that’s the way I’ve always been.
Marshall, did you have a moment where you might have had a suggestion and Robert said, “I’ve got this. I know that already?”
Marshall Lewy: Oh yeah. I mean, we talked a lot about the character. We talked a lot about different things but I think part of being a director is knowing and understanding that a good actor’s coming in very prepared and already has done a lot of work and to respect that they’re seeing the world of that film that actually the director is not. And then the actor understands and hopefully trusts the director that they’re seeing the big picture in a way that it’s not their job to see. So that was the conversation we had and we probably had it every day in some capacity.
Robert Carlyle: Definitely.
Marshall Lewy: But it was also, like for example, we weren’t word perfect to the script and I didn’t want to be. So Bobby would come in and we didn’t rehearse ever. We would start rolling the camera even on the rehearsal so we shot from the very beginning of shooting every scene. That was the way that we both liked to do it and so I wasn’t exactly sure, until we did that first take, exactly how the lines I wrote were going to come out. But it was more true to the character. It was more true to Lachlan because, especially in a film like this where one actor is in every scene and shot of the movie, it was definitely a collaboration.
Do all the podcasts tie in specifically, thematically to Lachlan?
Robert Carlyle: I don't think if they were necessarily neck and neck with him but certainly Marc Bolan and Bowie, they would’ve been influences certainly for The Cranks. Lachlan would have grown up with Marc Bolan and with David Bowie. But if you think about the podcast about Mozart, then less so. I mean, there’s not an awful lot of Mozart in The Cranks’ music but that is more of a sense of showing you that the guy knows a lot about music more than just punk rock.
Marshall Lewy: And I thought of those podcasts as monologues or little soliloquys like the way that in a musical someone might do a musical number where they say what they’re feeling. So it definitely was important that they weren’t just random discussions on some music. And it was interesting because part of it was we were a low budget independent film and a lot of the famous flame outs in history, we could never afford their music, like Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin. All the people he mentions at the jukebox are the people we could never afford. But in the script, when I wasn’t worrying necessarily so much about the budget, there was one in the middle that was John Denver. Probably when you read the script, it was John Denver “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” And it was, speaking of comedy, showed this more letting loose human side of the character, but I think the song was actually going to cost us more than the budget of the whole film, so it was not an option. We found some good creative solutions, like Marc Bolan of T. Rex was a perfect one because it was absolutely who Lachlan would have been influenced by and grown up listening to and was a song that we could afford, frankly. The joys of independent filmmaking.
Did you have to learn to work a farmer’s market and handle the food properly?
Robert Carlyle: You know, with that kind of thing, to me in years gone by, I may have went and been on a farm for a couple days and learned how to do that, but I’ve kind of noticed through the years that if it’s not in the shot, forget it. If you can pick up the carrots and wrap an elastic band on it, that was the most you needed to do and that tells its own story. I spend most of my time thinking of more cerebral problems in the character than getting the carrots right.
Have you ever talked about that with some of the great actors who do insist on the months of preparation?
Robert Carlyle: No. Of course, I love chats with various actors about the process and how they do it. To me, if it’s not on the camera, if it’s not there, it’s not worth it. It really just isn’t worth it. I would defy anyone to look at these scenes in California Solo in the farmer’s market stuff and go, “Well, he’s never done that before.” I would doubt it. I would really doubt it, because there ain’t that much to it. It’s not rocket science.
Didn’t someone call you out on the headphones in the podcast?
Marshall Lewy: Well, that was a specific choice that we made. In the KPCC interview she said, “You should’ve wearing headphones.” That was a choice we made because at the end of the day, the emotion, movies are movies. There’s a reason why anyone who watches their profession portrayed in film is never happy with the way it’s portrayed. We made the choice because you want to see his face and that also means we wouldn’t hear the music. The music would be in the headphones. We made a conscious choice to bend the truth a little bit so that the music could be blaring in the studio.
Robert Carlyle: I totally do that. Honestly, I kind of think of that in terms of accents. You play an accent, and I’ve done loads and loads of accents in my life, and I used to really give myself a hard time about it and try to get every single syllable, and I still do to a certain extent when I do it, but apart from the people who come from that town ultimately, the rest of the people get a general feeling for it and it’s about their ear. Years and years ago, suddenly a light bulb went on: my ear is better than theirs. So what I’m able to do here is enough without worrying over it too much, because these kinds of things can get in the way. These things are the cosmetics, I call it, of a character and they can get in the way because that journey they have is what it’s all about.
