Bruce Greenwood is emerging as one of Hollywood’s busiest and versatile actors. He was born in Noranda, Quebec and spent the early part of his life in the U.S. and moved with his family to British Columbia when he was 11.
He was bitten by the acting bug while a student at the University of British Columbia and appeared in a few movies and TV programs that were filming in the Vancouver area during those years. This included The Beachcombers, which had started production just north of the city in 1972.. Of course, Greenwood went on to much bigger and better things, such as a starring role in the medical series St. Elsewhere from 1986-88 and a season on Knot’s Landing in the early ’90s.
He also appeared in some pretty wonderful films-including the award-winning Atom Egoyan movie The Sweet Hereafter, as the nasty husband in Double Jeopardy (1999), and as President John F. Kennedy in the 2000 drama Thirteen Days. Greenwood has completed work on four movies: Swept Away, with Madonna and directed by her husband Guy Ritchie, The Core, with Hilary Swank, another Egoyan film, Ararat, also starring Brent Carver and Christopher Plummer and the new submarine World War 2 thriller Below, directed by Pitch Black’s David Twohy. He talked to Paul Fischer
Question: Have you ever been in a real sub?
Answer: Yea, yea. I was in a Russian submarine when I was working for the CIA.
Question: Where’s that?
Answer: In Vancouver. It’s moored there.
Question: You were working for the CIA?
Answer: Sorry, that just came out! Ignore that. Ignore that.
Question: Do you have submarine training?
Answer: Yea, we did some training. Mostly it was, it consisted of going to a couple of lectures where a guy who spent some time, a lot of time, in a submarine, told us what it was like during the fifties and sixties on a submarine. You know, it’s very close and tight and stinky and oppressive emotionally as well as physically. Then, he had second hand information about what it was like to be down there during the war, which was considerably tougher, because you’re under a phenomenal amount of pressure.
Question: How claustrophobic was it shooting the film then?
Answer: Well, like if all of us here would stand on this table –
Question: It would break probably –
Answer: Yes, it would break and we we’re standing on the floor and we had to stay there for the next eight hours, snarling at one another. And then there’s another ring of people behind you with cameras. It was tight.
Question: Did it make you closer with the cast or does it, after you do a scene you run to trailer and get away from everybody?
Answer: Oh, no. It accentuates what’s good and it accentuates what’s not good. You know, it’s just like any relationship, the more contained the environment, the more the good stuff appears and the more the bad stuff will reveal itself.
Question: But did you feel that you needed to do any research into World War II or once you got the costume and on the submarine set and everything, were just in that world?
Answer: No, I did a lot of – watched a lot of tape and David provided us with a tremendous amount of archival material to dig through. And it was pretty informative, learning about all submarine commanders and how they pretty much had to expect not to return. Many more sank than what came home. So, when you embark on a journey like that, or you consider the kind of men that would embark on a journey with a pretty reasonable expectation of not coming home, it kind of informs you about their sensibilities. So with that, I kind of gave over to the script.
Question: Did you hear the sounds? Did the sound of the subs – the creaking and the things brushing up against one, did you hear that on set?
Answer: We heard – You heard something like it. for example, in that [mimics noise], you know, David might have been pounding the hull or something like that so we’ll all look at the same time. Or he just might have been saying ‘the bong.’
Question: Are you a fan of this genre of film?
Answer: As a viewer, I get really, really tense. I mean, I find it hard it, I find it really hard to watch, but I’m not – I’m really easy prey for a suspense movie.
Answer: Yea, I get very uneasy and very nervous.
Question: Do you grab onto somebody? Anybody?
Answer: jump. I jump and I grab the person in front of me. It’s really kind of embarrassing.
Question: Was it ever creepy on the set?
Answer: I think only really the kind of creepiness that you invite. You know, because we wanted to get that vibe going, so yea, you kind of invite a little spooky, creepy vibe into your whole experience of making a movie. So, I don’t know to what degree we invited that creepiness – I do have to agree with that. It was actually there.
Question: What is the attraction to submarine movies? There seem to be a few of them floating around. What do you think is the attraction?
Answer: Well, I think that for starters, you can’t escape. If you put any kind of environment where you have characters that have conflicting agendas and they can’t escape from one another, you know at some point, it’s going to unravel. So, with a contained environment, there is the promise of friction. And that is where the drama comes from.
