Dominic West is a fun guy. And I could literally stop this intro right there, because above all of his acting accomplishments, West is a great guy to sit down with even for 10-15 minutes and shoot the shit. He's quick to laugh or tell a joke; he seems to genuinely love meeting new people; and it's clear he had a helluva time playing the villainous puppet dictator Sab Than in JOHN CARTER.
But I certainly wasn't going to ignore the fact that I was sitting across from one of Baltimore's Finest Jimmy McNulty. I actually grew up in Maryland, not far from Baltimore, so my fear of that city runs deep. West's career has run the gamut from Ian McKellen's RICHARD III (West's first movie) to SURVIVING PICASSO, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, 28 DAYS, ROCK STAR, 300, SPICE WORLD, CHICAGO, MONA LISA SMILE, HANNIBAL RISING, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, CENTURION, JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN, and the recent TV series "The Hour" and "Appropriate Adult."
And if you caught the current reissue of STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE, you maybe have noticed West as a palace guard; he has one line. As a matter of fact, when I sat down with West, I has just seen THE PHANTOM MENACE less than a week before, a fact I rib him about at the beginning of our jovial chat. Please enjoy Dominic West…
Dominic West: Hi, Steve.
Capone: Hi. It’s great to meet you.
DW: Nice to see you.
Capone: Do you want to stay sitting outside?
DW: Yeah, is that alright? Is it warm enough?
Capone: I'm from Chicago, and it was snowing there when I left, so this is perfect.
DW: I'm from London, and I'm suffering from vitamin D deficiency, so I never say no to some sun. Capone: I actually live in Chicago, but I'm from Maryland.
DW: Oh, really? Where abouts?
Capone: Closer to D.C., but I had a lot of family in Pennsylvania, so we had to drive through Baltimore regularly when I was a kid.
DW: You used to get your drugs in Baltimore, then. [laughs]
Capone: Yeah, if the school bus would stop there. It usually would. But shows like "The Wire," "Homicide," "The Corner," I watched them all because they shot right there.
DW: That's right.
Capone: I’m just excited to be sitting here with the star of THE PHANTOM MENACE.
DW: I’m not the only star…
Capone: They ran a little piece in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY about all of the famous faces that were in there that weren’t so famous then, like Keira Knightley.
DW: Is she in it as well?
Capone: Yeah. She plays one of her decoys.
DW: Keira Knightley does? Damn.
Capone: It’s in the reveal when Natalie [Portman] steps out finally and says, “I’m actually…” Keira is the one who is actually pretending to be her. Sofia Coppola is one of the handmaidens.
DW: Oh my God.
Capone: There’s a whole bunch of people, yeah. A lot of people you didn’t realize you got to work with.
DW: No, unfortunately not. I just worked with the little kid [Jake Lloyd].
Capone: I don’t want to get too sidetracked here, but you said you took the role because you wanted to meet George Lucas. Why did you want to meet him?
DW: He’s such a huge figure in my childhood. I was nine or ten when STAR WARS came out I think, and everyone was obsessed with it, except me actually, but everyone was nuts about it and everyone had the digital watch. Then I got very interested in Zoetrope and reading about Coppola and the San Francisco films that they made, and so I was just really keen to meet them and meet someone who knew so much about the new technology of film and about storytelling. It’s the same thing I felt about Andrew [Stanton] really, although I think Andrew is probably a much more personable guy.
Capone: He also knows how to tell a story. No offense to Mr. Lucas.
DW: Well, he did. He was a brilliant storyteller really with the first ones and I suppose that was [American mythologist and philosopher] Joseph Campbell probably more than George, but I think George became less interested in the humans and more into the technology maybe.
Capone: You mentioned earlier that you were wearing in CENTURIAN similar gear to what you are wearing in JOHN CARTER. Do you have it in your contract that you have to have at least your arms exposed for a good part of every movie that you’re in?
DW: [laughs] I’ve always managed to, and I certainly did in this whereas Taylor [Kitsch] is completely naked and having to look really good. I did a film called 300 where everyone was ripped in that except for me, and I remember they showed me the drawings and they said, “This is what you’re going to be looking like” and it was a pair of Speedos and a blanket, and I said, “Well I could wear that, but I don’t have that body. I’ve got a beer belly.” So I’m usually in all of these things, including JOHN CARTER, I’m usually nicely covered up here. But this was the best. This was an amazing costume; you should have seen the horror that was underneath it.
Capone: When you first read the script did and then eventually read the book, what was it about your character that grabbed you?
