IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Richard Schiff Talks 'Man of Steel'

Wednesday, 11 January 2012 21:25 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Richard Schiff Talks 'Man of Steel'

A few weeks ago I was asked if I would be interested in interviewing actor Richard Schiff, and I of course jumped at the chance. Who wouldn’t want to talk to one of the finest character actors working in the business today? In his impressive, almost thirty-year long career, he has appeared in such popular and critically acclaimed films as Malcolm X, Seven, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, I Am Sam, Ray, and Solitary Man. But the actor will always be best known to TV fans for his Emmy Award winning performance as Toby Ziegler on The West Wing, unarguably one of the greatest television shows ever created. So knowing that I was going to be speaking to the actor soon, I was pleasantly surprised when it was announced on Tuesday that Mr. Schiff would be playing the pivotal role of Dr. Hamilton in Zack Snyder’s upcoming Superman reboot Man of Steel.

Professor Emil Hamilton has a rich and varied history in the DC Universe, having been prominently featured in both the comics, and on television series like Smallville, Superman: The Animated Series, and Justice League Unlimited. In the comic books, Hamilton is a former employee of S.T.A.R Labs and the US Government, but was driven insane by Lex Luthor. He eventually recovered and became Superman’s “scientific advisor,” creating many useful devises for him including the Phantom Zone Projector and early Superman Robots. While Hamilton has mostly been an ally to Superman, he has also been portrayed as a villain over the years. First when he was possessed by Brainiac and became Overmind, the leader of an evil cyberpunk gang, and then later when it was revealed that he was secretly a villain named Ruin, who had been targeting Clark Kent’s loved ones. While the announcement stated that Schiff would be playing Dr. Hamilton, it is unclear if that is the same character from the Superman mythology. It is also unclear what role this Dr. Hamilton will have in the upcoming film’s plot, and if he will be portrayed as a hero or a villain.

Hot on the heels of this exciting news, I was extremely pleased to have a chance to speak with the great Richard Schiff on Wednesday. In addition to Man of Steel, we talked about his new Showtime series House of Lies co-starring Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell, as well as a few of his other upcoming film projects and the legacy of The West Wing. But that part of our interview will run at a later date, as I wanted to let you know right away what the actor graciously had to say about his role in Man of Steel. The truly talented actor spoke candidly with me about how he got the role in the film, his familiarity with the world of comic books, being in a superhero movie, working with Zack Snyder, reuniting with Amy Adams, which actors he has scenes with in the movie, and he also confirmed his character’s first name. There may be some spoilers ahead, so be careful.

In case you don’t have time to read the entire interview right now, here are a few of the important points that the actor revealed about his role:

- He was actually cast in the film over the summer but because his role wasn’t schedule to shoot until the last six weeks of production he couldn’t tell anyone till now.

-He has already shot several scenes and returns to Vancouver this weekend to shoot for a few more weeks.

-So far he has shot scenes with Amy Adams and Christopher Meloni.

-He will share a scene in the film with Henry Cavill.

-He confirmed that his character’s first name is Emil and that he is a scientist. However, he would not confirm if his character is the same one found in the comics, or whether he will be portrayed as Superman’s friend or enemy in the upcoming film.

Here is what he had to say in its entirety:

IAR: For starters, we ran an article on Tuesday about you joining the cast of Man of Steel and now that it is official, I just wanted to congratulate you on getting the role.

Richard Schiff: Thank you very much. You paid me a nice compliment in the article you published. I think you said, “tried and true character actor” or something like that. It was very nice.

Well we are big fans of your work and are excited that you will be in the film. I’m sure that you’ve been sworn to secrecy and can tell me very little about the project, but would you mind if I asked you a few general questions about the movie?

Schiff: Yes… I am playing Superman.

Well, I think you would make a fantastic Superman. You'll look great in the suit!

Schiff: Yes, I've been working out as much as I can.

To begin with, how did you get the role? Was it something that you auditioned for, or were they interested in you based on your previous work and just offered you the part?

Schiff: It was offered to me quite a while ago. There was a lot of time between when they offered it and when I was actually going to end up shooting, because I'm slated for the last six weeks (of production) and I think they started shooting way back in August. I think it was offered over the summer. It was just offered to me, I had never met Zack before and knew nothing about it actually. They offered it and they were in talks, negotiating or whatever, and they wouldn't send me the script. They were so secretive that I couldn't read the script. So finally when it came close to whether this deal was going to happen or not, I went, well, I think I‘ve got to read the script. So I had to go to their offices on Sunset Boulevard. Virtually under guard I sat down in an office and read a script that had my name ear marked all over it, in case I ripped a page out and released it I guess, or sold it to you for half a million bucks. I thought it was pretty funny. I'm a very, very slow reader. I was like, are you sure you want me to take up your office space? Because this is going to take me hours, I'm really slow. They go, “No, no, no it's fine, it's fine.” So I sat in the conference room and they brought me coffee and donuts, and I read the script. I liked it a lot.

Did you get to read the whole thing or just your character’s pages?

Schiff: I read the whole script.

Were you already a fan of Superman and comic books in general or is this all new to you?

