‘Nightcrawler’ at TIFF: 15 Minutes in Bed With Rene Russo
“Do you want to do an interview in bed? It’s never happened. Come on. It’ll be fun.” These are the words Rene Russo said to me when I entered her hotel room to interview her at the Toronto International Film Festival for the movie ‘Nightcrawler’ -- which just happens to be written and directed by her husband, Dan Gilroy, who (A) I had just met and (B) who had just left the room.
“What?,” I answered, which seemed appropriate for someone who thought it might be funny enough to be interested in doing, but didn’t know if she was being serious or not. Because I can’t imagine a more embarrassing situation than responding “yes,” then realizing she was just joking.
“I am being serious, it will be like pillow talk,” Russo responded. What happened was, Rene Russo thought she was done with interviews for the day, so she, reasonably, lied down on her bed to relax after what had to have been a trying day of interviews. Only there was one catch, she still had one more interview, and that was me. But the bed was so comfortable, she invited me to lie down with her, instead of doing what normal people do in this situation and sit on chairs.
So, yes, what you’re about to read took place while Rene Russo and myself lied on a bed together and spoke about her role in ‘Nightcrawler,’ where she plays the news director at the lowest rated station in Los Angeles who breaches probably hundreds of ethical boundaries to air a new freelance crime videographer’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) scandalous work – which just happens to be one of Russo’s best performances of her career. (Which is interesting, because before 'Thor,' Russo was long since considered "retired.")
Anyway, this is what an interview is like when you lie down in bed with Rene Russo.
Mike Ryan: Your husband just walked out of the room, by the way.
Rene Russo: Get a pillow. Come on. This is so good. Oh my God. Here you go.
I’ll sit, maybe?
Lie on down. Lie on down!
Are you serious?
I’m totally serious! Do you need a pillow?
Yes. This is nuts.
We can just chat.
I’m really enjoying the movies of your retirement.
[Laughs] That’s fabulous! I’ve retired so many times!
I know. And then everything you’ve done since you’ve retired, I’ve really enjoyed.
[Laughs] That’s good. Oh, man, that’s really funny. Yeah, because I keep coming out thinking, Oh, well, I’ll do this or that. But there’s so many boring films, right?
But there are good ones, too. 'Nightcrawler' isn’t boring.
I mean, boring parts for women. Like, really not great parts for women. But this was great. I was really fortunate to be able to do it, definitely.
Did you come out of retirement for 'Thor'? That movie could have been bad.
It could have gone the other way. But you know what? That’s the funny thing. I didn’t really care if it did go the other way.
OK, here’s the deal. So, pillow talk. I didn’t care. Like, OK, I’ll play a queen. Whatever. It sounds like it could be fun. You know?
Did you not know how serious people take these Marvel movies at that time?
I’m going to be honest with you. I really didn’t. I had never seen a Marvel comic.
There’s an entire generation that won’t know you from 'Major League,' but will know you from 'Thor' and 'Thor 2.'
Absolutely. And that didn’t cross my mind. I just thought, OK, a sword fight, that should be fun, and I’ll play the queen. But, no, I had never seen a Marvel movie, ever. And I’d never read a Marvel comic book.
Do you really want me just lying here like this?
Do you hate it? Are you uncomfortable?
I am strangely comfortable.
Would you have been interested in 'Nightcrawler' if it weren't for your relation with the people involved?
Because it was Dan?
If you just got this passed to you, would you be like, “Yeah, this sounds great,” or would you be like, “This is a bit too weird”?
I would know the writing was extraordinary. Because when Dan handed me the script, I was like, “Oh my God, this script is good,” ... I had to find whatever it was in myself to make those words come alive, and that was not easy for me because I did not have a handle on her till way late in the process.
Why did it take so long?
Because I didn’t really want her to be just a hard-nosed bitch.
She’s not. She’s very vulnerable.
I mean, yes, there are certain people, not just women, that want to get where they want to get at almost any cost...
But I didn’t look at it as a man or a woman; anyone would do that.
Exactly! Thank you. Thank you, God. And I think your generation, the younger generation, is hopefully going to look at it that way.
Do people seem to have a judgment with her?
Some people come in and go, “Man, you played a bitch.” I’m like, Oh, God, is that what you got? I hope that’s not all you got.
You leave modeling and your first movie is 'Major League.'
Yeah, and you know what, I don’t think I realized it at the time.
A movie that will live forever.
I really didn’t know any of it. I didn’t know what it was going to be -- and it was my first movie. I was nervous. I realize now how lucky I was. I mean, honestly, I had a manager that pushed me because he believed in me. I didn’t believe in myself.
I mean, I didn’t set out wanting to be an actress. That’s not what I did. I didn’t go to class striving to become an actress. I just basically, honestly, I didn’t have anything else going.
When did you start believing in yourself?
As an actress? I guess probably after 'Tin Cup.'
But that was a few years later.
Maybe 'Major League.' I mean, 'Major League' was the first that I did. I remember there was a scene that I did in 'Major League' that I nailed, and I thought, wow, I did that.
It was a library scene with Tom Berenger -- and I had to do the whole scene in one take. And I had to put down books and keep talking and walking and doing. And the light was going and I thought, Oh my God. And I did it. But you know, I think every movie I go into, it’s like, Oh, God, am I going to be able to do this? It’s always that way. I mean, most movies. Not all movies. I know certain movies, it’s like, OK, I’ve done it. But I think all movies are that way, you know? I mean, for me, when I did 'Thor,' they changed my lines at the last minute and then I had to speak with an English accent -- and it was horrifying. I was in front of a crew of 250 people on my first day, never happened to me before.
And you’d been practicing the inflection before that?
Yeah. But if you change my lines, I don’t have a naturally gifted ear for that. And so it threw me. I couldn’t remember my lines. I couldn’t do the accent. And I burst into tears, right in the middle of 250 Brits, who could read the phone book and sound beautiful.
Yeah, but they’re British.
I know, but still, they knew everything that wasn’t right, and it was just really hard.
Is retirement over for you?
Listen. Look. I didn’t know that I retired except for that I guess I didn’t work for so long, I guess I was retired...
And you told many people in interviews that you were happy not making movies.
I mean, I’m happy out doing in the garden.
You should do another movie with Clint Eastwood.
Oh, yeah. That was fun. 'In the Line of Fire' is good, man.
It’s very rewatchable.
And you know what’s wild, is people like kids -- I mean, you’re a kid to me -- how old were you when I did 'Major League'? Like, you were a kid.
I was 14.
Yeah, exactly. So it’s like, how do you remember?
Being 14 was primetime 'Major League' age.
[Laughs] Well, 'Major League,' you’re right.
If I read any other interviews where you invited people to lie in bed, I’m not going to feel good about this anymore.
After you, you know what? No, that’s it. It’s just you and me. In fact, I’m going on the chair right now. Only you would have done that, by the way. I looked at you and I went, “He’ll do it. He’s game.”
I don’t know quite how to take that, but I will accept that as a compliment.
It was only us. You’re going to see.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.