Actor/writer Ron Eldard is one of those rare talents who can play to the most delicate aspects of any character he takes on. Whether he’s appearing in action films like Deep Impact, Black Hawk Down and Super 8; or taking on more uncomfortable themes like Bastard Out of Carolina or House of Sand and Fog, there is no doubt that Eldard is a master of his craft.
In his latest film Roadie, Ron Eldard takes on the life of down-and-out Gen-Xer Jimmy Testagross – a guy who has spent the past two decades on tour with Blue Oyster Cult, only to find himself suddenly out of a job. As he returns home, Jimmy is forced to face the challenged relationship with his mother (played by Lois Smith), and his former high-school flame Nikki (Jill Hennessy) who is now married to his nemesis Randy (Bobby Cannavale).
UrbLife.com recently spoke with Ron Eldard about his work on Roadie, which was directed by Showtime’s Homeland writer/director Michael Cuesta, who also co-wrote the film with his brother Gerald. In this exclusive interview, Ron discusses his ability to bring compassion to difficult roles, and how he’s avoided being stereotyped in Hollywood.
What would you say are some of Jimmy Testagross’s flaws, like the inability to accept the reality of his life?
Ron Eldard: I think, without sounding too douche-y actor-y, I play really bad characters that do horrible things, but you just can’t play them that way. You have to always find the good in them, you have to find at least a flash of humanity in people otherwise people write you off, and they can dismiss you as not human.
I don’t think that he’s so different, most people that I know are this way. There are some people that are quite a bit older and part of another generation, they had to grow up and they don’t do any of that shit. There’s less and less of that now in the world period. His flaws, I actually kind of went the other way. I was very adamant [with the Cuesta brothers]and they complied very quickly, that you had to play his dignity.
You can be a roadie, there’s nothing wrong with being a roadie and having that life, but he doesn’t have a life outside of being a roadie. He’s not being honest with himself and he’s spinning out of control. I just wanted him to have dignity, I didn’t want the joke to be on him.
The script is written so well that his come-up is going to happen. He has to come clean in this at some point, to some degree. He’s going to get slapped in the face and he’s going to eat some shit. For me it was about a guy trying to keep his dignity. Yeah he’s lying and sucking up, but he’s not killing anyone. Who hasn’t done that themselves to varying degrees? I think this one is you catch him at a 24-hour period, his heightened moment. Mostly it was about keeping him dignified.
Why didn’t Jimmy see his mom for 20 years?
RE: First of all let me say, there are some redeeming qualities, he’s very good at his job. They totally screwed him over. It’s like having a girlfriend for 20 years and she leaves you a [break-up] post-it note. In the original script, he knocks on all of the doors of the hotel. He goes down and orders them their breakfast and waits for them in the restaurant and they don’t show up. Then the waitress finally says, “Oh no they left an hour ago.” He doesn’t do anything intrinsically shitty.
I think the reason that he hasn’t been home in all of those years, one reason is he had a rough relationship with his father. He’s a guy, like many people, that has problems that come from your childhood in one way or another. Whether your parents are great or awful, everyone fucks up. At a certain point you have to decide to take responsibility for your own stuff, he hasn’t quite done that yet. He didn’t have great friends back at home. He wasn’t the popular guy, he wasn’t the least popular but he struggled.
If he doesn’t come back a champion, for him, he comes back a total failure, and he hasn’t been completely honest about who he is. Because he’s coming back with no job, it’s a sore situation. He’s just backpedaling. I don’t think he’s so awful. Bobby [Cannavale] has a completely rough character. [Randy] is great at being really charming and really an asshole.
Do you feel that Jimmy just got so stuck, and that’s why he didn’t pursue music like he really wanted to?
RE: He did play and the story that he tells his mom is absolutely true. His father absolutely took his guitar and smashed it and broke it. You’re just a kid who saves up your money for this guitar and your dad just smashes it. In the movie you see some stuff that we shot on the road, where you see me as a roadie.
As we were shooting, we found out that Blue Oyster Cult was playing in Long Island, and I asked Michael [Cuesta] to contact their people and ask [if I could]come load in their show and treat me like a roadie; we would just shoot it with two cameras. So that’s really me loading in the Blue Oyster Cult show. The guy who’s next to me is the real roadie, he is my character. The guy that was the roadie, he plays sometimes. He would play backup, he would sometimes have to do the cowbell. There was always this idea, he plays guitar really well, he does sound checks for all of the guitars, he’s a real musician. I think Jimmy is a musician.
I went to school with an actress, the best actress I’ve ever seen and pound for pound, that only got one professional job in her entire life. I don’t know what she does now. Having talent is very little – it’s what you do with it, and you have to be willing to take a beating. I don’t know if [Jimmy] was built for that beating. I think he holds on to being beat down, at a certain point you have to grow up. Then you get inside this life – it must have been really great for this long stretch. Traveling the world, meeting interesting people and sexy women, whoever the band doesn’t want you get, parties, first class hotels… for a guy from Queens, that’s not a bad life.
You’ve expressed that you’re “really good at playing really bad guys.” Do you feel that you have been typecasted for playing the bad guy, or do you just feel that it’s a challenge that you enjoy taking on?
RE: I think I have not been typecast in a way that has been good, and not so good, because much of show business works on hiring people to do the same thing over and over again. That’s how you get an audience and blah, all that show business stuff. That would be a very boring life for me. It’s weird, whatever scene that I’m performing, that’s what [the audience]usually thinks I am, which in a way is a complement.
When I first started studying acting, I did lots of comedies, stand up. I thought everyone was going to think that I’m the funny, comic actor. Then I thought that I had to do something else, I was just a kid, and I also thought that you couldn’t be blonde and taken seriously. I remember thinking, “Who’s a great actor that’s blonde?” I thought as a kid they only let actors with dark hair be serious actors. I thought that I had to dye my hair and play serious.
I’m very proud of what I did. I did a sitcom and a couple of other shows, single camera comedies. I feel blessed. Also because I grew up in New York and also Utah, I can be a country boy, I can be a very serious city boy.
I almost don’t look at them as bad guys. I played a character [Glen in Bastard Out of Carolina] where I’m raping and beating my 11-year-old stepdaughter, and I think of him as a really troubled guy, but when you watch this piece and the feedback, you can’t write this guy off as just a monster. He really is human, which makes him more of a monster. He’s awful, don’t get me wrong, that’s an awful thing to do, but you just can’t write him off.
I think that when you get really good characters that have darkness in them, they’re definitely more interesting to play. I played an astronaut that saved the world [in Deep Impact], that toothy strong jaw guy, but that director and it was with a bunch of great actors. None of them are going to do the stereotype thing, then I could do something close to that. I definitely don’t fit into one box too easily. In the long run, that would be better.
If you could go back in time and redo any movie and put yourself as the lead, what movie would that be?
RE: Back to douche-y actor talk, I’m not a fan of redoing movies, it bothers me. I met a director that was redoing a foreign film that I loved. I’m a pretty honest guy, so the first question I asked was, “Why are you redoing this movie?” He was like, “What do you mean?” I was like, “Why are you making it – is this for money? The original was just so great.” Of course, I did not get that job.
I did a Broadway version of On the Waterfront, and to redo that movie might be really great. Or like Raging Bull, how great would that be?
Where can we find you next?
RE: Right now I am writing something. You’ll find me in my backyard writing.
Find out more about Roadie at MagPictures.com/Roadie