Emily hinted that you believe in love at first sight because of how you met your wife. Is this true?
It is. It’s funny, I’m sure that it was, but I wonder – now that we have four kids and have built this life together – if I’m retroactively imbuing that moment with all of the subsequent experiences. I feel like it was love at first sight, but maybe that’s just my revisionist history.
Do you remember what she was wearing?
I remember her smile. That’s what I remember more than anything.
Do you believe in destiny? Do you believe you have your own life in your hands?
It’s one of those questions that you can’t answer and I think that’s why people have been asking it for millennia. We’re trying to propose it in a fun way in this movie. I feel like I’m in control of everything until I look back at my life and go, “Wait a minute, what odd series of events took place.” There is that Garth Brooks song where he sings “Thank God for unanswered prayers” – every job that I auditioned for that I was desperate to get that I didn’t might have taken me down a different path. It’s that thing where I feel stuff could be predestined, but I sure like to think that my choices were better.
What made you choose this film?
George (Nolfi, Director) is my friend and when he first showed it to me we had worked on one movie together, Ocean’s Twelve. Subsequently while he was doing more and more drafts of The Adjustment Bureau, we did the third Bourne movie and that was a movie that we were writing as we went. It was a lot of pressure and going through that experience with him and spending hundreds of hours in hotel rooms trying to figure out what we were going to shoot the next day, I knew he could handle the pressure of directing. There was so much more pressure in the Bourne situation that I knew this would be kind of a cakewalk.
What about the story?
I thought the story was interesting. I hadn’t really done a love story and I really loved the idea of a modern-day love story, the obstacle to which was this Philip K. Dick creation of this Adjustment Bureau. It seemed tonally to be really unique and not like anything I’d ever seen and ambitious in that way, but also ultimately a really entertaining and a fun movie. Plus, I believe in George.
Do you think that actors are like politicians, that they hide behind an image to sell tickets?
To a certain degree. I really wonder how much you can micromanage an image anymore. I think with technology being what it is, there’s very little mystery left with public people. Celebrities get followed around 24 hours a day and get their pictures taken 24 hours a day. You can open up a magazine and see where they spent their entire week and when they went to Starbucks. There’s very little intrigue.
The whole star system has changed drastically. Nowadays almost anybody can be a star overnight.
Thank God for that. The reality shows that are in all the magazines, I don’t know who any of them are but I’m so grateful because it’s a match made in heaven that they want to be in those magazines.
It seems different than before because now it happens very fast and also lasts for a few seconds.
Fifteen minutes is way too long now. It’s taken a lot of pressure off [of me]. I live here [in New York] and walk around all day every day and I’m fine. A couple of guys showed up to take my picture when Stella was born and that was it. They know where I am and they know where I live. I talked to the guy and asked why has was taking my picture and he said it was because I just had a daughter and they wanted to get an updated photo of me. They didn’t come by my apartment because they wanted to respect my privacy. I said, “Thank you, I really appreciate that.”
But they got you anyway.
They got me taking my kid to school. They know where I live and where my kids go to school, but they don’t bother me. I’m not what is selling magazines right now, so if they need to get an updated photo they come and squeeze off a couple of shots. My kids never know. I drop my kids off and go talk to them and ask what’s going on. “Did something happen I need to know about?”
You’re also approachable and a very nice guy and you try to live a normal life instead of having millions of bodyguards around.
Which is why I think there’s not any interest; when you demystify that stuff. Those magazines really sell sex and scandal and there’s nothing scandalous about a middle-aged married guy with kids.
You play a politician in this movie. Is there anything fascinating you find about politicians or politics?
No. I certainly admire people who do it, but it’s not a life for me. I met this political consultant for this movie, a smart political strategist who had worked for Clinton. He said he was thinking of retiring and I asked why. He said because they basically figured out the most effective thing you can do is just to sling dirt, and whether it’s true or not that’s what actually works. All of the nuance from his job is gone. He used to find it very interesting to try to craft arguments as to what was going to connect with people. So you spend your life raising money to throw mud.
But you are interested in human rights, aren’t you?
Very much so, but I don’t think the most effective use of my time is to go into politics. There’s things like water.org. I can get that out there just as effectively like this.
Do you know why George Nolfi decided to make The Adjustment Bureau now? We’re living in a time when people feel oppressed by all these different circumstances and institutions. Did you think about that when you were making this film?
Yeah, it felt timely. I’m sure [Philip K.] Dick felt he was making a comment about the FBI, but it does end up being a timely movie. I think maybe that’s why the story survived, just because it is relevant to the time that we’re living in.