Danny Boyle often says he wants to do another Trainspotting movie, but Ewan McGregor doesn’t like Irvine Welsh’s sequel book Porno. Do you want to do another one and do you like Porno?
Robert Carlyle: I’d work with Danny Boyle every day of the week. No matter what he was doing I would do that. I don’t really know what’s the truth of that to be honest with you. I’ve heard different stories about that.
I’ve talked to each of them on different occasions.
Robert Carlyle: Right, right, whether they’re telling you the truth is a different thing. I would doubt it. Actually, I thoroughly doubt it.
Everything else is a sequel or remake these days, so they might want to get the gang back together.
Robert Carlyle: That’s the thing. We’re all, I, Jonny [Lee Miller]’s doing some TV stuff as well, Kevin [McKidd]. Well, Kevin’s dead [in the film], that’s right, but Ewen Bremner. I know Ewen Bremner would want to do it. He met my wife recently and said he was up for it. I would do it. That’s the simple answer, yes.
Marshall Lewy: Has there ever been a script?
Robert Carlyle: Nah, nah. It’s just one of these things.
You got to play a Bond villain in one of the most outrageous ones, one that I actually defend in my Bond geek discussions. Was The World is Not Enough a fulfilling experience?
Robert Carlyle: Yes, very much so, very much so. Even just from a historical perspective, it was wonderful to do that. To be amongst that and Bond itself, Eon Productions, even when you travel it’s like Bond. I remember waiting one day, I was in London and I get driven to this… it was almost like from a spy novel, an airport somewhere in London. I’d never heard of this place, a military thing. We were waiting for Pierce Brosnan to show up and he had been filming. He shows up and he’d done the casino scene this day, whatever scene it was and he had the tux on. He’d taken the tie off obviously because he’d been driven from the set to this airport location. Then on we went in this plane, beautiful private plane with this beautiful hostess pouring champagne. We had champagne as we were taking off and I remember just laughing, just looking at Pierce going, “Isn’t this f***ing amazing? This is a baddie and Bond sitting across from each other drinking champagne in a private plane.” It’s extraordinary. It was a great experience. Barbara Broccoli I’ve got a lot of time for. I think she’s a fantastic woman. Michael Wilson as well, of course, her brother. These two are magical people and they make everybody feel very much at home.
When The World Is Not Enough appears on various lists, with the villain who can’t feel pain, is that a good thrill or a wink?
Robert Carlyle: Yeah, absolutely. It was a tough part, that, actually in a way. I didn’t count on it being quite so difficult because of course there’s no emotion. You start to overthink it a little bit in Bond, you know, because they write “this man feels no pain.” You go, well, does he feel emotional pain? That’s already overthinking it. I was going too far down that road sometimes, but having said that I think it turned out okay in the end. I love it when people talk about Renard and I get cards to sign for Renard and stuff, and the box sets.
When Magic Mike came out this year, did you think, oh, another generation of hard workin’ guys?
Robert Carlyle: Well, you know, I think it’s an entirely different movie from The Full Monty and good luck to them. God bless them and all that but I don't think any of them would have been in The Full Monty and I don’t think any of us would’ve been in that. It was an entirely different kind of look they were going for there in terms of the physicality. I think what was interesting in The Full Monty was there weren’t many body beautifuls that were standing up there on the stage. It certainly is in the Mike film.
Now there’s yet another musical version of The Full Monty, this time more reflecting the story of the movie. Is that gratifying that it keeps going?
Robert Carlyle: Yeah, it’s interesting. For a while, it must’ve been 10 years ago, it followed me everywhere. I was doing a lot of films at that point in England, filming in Leicester or Birmingham, Manchester or London, suddenly the stage shows were there. People would see me and they’d say, “Are you doing this?” [As if] that’s all I’m doing, going around Britain doing theatrical versions of The Full Monty. I mean, it was an enjoyable experience I suppose overall. It’s not something I would repeat though. If they came to me again it would be no.
What’s coming up for Rumplestiltskin?
Robert Carlyle: Oh, I think ABC would assassinate me if I told you anything at all. The interesting character of the two probably this season is more Mr. Gold. What we’re trying to do with Gold is to try and deconstruct him slightly. He’s trying to be the better man. He’s got this relationship with Belle now who’s in Storybrooke and he’s trying to be a good guy and leave magic behind and stop all of that. But he’ll never be able to do that. He loves it too much. I was just out with the creators last night and the stuff they’re telling me about what’s going to happen in the next few episodes is absolutely mind-blowing so I’m looking forward to it.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel