Domhnall Gleeson on 'The Kitchen' and the Surprising Humor of 'Star Wars' Co-Star Adam Driver
For Domhnall Gleeson, J.J. Abrams’ return to Star Wars made perfect sense.
The 36-year-old star of The Kitchen would’ve gladly welcomed a new director to a galaxy far, far away, but in the end, Gleeson is quite pleased that the familiar and steady hand of Abrams is concluding the Skywalker sequel trilogy he started in 2015.
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“He invented all of those characters. It’s important to take risks when you’re making films, and J.J. takes them in the right way," Gleeson tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I thought that it was really smart and very, very fortuitous that they got him back.”
The actor, who plays the villainous General Hux, has clocked a decent amount of screen time with Adam Driver's chief bad guy Kylo Ren throughout the series. Since Driver has cultivated a public persona for being somewhat serious, Gleeson notes that the actor has quite a sense of humor, too.
"If you’ve got lots of lines to remember and you’ve just been given an intense character note, then there’s enough going on already without adding in knock-knock jokes, but Adam can be hilarious on set," says Gleeson. "He actually told one of my favorite jokes while we were on set one day. He’s a really funny guy. So, depending on the day, Adam is hilarious, but he’s always good."
Despite the underperformance of Warner Bros.’ The Kitchen, the 1970s-set graphic novel adaptation in which he plays a Vietnam vet, Gleeson recognizes the value of working with the most talented actors in Hollywood.
“You want to work with good people,” Gleeson says. “Good people tend to make you better, whether you’re supporting them or leading them… It seems to me like my work gets better if the people I’m working with are great. The ego benefits from being able to say to people, ‘I’m doing scenes with Elisabeth Moss next week.’”
In a recent conversation with THR, Gleeson discusses working with Elisabeth Moss, how he and his brother, Brian, ended up in Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! and his working relationship with Adam Driver.
You made quite an entrance in The Kitchen. Did it have the same effect for you on the page?
No, because I kept waiting for his entrance. (Laughs.) I’d been told I was being offered a character called Gabriel. So, I knew he had to arrive sometime, and I knew it would have something to do with Lizzie (Elisabeth Moss). I was waiting for him to turn up, whereas I think in the movie, I don’t think there’s any mention of him before he turns up. So, yeah, I guess it’s kind of a surprise for the viewer.
You and Elisabeth Moss really clicked onscreen, however, given how busy the two of you are, there probably wasn’t much time for chemistry-building. Is chemistry-building that much of a difference-maker in your experience?
Generally, if you work with good actors it’s rare to have bad chemistry, but romantic chemistry is a very particular thing. When we talked to each other, I was a big fan of her work already, and she was very nice to me. She’d seen some of the stuff that I’ve done. There was already respect there, I think. I was intent on orbiting her and building the character around what suited her version. So, I was kind of waiting to see what she was doing before I slotted in around that. I had some ideas, and when we talked, we realized that the weirder we found the characters, the more they suited each other. The more we liked them as a couple, the odder they were as individuals. That was something that really helped with it, and then just having fun. It’s very easy to have fun with her.
The dismemberment bathtub scene was surprisingly comedic. When it comes to darker moments like this, is the vibe on set usually lighter in order to counterbalance the material?
I wouldn’t say I was on the verge of laughing because there was loads of technical stuff to do in that scene. Normally, that would’ve been true, but in that one, I had to figure out what were good arm movements, what would be the right time to break something, what would be funny and what would keep it surprising as you go along. Part of that was trying to offer up stuff for the other actors to react to because Melissa (McCarthy) and Tiffany (Haddish) are in the scene and then exit at a certain point based on the gruesomeness of what’s happening. (Laughs.) So, I think I was more concentrated on the technicalities of it, but the other easygoing and less busy scenes can definitely be fun to shoot.
