Brett Gelman is ready to play a good villain
Photo credit: Amy Sussman / Getty Images
If you want to play action movie bingo, consider the new Amazon movie Tom Clancy’s Without remorse. There’s revenge, plots, crashed planes, crashed cars, sinking cars, fire, guns, a renegade hero, prison fights, no more guns, Russia … all the tropes of the genre, in other words. But it’s not so far in the film, which is directed by Stefano Sollima and stars Michael B. Jordan (as John Kelly), that there is a real surprise: Brett Gelman.
At this point, the actor and comedian has over 100 credits – more than supposed Hollywood Nucleus Kevin Bacon, by the way – so his appearance. should not be a surprise. But while Gelman’s roles are varied, they tend to be at least tinted with comedy, if not quite sprinkled with it. And Without remorse … Let’s just say it’s a movie about a strong, angry man whose pregnant wife is shot and killed. There is a bit of disconnect in the tones. But that, Gelman says, is precisely why he was interested in being in the movie in the first place. “I want to do so many characters and various things that seem to be outside of my wheelhouse,” he says.
For Without remorse, that meant playing Viktor Rykov, the man who kills John Kelly’s wife and runs away. Although Rykov doesn’t have a lot of screen time, he’s a complicated character and one that looms large throughout the film. Vulture spoke with Gelman about how he makes small parts like Rykov feel big, what last year’s relative lack of work looks like, and why he’s always loved villains.
As someone who always and seemingly works in everything, what has the past year been like?
You know, I’ve had a bit of a busy year. I worked a bit, but not the way I’m used to. I pulled out Strange things, and I made some movies. I am also a writer and I took on other projects. So I stayed very busy. But yes, a lot of things weren’t on the set and just at home. And that was absolutely insane! I think anyone who is an actor can very easily play someone who is under house arrest.
A serious role in a blockbuster action movie is a bit outside your normal wheelhouse. Why did you want to do this project?
I’ve played baddies in things, but not in that genre and tone. I wanted to do this because it was always a fantasy of me to be the villain in an action movie, and I thought doing this would help me be seen and show a different color of what I can do. . And I love playing different types of characters. I want to do much more varied things. Not that I want to quit acting, but I want to stretch and do whatever I know I can do – and also learn more about myself and increase what I can do along the way. .
It is a role that occupies an important place in the film. How do you give weight to a character like that during this limited screen time?
It has to do with the intensity of the character’s psychology and his presence. He’s a great character. He is essentially an American jihadist. His religion is democracy. I mean, he’s a very intense guy. Therefore [it meant] throwing everything I had at him. He’s a guy who is aware of his sacrifice, and there was a choice made by Stefano [Sollima] and myself to really show his humanity and show the knowledge of That’s it. The sacrifice is there. And there is a deep pain, in that I am about to sacrifice myself, but also a deep passion in doing what I think is right for America.
When I trained as an actor, I studied classical theater, the shoes to fill like these characters [are huge], given that it is one of the best scriptures in the world. When you play Shakespeare or Arthur Miller, you have to fill in these larger than life characters. And we must also fill the theater. So I would almost think about inflating my presence. And to be funny, you grab everyone’s attention in the room. So I think it all adds to the intensity and a really great presence, which helps to play Viktor Rykov and most of the characters that I play.
I have a few comedic roles of this nature that people care about, like my character in The other guys and my bad magician in Office. So if I say yes to something, I bring the whole life of that character, even if it’s only five minutes. And it means a lot when it means something to people. It was a great opportunity to do it in a dramatic and action-packed setting rather than a comedic one. It’s the same with Christopher Walken pulp Fiction speech: It stays in my mind. Or Mel Brooks as governor of Flaming saddles. Not to be too cliché, but there are no small parts; you throw yourself into it.
You said earlier that it was one of your fantasies to play a villain in an action movie. Was there a certain growing villain that inspired this fantasy?
Star wars is so tattooed into our consciousness almost subconsciously, but Darth Vader truly is one of the greatest villains of all time. But beyond him, I just think the greatest villain of all time is Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die hard. When I saw this performance I was like, Look at the fun of this actor. And yet there is such a charm to him. And such a threat. I’ve always been influenced by certain performances by villains.
Have these villains always attracted you more than the heroes?
Yes. Villains or comedic characters that I played in Strange things like Murray. But as I get older, I like great heroes. I mean, I love Harrison Ford so much. He is, for me, probably the biggest star of the action. And Bruce Willis in Die hard. These are roles that really speak to me. But when I was younger, yes, I turned to the villain more – even in dramas. I remember seeing Joe Pesci in Goodfellas and go, Oh my God, check this out. What a blast being such a bad guy.
It’s a pretty serious movie. Were you able to joke on the set and bring lightness to it?
There were certainly some good times. I would have a lot of laughs with Michael [B. Jordan]. Michael likes to have a good time. I mean, he’s one of the most focused people I’ve ever seen, but every time after a take we would hug and joke.
What are you kidding?
It was mostly how fucked up everything was [laughs]: “This is so crazy” and “Oh my God I’m tied up with plastic explosives” and “What’s going on right now?” But nothing so specific. It’s always just fluid.
This movie has proven that you look natural with a gun. And you worked alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge. So I have to ask you: are you going to be in the new Mr. and Mrs. Smith remake?
I mean, I should be. I haven’t received any calls yet, but Hello! Phoebe, Donald [Glover], let’s go! Give me a role, give me a gun, and here I am. That would be cool. But no, I have not been contacted. And I imagine I would have done it at this point. But it is okay. I don’t have to be in it all.