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Actors Roundtable: When the Irishman meets Batman, who can tell what will happen?

Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Pattinson and Taron Egerton join the heroes they grew up watching in our Actors Roundtable to discuss their difficulties with directors, roles as real people and admiration for De Niro.

Antonio Banderas referred to it as “sofa therapy.” Eddie Murphy said he likes to “just do nothing.”

It’s perhaps no great surprise that with six busy actors a recent conversation took a turn toward discussing downtime and what to do with it.

And so it was when Banderas for “Pain and Glory,” Robert De Niro for “The Irishman,” Taron Egerton for “Rocketman,” Daniel Kaluuya for “Queen & Slim,” Murphy for “Dolemite Is My Name,” and Robert Pattinson for “The Lighthouse” all sat down together.

What did Jennifer Lopez, Charlize Theron, Renée Zellweger, Awkwafina and Cynthia Erivo talk about when they got together for a conversation?

Banderas said that since his heart attack in 2017 he has tried to stay active and he now even refers to the event as “one of the best things that ever happened in my life,” for how it made him reexamine his priorities.

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“That’s after the heart attack. During the heart attack, you weren’t going, ‘This is good for me,’” Murphy piped in, noting that he and Banderas are pretty much the same age and that’s part of the reason he works to keep himself rested.

Eddie, your role in “Dolemite Is My Name” has all your gifts for comedy, but it also has a pathos, a vulnerability that we don’t always see. Do you feel like comedic performances don’t get enough credit?

Murphy: I don’t know if “credit” is the right word. I know my whole life whenever I’ve done anything that was kind of good, they’ll ask me, “Did you ever think about doing something serious?” So there’s some kind of thing in people’s minds where comedy is different from drama. And I think it’s all kind of the same stuff. It’s all acting.

Why do you think people see that difference?

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Murphy: Maybe it’s because laughter is so accessible. Everybody kind of knows somebody that’s funny. Everybody’s got a friend that could reduce them to tears. So they might think when a person’s funny, oh they’re just funny, it’s natural. But you know what, when a serious actor does a comedy, they appreciate it. They’ll give it up then.

Actors at the 2019 Envelope Roundtable
Actors Taron Egerton, left, Robert Pattinson and Daniel Kaluuya stand and share a laugh with Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas as the group is photographed before the Los Angeles Times’ Envelope Roundtable at Machinima Studios, in Burbank.
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Robert, with “The Irishman,” this brings you back together with director Martin Scorsese, and the two of you haven’t worked together since “Casino” in 1995. [Murphy applauds heartily.] What’s it like when the two of you get back together now?

De Niro: It’s back to normal. I mean, nothing really changes. It’s always great to work with Marty. He’s receptive to ideas. Whatever you want to do, he’ll go along with unless it’s so off the wall. And so after a while, you get to a point where whatever you say, it’s going to be good one way or another, even if you don’t do it or use it or cut it out or whatever.

Pacino said it well, because that was the first time Al had worked with Marty. They tried a few times, but it didn’t happen. So he said, it’s like working on a tight rope and he’s the net. And it’s not just me. It’s the crew, it’s every creative person on the set. So I’m lucky to have been able to work with him all these years.

Daniel, on “Queen & Slim,” this is the feature debut for director Melina Matsoukas. When you’re working with a director for the first time, how do you establish a dynamic?

Kaluuya: You just meet them as a person and say how can we serve the script? How can we serve the story? What are we trying to say? I think Melina’s brilliant. She did this series called “Insecure” that I love as well; her eye is amazing. So I really respected her. I love her decisions. I don’t see it as her first anything, it was kind of like, all right, cool, you’re steering the ship. Where are we going?

There is a boldness to the style of “Queen & Slim” that’s really exciting. Did that do anything for you and your performance?

Getting an Oscar nomination for his first lead role, in “Get Out,” was a lot to take in for Daniel Kaluuya.