Recently, there was a report about a couple of action stars who devise their contracts in such a way that prevents them from losing fights or appearing weaker than their counterparts. Thus, I was really impressed by you and your character because even though you get plenty of big moments, your presence is really meant to empower Elisabeth’s character. Where do you weigh in on this and do you consider yourself an unselfish actor?
I don’t know that that’s the way I think of it, necessarily. You want to work with good people. Good people tend to make you better, whether you’re supporting them or leading them. You just want to be around good people. I’ve worked with some of the best people, and it seems to me like my work gets better if the people I’m working with are great. Working with Elisabeth, despite the fact that I’ve got far fewer scenes than her in the movie, it never felt like I was there for her sake or that it was an ego thing. If anything, the ego benefits from being able to say to people, “I’m doing scenes with Elisabeth Moss next week.” (Laughs.) So, it’s perhaps an ego boost in lots of ways as well.
Andrea Berloff directed the film for Warner Bros., which is worth pointing out given the absurdly low number of studio films with women directors. Did Andrea provide you with any direction or perspective that was unique from most male directors? Or, was she just as effective as any male director, making the low employment numbers all the more baffling?
I don’t think it necessarily has to be one or the other. Again, these are just questions of perception. When I agreed to do the movie, I’m agreeing to do the movie with someone I believe is going to do a good job. Whether that’s male or female, in the most selfish way possible, it doesn’t particularly matter to me at the moment. I talked to Andrea because I had a couple of questions about the script, and she really shed light on the way that she saw the movie. So I left the conversation saying, “Alright, I want to work with that person.” The fact that she’s a woman, which means there is more representation in the industry, is a really, really good thing, but for me, it’s a byproduct of the fact that when I talked to her, I thought she really knows what she’s doing. That’s the reason to get involved.
This film wrapped in just 38 days. Compared to the films that consume four to six months of time, do you sometimes find your performances to be better when you don’t have time to overthink each scene, rehearse or perform countless takes?
I don’t know because it’s hard to judge one’s own performance. What you’re shooting for is some sense of spontaneity — the sense that it’s happening for the first time no matter how many times you do it. If you watch David Fincher’s movies, he’s known for doing crazy numbers of takes. I would love do that, and I don’t think that damages spontaneity because what I’ve seen of his film and TV work is incredible diligence and incredible presence despite the fact that that may be take number 78 or whatever. I’m happy to do it either way, and you end up slotting into whatever way of working the director has. They’re the ones who run the set, and you end up slotting into their way of working. You just hope that you can make it work for you. That was the case with Andrea. We probably had an average of about two to three takes, and that seemed plenty at the time. You always wish you had more, but that seemed plenty at the time we were doing it.
When you know you’re going to have to break out a New York accent, do you spend weeks or months re-acclimating to it in your everyday life? Or do you have that ability in your back pocket since you’ve been doing this for quite a while?
That was definitely a concern. Again, I really wanted to see what Lizzie was doing and follow her. We had the same dialect coach; Kohli Calhoun was her name and she was great. She put lots of stuff on tape for us. Probably about four weeks out, I started listening to tapes and doing bits and pieces and kind of forming something that worked. They didn’t want it to be a cliche or stereotype; they wanted it to be a slightly softer version of it. Finding that was the trick. I enjoy working on that stuff, but I do find it difficult. It doesn’t just come naturally; it involves some work.
You’ve worked with some of the best filmmakers in the business, such as Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alex Garland, Darren Aronofsky, Rian Johnson and Lenny Abrahamson. Do you recognize a common thread amongst the very best?
No, and it’s interesting because the same is true of actors. I’ve worked with some of the most amazing people in the world, and when you’re looking to learn, I look to actors more than directors because that’s what I am. Tom Hardy is so different from Saoirse Ronan… No, there is no common thread. They’re all individual, and the struggles that they have in terms of how to make it better is all totally different than the other person. Their way of solving it is totally different. So, I’m really sorry if it’s a shit answer, but I don’t see... apart from just diligence, but some terrible people have diligence as well. Those guys all certainly have diligence. That would be similar with the actors as well.
