A chat with Gabriel Macht, Gabriel Macht interview, Middle Men, The Spirit, Behind Enemy Lines
Gabriel Macht

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He would disagree, but it's a bit unfortunate that Gabriel Macht is probably best known as the star of Frank Miller's 2008 version of "The Spirit." He is a highly experienced and trained second-generation actor with numerous stage credits – including the part of "the Visitor," aka Elvis Presley, in Steve Martin's historical fantasia, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" – as well as a variety of big and small screen acting credits, including starring in the short-lived NBC series opposite Julianne Nicholson, 2000's "The Others," and costarring with Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman in 2001's "Behind Enemy Lines." There's certainly a lot more to Macht than one role in an adaptation ignored by the vast majority of filmgoers and hated with special vigor by a relatively small coterie of admirers of the character's original creator, groundbreaking comics legend Will Eisner. Said coterie would, however, include me.

Macht went a long way in helping me to forget "The Spirit," however, with his solid performance as the slightly saner member of a pair of drug-addicted borderline idiot savants in "Middle Men." Though the movie is no cinematic home run in my view, it's sometimes highly entertaining and Macht's scenes with co-stars Luke Wilson and Giovanni Ribisi, who plays his best friend/worst enemy and partner in a porn-related enterprise which forever changes the face of all e-commerce, are a treat. He even gets what might become the film's most famous line in a scene, featured in the trailer, involving a candy wrapper and a very large check. A married family man, Macht comes across as a thoughtful and highly personable guy in person who any director would be very smart to cast – he's certainly good at doing publicity. Yet, before we could move on, I just had to address a certain film...

 

Bullz-Eye: I was just looking you up a little bit. You're a second-generation actor. I didn't notice this actually but Giovanni just mentioned that you're Julliard trained...

Gabriel Macht: Carnegie Mellon.

BE: He's got you mixed up with Kevin Kline, who I talked to recently. Anyhow, your father is an actor and a professor. You've been doing this for a long time. And you recently had a very interesting thing happen in your career. You got the lead part in a movie -- and of course we're talking about "The Spirit" -- and, of course, it didn't exactly set the world on fire. Do you ever feel like starting a support group with Brandon Routh of "Superman Returns"?

GM: Never thought of that in a million years.

BE: Were you into the idea of becoming a superhero of sorts?

"[The story] spanned five years in the film, I think, but there's a year for each of those five. There's so many stories in there. It would be great to do a series of this or to do another film... because the characters are just so great."

GM: Yes and no. Look, I had an opportunity to play a character that was in one of the oldest comics. It was a great character. It was written and directed by Frank Miller, who has a huge career in the comic book world and film. I'm really proud of the movie. I think it's an art film. I don't think it's a mainstream superhero film. I actually think it was marketed a bit differently than I would have suggested. And I think that if it was released at another time, not Christmas Day, it would have had a lot more potential. I wasn't selling the movie as big as maybe Frank Miller because he's got a much bigger name, but we were going up against Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Brad Pitt. It had a lot going against it. But if you look at the film, and you look at the frames, it's like a museum piece. I actually think that "The Spirit" will come to people's consciousness in the next 10-15 years and become a cult film in a way that maybe the Superman movie that you were talking about may not be. Who knows?

BE: Who knows? You'll be happy to know that I never blame actors [for moves fouled up by writers, directors, and producers]. We're not going to talk about this much more, but for me the movie was completely wrong. It wasn't your performance and it wasn't anybody else's performance. They hired a heavy metal guy [Frank Miller] to do Buddy Holly songs.

GM: He just went with a certain way. You know what, at the time we all supported that vision and tried to make it something fresh and new. I think there were elements of the original that you can see in it. I'm pretty versed in the original and, if you look for them, they're there. Some of the humor wasn't caught.

BE: That's true. Well, moving on to today and "Middle Men," you and Giovanni Ribisi are a big part of the fire underneath this movie. And the two of you have this [highly unusual relationship]. It's love/hate, but we see a lot more of the hate than the love. These two friends who are literally coming to blows pretty often. How do you approach a part like that?

Gabriel MachtGM: You know these two guys really were two young men who like to think outside the box. When you add drugs and alcohol you think even more extremely outside the box. It hinders your judgment. So, they make plenty of mistakes along the way. We're definitely not businessmen. Some of their irrational behavior creates infighting. I like to see them as two big, really immature kids. I see adults that like to wrestle with each other and it always turns into a fight. These guys just like to go straight at it and I think it's kind of funny. [Giovanni and I] sat down for lunch one day before the filming of this and we decided that we were just going to really trust each other to take the risks that we wanted and collaborate in a way that just expanded on [co-writer and director] George Gallo and [writer] Andy Weiss's vision and the amalgamation of these characters that are based on some of [producer Christopher Mallick's] business partners at the time. He was great source material for us where we asked him questions about these guys and we drew from our own experience, from our own inspiration here and there. It was a pleasure. I've always wanted to work with Giovanni and it turned to be this great chemistry that we had on set.

