Very excited to bring you my latest interview, with actor Chris Ellis! Chris has an epic and wonderful career, appearing in many films including Armageddon, The Island, The Dark Knight Rises, The Devil’s Rejects, The Guest, Catch Me If You Can, Transformers, Wonderland, Planet Of The Apes, October Sky, Mr. Bean, Con Air, Wag The Dog, A Little Princess, Crimson Tide and many more. He’s a true gentleman, a hard working performer and a great guy. Enjoy our chat!
Nate: How did you first get into acting? Was it something you always wanted, or did you stumble into it?
Chris: From age 5 while watching the Mickey Mouse Club on early television, I warbled, “Hey diddley dee, that actor’s life for me.”
Nate: I’ve heard you referred to as a character actor before. What is you opinion on the term, and would you categorize yourself as such?
Chris: A male character actor is one who never gets the girl because he is not pretty enough – too bald, too chubby, too southern. I have played such roles throughout a lengthy, undistinguished career. Just once I wanted to kiss the girl.
Nate: The Dark Knight Rises: How was your experience working on this film, with Christopher Nolan and such an epic scene on that bridge?
Chris: You have the advantage of me, sir, as I have never seen that movie. More to the point, I have never read the script, though I understand I appeared in it in the early, middle and late sections. The reason I never read the script is that I was never shown any part of it other than the pages containing my own dialogue, and those pages were drastically redacted such that I was able to see the immediate cues for my dialogue and nothing else. At one point, after shooting a scene over my shoulder, the camera was turned around on me for a reaction shot. My query as to what I might be reacting to and how was answered by Nolan so: “That is on a need to know basis and you don’t need to know.” He fleshed out that response by suggesting I react as if I were “reacting to the sight of two guys talking.” No one I know who saw the movie hinted that I never looked as if I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but in fact no plot point was ever made known to me, nor any suggestion of the long arc of the movie. On the other hand, I got paid well, travelled to Pittsburgh, New York City, and Nottinghamshire in England. In all three places I had lots of time off in which to wonder what the hell the movie was about and to do lots of sightseeing. Any time, Mr Nolan.
Nate: I’ve noticed that you work with Michael Bay very frequently. Are you two pals, or has that just been coincidence? How has you experience been on his films, Armageddon/The Island etc.?
Chris: I worked with Bay on Armageddon, Transformers, and The Island. He is said by some to lack gentility and sophistication, and I have seen him on sets demonstrating a want of courtesy to actors who permit him to do so, but if you want a big action movie grossing a billion dollars about exploding planets and trucks turning over in high speed traffic mishaps, he is your boy. If you want art, go to the Lemmle Theatre in Santa Monica. I do this for a living. I go to museums for art.
Nate: The Devil’s Rejects: such a wild and crazy film. Very memorable part as the goofball cop. How was your experience on that set, working with Rob Zombie and William Forsythe?
Chris: One day I mentioned to my theatrical agent that I had always been a fan of horror movies, by which I meant the classics of that genre, mostly from the 1950s and 60s. Very next day he called me with an offer for “a horror movie by Rob Zombie,” of whom I had never heard. I wouldn’t call The Devil’s Rejects horror – more like a Charlie Manson wet dream, but Zombie was the soul of gentility on the set. He is covered in tattoos, many of them visual renderings of famous horror movie characters from a simpler time, and when I worked with him he kept his wallet attached to his person by a length of chain sagging with languor between the wallet and his belt loop. This is a fashion accessory I associate with the Donald Trump demographic but which was belied by Zombie’s gentle and quiet spirit.
Nate: What are some of your favourite roles you have played in your career so far?
Chris: Last year I played a judge on a TV series called Murder In The First. That was my dream job, as it involved sitting in a comfortable chair all day long on set, frequently unshod, and with an improving book in my lap to which I could refer between the words, “Cut!” and “Action!” I quite enjoyed yet another incarnation of Sheriff Cracker von Peckerwood in a 2000 movie called The Watcher, not least because I was given a rather wide berth by the director and screenwriter in making the dialogue my own. Also, it was a character with whom I felt a comfortable intimacy. The same applies to the character I played in the movie Armageddon and in one episode of the TV show X-Files. Playing Deke Slayton in Apollo 13 was probably the actual thrill of a lifetime because we all believed while working on that movie that it would become a significant movie (which it remains) and because I remembered Deke while he had been part of the Soyuz/Apollo mission in 1975. But, I hope it will not appear to be taking the liberty of rodomontade to utter the hope that there never has been a time of stepping onto a movie set without breathing a prayer of inarticulate gratitude for the consummation of a lifetime’s desire.
Nate: How was your experience on Catch Me If You Can?
Catch Me If You Can was a joy to work on, first because the script is superb, and because it gave me the chance to work with Spielberg who is a gentleman non pareil and who offers every artistic freedom to everyone on set. When I worked with him, at the completion of each set up, he would ask to the crew as well as to the cast, “Does anybody want to try another one? Anybody want to try something a little different? We have the time, so let me know if you’d like to do anything else with this shot.” Of course he has a very competent crew surrounding him, so his movies are apt always to come in one time and under budget, so it was a joy to work with such freedom.
Nate: Do you have a favourite or preferred genre to work in, or is it all equally enjoyable? Just once I’d like to kiss the girl, but as I say, every time I step onto any kind of set I remind myself that I am not laying roofing tar in Phoenix during the summer. If you ever hear me complain about any circumstance of my livelihood, you are invited to come where I am and kick me in the nuts.
Nate: What is next for you? Any upcoming projects, cinematic or otherwise that you are excited about and would like to mention?
Chris: Nope. Mostly what I do for a living is wait for the phone to ring. My family and I are now on vacation, but soon as I get home I will be slouching toward the telephone hoping to god it rings.
Nate: Thank you so much for your time Chris, it’s been a pleasure, and keep up the awesome work!