DW: I don’t know if it’s in the book and I’m not even sure if Andrew wrote it in the script, but what I like about him is that he’s, like a lot of antagonists, he wants to take over the world and he’s an ego-driven maniac and despot. But what was great was that he was under the control of these Therns, who were really annoying and cramping his style, and that sort of gave an instant flaw or endearing quality to this despot. I think that’s what I enjoyed playing most of all, his irritation with Mark Strong and not being able to fire his gun. It only occurred to me today, but I must have got a lot of my behaviors from my sons. I’ve got sons, two and three, who must inform everything I do, but they certainly I think informed that in terms of he’s essentially a kid.
Capone: A toy you can’t play with yet?
DW: Yeah, a toy you can’t play, or "You can't hit your brother over the head with this wonderful new weapon."
Capone: But he is the evil dictator that’s controlled like a puppet. I mean that’s basically what he is, and there are certainly some examples of that in the current world. I mean that’s what he is, he’s a puppet.
DW: Well until recently most dictators were puppets of the United States, weren’t they? [Laughs]
Capone: I guess that's my point.
DW: And before that, the Brits, and now China.
Capone: Of course, bad guys don’t ever think they're bad. Is that how you approached him?
DW: Absolutely. Yeah, I think the moment you think like that you start [overdoing it] and people go “I don’t believe you.” So I think you always tend to sympathize with your character, and it’s really part of the director’s job--a difficult part of the director’s job--is to stop people from getting too insistent that “My character wouldn’t do this!” “But your character is an evil bastard!” “No, he’s not! I can see where he’s coming from when he tries to destroy the world.” [laughs] So yes, that’s really my process in acting, you do look for the sympathy.
Capone: I’m a huge fan of Mark Strong, but he’s such a chameleon that I think for the first five years that I started noticing him I could never recognize him from role to role.
DW: He’s in everything!
Capone: He's in every third movie that I see.
DW: It’s all because he’s bald, and so he gets to wear a myriad of wigs, which completely transforms him. He’s also, as you say, a chameleon and a good actor, but it’s mainly because of his wigs. [Laughs]
Capone: A lot of your scenes are with him. Tell me about that. I’ve never met him, so I’m actually kind of bummed he’s not here this weekend. He was supposed to be.
DW: He films about four films at a time. I just saw THE GUARD. Have you seen THE GUARD? It’s a little Irish film.
Capone: Yeah, sure with Brendon Gleeson. Yeah, I love that movie.
DW: He’s in that!
Capone: Yes he is.
DW: He’s in everything.
Capone: He’s in TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY with a great role.
DW: GREEN LANTERN…everything. It’s funny, because he looks or can look, and I think does in this, look fairly forbidding and quite frightening and he just isn’t at all. I mean, he’s an absolute pussycat and funny and great. We hung out together when we were here actually in Utah and we went on a boat trip down the Colorado, which will be forever etched in my mind as being high comedy, seeing this great Thern in a knotted handkerchief worrying about the sun. [laughs] He’s just cool, because he knows what he is doing and he’s a total pro and therefore able to be light and funny while delivering the goods, and that’s always good to work with. We also had a good, hopefully it comes across, a bit of a rapport… not a rapport, but quite the opposite…and antagonism.
Capone: But it’s funny.
DW: It is. I can see them going on the road and doing a good standup routine. [Laughs]
Capone: The entire time "The Wire" was shooting, I never got to meet or interview any of the actors, but since then I’ve had the really great fortune to have met quite a few of you. At what point in the process of those five seasons did you really understand that it was something special, and people were really examining these and watching them over and over again. I typically watched each episode twice just to make sure I got everything.
DW: Did you? Oh God, have you seen the whole thing?
Capone: Oh yeah, of course.
Capone: I would literally watch it, go back to the beginning, and watch it again just to make sure I got everything. When did you realize that there was this base of people that still to this day are discovering it and consider it one of the finest pieces of television ever made?
DW: I can’t remember, but the difficulty was that it was all so complicated in that I was living in England, and there was a delay, and really it didn’t catch on in England until the last year we were shooting it. When we were shooting, it was always clear that it meant a lot to people in Baltimore, whether they were gangsters or law enforcement or lawyers or worked for the government. We would get stopped in the street from quite early on by those sort of people, but you sort of thought it wouldn’t go beyond that, but my first experience of that was then in England when I was in a road rage incident where I was shouting at this guy in his car “What the fuck are you doing?” He went like “Fuck, it’s McNulty!” [laughs] So I had to watch what I did from then on.
Capone: You are part of the zeitgeist, sir. Thank you so much, Dominic.