I recently got the chance to talk to Michael Arden about his role in Jake Gyllenhaal’s new movie, ‘Source Code’. Here, Michael talks about the film, how he got into acting, and the favourite moments of his career so far…
Thanks Michael for agreeing to talk to me. ‘Source Code’ is out in UK cinemas right now. What is the film’s basic premise?
‘Source Code’ is a sci-fi time-travel thriller directed by ‘Moon’s Duncan Jones. A bomb explodes on a Chicago train, derailing the locomotive and killing hundreds. In an attempt to identify the bomber and prevent another, larger attack on downtown Chicago, Captain Colter Stevens agrees to take part in a clandestine government experiment dubbed “Source Code,”which allows him to enter the body of a male passenger during the last eight minutes of his life. During his first trip back, Capt. Stevens fails to gather enough clues to prevent the second attack, and so, with time quickly running out, he repeats the mission again and again in a desperate race to head off one of the most deadly terrorist attacks ever to take place on American soil.
You play the role of Derek Frost. How would you sum up your character?
Without giving too much away, I would say that Derek Frost is a very focused, yet lost individual hoping to bring about change. I don’t want to say much more.
How would you say this film is different from other action films released this year?
Well, to be honest, I haven’t seen many of them, but from what I hear from friends who have seen other action movies this year, ‘Source Code’ takes the audience on a thrilling ride that is not only mind-bending, but carefully and quietly packs an emotional punch as well. I credit Ben Ripley, the writer, for giving us a sci-fi movie that might make you tear-up as well. It raises several moral and ethical questions that I think stick with an audience after the credits roll.
Of course, the main stars of the film are Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan. What was it like working on-set with them?
They are two of the most wonderful and giving actors I have ever encountered. Watching them work was a master class. Jake is one of the smartest actors I’ve ever seen and Michelle is one of the most open and giving.
Duncan Jones directed the movie, and he’s known for being the man behind ‘Moon’ (2009). What was it like working with him?
Duncan is a wonderful director with a great vision and an incredible open presence on set. He knows that every piece of the machine in making a film is as important as the next. His touch is subtle with actors, letting them find their own way as opposed to dictating how he wants to see a performance. I think this is key to how he gets such honest work from his actors. He also has a great sense of pace and movement and musicality in his film-making. I am honored to have worked with him on this film and I hope I get the chance to work with him again.
Do you think the film would have benefited from being done in 3D, or ruined it?
I like 3D movies, but I think this film benefited from being shot traditionally. There’s a romantic aspect about it and at times the film even harps back to classic mysteries /thrillers. The audience is invited into this world as opposed to it being thrust toward them. I’m sure some of the effects would have been wonderful in 3D, but it might take a bit of the metaphor out of the film.
Let’s talk about you Michael. What made you want to go into the acting business in the first place?
From a very young age, I was obsessed with the theatre. I would build sets in my home garage and bedroom. Fortunately, this obsession hasn’t really left me. I think that I was always incredibly excited by the idea of the immortality of characters in a script. Not only do the characters live forever by being brought to life again and again, but we as artists get to inhabit a million skins and, in turn, live a million lives. Or, at least hundreds. To be able to bring to light some universal truth by theoretically wearing a mask, I think, is a beautiful gift.
Who / what has influenced you as an actor?
I’ve probably been most influenced as an actor by my favorite stage actors and directors. Working with Sir Trevor Nunn last year in London on ‘Aspects of Love’ at the Menier Chocolate Factory was an experience I hold up as one of the most influential of my career thus far. I feel I learn from everything I see. Whether it has been incredible and honest acting and direction I’ve witnessed at the National and elsewhere (Fiona Shaw, Nancy Carroll, Howard Davies, Rupert Goold, Ian Holm) or on-screen, I feel that just by being observant to the art around me, I have gleamed so much. It would be impossible to say I haven’t learned volumes from everyone I have worked with.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in acting?
I would say that there are up and down times, but what’s most important is to continue learning. Taking classes, watching classic films from great directors, going to any and all theatre (good or bad) and being open and receptive to exploring and watching the world around you. It’s very easy to either become stagnant, jaded or burnt out in this field. If you are always finding new ways to stretch your instrument and expand your mind through experience and reflection, you’ll only be getting better.
Your acting career has spanned the genres of comedy, fantasy and crime drama. Do you have any genre preference?
Goodness, it’s hard to say. I love comedy, but find it very hard work sometimes. I have huge respect for funny people. And I hope to do more.
We should point out that you’re also a composer and singer, as well as an actor. In 2007, you had the opportunity to tour and sing with Barbra Streisand. How did this come about?
To be honest, I was recovering from getting my appendix removed, and received a telephone call from the director, Richard J. Alexander asking if I would be interested. I thought perhaps I was in a pain-killer induced dream. The job literally fell into my lap.
Would you say singing with Barbra Streisand has been the highlight of your career thus far?
It is definitely one of the highlights. Getting to sing a duet with her in front of 30,000 plus people a night was simply thrilling and I will never forget it. She is an absolute artist and I feel so lucky to have shared a stage with her. I also got to sing in eight cities in Europe. Not a bad summer vacation.
Are there any other music artists you’d like to work with, and why?
I would absolutely love to work with Ben Folds or Adele. I’m not sure what we would do together, but I can make coffee and bring them water at the very least. At the moment, he is possibly my favorite songwriter and she is my favorite singer. I’m willing to collaborate, sing or be a groupie.
What is coming up for you in 2011? Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming work?
Right now I am focusing on writing a few projects that I have been keeping on the shelf for a while. I am also directing some small projects in Los Angeles and just finished shooting a beautiful film called ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’, written and directed by Peter Hedges.
Thanks for the interview!