Oliver Platt is the High Priest of Year One

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Anyone who has seen Oliver Platt in the Disney period piece Casanova or last year’s Frost/Nixon already knows that he can do funny, which may be why Harold Ramis cast him in his last movie The Ice Harvest and also gave him a plum role in Year One. Platt was off on the day we visited the set, but he sat down with us in his street clothes and tried to keep a straight face while journalists dressed as peasants and merchants lobbied questions at him. (This writer is personally proud of having finally had a chance to run one of our many interviews with Mr. Platt: poor guy does so many junkets we attend, but has never made our cut until now.)

ComingSoon.net: Can you tell us something about the character you play?
Oliver Platt: This beautiful city that you see around you, I’m the high priest, which let’s face it, is much more important than the King, when you talk about this kind of Old Testament culture. Not really, but that’s just the perspective of my character. You see that bull, right back there? When they light that thing up? It’s all me. (snickers) And toss the virgins into his mouth.

CS: Isn’t that a waste of virgins, though?
Platt: You know, let’s put it this way. As the High Priest, I’m under a tremendous amount of pressure, so as far as I’m concerned, whatever it takes. I gotta keep my job, ’cause it’s a sweet gig. The High Priest gig is a sweet, sweet gig.

CS: We heard that you’re the brother-in-law of the King, so didn’t you just get that job cause of nepotism?
Platt: Don’t do that. (laughter) Way too much information going back and forth. I would control that.

CS: If this is Sodom, then where is Gomorrah?
Platt: There’s an intense rivalry between Sodom and Gomorrah.

CS: You hear about Sodomites and the stuff they do, but you don’t hear about Gomorrovins or…
Platt: I know, they’re Gomorrites. You know, it’s funny. Phonetically, it almost sounds like a venereal disease. Go to Sodom and get “Gomorrhea.” You know what the truth is? I was doing a little research about this. They’re not even sure if any of these cities ever even existed. There’s no ruins, there’s no nothing; there’s just references to them in, you know, ancient texts. No, Gomorrah is just down the highway. Route 80, take a left, two exits, past a little casino.

CS: How does your character relate to Michael and Jack? Are you enslaving them?
Platt: Well, you know, Jack presents a significant challenge to my character, because he comes along and says he’s the “Chosen One” which is a bit threatening. Now, Michael on the other hand, presents himself in a much less threatening… I don’t want to give too much away, but I take a little fancy to Michael. (laughter)

CS: You’ve worked with Harold before on “Ice Harvest”? How far along was this movie before you came on board?
Platt: You know what? Harold had been talking to me about this movie for a couple of years, but I didn’t know I was actually going to be the High Priest until the fall.

CS: Have you shot the big scene yet with the bull and the virgins and the fire?
Platt: We shot a lot of that stuff. It’s very complicated because you need to shoot that way, and then you shoot this way, and when you’re shooting this way, there’s hundreds of extras. So it’s kind of bifurcated. We split it up. But we have to clean up a lot of that. There’s basically two big sequences with the virgins. The first one is the first day they get to Sodom, and the last one is kind of the climactic sequence to the movie.

CS: Do you get to hand-pick the virgins yourself?
Platt: I like to think I do, in my own little deluded mind, but no, I have nothing to do with it. The casting director picks them. But yes, the High Priest totally picks them. Sorry, I’m having actor-character confusion. (laughter)

CS: Are you speaking in Biblical speak for most of your lines?
Platt: There’s a little bit of biblical speak, but Harold’s actually been quite rigorous about, you know, all the Gods being the right kind of Gods and stuff, but then Harold loves it when you take advantage of your own hands. As long as we get a few passes at the script the way it is… so there may be a few imaginary Gods in here.

CS: So you’re saying you guys get to improvise?
Platt: Yeah, Harold likes to work that way, Judd likes to work that way.