Kaluuya: I had a friend that watched it and they said that it feels “uninterrupted.” And that’s what it was. It was kind of singular. This is very much Melina, Lena [Waithe, screenwriter]. This is how they see the world. And I think you rarely get to see black women’s perspectives in cinema in that kind of way. And so it was amazing to support her.

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And just in terms of little things, like at the start of the film, we are on a Tinder date and I’m praying. And that’s Melina. She’s been on a date when a guy starts praying before he eats. That’s just a nuance that’s thrown in there. So it makes it feel more current and more of now.

Do you all keep a wish list of directors that you want to work with? Rob, over the last few years you’ve worked with Herzog, Cronenberg and now Robert Eggers. Is that what you’re keeping in mind, to try out different filmmaker collaborations?

Pattinson: I definitely did when I first started, I had maybe 12 people I really wanted to work with. And probably 12 people I ended up working with, actually. But I think in general, because I sort of fell into acting, if I’ve seen something where a performance has touched me in some way, I just think the chances are if you try and work with that director, I think the probability is a little bit higher that they’ll bring something out of you, which you connected to in their previous work. And that’s kind of how I’m choosing stuff.

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Egerton: Antonio, I’m wondering, I’ve seen “Pain and Glory” and it’s wonderful. Were there specific challenges, portraying a character based on your director, Pedro Almodóvar, someone who you not only know, but is quite literally most of the time 15 feet away from you?

Banderas: Yeah, that’s what comes to your mind immediately. But then you just go back to the bible — the script — when you have a problem you just go there. There were circumstances that I didn’t actually expect that introduce emotional elements that were unexpected.

Egerton: Because it’s so intimate.

The actor had spent many years in Hollywood so when he first reunited with director Pedro Almodóvar he was eager to show off all he’d learned. None of which Almodóvar had any use for.

Banderas: The story is basically about reconciliation, just coming to terms with your past and yourself. I met many of the people that actually are characters in the movie. But sometimes, for example, there was a scene in which I am with my [character’s] mother on the balcony and Pedro comes to direct the actors there. He loves to read the parts of the actor just to give us specific indications. He’s very meticulous.

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And so he starts reading the part of the mother at first. And I was going to say that line that was something like, “Mother, I’m very sorry that I am not the son that you wanted me to be.” And he [got emotional and] couldn’t respond. So the information that I got sometimes was just emotional information from him. I said to him, “Just go back and just say, ‘action’ because I know what is inside of you now, what is the complexity of your emotions.”

That’s an interesting question coming from you, Taron, because you got so close with Elton John for “Rocketman.” But then he wasn’t on set, right?

Egerton: Yeah, that’s the thing. He’s not calling action and cut, but there’s an intensity to it. But the nature of our movie is quite exposing and candid. And we sort of seek to celebrate him in all his glorious imperfections, which are well documented. And there’s something about his specific personality. You know, I think the only thing that bothers him is if something is dull or uninteresting. He enjoys the more turbulent bits of his story or less perfect bits of his story.

The filming of a scene where you’re doing so much cocaine that your nose starts bleeding or having an episode of histrionics, which, you know, everyone knows Elton has been prone to. You’re portraying someone in what could be considered quite an unflattering way. So it does come with some extra pressure. But weirdly, I actually felt like it personalized and charged the whole thing because through the process, we became very close

Banderas: Was he there on the set with you?

Egerton: He never came on set. He came to rehearsals. And he and I would get together offset, but he never came to set. I don’t think I could have done it. It would have been just so much pressure to manage. But through getting closer to him, I felt it a little bit more acutely because I care about him on a personal level, as well as just wanting to honor his legacy.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin have been writing songs together for 50-plus years. They have no plans to stop.

Eddie, what appealed to you about Rudy? Did you see some of yourself in him?