BE: You're somewhat better known on stage, maybe, and I was noticing a couple of things in your past that are really interesting. You've been directed by Joanne Woodward. How long ago was that?

GM: That was '92 maybe.

BE: Oh, wow. So you were a very young person at the time. That must have been quite an experience.

GM: 22. Yeah. She was amazing. I did a play called La Ronde with her in Williamstown and Tom McCarthy - do you know of him?

BE: Not offhand. [I definitely should have. He's the very talented creator of the independent film hits "The Station Agent" and "The Visitor."]

GM: He's an actor and has become a writer-director. Very good director. He and I had a couple of scenes together and... I'm trying to think of anyone. Anyway, [Joanne Woodward] was amazing. She was very conservative [in her approach] and it was a very sexual, sort of risqué story.

BE: I know the play. Yeah.

GM: We had a good time. I don't know if you've ever been up to Williamstown. It's such a great little community up there. A lot of actors from New York go up there. It's really not about the business, it's about telling stories. I can't wait to do that again.

BE: Another item. This is interesting to me. You played William Holden on television in "The Audrey Hepburn Story," which I did not see. People today talk about movie stars, how everybody looks so young. Tobey Maguire is in his mid-30s and he looks like he's about...

"As much as this seems like it's very risqué or sort of alternative in its 'adult' medium, we could be selling vacuum cleaners."

GM: 25.

BE: [William Holden] was a part of this generation where...

GM: They looked older.

BE: They were grown-ups. When you played the part, were you very conscious of that?

GM: Yes and no. In many ways, I thought I was a little bit too young for it. He was a bit older than I. I'd be more right for it now. Look, it was a few days up in Montreal. I enjoyed myself playing that role. It was a TV movie...

BE: So it wasn't...

GM: Yeah.

BE: [Laughing.] I'm going to change the subject again. You're wife is in the movie as Diana Harris, the wife of Luke Wilson's character. You don't have any scenes together in the movie?

GM: You saw the movie?

BE: I did, I'm just trying to remember.

GM: Jacinda Barrett plays Luke Wilson's wife in the film. It was great to work on the same movie. We were able to travel together, bring our daughter. We were able to come to the set each day and watch each other work. She's really beautiful in the film and has a real arc. She plays this sort of innocent, supportive wife and then learns about the business. Also, the money sort of destroys her in a way that's very similar to what we're seeing out there in our own world. But I loved working with her. I hope that maybe if the movie does well we'll have a sequel. Maybe Buck [Macht's character] and Diana have this thing going on behind Luke's character's back.

BE: [Laughing.] That kind of leads into another question because this was originally conceived as a long-form miniseries. Do you feel a little sorry? I really think there's a lot more they could have done with these characters.

Gabriel MachtGM: You talk to Chris and there's so many stories about these guys. It spanned five years in the film, I think, but there's a year for each of those five. There's so many stories in there. It would be great to do a series of this or to do another film where we explore some of the other stories that were involved with these characters because the characters are just so great. There's so much greed and corruption but there's also this idea of this American dream and how it collapses.

BE: And it's a dream that right now [is drying up]. Who'd have thought that the bottom would fall out of pornography? Apparently, at least right now, even more than most other media, it's just...

GM: Because you can get it free.

BE: It's crazy.

GM: It's still making a ton of money, I think, I mean I don't know...

BE: Fewer people, probably. I'm sure you never personally watch anything that's naughty. But do you have any thoughts on the adult industry from what you learned making "Middle Men"?

GM: No. I guess it makes some people money. It's interesting because this movie deals with Internet pornography and the beginnings of it. It's also really a film about e-commerce. It's about these guys figuring out a way to write the code on making a transaction. So, it could be about blenders. It happens to be about Wayne [Giovanni Ribisi's character] trying to see more pictures of women on the Internet. As much as this seems like it's very risqué or sort of alternative in its "adult" medium, we could be selling vacuum cleaners.

BE: Or tissue paper.

And that was it. Except that on the way out the door, Macht and I talked a little more about "The Spirit." He really does believe in the movie. Producers and directors take note: cast Gabriel Macht as a superhero and he'll stay true, whatever happens, long after the Blu-ray drops.

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