Noah Emmerich has become a familiar face over the past two decades, starring alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names. With each new project, he cultivates an incredible body of work while also honing his craft. His continuing success led him to his current role as the antagonist on one of the most critically acclaimed TV dramas of the decade, FX’s “The Americans.” His latest project for the big screen, “Jane Got A Gun,” pairs him with Academy Award© winner Natalie Portman (“Black Swan,” “Star Wars Episodes I-III,” “The Professional”), Joel Edgerton (“Black Mass,” “The Gift,” “The Great Gatsby”), Ewan McGregor (“August: Osage County,” “The Island”), Rodrigo Santoro (“Focus,” “300: Rise of an Empire”) and Boyd Holbrook (“Gone Girl,” “Run All Night”).
The film centers around Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman), who built a life on the rugged western plains with her husband Bill “Ham” Hammond (Noah Emmerich) and young daughter. When Ham stumbles home riddled with bullets after a run-in with the relentless John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) and his gang, she knows they will not stop until her family is dead. In desperation, Jane seeks help from Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton), a man from her past. Haunted by old memories, Jane’s past meets the present in a heart-stopping battle for survival.
Jason Price recently caught up with Noah Emmerich to discuss his journey as an actor, his latest project, “Jane Got A Gun,” and where the future might take him.
You are such a familiar face to audiences on television and in film. What intrigued you about acting early and ultimately made you pursue it as a career?
That is a good question. You know, it wasn’t something I was pursuing since childhood. A lot of actors get the bug early on and know that is what they want to do but I was not headed in that direction at all. I was studying history as an undergraduate and I thought I was headed to law school. On a lark, I got a role in the commencement show of my college and did a role in “Anything Goes.” I was a singer. I had been involved in the arts but more as a musician than an actor. My friend was directing the play and he needed a bass voice because there weren’t that many basses. I said, “That is crazy! I am not an actor.” He said, “Why don’t you just try it.” I did and I had the greatest time. It was such a thrilling time and it felt like I had tapped into something I had, perhaps, wanted to do for awhile but hadn’t realized it or let myself acknowledge it. It was really sort of a revolution from my perspective on what the future held. I thought, “I definitely want to do more of this. I don’t know when that is possible in law school. Maybe I will put things on hold for awhile and just try this out.” I didn’t know it was going to lead to a career, a year or six months but I knew I definitely wanted to do more of it. It snowballed and continued on in that manner. I just kept doing it and kept wanting to do more of it. At some point I realized I really wanted to do it professionally. After having done a bunch of region theater, Summer Stock and small productions around the country, I kind of resolved and accepted that this is what I wanted to do on some level. I don’t know how long I want to do it for but so far I still want to do it!
It seems to be working out pretty well so far!
Yeah, I feel really, really lucky!
Was there anyone behind the scenes giving you the push you needed? Perhaps a mentor who had a big influence on you?
There have been many along the way. I feel like on almost every job I do, on some level, I find inspiration and example. One of my earliest was when I took a two-year Meisner acting technique class with a man named Ron Stetson. He teaches in New York City at the Neighborhood Playhouse. He really opened up the world of the craft and technique of acting to me. I still hold him in my heart as I travel through the business, thinking about the process and the craft. He was my first and maybe most powerful mentor from the craft point of view. Along the way, you meet directors, actors, writers and producers and they all have great stories and experiences to share. I have been really fortunate in working with many great people. Another one, one of the most inspirational directors I have worked with, was Peter Weir, who directed “The Truman Show.” He is unequivocally one of the great directors of our time, in addition to being an incredible man. He was quite inspirational to me, both as an actor and as an aspiring director.
We are together today to talk about one of your latest projects. How did you get involved with “Jane Got A Gun” and what attracted you to the role?
I got involved because my close friend and colleague, Gavin O’Connor, came on as a director at the last minute to take the reigns of the film from someone else. He called me and said, “Hey, I am just jumping into this project in Santa Fe. It would be great if you could come down here and be a part of it.” That alone was enough to interest me, in a way. This is the fifth film I have made with him. As I mentioned, he is one of my closest friends, so working with him is always a great experience. I was just wrapping up the first season of “The Americans” when this call came in. I thought I was depleted, tired and needed a break but Gavin called and there it was. He needed me to get to Santa Fe within a matter of days. I read the script and thought it was really great. I thought, “I have never done a western and it is something I have been wanting to do. What a great cast!” I get to reunite with Natalie [Portman], who I worked with at the very beginning of my career in the movie “Beautiful Girls.” Everything about the project seemed irresistibly alluring, so I jumped on a plane and got to Santa Fe to start learning how to ride horses!
