Interview: Dermot Mulroney Talks Anti-Heros, ‘Inhale’, and Disliking Rom-Coms

By  · Published on October 26th, 2010

Interview: Dermot Mulroney Talks Anti-Heros, ‘Inhale’, and Disliking Rom-Coms

Inhale, a film involving organ trafficking, is a detective story. On the surface it seems like a normal thriller, but when you get down to the characters and themes it’s very much done in the old school fashion of classic detective tales. The story follows someone who isn’t a boy scout, there’s side characters who turn noir archetypes on their ear, and the whole film itself is basically a mystery. Inhale could’ve been ridiculous or over the top, but it’s mostly done in a surprisingly simplistic manner. This is detective film told in a gritty fashion.

Dermot Mulroney may be someone known for his “chick” flicks and some may find his turn here surprising, but Mulroney isn’t just that love interest guy people label him as. He’s played not the most charming or appealing characters in some fantastic films: Undertow, About Schmidt, and even his small turn in Zodiac didn’t show him in the most flattering light. Inhale is another film that can stand amongst his past body of work that doesn’t have him winning the girl in the end.

I recently had the chance to talk to Mulroney ‐ who’s a rare breed in terms of his honesty and openness ‐ to discuss playing an anti-hero, being tied to romantic comedies, and the classical archetypes of Inhale.

When you read the script were you surprised that Paul Stanton wasn’t played as a boy scout?

What do you mean?

That he’s not Mr. Righteous. You see him defending a child molester at the beginning.

Ah, I gotcha. That’s a part I like about the movie because in a lot of other movies, they would’ve cut that whole thing. It’s the character building storyline that doesn’t go anywhere, and that would be the first thing an editor would usually takeout. It adds a lot to Paul, and [the director] Baltasar believed in that so strongly. He did such a good job, especially when it came to the scene in the jail with the actual murderer. That’s what I liked about it, he’s not Mr. Clean running through Mexico- isn’t that what you mean?

Yeah, and the fact he’s not played as an action hero. He’s still a average lawyer.

Yeah, that’s the point. I’m glad that came across, but it’s a good thing he’s also no pussy (laughs). He can stand up against that murder in jail and the molester, be able to deal with the press, and be a loving a father. He’s not going to pull his shirt open and have a vest there or anything.

Would you also say he’s a bit ignorant?

In terms of not knowing how big and scary that world is? I think that opening storyline may lend towards him being incurably idealistic, which is probably an exaggeration, but at least he believes in the system of justice and the way the world works and what he thinks is right.

You’re obviously known for playing a lot of charming characters, was there an appeal in playing someone that isn’t charming and someone you wouldn’t want to hangout with?

That’s great to hear you wouldn’t want to hangout with him, I get you. He falls in this crack somewhere and he really fucks over his wife, especially with the bold decisions Paul and the filmmaker chose to end the film with. There’s no denying that the one person who really gets fucked is the person who didn’t have to look at that bloody little boy, didn’t have a friendship with the bloody little boy’s buddy, and didn’t have any personal connection to the source of the organ. It sounds like you were looking into it, and I’m glad that it remains tough and that it doesn’t become more transparent the more you look.

Was it refreshing getting to play in material that’s not completely black-and-white, which I’m presuming is like most of the scripts you get?

Yeah, it was. Again, I’ll put it into two categories: It was great for me, as an actor, but also as a film lover. I thought, “Yeah, can we still make movies with ending ambiguously or having moral disagreements with how the story goes?”, because it’s gotten tough out there. There are always questions about who’s going to make money on edgy movies, and thank god for IFC, because they’re not going to make a dime on this either. They’re putting it out and there was a question about whether this movie was ever going to make it theaters, but now it’s about whether or not it’ll go beyond the 2 or 4 theaters it’s starting in. It probably won’t, but not for lack of quality.

It would just be further evidence that the climate right now is riddled with fear and that audiences aren’t being valued. It’s not about trying anything new, because there’s plenty of Oscar winning movies that end how you don’t want them to, like The Deer Hunter. God, now I’m ranting (laughs). I’ve gone from enthusiastic interview to rant, but it’s true. I see it as true. People will see that the movie is well made and the story is compelling, but so few people will see it because of the state of things.

But sometimes they end up like Undertow, which is a fantastic movie, but nobody saw it in theaters. It eventually found an audience.

Yeah, I like doing movies like that because they do have that type of “street cred” and have legs. It’s much more gratifying having people talk to me about those films versus some teenage girls, well, all those teenage girls are now 33 and they’ve all grown older (laughs). I don’t think the fans of My Best Friend’s Wedding are all 14 still, but they talk to you as if they are. It’s very bizarre, but it’s the same thing with Young Guns; all those guys are almost 40, but they’re viewing me through the eyes of a 15-year-old. But I’m happy to hear you say that in reference to a movie like Undertow, because that one definitely, probably a lot more than most movies I’ve done, had this late bloom.

