Last week, we brought you PART 1 of our interview with underground actor Theodore Bouloukos, whose more than 70 screen credits in a staggering array of different roles span a fascinating career. Today, we ply you with PART 2, which covers Theodore’s advice to filmmakers; how to improve life for actors; and the virtues of playing monsters…
What are some things you would like to tell filmmakers in order to help them work better with actors?
Directors are, by nature, somewhat megalomaniacal; they just can’t help themselves, I think. It’s an awesome undertaking, making a film. I admire them tremendously for it. Personally, I have absolutely no interest in wearing that hat. But I would tell them that they didn’t make their film alone, and that everyone is a stakeholder, so we, as actors, should be kept apprised of every step in the evolution of that film, particularly when a film seems to loiter in post and festival strategies are being considered. Consult your actors about festivals, as they may have more experience than you do. Never underestimate the power of a good film poster. Hire a designer and leave Photoshop to those who use it for a living. Lean on a graphic designer—a decent one whose portfolio you’ve seen—to explain how one’s chosen typography is a direct correlative to the mood and tone of the film. Don’t play favorites among the cast and crew. We’re not there to make best friends; we’re there to make a movie. I’m always cordial, even gregariously so, but never chummy. I know who my friends are and they are not on the set; my colleagues are on the set. Don’t dote on one actor over another, and if you are involved in a relationship with, say, the lead actress, make certain she’s treated like everyone else while you’re working. That goes double for kids. If a child wants to work in an adult industry, then he should be held to the same standards. Let their parents coddle them. Don’t surprise actors with a sudden screenings via invitation on Facebook, so that we have to learn about them along with the general public. Nor do we appreciate directors who fancy themselves cinematographers, concentrating on a frame as if they were Kubrick, leaving the actors to fend for themselves, like latchkey kids, or something. To boot, they are probably paying that DP while they think it fine and dandy for the actors to work gratis. I think they have their sense of hierarchy misconstrued. The argument that there are so many actors who would work for nothing holds no water. How many of them are actually capable of delivering a performance? After all, any fool can remember lines. And there are just as many talented cinematographers out there, too, who would love to add a feature film to their CVs. I like directors who direct, who collaborate in the process of the performance. Alas, many directors come to film by way of film school, so the technical matters—O the ease of the C300! The ecstasy of shooting on the Alexa!—trump the personal touch an actor often needs; especially when the harried nature of independent filmmaking often disallows a rehearsal period. That being said, I have also worked with some wonderfully personal, innately intuitive, directors who can adjust an actor’s performance chronometer like a Swiss horologist.
How could we change independent filmmaking in general to make it better for actors?
Pay them. If you can pull together a budget to make a film and consider it essential to pay the crew, consider it additionally essential to pay the actors. Something. Even $50 a day is better than nothing when the standard Screen Actors Guild rate for ultra low-budget indies is a hundred dollars. But this presumption of an actor’s willingness to work for nothing positively galls me, no end. I haven’t spent a decade making one dog after another, beholden to some of the most hideous people one can imagine, so some twentysomething, fresh out of film school, where he’s been told he’s the second coming of Bergman, can presume I’d work for squat because I’m not famous. ‘Go fuck yourself’ doesn’t begin to qualify as a proper retort to such a demand. And, no, pizza three nights in a row is not craft services. Shit, how difficult is it to grill chicken? Don’t schedule the most difficult scenes in successive days. I recognize that light and location determine a good deal of scheduling, but try and have the poor actors’ best interests in mind. Taxing them needlessly benefits no one. On bigger location shoots, cast and crew should never be expected to bunk together: dogs and cats and ne’er the twain shall meet, capiche? Except at meals and the evening’s post-prandial cocktails. Unless, of course, it’s a very large house. Look, a lot of what I’ve cited boils down to who the director is and where he comes from. Handling these procedural matters owes itself to a blend of rearing and common sense. Some directors are possessed of neither. We are all products of our backgrounds. You can’t instruct them in measures of sophistication if they haven’t any. If I go into an audition, and the director or producer doesn’t rise to greet me, right there I’m struck by a level of discourtesy that sets the tone for the rest of our encounter. Almost immediately, I don’t care for the cut of his jib. If it’s a role I want, I might look past this; but if it’s not—and I go out on an awful lot of auditions for parts I feel absolutely no particular passion for, but show up anyway, just as an exercise in the process—I will throw the audition by deliberately doing a bad read. The audition foretells the entire production. If it’s poorly managed, so, too, will be the shoot and its aftermath.
You seem to be attracted to marginal or monstrous characters. Why?
I enjoy ugly roles: the challenge of finding the ability to render some humanity to them; to give them a voice and an understanding of their motivation and rationale, even when they are the most odious of creatures. I like provocative roles, such as the short (directed by Shawn Cheatham) I made in Florida, this past March: wherein I play a wheelchair-bound porn-shop owner who has a scatology fetish. The dominatrix he’s hired to crap on him never arrives and, after an interminable wait, he’s left to drag himself to the toilet, only to shit his pants. Oddly, I’m still awaiting its title. In Bad Lobster (dir. Julia Hebner), another short with a dominatrix featured, incidentally, I play a kinky hedge-fund manager who gets off envisaging himself as a crustacean about to meet a vat of boiling water. They’re both still in post. I’ve played pedophiles in two other short films and will play another in an upcoming feature, where the character, self-confessed as rehabilitated, is tortured and brought to justice by the young woman he molested in her childhood. He’s beaten silly from first to last, necessitating a good deal of special FX makeup and the lot. I had to ass-rape a vulnerable, passed-out homeless man in The Endless Possibility of Sky (dir. Todd Verow), playing a lonely soul who seizes a junkie from the streets and brings him home for a little TLC. In Todd’s previous feature, Between Something & Nothing, I played a john whose sole pleasure is giving a rim-job to the escort he hires, uttering afterward the classic line: “Next time, leave it a little dirty for me.” These are simulated acts, of course, but that’s what the character wants. Whatever. These are real people. This is what the spectrum of humanity looks like. These are not circus oddities. They’re the people next door, possibly. Moreover, if that’s what the role calls for, the actor obliges. He does what’s expected of the character; there’s no room here for negotiation. This is the responsibility one has an actor: he must accept the challenges of the character and script not as a challenge to his own personal objections, but as a matter of professional fulfillment; for the sake of story and for the sake of performance. Otherwise, he’s not much of an actor. I don’t take seriously any actor who wouldn’t. Someone who just wants to look pretty and heroic? Let him stand in front of the mirror, cooing to himself, but don’t let’s pretend he’s a performer of any merit.
