Interview date: 10/14/2009
Run date: 10/22/2009
Prior to 2008, Jonny Lee Miller had been best known for his roles in such films as “Trainspotting,” “Mansfield Park,” and “Hackers” (as well as for later marrying his “Hackers” co-star, Angelina Jolie), but he’s now known to most American TV viewers for his titular role on the ABC series “Eli Stone.” The series may be gone, but Miller moves ever onward: in addition to a run on Broadway with “After Miss Julie,” he’s also part of the cast of “Endgame.” Based on the covert discussions that brought down the Apartheid regime in South Africa, the film will have its American television premiere on Oct. 25th on PBS’s “Masterpiece Contemporary” and follow with a theatrical release on Oct. 30th in select U.S. cities. Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Miller during the TCA Press Tour this summer, where he discussed his experiences in filming “Endgame,”the final episode of “Eli Stone,” and the status of a “Trainspotting” sequel.
Bullz-Eye: Now, when we were walking here, I was paying attention and making sure I knew where the room was, so when you were talking to the publicist, were you explaining why you’re sporting the new ‘stache?
Jonny Lee Miller: I was, actually. It’s for a play I’m doing, and I’m experimenting with my look. They will probably tell me to get rid of it… (Laughs) …but I’m experimenting with it, anyway.
(Writer’s note: given that the press photos for the play feature a clean-shaven Miller, it’s fair to say that his suspicions about his ‘stache were on the money.)
BE: What’s the play?
JLM: It’s called “After Miss Julie,” and it’s by Patrick Marber. It’s his reinterpretation of Strindberg's “Miss Julie,” reset and transposed into post-war. The second world war has just finished, and it’s set in a country house in England.
BE: Let’s talk “Endgame.” I can’t believe that you didn’t meet the guy that you played (Michael Young, former director of communications for Consolidated Gold) until just, like, 45 minutes ago.
JLM: I can believe I didn’t meet him, but, you know, there’s just nothing like meeting at a press conference. (Laughs) But he’s very nice and he had nice things to say, so what a relief.
BE: Absolutely. So how much research did you do for the role beforehand? Did you read up on it?
JLM: Yeah, I mean, I’ve played real characters before and met them and worked with them, but sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. Michael, because he’s not known by the public, I felt that if I was to try and do an impression of him, it would just come across as me acting strangely. I also trusted the writing and had talked to Paula (Milne, who wrote the screenplay) about Michael. So you trust that and you trust the casting process. I guess I had some qualities similar to his. So, yeah, I mean, other than that, we would get information during rehearsals; you know, we would get information about the process and what actually happened, bits and pieces like that. We had the book, Fall of Apartheid, Robert Harvey’s book, and we also…yeah, essentially that and talking. You know, talking with the director.
BE: Was it less challenging to play a real person who isn’t such a public figure?
JLM: Yeah, I just put that out of my head, really. You put that put of your head and you treat it as any other character in the story. But it’s not like playing Muhammad Ali, where everyone knows who he is, so you have to be Muhammad Ali. But I think I ended up being quite…well, the fictional Michael Young in the film is quite reminiscent of the real Michael Young, I think.
BE: Paula made the comment about how the message of the film is conflict resolution. Would you agree that that is true?
JLM: Yes. Yeah, I think…well, I’m always wary of the term “of films having messages.”
JLM: Because it’s about something, and it’s telling a story of that, of what happened. And I think we take our own…we draw from it what we want, really. But, yeah, definitely, the fact that the seemingly impossible isn’t, and you can talk to people. People are willing to talk to each other, I guess, and that’s…when people would assume that they aren’t.
BE: You were saying that you do remember when the moment came, as far as the end of apartheid…
JLM: Oh, I remember just specifically watching Nelson Mandela walk out of prison. I remember watching that. That’s my main memory of that.
BE: Yeah. I think I knew more about Nelson Mandela from The Specials than I did. Honestly. It’s sad but it’s true.
JLM: And you saw the birthday tribute as well? (Writer’s note: in 1988, Mandela’s 70th birthday was celebrated with a concert that featured performances from Sting, George Michael, Eurythmics, Tracy Chapman, UB40, Simple Minds, Whitney Houston, and Dire Straits, among others.)
