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Wingman Wednesday

Rebecca Knox

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A modern day Marilyn Monroe with a gritty edge, Rebecca Knox is an actress who demands your attention by the way she commands her space in any given scene. Memorable by making the most of every moment on-camera, her gaze itself could one day win an Emmy thanks to the way her eyes reveal so much about those she is inhabiting. Currently the New York native can be seen as inmate Tina Swope in Season 6 of “Orange Is the New Black,” available now on Netflix.

We recently sat down with Knox to uncover her kinship with Tina, what she’d miss the most if she were behind bars, and why personal branding is so important.

TrunkSpace: Do you view your role on “Orange Is the New Black” as a career game changer? Has Tina Swope opened up more doors for you within the industry?
Knox: Being on such a monumental award-winning show is definitely a game changer! I have made some great friends and contacts through this experience for sure.

TrunkSpace: When you first read for Tina, you instantly had a kinship with her. What was it about the character that you felt connected you to her?
Knox: Her attitude!

TrunkSpace: Tina is tough, but is any of that exterior a facade? Is there a part of Tina who is tough because she has to be due to her surroundings and those she associates with?
Knox: Definitely. She has to be that way to survive – although I think a part of her loves the fight.

TrunkSpace: We’ve seen how Tina deals with life in prison, but how do you think you, Rebecca, would deal with it? How would you handle the experience emotionally?
Knox: I’d like to say I would find a way to survive. Maybe not as violently as Tina does, but I would make the “right” friends, I guess. It’s hard to answer this question – I am so far from that place and I hope to always be. I can’t really fathom it.

TrunkSpace: Life behind bars means a life without a lot of things we probably take for granted. What would you miss most if you were in Tina’s prison-issued jumpsuit?
Knox: Spending any amount of time with my family. Open grassy fields and the beach where my parents live. My freedom.

TrunkSpace: We read that you were a fan of the show before you booked the role. Having been a fan, what was that first day on set like? Was it all one big “pinch me” moment?
Knox: It took a few episodes where I had that “pinch me” moment. I was definitely nervous at first but work is work so I pushed through.

TrunkSpace: There are so many great actors involved in “Orange Is the New Black.” Did you view your time on the series as just as much an education as you did a job? Who did you study and try to absorb from most?
Knox: Well, I am still on the series and we are currently filming, so I am still drinking it all in. I love being on set. I always learn so much.

TrunkSpace: The great thing about a career in the arts is that each day can be completely different and in many ways it’s impossible to plan for tomorrow. Is there something exciting about that whole “anything is possible” outcome? On the opposite side of that coin, can that same excitement give way to uncertainty?
Knox: Yes! If you are lucky, you can audition for so many different types of roles, try on their shoes and play. I think people get caught up in the nervous jitters and pressure of booking an audition that they forget it’s still an opportunity to act. There are always opportunities to act. I would be lying if I said it’s easy. Sometimes I am down on myself, and can be my own worst enemy – thinking things like, “I’m not good enough,” but a way I combat those feelings is with compassion for myself, and connecting with other actors around me. It helps a lot to have a community of people who understand those feelings.

TrunkSpace: You have such a memorable look. As soon as we caught sight of you on camera you were etched into our brains and we thought, “I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HER!” That is not something you can quantify. Do you think that personal branding is important for actors to consider and is it something that you have worked to achieve within your own career?
Knox: Wow! Well I’m blushing, thank you! In terms of personal branding, I only became more aware of it when I had to. Personal branding is definitely important. I found what worked for me and it has helped me. The more specifically you can present yourself, the more memorable you become.

TrunkSpace: Like we said, we want to know more about you. You have a very mysterious, edgy vibe that has us intrigued. So give us some good insight into who that mysterious, edgy person is. What are some fun facts about Rebecca Knox?
Knox: Thank you! I love being called mysterious. Hmm, well let’s see. I am a New York City native. I ran my very own record label, Jet Boy Records, when I was 18. I managed a punk band whose members were around 8 to 10 years my seniors. I was a really shy kid, and dealt with a lot of bullying growing up. I sort of came into my own when I was in high school, first to fit in, and through that process found myself… my edgy self. (Laughter)

Orange Is the New Black” is available now on Netflix.