Schiff: I wasn't a Superman freak when I was young, or comic books but of course they were always around someone's apartment or house. So I looked and I read them. I remember the TV show, the black and white TV show they used to rerun when I was a kid. I watched that quite a bit. I wasn't a fanatical fan, but I certainly enjoyed it. I loved the first few movies with Christopher Reeve and I loved all that stuff, and Margot Kidder. In fact I got to work with her niece. Her name is Janet Kidder and I worked with her up in Vancouver on a movie just as I had been offered this. I had already been offered Man of Steel but I wasn't allowed to tell her that. It was interesting because she looks very much like Margot. She's a great actress by the way. It was on a movie called Innocent that I did for TNT. But yeah I love those movies so I was very excited to be a part of this.

This will be your first time acting in a comic book based superhero film, are you ready for everything that comes with that including scrutinizing fans and a possible trip San Diego Comic-Con?

Schiff: It's funny because there was another actor on Innocent, the movie I did in Vancouver, named Tahmoh Penikett and he was also in Battlestar Gallactica. He was heading out on a weekend that he had off to go to Atlanta to a Comic Book Convention. He was telling me all about It, and I've run into some other actors that have done that stuff. He told me that it was crazy, but he loved it. He also told me that it's fun to go, and that a lot crazy fans come up to him. I don’t know if my character in the end will be one that they all flip out over but its possible. It’s a fantastic world, this superhero thing. The history of Superman is fascinating, the fact that it came about in 1939 originated by some Jewish folk as a response to Hitler and all that stuff. Even just the history of it and how it evolved in the first place is kind of wonderful history. So I’m excited right now.

When do you begin shooting?

Schiff: I’ve already started shooting. I go back again this weekend and shoot for another couple of weeks and then will go elsewhere. So I’ve gotten my feet wet and have worked with Amy Adams, Chris Meloni and a few others. I’ve gotten to know Zack and he is fantastic. That guy is just an upbeat happy guy.

Were you a fan of some of his previous films like Watchmen or 300?

Schiff: I saw 300, which was one of my son’s favorite films and that is always important to me. He is a good barometer of taste, and after he went on about it, I watched and thought it was great. Actually, I was surprised at how good it was because I thought it was going to be just an effects movie, but I thought the acting was really pretty good in that film. I had a good time watching it. I think this is going to be spectacular. There are a lot of effects but I think the story is going to hold its own really well and it has some really good actors in it. Did you know that Amy was on The West Wing years ago? That’s where I first got to work with her. She was in a double episode arc (Season Four: 20 Hours in America Part I & II) where we all got lost in Indiana. She was the local recruiter on the campaign who guided us around the territory. That was Amy! As soon as I started working with that girl I went, oh wow, this young lady is going places. I’ve very happily followed her career. I may have run into her a couple of times and congratulated her but she hasn’t changed a bit. She’s lovely, goofy, and extraordinarily talented. So it was fun reuniting with her. She was a lot of fun and I love working with her a lot.

Do you have any scenes with Henry Cavill in the film?

Schiff: Yes, and that is all I can say.

When it was first announced, it was stated that you would be playing a character named Dr. Hamilton, but no first name was given. Is the role you are playing in the film the same character as Prof. Emil Hamilton from DC Comics continuity and the Superman mythology?

Schiff: I am not allowed to say but I will allow people to draw their own conclusions. They obviously have the same first and last name, so they can draw their own conclusions. I want to live up to the promise to not reveal anything I’m not allowed to reveal.

Of course, but just to be clear, the character you’re playing is named Emil, correct?

Schiff: Yes.

Then let me ask you this, were you able to draw any inspiration at all for your performance from the DC Comic books or did you create your character based on the film’s script alone?

Schiff: Dr. Hamilton came along very late, didn’t he? So I don’t even know if I would be able to find those (comic books). Can you find those online? I don’t know? So not so much, I mean I did some research into who he was and who people interpret him to be. Obviously he has had incarnations on a number of different mediums, on TV and in animation. They always get interpreted differently so you have to go with what the script has to offer and I’ve been very intrigued but what they’ve written. I wouldn’t impose some outside idea on what Zack and the writers want to do with this. But it is fun to know all the various incarnations that he’s had. Obviously he’s been evil in some incarnations, and friendly in other incarnations, and a combination of both in yet other incarnations, so that is fun to have in your mind when you are playing him. But the script goes in certain directions and that is what I will follow.

I’m sure you can’t tell me whether your Dr. Hamilton is a friend or foe to Superman, we’ll just have to wait and see when the movie comes out, right?

Schiff: Yeah, that is exactly right. With many of the characters I’ve played before, and this is one of the compliments that I take from what I do, a lot of people react when they see me and say, “I don’t know whether to love you or hate you.” To me, that means that I’ve done a good job of creating a human being that isn’t just a sketch. Because how often do we love and hate our wives, our friends, and everyone that we come in contact with. People, if they are full human beings, will make you love them and hate them at various times. So hopefully I can do something like that with this guy, regardless of what the story restricts.

Finally, the last thing I’ll ask you about Man of Steel, and if you can’t answer this I’ll completely understand but is your character involved with S.T.A.R. Labs at all in the film?

Schiff: Yeah, that I think they don’t want me to say but he’s obviously a scientist and he enjoys his work, let’s put it that way. 

Man of Steel is currently in production and scheduled for release on June 14, 2013.

To watch our exclusive interview with Henry Cavill about preparing for his role in Man of Steel, please click here

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