BE: I did, yes. Great stuff. So, now, you and your costar, Chiwetel Ejiofor, have two projects that you share on your resume, but I don’t know if you actually worked together on either of them. The first was “Melinda and Melinda.”
JLM: We did one scene, I think, in “Melinda and Melinda.” Yeah, we come out of the theater on a street in New York. But we only did one scene together.
BE: And he also did one of the episodes of “The Canterbury Tales,” too.
JLM: That’s right, yeah.
BE: Not the same one, though?
JLM: No, not the same one. I would remember that. (Laughs)
BE: I would have thought so. Okay, let’s talk “Eli Stone.” Were you happy with the resolution, given how quickly they told you it was going to be cancelled?
JLM: No, I mean, I wouldn’t say I was happy with it. Do you mean artistically?
BE: Well, mostly I just mean your thoughts on the conclusion that was borne out of necessity. Obviously, it would’ve been preferable for it go on to a third season
JLM: Yeah, I think it suffers a little bit of the rushed nature of it. I don’t think it was perfect, but it’s strange, because I got some messages of people who were big fans and some people really liked it. It’s difficult for me to be objective about it.
JLM: You know, it’s kind of weird. I’ve actually only seen the final episode once. I watched it really, really late one night. You know, I could probably look at it again, but I’ve got a whole lot of issues behind it when I look at it.
BE: I thought it was vague but hopeful, I guess is the best way to put it, as far as what the future holds.
JLM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think maybe they were hoping there was going to be some kind of lifeline. You know, everything else would fail on ABC and they would have to bring us back. (Laughs) But no, no such chance.
BE: I was one of those who had hoped. How did you first come on to “Eli Stone,” actually? I don’t even know the story behind that. Did they come to you specifically, or was it an audition?
JLM: No, Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim came…we had a meeting. You know, they had been looking for Eli Stone for quite some time. They had seen a lot of people, done a lot of castings, and it hadn’t worked out. And then we had a meeting and it was kind of…I think it was because I had just come off this show, so they had become aware of me a bit more. They told me that they knew my work before, but I’m doubtful as to whether that’s true. So I’d come off the show “Smith,” and we had a meeting and then they basically wanted me to do it, straight up. But then what we had to do was do a screen test for the network to give the okay. So we did some scenes on the “Brothers & Sisters” set, and then the studio bosses had to say yes.
BE: How was “Smith,” by the way? To work on, I mean.
JLM: Brilliant. Yeah, I mean, there was a lot of driving, because there was no studio work involved whatsoever, which is very, very rare. I think that’s probably why the show is not on air anymore: because it was so expensive. So we would be in Palmdale one day and we’d be in Long Beach the next. I mean, working with Ray (Liotta) was fantastic, and I did a lot of work with Simon Baker, who I really, really like. He’s a really great guy and great to work with. So, yeah, we had a great time. We were really shocked…that was different, because that was, like, we were on episode seven and there was a phone call. Our executive producer was directing the episode and he came on and he said, “Well, we’re finished for work today, and don’t come back tomorrow.” So that was really shocking.
BE: Ouch. What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved? This may come back to “Smith,” but…
JLM: It might be “Smith.” I mean, it’s just…you’re constantly doing stuff. There’s probably so many of them. I’ll think of them more when I’m in the car on the way home, do you know what I mean? It might be “Smith,” but I say them, and you look back and you think, “Well, maybe they’re not as good as I thought they were.” Do you know what I mean? I do that a lot. You know, you get nostalgic for stuff. I like to think “The Flying Scotsman” was really great, but then I look back at it and it just… (Trails off) But, then, it did get a lot of love, do you know what I mean? They’re always out there, and they are still there. The great thing about stuff is people come to you like five, ten years later and they say, “Oh, I just saw that,” and they say something nice about it. So that’s good. You know, I’ve done some real stinkers as well, so…I don’t know, I’m pretty happy with the way everything goes, you know? The way everything has gone so far, I should say.
BE: You talk about people bringing up movies having just seen them. I literally just saw “Hackers” for the first time, like, two years ago. My wife has always been a huge fan of that movie, and she was, like, “Look, you really just need to sit down and watch it.” And I did, and I said, “Okay, you’re right: that was fun.”
JLM: Yeah, I saw it again a couple of years ago as well, and I hadn’t seen it since, you know, making it, and I liked it more than I did when it first came out. It’s strange.
