It’s that actor you know you’ve seen beforeHis name may not be familiar, but his face sure is. Over his 20-plus years in the movie business, Bruce Greenwood has evolved from a regular in Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s features to Hollywood go-to-guy when a commanding figure is needed. Be it presidential (Thirteen Days, National Treasure: Book of Secrets), corporate (Dinner for Schmucks), or captain (Star Trek), Greenwood has a knack for playing a man in control.
Greenwood spoke with WE just one day after wrapping work on the Vancouver-shot mystery-drama Donovan’s Echo, in which he stars alongside Danny Glover. He’s resting up for his mini-residency at the Whistler Film Festival (to Dec. 5; WhistlerFilmFestival.com), where he’ll head the Borsos Jury (which awards the festival’s top prize for Canadian film), participate in a Q&A, and screen his new movie, Meek’s Cutoff.
I tallied up the roles in your recent films and you’re often cast as ‘The Man’ in one way or another. Do you think there’s something ultra-commanding about your presence?
Greenwood: Umm. (Laughs) No, I’m just a schlub. Just a regular schlub... It’s funny — once you’ve done it a couple times and you get away with it, people tend to think that’s all you can do, and they want to know what they’re getting when they hire people. Now more than ever. It used to be you could just audition for something and they would be like, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s figured this part out. Let’s give it to him.’ But it’s not really like that anymore.
Do you get frustrated by the type-casting?
No. It’s just, I mean, the opportunity is there to allow yourself to be typecast, and if you’re not working and you feel like working or you’re hungry to work, you just do it in spite of yourself. Quite often I resist the urge.
What made you want to accept the position as head of the Borsos Jury?
[I] went to a couple of festivals this year, Venice and Toronto — as [a contestant], as it were — and I’ve never been on a jury before, so I’m looking forward to that whole process. I’m really looking forward to what the other jurors have to say, and I expect I’ll learn something. That, on top of being able to go back to Whistler and spend a few days there at the beginning of the season — what more do you need?
You’re also starring in a film, Meek’s Cutoff, that’s being shown at the festival. That’s particularly exciting for fans of filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy). What made you sign on?
I thought the script was really interesting, and the chance to work with Michelle [Williams] was really appealing. I love the time period and the environment. And a couple of [Reichardt’s] other films I’d been quite affected by.
What was it like working with Michelle Williams?
In this movie, she’s a very quiet actor; she does a lot with very little dialogue. She’s one of those people, you look at her face and you read on it a thousand things. She’s just got that ability to communicate without words. In a sense, it’s the definition of a film star.
You and Atom Egoyan, who will also be at the festival, have had a lengthy working relationship.
Yep. We were both young once. (Laughs)
Do you have a favourite story about working with him?
I remember when we were doing The Sweet Hereafter, at the time I had a front tooth I could remove, but he didn’t know that. We were messing around, doing screen tests with wardrobe and different amounts of whisker, because I’d come there with a lot of beard-age, so we chopped it off in bits and he’d go, ‘Yeah, maybe the sideburns smaller.’ We finally ended up keeping the big sweeper mustache, and I said, ‘Well, what if I take my tooth out? That might work.’ And he said, ‘What?!’ And I said, ‘I can take my front tooth out.’ So I popped out the little flipper I had, and he just goes, “Oh! Oh my God, oh!... Okay, yeah, let’s go for it!’ You could see him processing it and his initial horror, like, ‘Geez, are we gonna go that far? Okay, yeah.’ He’s just a really open guy, really fun to work with.