CS Interview: Actor Corey Stoll on Glass Chin, Ant-Man and The Strain

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Actor Corey Stoll may not be a household name just yet despite having spent many years cutting his teeth on the New York stage, but he’s starting to take on more high-profile projects like playing the lead on the FX series “The Strain,” produced by Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse. If that wasn’t enough to raise Stoll’s status, then he also scored the role of the main villain Darren Cross in Marvel Studios’ upcoming Ant-Man. 

Although Noah Buschel’s indie drama Glass Chin isn’t quite as high-profile as some of those other projects, it’s Corey Stoll’s first bonafide leading role in a film, playing former boxer Bud Gordon, who has retired and is living with his girlfriend in New Jersey until he makes a deal with an unscrupulous restauranteur (Billy Crudup) and is sent on questionably legal runs with his right-hand man Roberto Flash (Yul Vazquez). (You can watch the trailer below.)

ComingSoon.net sat down with Stoll a few weeks back to talk about all his latest ventures including Glass Chin.

ComingSoon.net: “Glass Chin” was very different from what I was expecting. I read the synopsis and I thought I kind of knew what it was going to be and I was surprised how different it was from my expectations. There’s a lot more with Bud’s wife, for instance. There’s a lot going on in his life.

Corey Stoll: Yeah, the movie can be confounding in a lot of ways. It’s a boxing movie, but there’s no boxing in it. It’s a crime movie. There’s no gunplay. It’s a character study. It’s self-referential. There’s a certain definite meta quality to the movie. You know, it’s following a lot of noir and pulp tropes, and yet, it’s not satire. It’s fully felt. The stakes are real and the people within it, while they’re bold characters, they’re real, they’re humans. It’s unique. I think Noah has a unique vision and a real point of view. That was why I wanted to do the movie.

 CS: Did you know Noah beforehand? I know he’s in that same circle as New York theater people as you are.

Stoll: Right, we’d had a lot of mutual acquaintances, but the script just sort of came out of nowhere, and probably about 10 pages in I was committed to it. It was kind of a no-brainer.

CS: This is the first movie you’ve done where you’re literally in every scene. Is that a daunting prospect or is that a goal as an actor that you jump at an opportunity like this?

Stoll: I was very excited to take on that challenge. In a lot of ways, it’s easier to be in every scene, or to be in the majority of scenes in a movie, than to come in and have a couple of scenes and try to create a full character and feel comfortable on the set and know everybody’s name and all of that. There can be a real advantage to just being there, in and out, every day. You can really take the foot off the gas in a lot of ways when you’re the lead.

corey stillCS: I’m sure a movie like this is shot out of order depending on locations and you have some idea how it’s going to fit together because of the script, but I imagine trying to keep that character arc going is one of the biggest challenges of a movie like this.

Stoll: Yeah, yeah, if it’s well-written, it’s less of a challenge, and this is well-written. So, your job as an actor is to play the scene that you’re doing at the moment. Between the screenwriter and the director, and in this case, they were the same person, it’s their job to create a scene that when you put the pieces together, creates a character. Definitely you need to put a certain degree of thought into what your given circumstances were, what the moment before the scene is, what you’re expecting to happen after the scene, but it’s really your job as the actor to just be present in that moment. In some ways, this was one of the easiest movies to have a sense of how it was all going to turn out, because he shot the movie in very long takes, without giving himself the safety of coverage to cut in. So that was an incredible sort of vote of confidence in the actors, that we were in charge of the timing and rhythm of this movie, in a real way. If he hadn’t cast people with theater experience and skill, I don’t think it would’ve worked.

CS: Did you have a lot of rehearsal with the other actors before shooting or was a lot of it on the day?