Whenever you’re stuck or challenged by a scene during prep, is there a director or castmate whose voice pops into your head the most as far as previous advice in a similar situation?
Most tips you pick up are based less on words of advice and more on the way that somebody does something. So, it’s not necessarily a voice, but I certainly love the way that certain people are on set — and the way they seem to arrive at it. But, I also know that every single time you have a problem, it’s like fingerprints. It’s never going to be exactly the same as another problem you had on another set. So, there are lots of people who spring in and out of my mind all the time, and probably none more so than my father [Brendan Gleeson]. He’s such a great actor, but even we have got very different ways of working. So, it’s never just one voice.
What’s the backstory behind the brothers Gleeson working on Mother!?
I met Darren, and then I read the script. At some point during that, he mentioned that it was brothers, and I think I was talking about my brother. I think he saw that Squarehead video that I did — a music video that I did with my brother, Brian. That was very much based on the notion of being brothers, which I was very proud of. From there, I think we ended up auditioning and going the route ourselves in a separate way. Luckily, it worked out with the two of us doing it together. We’d also done a play together that year, so it was very special. It was really amazing, especially since we were able to turn up in the middle of that cast — Jennifer Lawrence, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris, Javier Bardem. To turn up in the middle of those people… to actually be working with those people, me and Brian from Dublin turning up… That was just unbelievably cool. I cannot describe how cool it was.
Were you glad to conclude the Skywalker saga with J.J. Abrams, someone you’re familiar with already, as opposed to bringing in a new director?
Yes. I had enjoyed the experience with J.J. so much, but then really enjoyed the experience with Rian also. So I was game for whomever they threw at the turf, but when I heard it was J.J., it made total sense to me. [Episode] VII had been so great, and he understands it so thoroughly. He invented all of those characters. For him to usher them through the door... I thought it made total sense. It’s important to take risks when you’re making films, and J.J. takes them in the right way. I thought that it was really smart and very, very fortuitous that they got him back.
In terms of the script and what you shot, can you spare a few adjectives regarding your impression of Episode IX?
It’s the same as any other Star Wars film. It’s excitement, fun and anticipation, but that’s true of any Star Wars movie, not just this one. Yeah, I don’t want to be the one to offer up an adjective, which will get splashed everywhere, because then I’ll get a phone call and I’ll be in trouble.
Adam Driver is known for being rather intense both on and off screen. Because you guys have worked together throughout most of this trilogy, did you guys reach the point where you could shoot the breeze a bit? Or, is he “on” all the time?
My experience of him was not that he was on all the time; my experience of him was that he was on all the time when the camera was rolling. But in between, no. It also depends on the scene. If you’re just walking down a corridor together and it’s shot from the back, then there’s not all that much thinking that has to go into it and you can have a laugh. If you’ve got lots of lines to remember and you’ve just been given an intense character note, then there’s enough going on already without adding in knock-knock jokes, but Adam can be hilarious on set. He actually told one of my favorite jokes while we were on set one day. He’s a really funny guy. So, depending on the day, Adam is hilarious, but he’s always good.
You recently made your first major commitment to television. Can you tell me about your new HBO show, Run?
Yeah, it’s a funny one. It took a long time. I’ve always liked films, and that hour-and-a-half way of telling a story has always been my preferred way of taking in drama, at least. But when I read this, it was really funny, and it seems to be interested in all the things that I was interested in at the time. When I talked to Vicky (Jones) and Phoebe (Waller-Bridge), they were just so great and interesting. It seemed like we were all on the same page. That may have changed in the meantime; I’m waiting to read the scripts so I’m hoping that’s the way that the series has gone. But, the stuff we were all interested in at the time, I just thought was fantastic. There’s so much material to mine with the stuff they were talking about that I just felt like this is easily something you can do for eight episodes or 12 or 16 or 24. It seemed like a really safe bet in terms of not running out of good material.
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