CS: Have you done a lot of improv-ing in your movies?
Platt: If you want to be rigorous about it, to me, technically, improvisation is when you make it up when the camera’s rolling. And I tend to plan that stuff a tiny bit, but yes, I make stuff up all the time. Because you get there, and the reality of what’s happening… Film, if anything, it’s not anything if not a fluid medium. It’s so much about catching lightning in a bottle. All the great filmmakers I know and the ones I’ve been lucky enough to work with, the better filmmakers, are the ones who understand it. You need to be open to… you gotta float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The thing about filmmaking that’s so problematic but also so exciting is that all of these elements converge on this one day, to make the scene happen, and just built into it, is this huge amount of variables. You have technical variables, narrative variables, performance variables, all kinds of things. Also, there’s no great bullsh*t detector like stepping in front of a camera when they say “action.”

CS: Can you tell us about one particular moment of genius that came out of improv from Jack or Michael that you’ve been impressed by?
Platt: You know, those guys are so good. What I love about watching those guys, first of all, is they’re so brilliantly-matched because their sensibilities are so complimentary. They’re like a Ying and a Yang, where Jack plays it a little larger than life but totally believable; Michael is very dry and he goes under him. They’re both really really good and for whatever reason, I’ve been able to watch… because I’m in more scenes with Michael, I’ve been able to sit back and watch Jack more. I’m eternally entertained by the guy. But you’re asking for a specific moment? He does a lot of ogling. He’s a brilliant “ogler.” He was ogling the shish-ke-bab seller one of the first nights I came to visit the set, and he just makes me laugh that guy.

CS: Do you wear a lot of gold in this, being the High Priest?
Platt: I wear a lot of bling, yes… no more than your average priest, but a lot of bling.

CS: Is this tower behind us, one of your projects?
Platt: That’s just one of the many construction projects we got going on, just to keep the Gods happy.

CS: Just to keep the slaves busy?
Platt: Yeah, just to keep them in shape.

CS: Can you tell us about all of the animals you got running around here?
Platt: You know, Bobbi Colorado is a genius; she’s our animal wrangler. My wife and kids came down to visit the set the other day. They literally witnessed this literal Animal Nation. My youngest ones, they witnessed and named the birth of a donkey, Dexter. My daughter named “Dexter the Donkey,” on the day they came to the set.

CS: This was a scene for the movie?
Platt: No, it literally gave birth! There’s no donkey birthing scene in the script, as of yet, but you never know. (laughter)

CS: Have you seen any of the footage so far?
Platt: I’m not a big dailies guy. I don’t like to be reminded about myself, especially when I’m kind of a pretty extreme character. Harold will look at cut footage or he’ll look at dailies, and Harold creates a wonderful, collegial, communal feeling on his set. None of you know this. People are like, playing guitar by the monitor, like every day. They play folk songs, and it’s very lovey dovey. See, Harold creates a wonderful set to work on, and he throws dailies up all the time, and sometimes I find myself, sprinting away from the monitor because no one warned me, because just for me, I don’t want to see that kind of stuff.

CS: But you’ll see it when the movie comes out?
Platt: Given the subject matter, I might see it before that – actually brace myself. (laughter) I might be in a foreign country when this one comes out.

CS: What’re some of your favorite historical comedies?
Platt: Can you remind me of what some of those are?

CS: Well, perhaps there’s “History of the World Part I,” there’s “Life of Brian.”
Platt: That one. The Python stuff (is) really really funny. Which is the one that “Spamalot” is based on? “Holy Grail,” classic. Actually, you wanna know one of my favorite historical – well it’s not actually historical – I loved those Richard Lester “Three Musketeers” movies. Those movies were the first movies that I remember as a kid. You know, I always watch historical films thinking the costumes are wearing the actors. This was the first time when they were rolling around in the mud and cursing. There was a naturalistic element to them that made you completely believe that it was all happening. I found that compelling, and they were also so bawdy! Remember Oliver Reed and the rest of them?

CS: Have you done a lot of historical and costumed stuff?
Platt: “Casanova” is a little bit historical. I did that dignified version of “The Three Musketeers” which was a lot of fun, but we’d be the last people to try to tell you that we were making a historical comedy. It was more like “Young Guns” in tights. [everyone laughs] It was effective. It worked great; I thought it was a very effective popcorn movie. Good guys, bad guys, action.

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