Murphy: No, not at all. He’s the exact opposite. I had the total opposite trajectory in this business than Rudy Ray Moore. I auditioned for “Saturday Night Live” when I was 18 and I did “48 Hours” when I was 20. I like to always say this around actors, it always makes the actors nuts — I only had one audition in my whole life, it was “Saturday Night Live.” I like to see the actors laugh, but a little piece of them is like, what the …?

Rudy Ray Moore struggled to make it in Hollywood. Eddie Murphy, who plays him in “Dolemite Is My Name,” didn’t.

But that’s why he became a hero of mine. In the early days of Rudy Ray Moore, we would just watch his movies, they were kind of like stoner movies, like you smoke a joint and you watch these pictures and you see the microphone come into the shot and he’ll miss a punch and we watched it because of that. And then when I got older, I started seeing him as a guerrilla filmmaker.

When I found that he made these movies himself, that he financed them and the records that he got famous for, he financed those records and did it all himself. And I started thinking of him like a guerrilla filmmaker. And then I started seeing different types of movies. And if you watch “8 ½” by Federico Fellini and then you watch “The Holy Mountain” by Jodorowsky, and then you watch “Human Tornado” by Rudy Ray Moore, you have the exact same reaction. You go, “What the … am I watching?”

Robert, you recently signed on for the role of Batman. And you’ve said that this is something you didn’t think you would have done a few years ago. What changed for you? What made you feel ready to take on a part like that?

Pattinson: I don’t know if I’m ready. There’s a different feeling when you’re doing something which you know there’s a big built-in audience for, an expectation from the audience. It’s kind of fun sometimes to feel that pressure. I love doing something which is quite unusual and trying to help it find its audience as well. There’s this battle sometimes, especially when people really doubt, really, really don’t want to see you [in the role]. It’s quite galvanizing. And particularly there’s something about Batman. It’s always been very attractive to me.

Daniel, so many of the movies that you’ve done — “Queen & Slim,” “Get Out,” “Widows” — have a social consciousness to them. Is that something you’re seeking out in the roles that you’re picking?

Kaluuya: I kind of like films that misbehave, that’s just what I like to watch. And so with “Queen & Slim,” this black couple are on a date and they kill an officer. It just happens. And a lot of times I like watching films where this person is making decisions I wish I could make. And I want to make films for real people, living their lives. “What would I do in that position? What would I do in that situation?” And I just find it interesting in “Queen & Slim,” the way of saying no to the status quo. The responsibility you have. The reality of that and how much is projected upon you.

If you just go, “No,” and it’s seen as radical but it’s just a decision. And then you explore why is that radical? What’s happening within the society and in the culture, where just deciding on something different is radical. So I like to make films that explore by entertaining and being accessible. I don’t want to preach to an audience. People spend a lot of money to go to the cinema. It’s not cheap. And I want people to feel like they’ve actually been given an experience.

Robert, over the years, you’ve never really slowed down. And with “The Irishman,” which is such an endeavor, what about this story made you feel like you needed to make it?

De Niro: Well, we were working on another movie. Marty and I had spent a long time trying to find something to do. So finally, we settled on this movie about an aging hit man, kind of retired from the West Coast. We were committed. It was greenlit, as they say. Then Marty was starting to show me old films, a Jean Gabin film, black and white, for the style, starting to get into it. And I said, I have to read this book [“I Heard You Paint Houses”] that I was talking to Eric Roth about a few years earlier when it had come out. So I said, I’m going to read this as research for our thing. He’s a hit man, blah, blah, blah. And I read it. And as soon as I read it, I told Marty, “You’ve got to look at this, because this is really what we should be doing.”

And what made you say that?

De Niro: The book was great. The story, the character, it had big historical characters whose outcomes were unresolved, especially Hoffa. So it was all these things that gave it a size. And for us at our age, to be doing this kind of thing about this guy who was getting older — it wasn’t the priest like it is in the movie we made, it was Charlie Brandt who wrote the book and spent like 10 or 12 years with Frank Sheeran and got the confession out of him at the end. So it’s just a great story. We had to do it.


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