Stoll: We had a couple days of rehearsal before we started shooting, but for the most part, it was on the day. Even though we were shooting, often, a lot of pages in a day, it never felt rushed because there wasn’t a lot of coverage. A lot of what really fills up the day, when you’re shooting a movie, is shooting that same scene from all these different angles. When you’re really dedicating yourself to one or two angles, you can really accomplish a lot. But of course, he doesn’t really like to do a lot of takes, so that creates sort of a bracing energy on set, where you know there’s a good shot, any take could be the last take that you’re going to get a chance at. And it doesn’t matter, you could have one amazing take and somebody else in the scene doesn’t have a good take and you don’t know which take they’re going to use, so you just want to bring it in all of them. That’s really challenging to sort of bring that theatrical sort of energized presence without it looking theatrical. There were times where it took all of my focus to sort of thread that needle between that sort of theatricalized energy and intention and sense of creating the scene, but trying to make it look natural on film.

CS: Noah had worked with Yul and Marin before, so I’m sure they had some kind of knowledge of how he likes to work. Can you talk about doing your scenes with them, because they were great scenes, with both of them.

Stoll: Yeah, both of them and with Billy, and all the way down the line, so many people who just had one scene, are these incredible actors, Michael Chernus, Elizabeth Rodriguez, all the way down the line, Ron C. Jones. It’s an embarrassment of riches, that cast–it’s a deep bench. But yeah, with Marin, I remember after the first day, I was like, “She’s just making this so easy for me.” We had worked together four years ago, and she has a lightness. She’s light on her feet, and yet, very fearless as an actor. Yul is so completely unpredictable. He embraced this role with such verve, it was really incredible to see. A lot of my focus on scenes with him was about not breaking character and laughing, because he’s incredible.

CS: I want to go back a little bit. What were your impressions of Bud when you first read it? Did anything jump out at you as interesting about him in general terms? There are obviously a lot of different aspects to him, boxing, the restaurant stuff.

Stoll: When I first read it, there was this sort of sense of, “Oh, I know this character.” He’s Brando in “On the Waterfront,” all these boxing movies we’ve seen before, with the washed-up boxer who’s determined to bring his life back around. Yet, there’s a sense in the script of refusing to sort of take it easy. The nobility that’s sort of inherent to that cliché of the washed-up boxer is not present at the beginning of this movie. He’s not a noble loser. He’s very petty, and status conscious and entitled. You know the journey, in a lot of ways, for that character, it’s not about rising up to this victorious ending, it’s about this very sort of Buddhist accepting of suffering.

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CS: I know you mentioned the Meta aspects of the movie. I’m a New Yorker, so obviously, I like the New York aspect of it, but there’s also things like having Buster Poindexter make a Johnny Thunders reference. I’m not sure how many people will actually get that. And then, later on, some New York Dolls plays in the soundtrack. Was a lot of those references in the original script?

Stoll: Yeah, absolutely. References to St. Ann’s School and the locations they got. I mean, we shot all over New York and New Jersey and out in Red Hook. We could not have shot this outside of New York, just the combination of these great, varied locations, and so much is about the contrast between the very warm, golden light that he casts New Jersey in, and this very cold, blue light of New York, of Manhattan. Without real New York actors, I mean, that’s central to storytelling here.

CS: I imagine the movie’s fairly low budget, but I don’t get that feeling while watching it. If this came on TV, I would not be able to guess the budget, because he got a lot out of the city on his limited budget.

Stoll: Yeah, I don’t know, but I think it’s pretty low, yeah.

CS: You really have some amazing things coming up. This comes out at the end of June and then two weeks later you have “Ant-Man” and “The Strain” coming all in the same week. It’s a pretty crazy time.

Stoll: Yeah, and I’m getting married in a week.

CS: Oh wow, congratulations. Are you getting married before these things come out just in case any of those things don’t work out, at least that will?

Stoll: I got her locked down. She can’t leave me, if “Ant-Man’s” a flop. Yeah, it’s a very full time right now.

CS: They’re going to start screening “Ant-Man” in a couple of weeks for the junket, and I’m really excited about that because it’s such a good cast with Michael Pena and Judy Greer in the smaller roles.

Stoll: Yeah, Bobby Cannavale, it’s great.

