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In 2017, Paul Walter Hauser turned heads as Shawn Eckhardt in Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya, and just a couple years later, his eponymous role in Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell garnered even more praise and accolades. On Friday, Hauser is returning to the big screen with Gillespie once more in Disney’s Cruella, alongside Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. In the updated take on the classic Disney villain, Hauser plays Horace, who’s one of two orphan thieves that befriends Stone’s Estella during their London-based childhoods.
To prepare for the role of Horace, Hauser channeled one of England’s most celebrated character actors, the late Bob Hoskins.
“I studied Bob Hoskins quite a bit in preparation for this role,” Hauser tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I was given two options by the dialect coach Neil Swain; he said to me, ‘Do you want to go for a Bob Hoskins or a Ray Winstone?’… and I couldn’t shake Bob Hoskins as Smee from the movie Hook. I just felt like that was dead on and what I had to do. So I studied that, I did it and I’m happy really, really happy with how it turned out. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’ll fool some people who don’t know my work very well.”
Hauser has always been one to express his dreams and aspirations, and playing actor-comedian Chris Farley in a biopic was at the very top of his wishlist for quite a long time. He even spoke to the Farley family about the potential project, but it ultimately didn’t work out.
“I wanted to do a Chris Farley movie where he’s in rehab for half of the film, and for the other half of the movie, he’s doing his SNL stuff and his movies,” Hauser shares. “I think I have a really great take on that story, but I’m trying to lose weight and I’m trying to redefine myself as a person of healthy choice-making, and as an actor. So the days of doing Fatty Arbuckle, Chris Farley or Ignatius J. Reilly in a Confederacy of Dunces movie have a very small time window, and it’s getting smaller by the week.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Hauser also discusses his tendency to treat sets like film school, his future on Cobra Kai, and loyal directors such as Gillespie and Spike Lee.
So, Paul, what’s the angle?
(Hauser breaks into his Cruella character, Horace.) What’s the angle? What are we doing here? Are we stealing dogs or are we training them? (Hauser now enters the chat.) Yeah, what is the angle? I think the angle is to do Cruella for Disney so that they put me in a Marvel or Star Wars movie.
I like where your head is at. Well, Craig Gillespie and Spike Lee have both called you for repeat business. As great as awards and good reviews are, is a loyal director the ultimate compliment for you as an actor?
100 percent. Years ago, I did a show called Kingdom, and there was a director and writer who disagreed with a creative choice I made. But I had made the choice episodes and episodes prior, and they wanted me to break a choice I had already made as an actor. It was very frustrating. And then I met Michael Shannon at a screening for his movie 99 Homes, and I vented to him about it after the film. And then he said to me, “It’s a director’s medium. The director is the boss. So if you disagree with him or her, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because you can do what they tell you to do and walk away knowing you did your job.” So I’ve had to learn that. I’ve had a lot of creative license; I improvise quite a bit. There’s a lot I like to do that satiates my creativity, but at the end of the day, I just want to make the guy or gal happy who’s directing the movie. So the fact that I made Craig and Spike happy is the ultimate compliment. There’s no trophy that will amount to someone trusting you with a sizable portion of their movie, and that’s pretty cool.
Since British actors do American accents all the time, I love when American actors get the opportunity to do a British accent. And your British accent actually reminded me a lot of Bob Hoskins since you added a gruff quality to it at times. So how’d you take to that process of learning the dialect?
Thank you for pointing that out. I studied Bob Hoskins quite a bit in preparation for this role. I was given two options by the dialect coach Neil Swain; he said to me, “Do you want to go for a Bob Hoskins or a Ray Winstone?” He gave me those examples, and I couldn’t shake Bob Hoskins as Smee from the movie Hook. I just felt like that was dead on and what I had to do. So I studied that, I did it and I’m happy really, really happy with how it turned out. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’ll fool some people who don’t know my work very well. That would be kinda cool.
The Emmas completely own their roles, much like Margot Robbie in I, Tonya. Did you ever stick around and watch their scenes like you did with Margot?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. If there was something funny or interesting happening on set, I wasn’t itching to leave. There’s between four and seven hours where you might be waiting in your trailer to get taken to set. So that can get kind of boring. You can only watch so many movies or read so many pages of a book before you gotta run out of your trailer and go find something to do. So it was fun to take a break and go see whatever the Emmas were shooting and watch them. I call it getting paid to go to film school. You can be a fly on the wall and watch the brilliance of Emma Thompson, Craig Gillespie and Emma Stone.
Tell me about your perspective of the garbage truck scene, and dress, because it’s already iconic.
That was dope! That was super cool. It was cool to see how much work goes into that stuff. Not everything is CGI. These dresses have to be handmade, hand-stitched and woven to some form of creative perfection. So to see the teams behind all the departments come together and put the movie together visually was just stunning. And humbling. What I can do can be difficult on occasion, but the degree of difficulty it takes to make all of those costumes from design to finish, I can’t even imagine how much work that takes. It was pretty incredible.
Practical and CG dogs are key characters in Cruella. Did you, Emma [Stone] and Joel [Fry] have time for dog training, or was a dog trainer calling plays from the sidelines?
