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HOW DO YOU APPROACH PLAYING A CHARACTER WHO SEEMS TOTALLY DIFFERENT FROM YOURSELF, A SELF-DESCRIBED HIPPIE AT TIMES AT ODDS WITH THE POLICE? I've met cops who are assholes and some who are good guys, not that he [my character] is an asshole. But I thought the script gave a lot of clues to the character, and then along the way, it was hanging out with cops, and talking a lot with Oren about backstory. He did that also with The Messenger. Just getting into a cop mentality — which I thought was a hard thing to take on, because I just can't hardly see myself as a cop. I can now.

THERE HAVE BEEN LOTS OF MEMORABLE ROLES OF PEOPLE PLAYING CORRUPT POLICE OFFICERS. HARVEY KEITEL AND RICHARD GERE HAVE DONE IT. DENZEL WASHINGTON WON AN OSCAR FOR IT. WERE YOU INTIMIDATED BY ANY OF THAT? I didn't really try to stack myself up against any of those other performances. If I were to think that way, I'd shoot myself in the foot before I got out of the gate. Those are amazing performances. For me, it was just about coming to believe that I could be a cop. Driving around with these guys in LA really helped to me to believe, oh yeah, it's possible.

SO HOW DID YOU MAKE THIS PERFORMANCE YOUR OWN? Well, umm, I played it.

UNLIKE SOME OF THOSE OTHER BAD-COP MOVIES, RAMPART HAS A POLITICAL EDGE. SO DOES YOUR HBO MOVIE GAME CHANGE [ABOUT THE 2008 MCCAIN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN] AND THE HUNGER GAMES, WHICH COULD BE SEEN AS A CRITIQUE OF CAPITALISM. IS THIS YOUR WAY OF FIGHTING THE SYSTEM? [Laughing.] Changing the world one movie at a time.

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ARTICLES BY ED SYMKUS
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