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Wingman Wednesday

Jason Altman

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Photo By: Charley Miller

A bad guy in a good guy’s clothing. That sums up Jason Altman’s character Herrmann in the latest season of the popular Netflix series “Orange Is The New Black.” But even the actor, who is just as comfortable on stage as he is behind the camera, didn’t expect to have the officer with the shady past stick around beyond the initial Season 5 finale that he was hired on for. Thankfully, the producers saw potential in Herrmann’s prolonged narrative and that means Altman is back in Season 6 to cause even more trouble.

We recently sat down with Altman to discuss how the opportunity to appear in the series came about, why he wouldn’t have played Herrmann any differently if he knew then what he knows now, and exactly what makes his bad cop so bad.

TrunkSpace: Any new job is exciting, but there must be an extra rush involved when you learn you’re becoming a part of something that is as acclaimed as “Orange Is The New Black.”
Altman: Yes. I was a huge fan of the show. I never missed an episode ever, prior to even getting the audition. Plus at the same time, it was the largest TV role that I had ever gotten, so it was just overwhelming at first. I also got it without having an agent or a manager, so I really was just floored. I wouldn’t say it changed as far as the way I go about life and money, and all that, but what happened is just the momentum in my career just kind of took a whole turn for the better. So yes, it was definitely a seminal moment in my life.

TrunkSpace: Is it one of those situations you hear all the time about, especially in this industry, where work begets work? Does just being associated with a show like “Orange Is The New Black” open up new doors?
Altman: Well, I’m still hoping that is the case. I’m not sure just yet. I have to be pretty patient. But as far as work begets work, I think to speak for that… the only episode I really was hired for originally was the Season 5 finale. It was not supposed to be a recurring role. Jenji Kohan, and the rest of the producers of the show, I think that they liked my work enough in the finale to spark some ideas to bring me back for this season, and turned it into a more integral role as far as the plot line of the series.

TrunkSpace: With something like that, where you’re not expected to come back, you must have already moved on emotionally from that job?
Altman: I did. It took over six months after I shot it for it to actually begin streaming, so I didn’t know what to expect as far as what it would look like or if they would cut anything out. But I did know for that particular solo episode, it was a big role in that episode. But I wasn’t expecting when I was going into it, it being expanded into sort of this antagonistic role for Season 6, and possibly Season 7 as well, hopefully.

TrunkSpace: Had you known that the character would’ve been reoccurring at the time, do you think you would’ve made any sort of initial choices with how you played him differently, again, knowing what you know now?
Altman: Looking back on it, I don’t think so. I think that I would’ve prepared the same way as an actor, because the character probably doesn’t know his future either. He didn’t know the circumstances that would arise after the fallout of the riot, which actually – spoiler alert ahead – you’ll find out if you haven’t watched Season 6 yet, the repercussions and the consequences of what happened during that episode. So it really wasn’t written yet and I wouldn’t have been able to know that in the back of my mind.

TrunkSpace: It must be such a great confidence boost, especially in a creative field, to get that call saying they want to work with you again. It speaks to everything you did on that set the first time around.
Altman: Yeah, it definitely boosted my confidence a lot, because Jenji Kohan, the creator of the show, wrote the Season 6 premiere episode. She wrote a big scene for me in it where I have a really long monologue. It was one of the longest monologues I’ve ever done – theater, film, or television – so it boosted my confidence, because I saw that she had the confidence in me to handle that type of dialogue.

TrunkSpace: What did you like about the character in that initial performance, and have you discovered anything new and exciting about who he is and how you get to play him after that?
Altman: I think that the way it was written in this current season’s premiere, you could tell that this guy has been in these type of situations before. I think that in his younger years as a cop, he developed into sort of this dirty cop, diehard blue blood, vindictive type of person. I think that you could tell – and I added this into his backstory – you could tell he’s been through these types of situations before, as far as covering up crimes, looking out for himself, and making sure that someone else takes the blame, so that he doesn’t go down.