We trained a little bit with them just to make certain that we knew how to move with them on camera and that they would follow our lead. Most of the time the trick is just getting them to follow you as if they know you intimately and are your house pet. But we had trainers calling the shots from the sidelines and giving direction. They have all these little tricks. Some of them whistle, some of them do a high-pitched character voice, some of them are feeding them little bits of chicken and tiny treats all day. It’s really fascinating to see how much effort and work it takes to get a dog to comply with the actor. It can be a lot of work, too.
As kids, Jasper was more invested in the idea of Estella joining their team than Horace was. Do you think that’s partially why Horace isn’t as concerned as Jasper is when it comes to Estella’s turn into Cruella?
I think Jasper has a slightly different relationship to Cruella than Horace does. I think Jasper is more tuned into the emotional component of her, and he knows when she is in a good or a bad place. I think Horace is just a little busy-bodied and oblivious. Horace is most focused when he’s doing a heist or trying to steal something. When he’s doing his work, he’s focused, but most of the time, his head is in the television, a bowl of cereal or he’s paying attention to whatever pretty lady is walking by him at the time. I don’t think he’s the most intelligent of the bunch.
I enjoy minutiae more than most, and there’s a moment where Horace catches a key from Cruella. Did you actually catch it from that distance?
There were a couple takes where I did catch it, actually, and in rehearsal, I think I caught it a few times. But the take that they used, I’m almost positive it’s a CGI thing where I just grabbed nothing out of thin air and they threw it up there. So I don’t think that was genuine.
There’s also a shot of Horace struggling to get inside a moving truck. Was that purposeful or accidental?
(Laughs.) That was accidental. That was genuinely difficult getting into the truck. The movie is so visual and so time-sensitive with all the camera movements. So there were days where it was very frustrating trying to hit a mark at the perfect moment while still acting. Acting is different from moving, and it’s kind of like being an actor and an athlete at the same time. You’re trying to accomplish something physical with the same breadth and importance as the performance itself. So that can be very tough to do and not everybody does it well. The fact that I was screwing it up on very basic, menial takes is very humbling and makes you think of what guys like Buster Keaton or Jackie Chan have been capable of doing with their bodies in performance. Those are such drastic, incredible feats of strength in acting, and I don’t know that I could do what those guys do.
Horace makes the point that some dog owners look like their dogs, and I really appreciate that because a neighbor once told my dad that he looked like our family’s standard poodle. And he still hasn’t recovered from that.
But as far as dog owners looking like their dogs, do you hold the same sacred belief as Horace?
Absolutely. It may be the firmest belief I have in my lexicon of affirmations and ideology. (Laughs.) I think the visual of people looking like their dogs is super funny, and I think we did it really well in the movie. I think there are some really great sight gags throughout the film, and the way Wink is noticeably injured and looks silly with the eyepatch is very attuned to who Horace is. Horace kind of looks silly and funny, but he’s quite capable when he wants to be.
Shifting gears, have you been pumping Craig and Sebastian [Stan] for Pam & Tommy details?
Not too much! I saw some preliminary stuff. I saw some of the visuals and some of the ideas that they were running with for the Pam and Tommy story that they’re doing. I think it’s going to be must-see television, and everybody is going to want to watch it, even the people that think it might be crass, dirty or too raucous to bother watching. So I think that everybody is going to enjoy what they do. Like I, Tonya, it’s a story about these flawed and humorous underdogs who find success in very unique ways.
I hope Craig keeps telling ‘90s stories like I, Tonya and Pam & Tommy. Come to think of it, it’s a shame that your Chris Farley movie didn’t work out because Craig would’ve been perfect for your take on Chris’ ‘90s story.
Yeah, I wanted to do a Chris Farley movie where he’s in rehab for half of the film, and for the other half of the movie, he’s doing his SNL stuff and his movies. I think I have a really great take on that story, but I’m trying to lose weight and I’m trying to redefine myself as a person of healthy choice-making, and as an actor. So the days of doing Fatty Arbuckle, Chris Farley or Ignatius J. Reilly in a Confederacy of Dunces movie have a very small time window, and it’s getting smaller by the week.
So I have to assume you weren’t available when Cobra Kai season three was filming, but is the door still open for Stingray to return at some point?
I hope so! I love that show. Those guys hit me up all the time to check on me. They’re very sweet, and they want to know what I’m up to and how I’m doing. But there are so many characters in the Cobra Kai universe that I never want to take precious screen time away from those main characters. So if they have a way to plug me in in the future, I’m all for it. I’m just waiting on the phone call.
I was introduced to you via Kingdom, and I have to admit that I didn’t always know how to react to Keith. I felt so bad for him and his lot in life, but then he would make me laugh, which led me to question whether I should even be laughing or not. What did you and your collaborators discuss when it came to balancing the seriousness of his situation with the levity he provided?
That character wasn’t much on the page. They just established that he lived in a halfway house, that he had some quirky characteristics and that his parents were dead. So I ran with it and did all of the tics and improv that colored it in a unique way. So hopefully people like that character. I think most people are like Keith. I think most people are weirder and more messed up than they would let other people know. And because of his condition, from being on the spectrum to having PTSD and trauma, he can’t help but just be himself. So it was a fun character to play, and I think people were surprised by how much they cared about him. He seems like a bit of a joke, but you end up connecting or caring about him within the first season or two.
Cruella is available in theaters nationwide, as well as on Disney+ Premier Access, May 28.
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