Fans of Michael Stuhlbarg are receiving a triple treat from the actor this awards season. He stars as a mysterious scientist in Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape Of Water, he plays a supportive father in Call Me By Your Name, and he’s a newspaper editor in Spielberg’s The Post.
Stuhlbarg is in LA promoting two of his new films. One night he’s at a Q&A for Call Me By Your Name appearing at the AFI Fest premiere for the film, the next he’s at a holiday party for The Shape of Water talking about his role as the conflicted Dr. Hoffstetler. Stuhlbarg and I meet in Beverly Hills to talk about his busy year and his memorable performances.
If you want to be talking Best Supporting Actor contender, then there’s one scene in Call Me By Your Name from Stuhlbarg that comes as one of the most powerful moments in the film and sticks with you long after the film has ended. It’s a scene that comes at you with such unexpected emotional force and knocks you out as Stuhlbarg delivers a whammy of a speech to his teenage son about experiencing love and accepting its loss. It’s a short scene, but powerful enough to create impressive buzz. It’s the kind of performance that Stuhlbarg does in all his movies, optimizing every moment he’s on screen, and leaving a lasting impact.
Your scene at the end of Call Me By Your Name is so powerful. Everyone who I’ve spoken to about the film recalls that scene as their favorite.
That really means a lot.
How did Call Me By Your Name happen for you?
I got a call from my agent saying that Luca wanted to inquire to my interest and wanted me to read the script. I had seen I Am Love and was a fan so of course, I read it. To see James Ivory’s name on the script was incredible because when does anybody on this side of the Atlantic get a James Ivory script.
I read it and thought this character provided all sorts of different challenges for me and I was very moved by what I got to read.
Talk about those challenges it threw at you.
When someone puts a script in front of you where you’re a Latin and Greek scholar and then you’re told to go, what do you do? You start with what you’re given so you go with that. I spoke to a friend of mine who’s a classics major. I met with a professor of Latin and Greek when I was in Milan and tried to chip away at the archetype of who this man might be. I took his life and asked tons of questions as to why he was saying what he’s saying, why now? We created those answers together.
Did you ever go back and read the book?
I did. I read it while we were making it. I didn’t know it was a novel when we read the script. I learned there was a novel and learned people adored the book, but I only discovered that later. I was delighted to be let in on the secret.
It was an assisting bible in the storytelling. There were aspects that you can’t provide in making a film of it, so I tried to steal whatever I could from that to imbue what we were making with the spirit of it.
Luca’s films so often cast the landscape as another character. What was it like being in Crema and filming there on set on a Luca Guadagnino film?
It was a few things. We didn’t have as much time to film it so there was a sense of momentum in the shooting of it, but that combined with such beauty was wonderful. I had no idea what the film was going to be. I was so taken by the time he took to let the camera linger in places of beauty to give the audience the sense of where we were and what we were doing.
The first thing I noticed about Crema was there was this piazza in the center of town and it’s so quiet and peaceful. At the weekends, people would promenade in their nice outfits. There’s nice shopping to be had there and there are gelaterias on every block. It rubbed off on all of us immediately and provided that dreamy background to make a film there.
How did he present your character to you?
The main influence in my relationship with Luca was that we had a read through of the entire script at his living room table. He wanted us to embrace the storytelling as if it was one of the most idyllic summers we’d had in our youth where everything is love, light, and buoyancy. It surprised me and delighted me.
I was actually given a lot of weighty dialogue and the first cut of the film was over four hours long.
I heard that.
Rightfully so, but we are left with a film that is that kind of summer with love, light, and laughter. It’s so timely to have that experience. Any ponderousness is well chosen.
You’re having quite a year with The Shape Of Water, The Post, and Call Me By Your Name. All very different roles. What do you look for when you get a script?
I look for something that will move me. Something that doesn’t provide question in wanting to be a part of. If I see something that makes me think I can help tell the story, then those are the roles that appeal to me the most.
What are some of your fondest memories of shooting the film?
The quiet. The generosity. The fun and the laughter. To have been a part of it is something I’m so grateful for.
I loved all the breakfast and table scenes and shooting those moments. It really reflected the family and how important it was to them. You get the idea that a table is a happy place celebrated with fresh food, juice, and espresso. It was a way for them to live and I loved sitting there in that sensual environment.