TrunkSpace: Yeah, he’s not learning as he goes. This is old news to him.
Altman: Right. I’m almost at that 40 year mark. I’m not there quite yet, but I think that somewhere along the line in this guy’s career, whether it was when he was a rookie cop or somewhere early on in his 20s, he has learned that lesson from another superior of his, he’s taken that experience, and passing it onto these guys that he’s with, going through this riot, and leading them to the best of his ability.

Orange Is The New Black” is available to stream on Netflix.

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Wingman Wednesday

Tyler Alvarez

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Photo By: Riker Brothers Photography

The new crime mockumentary “American Vandal” debuts tomorrow on Netflix, and if the early buzz surrounding the series is any indication, you’ll be discussing it in depth around the water cooler, just like you did with “Making a Murderer,” one of the very shows it satirizes.

Tyler Alvarez stars as the primary P.I. (preadult investigator), a high school student who is trying to unravel the mystery surrounding a series of phallic faculty attacks. With a fellow classmate expelled, accused of spray-painting penises on the vehicles of staff, Alvarez dives deep into the crime, peeling back the layers to reveal that there’s more to the scandal than meets the eye.

Alvarez, who has previously starred in “Orange is the New Black,” and the Nickelodeon series “Every Witch Way,” is prepared for what “American Vandal” could do to for not only his career, but inadvertently, to his private life as well, though he knows there’s no guarantees in the business of Hollywood.

We recently sat down with the Bronx native to discuss the process of shooting “American Vandal,” why he thinks it works so well, and the weirdness of aging beyond his teens.

TrunkSpace: Your new Netflix series “American Vandal” is due out tomorrow. Are you pumped for it to be released and to see how it is received or do you kind of separate yourself from things once you wrap a project?
Alvarez: I’m really excited about the release. I try my best not to read the comments online and read reviews and stuff like that, because sometimes it can become addicting and consuming. So, I try my best to steer clear of it. I kind of try to get my information from other people. I try not to read it myself, though, because it can get a little consuming.

TrunkSpace: With it being an eight episode run and with how it’s all being rolled out at once, does it feel a bit more like a movie than a series in terms of the experience?
Alvarez: You know, we shot completely out of order, and since it’s a documentary, we cut back and we use the same scene eight different times throughout the entire series. It doesn’t feel like making a movie because of how fast we move. We filmed it pretty fast. The longest process, definitely, was the voiceover, the narration, because I narrate the entire series. My character tells the story. You see the story through my eyes. That was probably the most time consuming portion of it because it was so detailed and such a large portion of this project is told that way, so it took the most time.

TrunkSpace: Did you have to wait until it was all cut together before you did your voiceover portion?
Alvarez: Yeah, they would cut the episodes together as a rough cut, and then they would send it to me and I would be able to watch it. So, I’ve already seen the entire show, I just haven’t seen it fine-tuned and edited to a tee.

TrunkSpace: That must be an interesting process because you’ve technically walked away from the project as your character Peter, only to return to it from a different perspective?
Alvarez: Yeah. I’m narrating from a completely different perspective from when I was filming it. And, you know, as it plays in the script, it’s almost as if I narrated the episode, I filmed that episode, edited it, then I narrated it, and then I went out to film the next episode. So, I constantly had to check in on my point of view and where I was in the story, which can get a little confusing with a crime story and me as the investigator. I have to know every single detail about every single person. I really committed myself to learning and knowing everything. It was difficult to play, but it was so much fun.

TrunkSpace: It sounds like it was almost a project within a project.
Alvarez: It really was.

TrunkSpace: So, for you, in terms of your career, do you view this project as entering a new stage where you’re tackling more mature content?
Alvarez: Yeah, I do. You know, I worked with Nickelodeon as a kid… and I’m still a kid. I mean, I’m turning 20 next month. That’s a little weird. I’m no longer a teenager.

