For example, I take a look at Liam Neeson in Taken. I've seen that movie 50 times. Can't get enough of it. You'd think this was a regular action movie, but Liam Neeson's performance is incredibly difficult. He has to maintain a level of intensity for every little 30-second burst, every little fight, every little scene — over a period of two or two-and-a-half months that they filmed that. He has to piece that performance together and have it still appear to be a human being at the end of the day, which for me it does. I never lose sight of the fact that he's driven by his daughter. I never lose that inner intensity throughout the whole movie. And, that's a movie that would never be considered for any kind of acting award. But, I look at that, and I go, "That was difficult to do."
So often, people give acting awards to the big broad performances, like Sean Penn in I Am Sam, and that made me want to light myself on fire. Even though he's a great actor. What he did in Milk, to me, I go, "That is stunning." The inner life of the guy is so completely filled, and it so comes out in the movie that it almost has a seamlessness to it that a stage production would.
YOU ALSO RARELY HEAR COMIC ACTORS TALKED ABOUT AS BEING GREAT ON THE LEVEL OF SERIOUS ACTORS. It's incredibly difficult to do comedy on film. It's much easier on stage, where you are in complete control of the timing, the pacing, and everything.
To do comedy on film, you have to have incredibly skilled actors, and you have to have an incredibly skilled director. I'm doing the show Californication. And, they'll use the same directors usually year in and year out. We'll get on set and, quite often, one of the directors will say, before we even rehearse it, "Do you want to lay one down and see what happens?" And not give us any direction at all. Just put it out there, and see what happens.
Those directors have to have the confidence in us, and we have to have the confidence in them and the scripts to do that, because you don't want to practice it too much. You want to capture that comedic moment on film, so it can be pulled out. It's something that happens kind of magically in the air, and it's very difficult to do, especially in a movie where you have no control of the point of view or how it's going to be seen.
Like the street scenes in Groundhog Day, for example. Each time the scene was shot, it was basically one huge, long shot. Each street scene with Bill [Murray] and I was shot in a slightly different way, which is very interesting. Harold Ramis said, "We're going to change the script each time we do it," and Bill and I could improvise a little too.
We did one shot that was tracking on a dolly, we did one that was on a Steadicam, we did one that was like on stilts with a long lens from the end of the street. Each time is different, but each time Bill and I are able to interact.