Question: Can you talk a little bit about your decision to make this film and how it came to you and why you chose to do it?
Answer: Well, I was thinking about doing another film at the same time, which was the sequel to Basic Instinct and I just had a feeling that wasn’t going to happen. You know, I just kind of read the writing on the wall and I thought this thing is going to just crumble. And at the same time, I’d been reading this and I couldn’t really put it out of my mind and I gave it another read, and I thought, this is really creepy. This is quite spooky. And there is an opportunity for me to play somebody who unravels bit by bit by bit and somebody who gets to – at the outset, thinks he’s a decent human being and then be – forced by virtue of these circumstances where he doesn’t perform well or he makes a terrible, terrible decision to have to look at himself and see something that he reviles, that redefines him for himself.
Question: Can you relate to him?
Answer: Yea, I think we all – I think on some level, that’s a fear that exists in everybody, that if we’re tested, we won’t make the courageous choice. We won’t make the decision that we – that would make us heroic. We make the decision that would reveal us to be all too human. And so when this character, at the beginning of the movie, takes part in this spontaneous violence and doesn’t stop it, he has to – it redefines who he is.
Question: Do you have a favourite movie from this genre – this story type?
Answer: Like I say, I don’t go to them, because I’m just too – they scare the shit out of me. I just don’t. I don’t. I don’t –
Question: I was just wondering if you remember the last time that scared the shit out of you.
Answer: I mean, it could have been Casper, okay? But you know they’re not good for me. I just get too – I’m too easy an audience, you know what I mean? I just get too drawn in. It doesn’t take anything, you know -for me –
Question: We all expected to talk to you soon for The Core, but now that’s going to be delayed. What are your thoughts on that?
Answer: They’re having trouble getting out of the core. Yes, they’re still down there.
Question: Are you going to spend any more time on it? Are you concerned?
Answer: No. I’m not. I’m not. I’ve seen the opening of it and it’s dazzling, just dazzling. So, and what they tell me is that they think they’ve really got something great. And they spent a lot of money on it, extra money. So that’s generally a clue that they really do believe in it. If they delay it and they don’t spend money you’re gonna think, oh what are they afraid of? But if they, in the midst of postponing it they’re spending more money to tweak it, to be even better. I think, what they’ve told me is probably true in that they think they have something so strong that they want a lot of lead time to set it up.
Question: Do you have any experience in working on that film and working with Hilary?
Answer: Oh, Hillary is great. She’s a riot, she is good, good humour, good fun. Very easy going, very down to Earth. John Amiel the director, likewise. Stanley Tucci is extremely funny and fun to be around.
Question: This is not really a very funny movie is it?
Answer: Ah, well, there are moments of levity in it for sure. It’s not, no, it’s not a funny movie. It’s not a, taking a banana peel to the floor, falling down a flight of stairs and ending up with a goofy hat on. Ah, it’s really hot! You know –
Question: Your recent films had sort of a common theme of this, you know, suspense element. You know even with 13 Days, I mean you know what’s going to happen with the Cuban missile crisis. Here they’re stuck down in, you know, with a sense of what’s going to happen with these people. And now at the core, you’re in this centre of the Earth basically trying to get out, um, is it because that type of thing, suspense and that psychological stuff, does that appeal to you as an actor to –
Answer: I think it um, yeah, it appeals to me but if the way the script is laid out feels dramatic and the action gets pushed forward and you never know quite what’s about to happen that’s kind of what drives me whether, independent of genre, right? So it just happened that that was the stuff for which I was available and you know it was being made at the time that kind of made, that I read and thought, “Oh! That’s nice!” And then you look at the people you’re working with.
Question: What about Swept Away? From what I could gather from the original there are only 2 characters in that movie.
Answer: I’m just a husband waltzing in the background.
Question: You’re her husband?
Answer: Yeah, I’m just her husband.
Question: What was it like being married to Madonna?
Answer: Well, you know. A bit of this, a bit of that, you know. It was hell. No, no. It was great actually. We had a lot of fun. No, it was really fun. We went to Malta and Sardinia.
Question: What was it like being directed by her husband?