Photo By: Riker Brothers Photography

TrunkSpace: Wait until you turn 40! That’s where it gets really weird!
Alvarez: (Laughter) No, I know, I’m going to be saying that before I even know it.

But, yeah, it does. I’m really invested in doing stuff that I’m passionate about, and so doing that creatively sets a fire in my soul. I feel like this is one of the first times that I’ve worked on something where I’m really invested and proud of the art that I was making, and I really felt that I was creating something unique. I was also on “Orange is the New Black,” so that was kind of a venture also into the direction that I want to head in, but I’m a series recurring on that, so I’m not as prominent. This, where I’m the series lead, it really establishes my footing in this sort of direction.

TrunkSpace: And as far as concepts go, “American Vandal” is both unique and yet still recognizable because it satirizes some of what Netflix has already had great success with.
Alvarez: Oh yeah. I think once everyone sees it, they’re going to be like, “How didn’t we not think of this before?” Our creators, Dan (Perrault) and Tony (Yacenda), they really struck while the iron was hot with this one, and I’m really fortunate to be a part of that vision.

It’s so specific with the satire and how it’s satirizing “Making a Murderer,” and a lot of it also resembles “Serial.” But you also don’t necessarily need to know what exactly we’re satirizing to understand it and appreciate the show. It’s a comedy, but it’s just as compelling and interesting as it is funny, and I think that’s something that, when I read the scripts, I was really excited about. We weren’t pushing for jokes, you know? Everything is really planned out. As a writer or a director, I would never be able to put this thing together in my head. It’s so intricate. I would have gone crazy. I’m happy that I just got to see what it was and then memorize what I have to know. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: We know you mentioned that you stay away from reviews and what’s being written about the show, but we saw one that said it was, “One of the best things Netflix has ever done.” Given the track record of Netflix, that’s high praise.
Alvarez: Yeah. I saw that also. I wouldn’t have seen that, but my director and my agents were like, “Did you see this?” They texted it and I was like, “No, don’t show this to me!” (Laughter)

Photo By: Riker Brothers Photography

See, I try my best, but it’s really hard.

TrunkSpace: With so many devices in our lives, it’s getting harder and harder not to pay attention to the stuff we’re trying to not pay attention to.
Alvarez: I really try to limit myself to Instagram with social media. I try to be like, “Okay, I’ll look through my Tweets and my captions and I’ll post a photo one time a day,” but that one time a day turns into like four times a day. But, again, I try.

TrunkSpace: By the end of the day tomorrow, people could have easily consumed all eight episodes and in doing so, your life could completely change overnight. Is that something you think about?
Alvarez: You know, that’s exciting, but something that I’ve been learning in my young adult life is that nothing’s guaranteed. So, I’m letting that be a possibility, but not getting attached to the end result. It’s definitely a possibility, and that would be awesome and also difficult at the same time, I think. Being in the public eye could also be very difficult, especially at a young age when you’re trying to figure things out. Life’s unpredictable.

TrunkSpace: It’s always said, don’t plan life to go one way because it will inevitably go the other way on you.
Alvarez: Always! I used to think that I was in control of everything. I thought that if I did A, B, and C, that D would happen, but I’m starting to realize you can do A, B, and C, and that’s just what you can do… try your best.

American Vandal” debuts tomorrow on Netflix.

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Wingman Wednesday

Gerrard Lobo

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Photo By: Kyle Rosenberg

Fans of “Orange is the New Black” were recently introduced to Gerard Lobo in the latest season of the Netflix prison dramedy when it premiered earlier this month. Playing a nurse named Adarsh, the New Jersey native slipped into the scrubs of a good guy in a world mostly populated by individuals operating somewhere in the gray. Prior to joining the streaming powerhouse, Lobo also appeared on “The Blacklist,” “Powerless,” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

We recently sat down with Lobo to discuss how his “Orange is the New Black” role grew into more than he expected, why a letter he wrote to himself inspired his acting career, and how a turn in “Master of None” altered his path as a performer.