BE: “Emma” is getting ready to air relatively soon, correct?
JLM: Actually, we only finished it about five, six weeks ago.
BE: Oh, alright. I wasn’t sure how long it had been.
JLM: Yeah, they come out and turn things around pretty quickly. (Laughs)
BE: Had you ever tackled “Emma” before?
JLM: No, no, no. I wouldn’t have done it. I wouldn’t do it. I mean, you don’t ever really consider doing the same project twice.
BE: Oh, okay. But…well, you were in “Mansfield Park” twice.
JLM: Yeah, but that was…
BE: Well, you were sort of in it twice, anyway. (Laughs)
JLM: Yeah, sort of, in that I was a child. (Laughs) I was eight years old in the first one! I had, like, two words to say!
BE: I guess that will work as an exception. So have there ever been any serious talks about a “Trainspotting” sequel?
JLM: There have been serious talks, yes. Not involving us, though. Not the actors. I know there have been, but I think Danny (Boyle’s) got it in his head that we all still look too young. But, I mean, I don’t look like anyone I play, anyways, so I don’t really know where that comes from. Because, you know, you change yourself for the roles. I’m actually not Scottish, either! (Laughs) But, yeah, I think he wanted to wait until we’re older, I think. And I don’t know what state the script is in. It all depends on that. If someone presents us with a script and it’s as good as the original, then, yeah, I think we would all consider doing it. But I think everyone is weary of that, also, because it’s tricky. The book Trainspotting is so different from the film. But Irvine (Welsh) wrote the sequel book.
BE: Yeah, “Porno”.
JLM: Yeah, and it’s in a much more linear fashion. It’s much more like the movie, so he kind of wrote it as a sequel to the movie, rather than…well, it’s very, very different. It works in a different way. But it’s a crazy story and, you know, we’ll see. It all depends on what the script is like. I think everyone would consider doing it, I’m pretty sure, if they thought it would be any good. But it’s such a precious thing, you don’t want to mess with it.
BE: Oh, yeah, you don’t want to sully memories or anything. I wouldn’t want to have to take down the poster I have of the original.
JLM: You wouldn’t want to, and I wouldn’t want you to. (Laughs)
BE: I appreciate your concern. So how serious were the talks about you playing Bond? Or was it just all…
JLM: I never talked to anyone about it.
JLM: No. So not serious.
BE: (Laughs) Apparently not.
JLM: No. I would love to do that in the future, though. Yeah, I would love to do that, but I was never asked or approached. I think I was probably a bit young. I mean, I had dinner with Barbara Broccoli, but there were a lot of other people at the dinner. At the time, I think I had a huge beard or mustache, which probably didn’t do me any favors, you know? I didn’t look exactly suave.
BE: Are there any projects coming up that are officially nailed down? Like, IMDb always likes to throw stuff out that are like in pre-production that really don’t even exist, but do you have anything currently in the works that you’re heading toward?
JLM: Just the play. I mean, that takes me up until Christmas and it’s very, very rare that I ever know what I’m doing after that.
BE: Where do you want to go? I mean, do you want to try to look for another series role, or do you want to go back to film?
JLM: No, I wouldn’t want to do that at all. I mean, after “Smith” got canceled and we were at work, and we felt it was a pretty good show, I was, like, “I’m never doing network television again.” And then the Eli Stone character came up and it was such a brilliant character, and, you know, to play the lead is an incredible opportunity. So I was obviously going to pursue that. So I would say I definitely won’t be looking to get into that kind of scenario because it’s tough. It’s hard work. I mean, I know it sounds ridiculous to people, but it really is tough work. I would hope…it’s always been an ambition of mine to do a play on Broadway, so this is like fulfilling a lifetime ambition, and it’s in a play that I think is fantastic. And so after that, I would really like to do some features. You know, and that’s the great thing: maybe someone will give me a job because of the play, you know? But, I mean, it’s not easy out there for me to get good feature work at all.
BE: Really? I mean, I know it wasn’t a ratings smash, but I still would have thought “Eli Stone” raised your profile.
JLM: Yeah, it has. I mean, I’m on Broadway so, bang, there you go! (Laughs)
BE: About “Eli Stone,” I wanted to ask you a minute ago, what was your favorite episode of the series? Do you have one particular one that stands out?