For what I heard about Gavin, he is known as an actor’s director. What does he bring to the table in that capacity?
Gavin is incredibly committed, passionate and authentic. He is really interested in finding the truth of the character, the truth of the context, the truth of the scene and the deeper, most underlying meanings of what we are doing. He is really in search of the more profound, deep meanings of the art, script and scenes. As a storyteller, I feel like it is visceral and you can feel that in his films. There is an authenticity and a passion that is rare and much appreciated. It is always a great process with Gavin and he is very open, available, communicative and collaborative. It just makes the whole thing a truly wonderful experience.
What did you bring to this character that wasn’t on the written page?
Everything, I guess! [laughs] In some ways, on this particular character, nothing was on the written page. It was a very underwritten character, as he is mostly lying there in bed and dying for most of the movie. That was the great challenge of this role, to see if there were beats, feelings and emotions happening that we could communicate without much movement because the character is paralyzed and can’t really move. All he has is his face and his eyes, along with the camera work to show different layers and levels of feeling, emotion and reality. That was the exciting challenge of this role, the question of how much can you do within that constricted and limited context. I can’t speak for how it impacted the audience but hopefully we managed to have more colors there in the goings on than was apparent on the page.
Be it this role or any other, is there a process you undergo when taking on a new character?
Yeah, it is an ambiguous process and it is kind of hard to quantify or clarify but it is a journey into understanding a human being, what makes him tick, what matters, what is going on and what his life is. That is the great mystery and magical journey that actors take into their characters.
I know this film was a difficult production for everyone involved. What was it about this project that made everyone band together to keep it on the rails?
I think Gavin, as our leader, is certainly primary. Adversity breeds intimacy in a way. When we were there, there were a lot of hurdles and a lot of things went wrong but everyone was passionate and committed to getting the film completed and having it come out as strong as possible. It was a beautiful place to shoot a movie and an incredible cast and crew. Everyone involved was putting everything they had into it. It was a very bonding, invigorating and challenging journey, that I think we are all grateful that we took.
I am sure you learn something on each project you work on. What did you walk away with after shooting this film?
Yeah! Never spend too much time at the backend of a horse! [laughs]
Words to live by, I’m sure! [laughs] Looking back at your career, how have you most evolved as an actor?
Gosh, I don’t know. Hopefully, I have just gotten better but I will leave that to you to judge! [laughs] Hopefully, I have gotten better at my work and deeper, richer and more able to convey the full humanity of the character.
You played an amazing range of diverse characters on stage, in film and on television. Is there something you are still anxious to tackle?
It’s funny, I was just talking about this. I hope to do more comedies. I really love doing comedies and I have very rare chances to be a participant in those, so I hope to be able to expand that genre in my own work. I love making and watching comedies. I think they are something that is evermore needed in the world today, so hopefully I can be more involved with making people laugh.
You can serve as a great inspiration to many young actors. What is the best lesson we can take away from your journey?
I would say the most important ingredient for an actor in this world is perseverance. Believe in your work, continue to hone and craft your work and just keep working. Don’t get too distracted by the career of it all. The career will sort itself out and the jobs will come or they won’t. All you can do is work inside your own craft, your own commitments and believe in what you are doing as a storyteller. Let the knocks slide off and let the rejections wash over you. Let the adversity not deter you from your own passion and commitment to being part of the storytelling world that we are all about.
One last question for you today, Noah. I always like to offer an opportunity to help shine a light on any causes you may lend your support to?
That is very nice. Right now, I am working with a group called Dream Yard (www.dreamyard.com). It is an arts education program in New York City. They recently got their own charter school up in The Bronx. It is all about arts education and early childhood and late childhood development. I think that is something we need to not lose sight of in this country — the value and impact that arts education can have on our youth. I am very, very involved with helping to make sure that stays an integral part of our educational and cultural value system.
Thank you so much for your time today, Noah. Keep up the great work! You are truly a pleasure to watch on screen!
Thanks so much, Jason!
‘Jane Got A Gun’ is available on Digital HD April 5th, 2016 and hit Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand April 26th, 2016.