TrunkSpace: You did a seven episode run on one of the hottest series going in “Orange is the New Black.” Did you view the role as what could be a career changing moment for you?
Lobo: Honestly, I don’t know. I hope so. Anything that begets work is great. I’m just happy that I had the experience to work on that show. I’ve been lucky enough to work with the different actors that have their own stories… the leads… and they were amazing. It was a very, very welcoming set. Everyone from production to the talent were amazing. I really can’t say anything bad about the show. They were awesome.

TrunkSpace: For those who have yet to binge the new season, where does your character fall into things?
Lobo: I don’t believe I can allude to too much, but I can say that he is involved with things…

God, what can I even say? I’m not even sure.

TrunkSpace: Is he a nefarious fellow?
Lobo: No. (Laughter) He is not a nefarious fellow. I’m not a bad guy. I can say that.

TrunkSpace: Being an actor and coming into a show that has that amazing storytelling pedigree that other series are striving for must have been pretty exciting?
Lobo: Absolutely. When I first booked the role, it was only supposed to be two or three episodes and then they just kept calling me back. Just being thrown into situations like that, and for the most part it was with three or four different characters that had different storylines, it was kind of cool in that respect. I’ve watched the show and I’m a fan so being on set and seeing someone who you’ve been a fan of and have been tracking their story and then being thrown into a scene with them was kind of unrealistic.

TrunkSpace: It must have a bit rattling coming onto a set that has its established relationships and tone and essentially being the new kid in school.
Lobo: Oh yeah. Are you kidding? When I booked it I was like, “Oh my God!” It was only supposed to be a few episodes and they kept calling me back and my agents would be like… and I can’t really tell them necessarily what the story is and I don’t even know. It’s not like they said they were going to call me back in two weeks and that I’d be playing something. It was just, “We want him back and here are his scenes.” And I was like, “Oh my God… this is happening!” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: So as the character moved forward, was it bringing you to places from a performance standpoint that you didn’t expect when you landed the job?
Lobo: Yeah. I think I started realizing that this guy is going to have an arc. A lot of times with supporting actors, you go in, you do the best you can and you leave because there’s not a lot of time in regards to the nature of production where you have the time to be like, “What’s the background on the character and what’s his motivation?” You have to kind of do it on the fly. You have to make it up. And if it works it works and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. You really just have to serve the scene. So I think what helped with all of the nerves was that every time I got a scene I was like, “What if they’re going one way with this or what if they’re going another way?” and then I was like, “I just have to do my job.”

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on network TV series like “The Blacklist.” Obviously you’ve worked with Netflix given “Orange is the New Black.” As an actor, is it an interesting time given all of the content that is being produced, especially knowing that so much of it is so character-driven now?
Lobo: Definitely. For someone like me, I’m very lucky. I got into acting about eight years ago and I think that just with the nature of Netflix and different online providers that have now become household names, there are a lot more opportunities. I’ve never necessarily had to play very stereotypical roles. As much as I think there’s more work to do overall in the industry, I think it’s heading in the right direction where you’re going to see much more specific stuff for my background. It won’t just be something that’s ethnically ambiguous. It will be like a Bangladeshi person, which is good.

TrunkSpace: So many actors nowadays are not just relying on acting alone. They’re developing and producing material that they believe in and essentially creating work for themselves thanks in large part to those various platforms that are now available. We know that you’re a writer so is developing and producing something you anticipate doing as your career moves forward?
Lobo: I think down the line. Right now my major focus is really just training, auditioning, and booking roles. The more I learn about the industry in tandem with doing my own writing, eventually something can come to fruition.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned getting into acting about eight years ago. What has that journey been like for you in terms of where you started to where you are today?
Lobo: You know, I was always afraid to pursue acting. When I was going through some life changes, I had to ask myself, “What is it that I really want to do?” I always wanted to pursue acting so I started taking classes at night. I remember my first teacher, JoAnna Beckson, she did a 10 month Meisner course and she had us write a letter… the eight of us who were in the class. People were taking 10 or 15 minutes to write their letter and I just wrote two things. I wrote:

To see whether acting is something I want to do for the rest of my life and to book work as an actor.