It’s amazing how David Gordon Green can go from something like Undertow and Snow Angels to now films like Pineapple Express and Your Highness.

Yeah, but that’s what he always set out to do. He was so glaringly interesting and successful right out the gate that they let him do it. A lot of directors start off with people watching them and thinking he’s the next big thing, but David Gordon Green actually is. He proved that that theory can happen, because so many times those directors don’t takeoff. The same thing goes for actors, but it’s a little more depressing when the next hot young director doesn’t make a movie for fucking 6-years. It’s just like, let them go and do it. The third one might suck, but the fifth one is going to be awesome, so invest in their future.

Going back to Inhale, do you see it as a detective story?

Yeah, I very much saw it that way. There’s only one clue, too. It’s not like there’s a blood trail, and a glove, and a knife; there’s nothing forensic about it. Can you imagine going to a foreign city with one name? There’s a fleeting shot of a google map he printed out of the clinics, and he just goes from there. I thought that was awesome and I always looked at it that way, and that’s more of a subtle storyline.

You’d think it’s just a “save the daughter” type of movie, which is a subgenre of dramatic thrillers. Thrillers, to me, usually mean there’s a killer chasing you. That’s not the case here. He is trying to solve a murder, because this guy is murdering people for money. It’s very macob once you break it down, but once it comes at you in the movie it’s in little pieces. Until we get to that last scene with the kid cut open, it never feels that way because there isn’t someone there saying, “People, look!”.

Character wise it also seems to play into that classic detective storytelling. You have the femme fatale in the form of tranny and his partner being a little kid.

Yeah, that’s true. There’s also the dirty cop, which Jordi Mollà does a fantastic job with, but he turns out to be not-so-dirty. There’s the malevolent doctor who turns out to be the mad scientist, so that’s good. You’re onto it, that’s really good prototypical film breakdown. That’s a great way to look at it, and I think it’s true to the narrative.

And it’s nice because you don’t really see detective stories anymore.

Yeah, or if you do it’s all fucking cell phones. But I agree with you, detective stories are so different now or there just aren’t any. All we really have now are movies with weddings and superheroes. Maybe there’s a way to lift that prototype of a hard-boiled detective story to today. You know what I thought did a really good job with that? Gone Baby Gone, because: How did those two kids end up being private eyes? Usually the private detectives are fucking tough or ex-cops, but not there. Casey Affleck is a fantastic actor and so is Michelle Monaghan, but they’re weirdly young, you know? But, I liked it. We also have the Jason Schwartzman show, we’re loving that one; it’s sort of bizarre.

To wrap things up: How did Love, Wedding, Marriage go?

It went really well. It’s a low-budget movie that’s trying to look like a big-budget studio movie, so that was my assignment: making a mainstream romantic-comedy, but with no bullshit. I wanted to make it look fucking good, make the girl look pretty, make the story good, and shoot it classy and clean. If I was going to make a movie that I made up, starred in, spent 6-years on it and looked for finance, it would’ve been a totally different movie. This instead was a movie that someone handed me and asked if I wanted to direct, so I said, “Hey, I’m 45. I better fucking direct now, regardless of what it is.” I’m not saying I don’t believe in the movie, but it’s not my favorite type of movie.

I think it came out pretty good, though. Many Moore is fantastic as the lead and is rediscovered as a full-grown beautiful woman, instead of a gawky girl. This is Kellan Lutz’s first type of leading man role coming out of the Twilight movies. There’s also Michael Weston, who was in Garden State, and he’s great. There’s also James Brolin and Christopher Lloyd, so it was a good experience. It was hard to make on a low string budget, but went well.

I find it interesting how you just mentioned romantic comedies aren’t your favorite type of films, but you’ve done a good amount of them.

Yeah, I know that I was able to especially help Kellan and to make sure nobody was candy-ass or bullshit, so the movie has a nice adult romantic comedy angle. I know what I’m talking about with this movie, but there was also anything super complex about it that I would be in over-my-head. The biggest complexities was: how to get 7 pages shot in a day and figuring out how to do the film in 21 days, instead of 30. It was super challenging, in that regard. And some of the production value suffers for it, but I’ve pulled some tricks that have gotten me out of some tight corners.

But I guess what I mean, being man-to-man, the fact that I have to admit I’ve made a chick flick is not something I’m going to have them put on my tombstone. You know, hopefully I’ll do that again and have a little more fun with the form or the genre. Buty you know, The Family Stone is a good movie and that was done right. Tom Bezucha knew precisely what he wanted to do, had terrific casting, and he nailed it. So yeah, I back that one and I back them all. I’ve had a lot of good luck, so I’m not complaining about being a romantic lead every 4-years. We’ll see if it ever happens again now that I’m looking at 50 around the corner. I may have had my last one, but I’ve had a good run if that’s it.

Inhale is now limited release and on VOD.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.