From the outside, an actor’s career looks like its calculated, but its seems to be made up of accidents in a way. Do you recall any life-changing accidents in your career?
I’m the guy who passed on Avatar. Score! Actually, I would never pass on a Jim Cameron movie. The truth is I was finishing The Bourne Ultimatum and I literally couldn’t do it. I was desperate to work with him. I think he’s just a genius. It really was out of my hands. But what I really want to do is sit next to him while he directs and watch him because he’s such a visionary. I joke now and say I’m the guy who passed on Avatar because it’s a good line. I also say that it’s too bad that I did because the movie clearly suffers from my absence.
Does being nominated for an Academy Award feel make you feel good about yourself?
I always feel like the right actor gets the role. I’d worked with Gus [Van Sant] twice before, and he called about the role that Josh Brolin played in Milk. He sent me the script and I couldn’t make it through the script without bawling my eyes out because it was such an incredible story. I told him absolutely, I’m in, and he sent me all the research materials to play Dan White. I remember I was on the road promoting the Bourne movie and I was talking to him from Australia, then something happened with the financing and they pushed [it back] like three months. I was going off to do Green Zone and I literally couldn’t do it because of the conflict. There was a writers strike coming up so I had to bow out of Milk and it really upset me. I knew the movie was going to be great, but then I saw the movie and Josh was so good in that part. I felt the movie was great and the right actor got the part. The Fighter was the same way. I was supposed to play Christian’s role and I dropped out. Darren Aronofsky was going to direct it, and we both dropped out. But I look at Christian’s performance and go, “My God, the right actor got the part.”
You prefer to live in New York rather than Hollywood?
It’s more normal for your kids and for your life.
Yes, it is. There are more paparazzi in LA.
New York is a great place to raise your kids. It’s changed.
It’s really changed, totally. You can see [by] how many strollers you see. The diners all have stroller parking.
When you’re playing against Terence Stamp, I kept thinking it was Jason Bourne meets General Zod.
[laughs] I kneel before Terence Stamp!
What was it like?
It was awesome. For that part we needed some gravitas, because there’s that great monologue he gave about trying to take the training wheels off and letting humanity go, but human beings keep it screwing up. Obviously, we needed a big actor for that, a person with a lot of weight and heft and we talked about someone like Robert Duvall. One day George called me and said, “What about Terence Stamp?” I thought it was a terrific idea and we literally ended up with our first choice for every role. We got everybody we wanted, which is a credit to George’s script.
Is it true that there was a different ending with a Chairwoman?
Yes, we had the Chairwoman. I don’t know if that’s a secret or anything, but we shot it and it was too much like a philosophy lesson. She literally had a five-page monologue, which was beautifully written, but we saw the movie [with it] and it just stopped. We had all this momentum and it just kind of stopped dead in its tracks, so there was a whole rethink about how to finish it. The whole question was, do we really want to see the Chairman? The Adjustment Bureau was made up of men and women, but a lot of people don’t notice that it was all male. But it was all male because the reveal is that the Chairman is a Chairwoman. Once we redid that, it’s all male. [laughs] Total misogynists! We have to re-shoot everything!
This is your first romantic role and you have an amazing chemistry with Emily. It’s not easy to get that spark onscreen.
She’s really great. We have similar senses of humor. We laughed the whole time and were just goofy the whole time. In defining the relationship, when we were rehearsing the great thing about having a writer/director is that we changed stuff and tweaked stuff and that didn’t throw George at all because he wasn’t totally rigid in his thinking. We all knew that if the relationship worked then the movie could work, but if it didn’t then we were dead. The David character was always a great lead role and we wanted and needed her to be a formidable, three-dimensional woman. With a modern-day woman it should feel like a modern romance, so we talked about it a lot in rehearsals and tried to get that dynamic and her natural, great sense of humor into the dialogue.
Are you going do more romantic roles?
If they’re good. I’ll do anything that’s good. I never choose thematically, although maybe themes do appear, but that’s by accident. Career strategy doesn’t really work. You end up making your best educated guess one movie at a time, then at the end you look back and maybe there’s a pattern or maybe there isn’t. If a great romance came along, I’d certainly love to do it.
What do you mean by a good role for you?
I’ve read thousands of scripts and written scripts, so I know a lot about the technical side of it. For me, honestly, it’s a feeling I get, which I’m sure has to do with the thousands of hours I’ve spent working on screenplays. But if something moves me, I will usually do it.
EXCLUSIVE CLIP FROM “THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU” (On DVD and Blu-Ray)