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March 9th, 2007 at 10:47 am
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Underground Online
By Kyle Braun

Martin Donovan broke into the industry as an actor back in 1985 and has been working steadily every year since in both television and film. As a face most fans will recognize, Donovan took the lead in many Hal Hartley films and even took on roles in such big screen favorites as Insomnia, The Visitation and The Sentinel. This year, after stints on The Dead Zone and the Showtime series Weeds, Donovan landed the lead role in director Rob Schmidt’s second season Masters of Horror episode, “Right to Die.”

UGO: How did you find your way to Masters of Horror?

MARTIN DONOVAN: They just called and offered the part to me. I did Weeds for Showtime, so I think I’m on the list. We don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, we just don’t ask too many questions.

UGO: Recently, you seem to be doing more horror, though it seems to be fairly new for you.

MARTIN: Well, I did The Visitation and also Wind Chill (aka Frost Bite). Yeah, it’s true. I don’t know why that is. It seems to be a string of things happening. This was not a plan.

UGO: Are you a fan of the genre?

MARTIN: Well, I don’t know that I’m a fan necessarily. Frankly, I don’t see a lot of movies. Certainly, I like it. Anything that’s well-made is what I like, whatever the genre. I don’t think I have a preference for horror.

UGO: I read that you tried to shy away from big blockbuster movies, but you’ve recently appeared in The Sentinel. Are you against big budget Hollywood movies?

MARTIN: Well, it’s not my call. For a lot of different, complicated reasons, basically, because I’ve never been in a big budget movie where I’ve had a substantial enough part, and where that movie has been a huge success. You have to have a good, solid part, an interesting role in a movie that makes hundreds of millions of dollars and then the doors swing open. Then, you’re on a list and off you go. That really hasn’t happened. Also, I think I haven’t spent a lot of energy on it. I don’t live in Los Angeles and I don’t aggressively pursue that stuff. I rely on my work to speak for itself and I’ve been lucky that there have been enough directors who have been in touch. I’ve been able to get by. Like I said, I don’t avoid it. I’m happy to work in whatever level – I’m just thrilled to be working.

UGO: How was your experience on The Sentinel working with Eva Longoria, Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland?

MARTIN: I didn’t have much to do with either Kiefer or Eva. Most of my time was with Michael Douglas and some with Kim Basinger, but it was fine.

UGO: What does a show like Masters of Horror give you as an actor that others like The Dead Zone and Weeds don’t?

MARTIN: Everything is kind of different. In Weeds, I’m a supporting player, so I don’t have so much to do with that. With this one, I’m number one on the call sheet, so I’m working every day in practically every scene. This has been a lot of fun. I mean, I’ve had a blast. This is a great role and an interesting script and really delicious. There’s a lot of fun stuff to do. That’s not to say I don’t love working on Weeds, because I adore Mary Louise [Parker] and I’ve worked with her many times. I love working with her, so that’s great, but I haven’t done anything quite like this Masters of Horror. Certainly in The Visitation I was the lead, but that was a hybrid, Christian-themed horror. They were trying to do a crossover Christian-themed movie with that. What I love about this is the script is great and working with Rob [Schmidt] has been fantastic. As it turns out, Rob knew me already. We go back to the Hal Hartley films. He was pulling cable on those films when I was doing those. Going back twelve years, I didn’t remember the name, but when I saw him, I remembered his face even though he was one of a crew of forty and not in the camera department. You tend to remember the camera guys more than anything else. We have similar sensibilities and our senses of humor are really alike, and that’s important. The first thing I said to him after the opportunity arose was, “This script is hilarious,” and he said, “I’m glad you said that, because I think it’s funny, too.” Then, I knew we were on the same page. We found the humor in this, I hope, and it really elevates the piece to find the humor in it and make it more interesting.

UGO: How did Rob’s style work to your advantage?

MARTIN: He’s a really good actor’s director. Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m always pleasantly surprised when directors are helpful with actors, because many are not. It doesn’t mean they’re not good directors, they just don’t know how to talk to actors or give them acting notes. They can give you acting results and can say, “I want you to be like this,” but they don’t know how to get you there. Rob’s really good at that. Instead of saying, “Be angry,” he’ll say, “You know, you just came from this and went to that, and now she’s doing this with you, and that makes the character angry.” That helps, as opposed to saying, “Can you be angrier?” He’s got a lot of really good ideas, or things that I’ll just miss in the script.

UGO: Your character in “Right to Die” has a couple of different sides. How do you approach the core of your character so you can maximize both?

MARTIN: I read the script and absorb it. I read it a couple of times, I go through and make mental notes, and then it comes down to taking each scene on its own terms. The scene is constructed and you commit to what happens to the character in that scene. You just try to make it as real as possible and, in some cases, you really can’t string the scenes together while in other places, you can. You can go, “This follows that,” and it’s helpful to remember that. At other times, it’s just as helpful not to be thinking about anything other than what’s happening in that moment, because this guy has so many sides to his personality: he’s sweet, he’s tender, he’s loving, and he’s pathological. You can look at him in very different ways. It’s really a blast to play. It’s really fun.

UGO: What other projects do you have coming down the pipe?

MARTIN: I have a film that debuted at the Toronto Film Festival called Day on Fire, which was a really interesting film written and directed by Jay Anania. It’s a very moving, meditative piece, and very different from this. For lack of a better term, it’s strictly art-house fare, but really beautiful and very moving. We’re still waiting to hear what’s happening with Wind Chill (Frost Bite) and Weeds is still going, and I think that’s it for now.

UGO: What scares Martin Donovan?

MARTIN: Oh, there are lots of things, especially something happening to my kids. That’s the number-one thing. Also, the people running the United States government frighten me a lot. It frightens me and it angers me, people who think killing lots of innocent people is a good idea.