I recently got the opportunity to talk to Victor Pagan about his role as a bum in ‘The Smurfs’. Here, Victor talks about what it was like working with Hank Azaria and about who has influenced him as an actor…
Hey Victor. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘The Smurfs’.
It’s my pleasure.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
The Smurfs get chased out of their village by Gargamel and somehow end up in Hollywood’s whimsical version of New York City. They meet a charming young couple who give them aid.
Tell us a bit about your character in the movie…
My character is simply named Bum. That’s an old-fashioned term for a homeless man. I guess we used the term ‘bum’ because ‘homeless man’ would be too harsh in a family film. The good thing about it was that it informed me on how to play the character. Bum is a more romantic term – calling up images of Chaplin as the Little Tramp or William Powell in ‘My Man Godfrey’. The guy I play is pretty happy in his delusional state.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
My wonderful manager Jenn Lederer sent me on the audition. It was the best audition I’ve ever had. I had two scenes with Gargamel and the guy holding the script did a whole Gargamel thing by reading Gargamel’s lines to que me and as he did he darted his eyes from me to Gargamel’s cat. In doing that he placed the cat to his right. Of course there was no cat at the audition. It was an imaginary cat. I then darted my eyes from him reading Garmgamel to the cat to him reading Gargamel again and again thus affirming the cat’s presence. This caused me to raise my energy. I was very lively without pushing.
Were you a huge fan of the franchise before you signed on?
Actually I wasn’t. By the time the Smurfs had their own TV show I was already a grown up and not into such “childish” things as little blue people in some far off village. The first indication I got of the Smurfs fame was when, after the audition my friend, actor/director/artist Jason Madera – told me that every actor was trying to get into the Smurfs movie. Of course I knew they were famous but it was then when I started to realize that these little blue people had legions of fans who were really avid worshippers.
The film stars the likes of Katy Perry, Hank Azaria and Neil Patrick Harris – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set?
I only had scenes with Hank Azaria. If I had it my way I would love to have worked with the whole cast including those little blue people. However Hank was very supportive. In one take I froze up and he gently said, “That’s okay, Just keep going”. The reason for my momentary freeze was that, of course I concentrate very hard, but for an instant the absurdity of working with Hank with his bulbous nose make up, a stuffed cat which will be ekged (or whatever the term) into a real cat and a gigantic camera lens staring down at me – took me by storm. Any way I wish I’d told Hank that he was the best thing I liked about ‘The Birdcage’. The crew couldn’t have been more supportive. I was especially impressed with the dancers. They worked through rehearsals, takes and even between takes. By their example I learned that you can’t take anything for granted. Every step has to be so exact. I was constantly entertained by them.
If you could go around as a Smurf for a day, what would you do?
I’d sneak into a few movie cinemas in New York and all over the world. I’m crazy about movies. And even if anybody sees me they’d probably smile and look the other way. After all, I’m a smurf.
Who is your favourite Smurf?
Brainy Smurf. I have a soft spot for nerds.
Let’s talk a bit about you Victor. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
My family was transplanted to New York City in the 50’s. On Saturdays our father gave the five of us enough money to go to the movies. I remember seeing ‘Jailhouse Rock’ one time and ‘The Three Faces of Eve’ on another occasion, both in CinemaScope and in glorious black and white. Well, I didn’t know anything about acting. All I knew was that I wanted to be Elvis Presley and Joanne Woodward when I grew up. Then in the 60’s or maybe it was the late 50’s they started showing movies in prime time that had played in cinemas a year before. I mean in those days you could see films on TV, not only the Hollywood extravaganzas (‘Ben-Hur’, ‘The Ten Commandments’), but the “prestige pictures” (‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’), American independents (‘The Miracle Worker’, ‘Shadows’, ‘Nothing But A Man’), and British kitchen sink dramas like ‘Look Back in Anger’, ‘A Touch of Honey’, ‘The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner’ and ‘Tom Jones’. Along with the British films there were also foreign language films like ‘La Dolce Vita’, ‘Ivan the Terrible’, ‘The 400 Blows’, ‘l’Avventura’ and so on. The reason I’m going on this way is because I want to impress on you that my acting influences came from the movies and not the theatre. Nothing wrong with theatre, it’s just that because it was too expensive for a poor Puerto Rican boy – my heroes are from the silver screen. Paul Newman and Piper Laurie in ‘The Hustler’, Rita Moreno in ‘West Side Story’, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in ‘The Miracle Worker’, Peter O’Toole in ‘Lawrence Of Arabia’ and ‘Becket’, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in ‘Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?’, Dirk Bogarde and James Fox in ‘The Servant’ and of course Bogarde with Julie Christie, Laurence Harvey and Roland Curram in ‘Darling’.