(Laughter) Those are the two things that I wrote and then I kept on looking back on that every year. Predominantly I think the first focus was just on training, to be able to jump in and do things. I started with theater and loved that and then started booking some student films and enjoyed that. Then some roles here and there on commercials and it snowballed into bigger roles now.

Orange Is The New Black Season 5

TrunkSpace: So as your career started to come into focus and you started landing those bigger roles, what was the one that changed the landscape for you and started opening additional doors?
Lobo: I would say “Master of None.” I saw the breakdown and it was, “In-shape Indian guy who is down to Earth and loves working out.” I was like, “If I don’t book this, I don’t know what the hell I can do.” (Laughter) So, I went in and it was such a fun audition. And again, I don’t know if it’s something with Netflix but it was one of the most welcoming sets. Aziz and Alan Yang were amazing. They were so funny. That was a great experience. I was just so happy that I got to do it and then when it got the reception that it did… it could not have gone any better.

TrunkSpace: And you appeared on yet ANOTHER Netflix show in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” where you played a character with possibly the best/worst credit name ever… “Douchebag.”
Lobo: (Laughter) That was a lot of fun. And again, I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but an awesome crew and awesome cast. My scene was with Titus and he was great.

TrunkSpace: Looking over your acting resume to date there’s a nice mix of both comedy and drama. Do you find yourself being pulled to one genre more than the other? Is there a certain type of actor you want to be?
Lobo: Honestly, I’m still figuring it out. Every single role that I get is new, whether it’s comedic or the same character in different episodes. I’m just happy to work on it every single time I get the opportunity. To say that I really gravitate towards comedy or that I really gravitate towards drama… and this is going to sound kind of like an actory answer, but there’s really those things in everything. Look at the second season of “Master of None.” There’s a lot of dramatic scenes and Aziz crushes them. He’s also one of the funniest guys out there.

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Wingman Wednesday

Michael Chernus

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Michael Chernus inhabits a role in a way in which very few actors have the ability to do. He commands your attention, but does so without crowding the scene. He has that mysterious “it” that creative folks spend their entire lives hoping to tap into. He works within a spotlight that you cannot look away from and it is a light that he himself generates, powered by an unrelenting commitment and passion to his craft.

In a few months Chernus will be entering the Marvel Universe under the villainous guise of The Terrible Tinkerer, but before “Spider-Man: Homecoming” swings into theaters, the “Orange is the New Black” star will be appearing in “The Dinner” opposite Richard Gere, Laura Linney, and Steve Coogan.

We recently sat down with Chernus to discuss why it is important that movies like “The Dinner” continue to get made, the history of his Marvel character, and how saying too much could in fact lead to his untimely death.

TrunkSpace: This week your latest movie “The Dinner” is going up against a big Marvel blockbuster in the form of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and yet, soon you too will be in a big Marvel blockbuster.
Chernus: (Laughter) That’s true.

TrunkSpace: You really can’t be too upset about that!
Chernus: I have nothing to complain about, my friend.

TrunkSpace: When you’ve done a movie and it’s set to be released to the world… do you worry about the competition on opening weekend or because it is ultimately out of your control, do you just let what happens happen?
Chernus: It’s a good question. I think it probably depends on the project, but mostly, I don’t think about it because, like you said, it’s out of my control. And, they’re very different kinds of movies. If somebody is going to go see “The Dinner” they’re… not that they wouldn’t see a Marvel movie… but it’s probably a different audience. Also, I’m sure if I were Richard Gere in “The Dinner” or Steve Coogan or Laura Linney, maybe I would be thinking about those things more. I’m not the big movie star whose name is above the title, so how well the movie does doesn’t really depend on whether I’m in it or not.

TrunkSpace: It does seem that in this day and age a film like “The Dinner” is labeled a “small movie” and yet the cast is stacked. It really feels like a sign of the times when a movie like this falls into that very broad category.
Chernus: Yeah. It’s kind of wild. It’s interesting. As exciting as everything is in television in terms of Netflix, Amazon and all the new streaming platforms and how big of risks you can take in terms of storytelling on that platform… yeah, there’s not the same demand for movies that are more just about people talking to each other than there used to be.