Answer: Well, I was playing a guy who didn’t particularly get along with her – so it wasn’t like hey get your hands off her! You know. You don’t love her that much!
Question: You didn’t slap her or anything?
Answer: No I just started to play it like, like umm, this guy – because she’s a harridan, right? She’s a, kind of a, completely self-obsessed rich bitch.
Question: Like in real life??
Answer: No, man, no. No. It’s so not –
Question: What’s something about Madonna we’ve never heard before?
Answer: Is there anything you’ve never heard about her? I mean, uh, well, I, she’s very real with me, I thought. 1:1 she’s pretty down to Earth, I mean very down to Earth. So maybe you don’t know that.
Question: We aren’t allowed to see that, I guess.
Answer: No. I mean when she’s with the press, I’m sure she’s, to some degree, she’s you know, giving you what she thinks you want, you know. I mean, I can’t speak for her. I don’t know.
Question: Is that the role of an actor at press junkets to do that?
Answer: It depends who you are. Me, I just lay it out there.
Question: What was it like working with Guy?
Answer: Guy is full of energy. And a different kind of film making than I’ve ever done. It’s just so “bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam!” And there’s not a lot of time to sit and ponder what it might be about.
Question: I talked to Scott Foley about this once and he’s talking about Darren Aronofsky as the writer and Scott said that he knew it was good because he could understand it. Now how do you feel about that?
Answer: That’s pretty telling actually because he you have to read it a lot to really be able to layer it the way it requires layering in order for it to make sense at the end of the day. The first read, you’re kind of going, okay, this is Aronofsky and Twohy so I know it makes sense. Okay. I know if I go back here to page one and I read it carefully, I’m going to see the clues that are being handed to me. But if you don’t pay attention and if you’re imagination isn’t pretty much engaged, you’re going to miss things and you’re going to miss opportunities for it to be as compelling and as creepy as it can be. So I understand what it means. At first glance, if you don’t watch it carefully, it’s just a scary movie.
Question: In your research from World War II, can you imagine how explosive it would be to bring a woman on a boat where the guys who have been out on the sea for as long –
Answer: Oh yea and not least because of the classic superstition about having a female on board. And that’s what instantly polarises the crew when she comes aboard. You realize at that point, some of these men are really prone to superstition and some of these men are not. And that in a way defines the polarity between – that is ongoing throughout the movie between people who are more inclined to believe in the supernatural and people who are desperate to find a real pragmatic explanation for certain things that happen. My character is one of those guys who doesn’t believe that it’s anything other worldy and I unravel because of my conscience and my self-loathing and my guilt. But as that begins to eat deeper and deeper, my guy’s psyche that fence gets kind of broken and the more vulnerable he becomes as a result of the self-examination, the more that it appears that those ghosts are crossing over. You know the kind of thing where in your own life, where do you draw the line? Where do you – if you’re being unbound by something that’s eating at you, when do you start to think, “God, this isn’t about me. This is way too heavy.”
Question: You have an interesting arc in that your character starts out pretty heroic in the beginning when there’s no set up, you don’t know what’s happened so far. You should have walked that line and especially at the end when you’re sort of on the edge and you’re not really sure if he’s gone crazy or what’s going on. How is it to play so he’s just on this side of crazy?
Answer: It’s really tricky. It’s so hard, you know, to really, to get a really clean beat on how close to the line to play it. You know whether you’re really tipping your hand or whether you’re just showing that there’s something really boiling inside you that at some point is going to burst but you don’t know what it is or why. It’s very tricky about that, especially shooting the stuff out of sequence too. A lot of those choices you make and you think, and you make the choice to have the heat, that kind of psychological heat at a certain level, at a certain point, and then you realize, “Oh you know what? I should turn that back a little or I should turn that higher.”
Question: Apart from what’s coming out, are you working on anything else right now?
Answer: Yea. I’m doing a thing called Hollywood Homicide with Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnet. Then I’m leaving to do a little romantic comedy called Republic of Love.
Question: It’ll be nice seeing you in a comedy.
Answer: Yea, something a little bit lighter. Where I get the girl for a change.
Question: Who are you in the Harrison Ford film?
Answer: I play one of his “nemesi”? Was that a word? Nemesee?