As you can see I went through quite an Anglophilic stage. But soon I discovered the usual suspects; Chaplin, Brando, Clift, Dean as well as Cary Grant (the most under rated actor), Spencer Tracy and Geraldine Page and so on. One time I was watching Anna Magnani in ‘The Rose Tattoo’. She was acting for the ages in a frumpy house dress and I was reminded of the housewives to which my mother took me in search of the reason why my ear infection would not go away despite many operations. It was like a scene from ‘Seance On A Wet Afternoon’ with Kim Stanley, except that we were not dressed quite so fancy. There was a table around which these ladies were seated. And the hostess was taxed with summoning the spirit who caused a child to take drugs, drink alcohol or join a gang, for nothing was the darling’s fault. The hostess would be possessed by the ghost of the culprit and she would roll her head, shake with convulsions and end up writhing on the floor with sorrowful tears. We children would giggle in our corner. But I was secretly amazed. Anna Magnani did all that and took home an Oscar! Okay, sign me up!
If you could recommend a film or TV series to someone, what would you choose and why?
I think the answer I gave to what made me get into acting pretty much suffices for this. But I can’t help getting my two cents in. My favorite movie is ‘La Dolce Vita’. Tomorrow I’ll probably go with ‘Citizen Kane’, ‘The Godfather I and II’, or ‘City Lights’, ‘Persona’, or even ‘Top Hat’. But for me ‘La Dolce Vita’ is a cautionary tale about something very significant gone wrong in our modern society. And it is done with the most amazing flair. It’s a morality tale, a musical, a modern dance, a drama, a tragedy and it’s even quite funny in some spots. What a cast. Mastroianni was terrific. As for TV, that would be ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’, I know that it’s pretty dated in the way women were depicted. Poor hysterical Laura! But it was the first sitcom where you had a really attractive, sexy couple for a husband and wife. They were not only eye candy but they were funny, touching and they could dance. The show was witty and urbane and show business savvy. I must sound like those people who say, “Boy they don’t make them like they used to.” Not so. I think that when we refer to the good old days we’re thinking of the landmarks in our lives. The past recedes like a folded accordion. We only see the highlights: the things that moved us to distraction. We don’t see the endless hours sitting through a terrible movie or a terrible show. We don’t remember how back in the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s we poured through the newspapers (old-time bloggers) in vain looking for a good movie, TV show or concert. In short, the best film of 2010 is ‘The Social Network’ and with shows like ‘Mad Men’, ‘The Good Wife’, ‘The Mentalist’, ‘The Big Bang Theory’, ‘Monk’, ‘Dexter’ and ‘Modern Family’, this is another golden age of television.
You’ve had numerous roles in different films and TV projects – who has been your favourite actor to work with and who has given you the best advice?
Oh my lord. Are you asking me to pick my favorite child! Well, thank god this isn’t ‘Sophie’s Choice’. Actually there are quite a few. Kim Cattrall was very gracious in ‘Sex And The City’. Director Raja Gosnell enjoys the actors work and he showed it in ‘The Smurfs’. Alan Taylor directed me in three projects thus belaying his belief in me. In one of his projects, ‘Kill The Poor’, I had the pleasure of working with David Krumholtz who went on to star in ‘Numb3rs’, and I can’t recall a more giving, supportive actor. In ‘Animal Factory’, I was in the company of the best actors from the American Independant field and Willem Dafoe welcomed me with open arms. “Wow”, I thought, “He thinks I’m one of them.” And as for Steve Buscemi, when I first saw him in ‘Parting Glances’, I knew that my fifteen or twenty year hiatus from acting was over.
If you could have a dinner with three historical guests, alive or dead – who would they be and why?
Tennessee Williams, Charles Chaplin, Anton Chekhov and Terence Davies. Yes, I know that’s four and they’re not historical, they’re film and theatre. You’re dealing with an actor here, okay? Why them? Because Eugene O’Neal, Montgomery Clift and T. E. Lawrence would depress me, Jean Cocteau and Marcel Proust would see that I’m not dandy, Sigmund Freud would fuck with my head and Jean Genet would rob me blind. But as to Chaplin, Chekhov, Davies and Williams, they are magical realist poets. And I would want to know how they took, or in Davies’ case – take – the ordinary, mundane, even the downright horrific and turn it into a kind of strange beauty. Of course Davies would ditch me for Doris Day and who could blame him? Maybe Scorsese’s available.
What has been the most interesting piece of local / national news you’ve heard in the last month?
Well New York passed the Equal Marriage Act. I can now marry a man yet I’m not the marrying kind. But that’s alright, I’m pro-choice and I’m not planning on having an abortion any time soon.
What’s coming up for you in 2011?
Following on the heels of four projects in 2010, including ‘The Switch’ with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman, I have five projects in 2011. Along with ‘The Smurfs’ you’ll see me in an indie called ’79 Parts’ and ‘Safe’ in which I pick the pocket of your action hero, Jason Statham. In 2012 you’ll see me in ‘A Gifted Man’, a new TV thriller with Patrick Wilson and ‘Another Bullshit Night In Suck City’ opposite Robert De Niro. And there’s even the possibility of a Sasha Baron Cohen project.in the works.
Thanks for the interview!