TrunkSpace: From an art standpoint, how important is it that movies like “The Dinner” continue to get made and distributed?
Chernus: Oh, I think it’s super important. I’m always very grateful to the independent producers and financiers who make these “smaller movies” and put their money and their heart and soul into making sure that these kinds of stories get told. It’s very important. And just personally, I grew up watching all of those great movies from the 70s that were big mainstream movies that had big movie stars but were, for lack of a better word, simple movies about people’s lives. I’m thinking of movies like “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Terms of Endearment,” or “Ordinary People.” Movies that are about relationships and families. Not that they still don’t get made, but they don’t hit the mainstream in the same way that they used to. So yeah, I think it’s very important that these movies still are being made and being seen.

Michael Chernus in “The Dinner”

The great thing about the independent film festival circuit is that these movies will get screened at festivals and then get bought by giant distributors. “Manchester by the Sea” was at Sundance and had a big sale. I’m just glad that those kind of movies are being made still.

TrunkSpace: Obviously the bigger the budget the bigger the production, but from how you work as an actor on a movie, what is the biggest difference in performing in something like “Spider-Man: Homecoming” compared to “The Dinner” and movies of that size?
Chernus: That is a very good question. In some ways… I’m going to contradict myself here in the midst of this answer… but in some ways there isn’t much of a difference, to be honest. There’s a lot of similarities from working on a Marvel movie and working on “The Dinner” to even working on a Netflix show. At the end of the day, a set is a set and there is a way of approaching storytelling as an actor that doesn’t vary too greatly no matter what the budget of the movie is. And so, I would say that once the cameras are rolling, working on “The Dinner” is very similar to working on “Spider-Man” and very similar to working on “Orange is the New Black.” You’re there, you’re playing a character, and you’re just trying to live moment to moment and listen to your scene partner and just serve the story in the best way that you can.

That being said, and I can’t give away too much of anything until the movie comes out, but I will say that I’m very, very impressed by everyone who works at Marvel and everyone who works at Sony, who was also producing that movie. The Marvel way of making movies is really fun and really exciting. They put so much thought into these films and anybody who is a Marvel fan knows the effort that they go to to please their fan base and put little Easter eggs in the movie and little hints. There are all kinds of things and you can watch it and have never read a comic book and not know anything about Marvel and you have a good time. And if you’re the biggest geek in the world who knows everything about the universe, you also are satisfied because there are all these little inside jokes everywhere. And that’s really fun to dig into that world and be like, “Oh my God, there’s three meanings to this line I was saying.” This simple little line that I had, to people who really know, there’s so much more going on there.

And they really have the time and the money and the resources to make sure that the movie works. On a smaller budget indie, you have so few days. Sometimes you have something crazy like an 18 day shoot schedule or a 21 day shoot and you’re behind before you even get started. On the Marvel movies you don’t feel the same kind of pressure. There’s a different kind of pressure, but you don’t feel the same kind of pressure of, “We have to get this and we have to get this right now and we have to get it right.” There’s a little more room to be like, “Okay, this isn’t working so let’s think of a different way to approach this scene.” So that’s really nice.

TrunkSpace: Well, when you’re shooting a movie like “The Dinner,” that’s the movie that you’re shooting, but when you’re shooting a Marvel movie, you’re also shooting parts and pieces of movies yet to be. Maybe not physically, but at least you’re setting the table for that.
Chernus: That’s absolutely right and I didn’t realize that. I knew a fair amount about the Marvel world and I read comic books as a kid, but yeah, these movies are so intertwined in such a major way. You shoot something and then they all go away and discuss it and I’m sure there are committees where it’s like, “Oh no, we can’t say that and yes, we can say that.” It was interesting to start to learn how we’re all part of this greater Marvel fabric. We’re all woven into this bigger story, which is the story of the Marvel Universe.

