In Marvel's new superhero action fantasy "Ant-Man," Corey Stoll plays the brilliant but twisted Darren Cross, who battles with the film's titular hero in both human and insect forms.
It may be a comic book movie, but Stoll took his role as villain as much to heart as he does all his characters.
"You have to service this function as the villain in order to give the hero an obstacle to overcome," Stoll said in a recent interview at Disney Studios in Burbank. But that's just the start of it.
"There is a lot of dysfunctionality in the role. I took that part of the job very seriously, but it also was important to me to find something unique about him and his motivation beyond world domination," the 39-year-old actor said.
"Ant-Man," which opened Friday to generally strong reviews, stars Paul Rudd as master thief Scott Lang, who can not only shrink to a minute size but also possesses super-human strength when he dons a suit created by his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).
Years earlier, Cross had been taken under the wing of Dr. Pym. But Cross embraced the dark side of the technology. He took over the reigns of Pym's company and has created a weaponized version of the Ant-Man outfit called Yellowjacket, which he wants to sell to the highest bidder.
Stoll remarked that his role had "specific demands. It is about him trying to finally get that recognition and respect from Dr. Pym."
"Ant-Man" director Peyton Reed noted that one of Cross' most memorable scenes is when he shows up unexpectedly at Dr. Pym's house.
"There has to be this constant ratcheting up of this menace and threat," said Reed. "Ultimately, he comes to invite him to Pym Tech for his presentation, but he also seems to want something else — affirmation — and he never really gets it. There is a certain sadness about it."
Reed noted that Stoll "wanted to get at the emotional core of the character. He is someone who is very thoughtful. He thinks about the role quite a lot and the larger picture of the movie."
For Stoll, the larger picture is all good. He describes his life and career right now as an "embarrassment of riches."
"I'm in the very, very lucky position where I have multiple calls a week just trying to figure out how to squeeze things in," Stoll said.
Carlton Cuse, executive producer of FX's vampire horror series "The Strain" — which stars Stoll as Dr. Ephraim "Eph" Goodweather — said Stoll "has become one of the quintessential actors who can leap off the screen no matter what size role he's playing."
In the second season of the series, which began July 12, Ephraim and his team are trying to find a way to vanquish vampires.
"You know everybody wants him," Cuse said about Stoll. "That's good and bad for him. It's hard to say no when you are being offered so much wonderful stuff."
In between acting assignments — Stoll is currently filming Chekhov's "The Seagull" in New York — he managed to "carve out time" to marry his actress-fiancee Nadia Bowers on June 21. The couple is expecting a baby.
Agents and casting directors began taking notice of Stoll when he was a student at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York. "We had a big showcase, and agents wanted to work with me," Stoll said. "I remember thinking I wanted to get an education, come back and then I'll pick up where I left off."
But that didn't happen when he returned to New York after graduating from Oberlin College in Ohio. "They said, 'We wanted an 18-year-old kid,' " Stoll said. "That was a bit of a rude awakening."
So he went back to school at New York University's graduate acting program. He quickly got an agent and acted on Broadway in such productions as 2007's "Old Acquaintance" and the 2010 revival of Arthur Miller's "A View From the Bridge."
It was his brief but memorable Spirit Award-nominated performance as a young Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen's 2011 hit "Midnight in Paris" that put him on the map. Stoll's Hemingway speaks in the same minimalist style as the famed writer — "If it's bad, I'll hate it because I hate bad writing, and if it's good, I'll be envious and hate it all the more."
That role, noted Reed, "would be easy to go into caricature, but I found his performance in the film so compelling. It was grounded in reality. I would not have minded if this movie had taken this weird left turn and followed Hemingway around."
And then came "House of Cards" in 2013, for which he earned a Golden Globe nomination last year for his tragic turn as the ill-fated alcoholic Congressman Peter Russo.
Ironically, Stoll put himself on tape for the part of Russo and then just forgot about it.