JLM: I don’t, really. I don’t because it all fades into one big thing for me. I did quite like the final episode of series one. I really liked it. And I liked George (Michael’s) episode, when George came back as really him. I like pieces of all different ones. You know, I could go in and get moments and pieces. I really liked some of when we would use special effects but not have them CGI. I really liked that. I liked opening the door and the beach being there. We actually took a door to the beach, do you know what I mean? It may seem like a poor man’s method, but I liked all of that stuff. I liked getting rained on in court, you know, when it’s just him and the rain on him, stuff like that. But, yeah, there’s a whole bunch of different storylines I liked. I had such a wonderful time making it that there is no real standout episodes for me. I just like the whole thing. And, also, I can’t remember what’s what, either. (Laughs)
BE: We do a TV Power Rankings feature on Bullz-Eye, and we felt like we were killing shows by including them. I mean “Eli Stone” was in there…
JLM: Every time you put one on the top twenty…
BE: Exactly. And we also cited “Dirty Sexy Money” and “Pushing Daisies.” I mean it was just bam, bam, bam, as if ABC was saying, “Thank you, Bullz-Eye, for giving us the ammunition to kill these shows.
JLM: Yeah, all the ABC shows.
BE: In the end, we actually put a bit where we were, like, “Look, ABC, we’re really happy that you gave us ‘Lost,’ and it’s our number one show for this ranking period, but on a related note, screw you for canceling these other shows.”
JLM: Bull’s eye. (Laughs)
BE: Okay, I know I’m going to get called for time here in just a second, but I’ve got to ask you about ‘Dracula 2000.”
BE: How did that come about, and did you enjoy doing that one? I mean, for what it was, I thought it was fun.
JLM: Yeah, wow, I don’t know about that. (Laughs) I think I might have been…oh, no, I’m getting confused with another project. But, anyway, the way the movie ended was and the way the script that I read and signed up for were two wildly different things. Which is really…
BE: That happens quite often in Hollywood, I hear.
JLM: It does, and it’s really infuriating, because the script was a lot more interesting than the film turned out. I mean, I’ll be quite brutally honest and say that I don’t think…it’s really annoying as an actor, you know, where you sign up for something that you feel is good, and then you’re under contract, you’re involved, and then they’re changing it and rewriting it as you go along and there’s nothing you can do about it. I also think it was a period where I was kind of overwhelmed by…I mean, we had a great time making it, an incredible amount of fun. I mean, you get to go to New Orleans, you get to go to Toronto. But I think I was sort of finding my way in my job, and I don’t think I was very good at it, quite honestly. I don’t. It’s, like, I think if I was to do it again now, I would be a lot more sort of fluid with the character and relax a lot more. I just think I was quite nervous during that whole film. And quite bad. (Laughs).
BE: (Laughs) To be brutally honest.
JLM: But, anyway, moving on. You live and learn.
BE: Well, that begs a question, though, that’s sort of on the same topic. If you do a movie, and then it comes out and you’re, like, “Oh, God, that’s just not even the movie I thought I was making,” then when the time comes for it to come to DVD and they are looking for people to do press, do you just try to weasel out of it?
JLM: Yeah, you do. (Laughs) Well, you don’t ever really do press for a DVD release, but...
BE: Oh, trust me, I get pitched a lot of interviews surrounding DVD releases. That’s why I was wondering.
JLM: Oh, really? Do you really?
BE: Oh, yeah.
JLM: I mean, you sort of do your junket, and that kind of takes care of that. Usually, in my experience, they keep it on file, you know, they store it up and tuck it away for that. I mean, I’ve done like commentaries before. I’ve done commentary before for DVD. But that was usually while you were going along, like on a TV show, do you know what I mean? But, yeah, you definitely avoid doing…well, you do only what you have to anyway. (Laughs) But even if…if it’s a small piece and you really like it, you’ll go the extra mile to publicize it because you want people to see it, and you want it not just for yourself but for the piece. That’s the whole point, really, getting people to see stuff. But yeah, if you think it sucks, then you definitely won’t…I mean, I guess unless you’re doing a huge studio picture, where you have to, because you don’t want to get…you need to be seen to play ball, because otherwise people don’t want to work with you.
BE: Well, time’s up, I see, but I hope this has been painless for you.JLM: Totally, yeah. (Laughs) Very enjoyable, thanks.