TrunkSpace: And what’s fascinating about that for you is that The Tinkerer has been around longer than many of the characters who are already appearing as part of the cinematic universe. There’s a lot of history on your shoulders.
Chernus: Oh yeah. Totally. He’s an OG villain. (Laughter) The Tinkerer is old school Spider-Man. It was fascinating. When I got cast and in looking at some of the old books… those first issues of Spider-Man where both Vulture and Tinkerer are there, it’s really cool. It’s really cool to feel that history in small ways and in large ways. I was very honored. I mean, obviously it’ll be a slightly different character in the fact that I don’t look like a bald old guy. (Laughter) So, visually it won’t be the same character, but I’m happy to carry the torch.

TrunkSpace: Many in the world grew up on a diet of Spider-Man, and again, what’s cool about The Tinkerer in the history of the character is just how much he played into the creation of other characters. He was the villain’s villain in that he gave them the power to be who they ultimately become. So being cast as a character who COULD be part of that fabric going forward must have been an exciting thing?
Chernus: Absolutely. And I’m not saying that I know that that will happen. Nobody has said that I’m coming back, but I’m hopeful for that. There’s definitely potential for him to be involved with many different villains if they choose to do that.

TrunkSpace: Performing alongside of so many acting heavies in both “The Dinner” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” must have also been very exciting, so we’re curious what was one memorable moment from each that you’ll carry with you moving forward?
Chernus: From an acting standpoint, on “The Dinner”… and this relates to the question you asked about what’s the difference. Although “The Dinner” was very heavily scripted, it’s based on a worldwide best-selling novel and Oren Moverman, the director, wrote the really great adaptation of that. That being said, Oren is very great about including the actors in terms of like, “Okay, what do you want to say here?” or “What would you do?” or “What do you think is interesting?” And he let us do a fair amount of improvising and so there’s this monologue I have where I describe a cheese course. Instead of being broken up into acts, it’s broken up in courses because it takes place over the length of this dinner. So we shot nights in this old mansion outside of New York City that we converted into a restaurant and we would start at like 5 p.m. and wrap at 5 a.m. So there were these sort of grueling night shoots and maybe we were there for a week or a little over a week. And on the last day of shooting at that location Oren was like, “Just a heads up, the last shot of the night I want you to describe the cheese course and it’s not written, so I want you to go into the kitchen…” We had a kitchen on set where we had great chefs who were actually making the meal every night. He said, “Go talk to Jay and Paul and just see what cheeses they have because I know they have some great cheeses, learn about them and write up some stuff about each cheese and then be ready to talk about it on camera.” Oren and I went over it and made up some jokes and created a structure for it, but essentially, I sort of improvised/wrote on the fly this cheese course monologue and shot it at like 5 a.m. That was so fun and it was such a great acting exercise. When he said it to me, I was like, “Oh, God, that’s terrifying and I’m going to screw this up and it’s not going to be any good.” But we just sort of went for it and I’m pretty proud of how it turned out. I think it’s this weird, funny little moment in the movie and on a bigger budget movie, you might not have the freedom to do that because things are just a little more structured.

And on the “Spider-Man” movie, again, I know it’s annoying, but I can’t really…

TrunkSpace: You don’t have to explain. Totally get it. The NDAs are probably super intense.
Chernus: Already, telling you what I’ve told you, I feel like they’re going to come murder me. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: We’ll talk about it again once it’s out.
Chernus: Yeah. Once it’s out, I’ll tell you everything! (Laughter)

But, just working with Michael Keaton was so fun. He’s such an icon and growing up and seeing him as Batman and Beetlejuice and all of his films… I’m such a fan. And now of his later work like “Spotlight” and “Birdman.” He’s so down to earth. He’s so cool. He’s so funny. He’s really generous. We really hit it off and just laughed so much on set. Any time we weren’t shooting we were just sort of cracking each other up, so that was really fun to be able to spend time with him and pick his brain about the business and to get to know him a little bit.

Michael Chernus in “Orange is the New Black”

The Dinner” will be served to theaters this Friday.

Spider-Man: Homecoming” swings into theaters July 7, 2017.

 

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