CS: Exactly. A lot of the local people from the same scene. What was it like making a movie like that? You’ve done big movies before, but something like this…

Stoll: Well, in a weird way, it was the closest to doing theater. I mean, both of these movies are theatrical in their own way. In “Glass Chin,” it’s temporally like theater, in that you’re doing it in real time and you know that the editor isn’t going to come in there and determine the pacing and rhythm of the scene. But with “Ant-Man” and playing Darren Cross, this larger-than-life villain, it was this license to really go big, smile and play the villain, and these huge sort of Bond villain sets and these insane power suits and these great monologues. It was really, really fun.

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CS: When I spoke to you for “Midnight in Paris” and I asked you about “Bourne Legacy,” you compared that to theater also. Is that something that goes on in your head in general, how to find the theatrical aspects of whatever you’re doing at any time? You were right about “The Bourne Legacy,” the scenes you had in that movie were very much like an ensemble.

Stoll: Right. Well, yeah, I mean, exactly. That was theatrical in the sense of it sort of felt like we were part of a company. I guess I am repeating myself. But for me, theater will always be the touchstone. That’s my home base. That’s how I learned how to act, and I think I’ll always, in some ways, feel like a visitor on a film set, on some level, even though recently I’ve been doing a lot more film than theater. But I think that is really true. I still sort of feel like I have to do some translating.

CS: Everyone who does movies and TV are dying to do theater, and it’s good to have the background that you can go back and forth, you can pick and choose, I guess, as you want to. What can you tease about the upcoming season of “The Strain?” Obviously, they have a reference in the books.

Stoll: Yeah, but this season, it’s even more of just a reference, you know? I think Carlton Cuse, the showrunner, his rough estimate was that 80 percent of the material was original to the series, versus 20 percent that’s from the books, this season. So there’s new characters, new worlds, really, and the season is larger in scope in the sense that there’s all these flashbacks, and so, the story is spanning thousands of years and thousands of miles. You know, they dig deeper into that methodology and the back stories for the heroes and the villains.

CS: Is Guillermo still very involved with it? Obviously, he’s doing another movie, but he’s mostly in Toronto as well these days.

Stoll: Yeah, he’s there, and the joke is that it’s a love/hate relationship between him showing up on set because everybody loves Guillermo, and he’s got such a keen eye and has such incredible and wonderful ideas, but a 12-hour day will turn into an 18-hour day if Guillermo shows up.

CS: I thought maybe you would get as much work done when he’s around.

Stoll: No, it’s not that we don’t get work done, it’s that, “That take was great, but what if we added this and what if we did that?” You know, Guillermo is a maximalist, and he just wants more, so it’s always a mixed bag when he shows up on set, because you know you’re in for the long haul.

CS: I’ve been to a couple of his sets, and I always walk away with two hours of interview time. This is a guy who’s directing a movie, and he’s shooting a lot of scenes and he still manages to come over and talk to press for a long time.

Stoll: I don’t know where he gets that energy from. He must have a little nuclear reactor somewhere.

CS: Do you have anything else you’re excited about doing next? Obviously, I assume you finished shooting this season of “The Strain” already?

Stoll: Yeah, yeah. I’m about to shoot a film adaptation of “The Seagull” by Chekhov, so I’m really excited about that.

CS: Is it very contemporary?

Stoll: No, no, it’s period.

CS: Traditional? Oh nice. Have you done that on stage before?

Stoll: I haven’t done “The Seagull.” I’ve done “Three Sisters” and in scene studies class, I’ve done several things from “The Cherry Orchard” and “Uncle Vanya.” Chekhov is really, he’s my favorite playwright, and he offers more variety to the actor, I think, than any other playwright. In terms of, there’s no right way to play a scene. From night to night, you could be playing the scene laughing hysterically or crying, and then, somehow, the text supports it. Nobody’s really achieved that since, in playwriting.

CS: That’s amazing. I’m really curious to see how it translates, because they’ve tried translating it into movies before.

Stoll: I know. It’s going to be a real challenge, but whatever happens, I’m just excited to be able to play that role. Trigorin is a role that I’ve always wanted to play, and to just be a part of that experience.

Glass Chin opens in select cities and on VOD on Friday, June 26.

You can also check out our set visit report from Ant-Man, which describes Corey Stoll character in action right here.

(Photo Credit: Apega/WENN.com)

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