Which three actors do you admire most and why?
I don’t suppose I have favorite actors so much as I do actors whom I admire. The list is long and varied, no doubt, for the ways in which they’ve demonstrated—as both template and telos—the real sonority of a true performance career. Off the top of my head, and among true “movie stars,” I admire Gary Cooper, Gene Tierney, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, John Wayne, Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, you know, that ilk. But I always rather appreciated, too, that Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee had parallel careers to many of those names, but excelled in their (horror) genre quite apart from the vogue and stratification of Hollywood and the studio system, enduring completely and popularly and without zeitgeist subjections. I loved Vincent Price. In fact, I revere him. He was a workhorse, and he was so erudite, having done graduate study in art history at the Courtauld, after Yale. He could be so deliciously villainous, whether in Dragonwyck, or an episode of The Brady Bunch. He was the Abominable Dr Phibes and he was Egghead on Batman. He sold fine art for Sears, in a series of shorts instructing their shoppers in the ways of aesthetic discernment when looking at Rembrandt and Picasso; and yet he was the most enduring performer I ever remember. He would do The Hollywood Squares! Ubiquitous—and just the consummate gentleman! I loved him. I always liked New York actors, too, such as Colleen Dewhurst, Eli Wallach, John Houseman and Maureen Stapleton. In that vein, I remain absolutely mad about Geraldine Page, whose almost Grand Guignol turn in Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? is a tour de force, less horrific than comic. I loved Jimmy Stewart for his style, on and off camera; so, too the outspoken Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. All were eastern in origin and tenor: Yankees who simply worked as actors but had other lives, other interests. Meryl Streep has followed that model admirably; you know, seen only when necessary. Peter Sellers was an outright genius and no other comedic actor can lick his boots. There are other actors, like Dirk Borgarde and Anthony Perkins, Lee Remick, and Laurence Harvey, too, who had a subtlety to their craft; and it’s the subtler performances that are the true achievements, to my mind. Of living actors I consider legends, let’s see, I think Albert Finney
would probably top the list. Amid so many memorable performances, he was absolutely magnetic in a film rarely seen these days, called Shoot the Moon (1981), with co-star Diane Keaton giving a performance she’s never equaled. Among contemporary actors, I think Tilda Swinton is the bee’s knees. Firstly, she’s so evidently cerebral, made manifest by her style and poise, but more importantly, by the roles she chooses, the relationships she fosters with directors (as she had with Derek Jarmon), and the fact that she’s an art-world muse: her recent sleeping gig at the Modern was akin to something she’d done 10 years before at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Doug Aitken, whom I cited earlier, featured her in Sleepwalkers, the multi-track film he screened on three of the façades of MoMA. Her face is practically a primer on physiognomy, that would have made Giambattista della Porta proud. It’s funny, as I think about it, I’ve think the reasons I admire certain talent over time has everything to do with the way they’ve comported themselves. Recently, I happened to be walking through Times Square, just as Sigourney Weaver was exiting the stage door of her current show’s matinee, and I was struck by how gracious she was—amid this pouncing throng of fans and despite an awaiting car—smiling and signing Playbills for what seemed like an interminable amount of time. I stopped in my tracks just to watch her because she was so lovely (notwithstanding that I adore her anyway), and I recalled a parallel memory I’d had of a supercilious Lauren Bacall, some 10 years back now, following an evening performance of some forgettable show she was doing (though also in the cast were character-actor faves of mine, Rosemary Murphy and Elizabeth Wilson, who wiped her off the stage). In head-to-toe hauteur, she was barking to the crowd as they approached her for a signature: and was on about how she was NOT going to keep her son and grandson waiting (in their limousine), and that they were due at ‘21’ for a late supper, blah, blah, blah, so crusty and malapert…can you imagine! Humility and grace are the bywords of any decent soul and they certainly go a long way in this biz. She suddenly took a nosedive on my Hit Parade, I tell you. Poor Bogie! And it’s no wonder Jason Robards drank! Even as a child, I remember watching a patiently well-bred Douglas Fairbanks, Jr simply nodding with feigned interest as Janis Joplin espoused some irrelevant hippy jive on Merv Griffin, and thinking how noble he seemed. Conversely, I remember a long time ago, having brunch, at a table next to Burt Lancaster, in the Oak Room at the Plaza (back in the day when the Plaza was still varnished with tradition), and, I swear, I never would have noticed him had my friends not quietly nudged me. But I would NEVER have disturbed someone like him, so happily enjoying his brunch, just to tell him how much I enjoyed him in The Swimmer or The Leopard (both true); and I told my friends to not so much as breathe in his direction. So you see, that sword cuts both ways. Besides, at that hour, on a Sunday, my Eggs Benedict are far more captivating.
- Interview (part 1): Indie Underground Actor Theodore Bouloukos (fugitivecinema.com)