I recently got the chance to talk to Rob Brownstein about his role in ‘Argo’. Here, Rob talks about what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set and which three people he would invite to dinner…
No worries. Thanks for asking.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film? I hear it’s based on a true story…
It’s about six American Embassy people who managed to evade being part of the hostages the Iranians took in the 1980 Hostage Crisis. The Ayatollah, who had recently taken over the country, was trying to use the hostages as a lever to get the Shah sent back to them by the U.S. The hostages hid in the Canadian Embassy and were gotten out of the country by a clandestine CIA operation headed by Ben Affleck’s character. It’s based on a true story.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play Landon Butler who was the Deputy Chief of Staff to President Carter. I’m part of the White House staff – (headed by Hamilton Jordan who’s played by Kyle Chandler). Kyle and, I think, Ben actually talked to him. What’s also interesting is it was only 30 years ago, but the information technology was light years behind what we’ve got today. These guys were getting the news off land-line phones and television when there were only a few channels. And you can see that in the film where we’re watching TV to see what’s happening.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
Like most actors, I auditioned.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
Well, Ben’s direction for one, which is terrific as well as his take on it. Also I was in college when it happened and I remember it, but what I remember is the cover story – that it was the Canadians who got them out directly from their embassy. The truth wasn’t released until so many years later so it’s really cool to learn all this. And it’s a heck of a compelling story. It’s such a moment in history and Ben re-creates it amazingly.
The film stars Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham and Kerry Bishe – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
I’m afraid I’m going to be a little disappointing with this one. There are so many separate little pieces of this film and our piece, the White House, was shot on its own, so I only got to work with that small group of actors. I can tell you that we all really hit it off and really liked each other. Kyle and I had the same acting teacher years ago, though at different times, and we talked about that. Ben was wonderful to work with. Generous, interesting and very, very smart.
Let’s talk a bit about you Rob. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
That’s always a tough question. I think I always liked story-telling – of all kinds: books, movies, TV, music. So it was natural. I didn’t really think of it as an industry when I started back in school. Just something that fit.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
You know, I teach acting. First, and I think this applies to everyone in the industry not just actors, figure out what you want in a realistic way and how you go about getting there. I mean, it’s a profession like any other – you have to train, figure out your specialities whether it’s directing, acting, costumes, and all the sub-parts of that like musicals, horror films, whatever. Look at the people you admire and how they got there. And don’t be rigid about it either, it’s a journey. You may start out intending to act and find yourself moving into directing, writing, art direction, producing. Or vice-versa. If you’re an actor, explore all your talents and interests as well: music, art, history, writing so they add up to make you – you. That’s the second thing: really be you, that’s what’s special and unique. And third: study. Actors are no different from musicians and athletes: train, train, train. Good actors work very hard.
Also, there’s a glamour and mythology about it that makes people feel like they’re on the outside looking in, like Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Little Tramp’ watching people eat through the restaurant window. But if you think about it, almost all industries are like that.
You’ve been in a number of different films and TV series – which actors/actresses have been your favourites to work with and why? Any good stories?
Oh my goodness, so many. But none I can tell here. Seriously, everybody I’ve worked with has been really, really cool. Even actors I thought I’d have a problem with because of – you know, the things you hear about them – have surprised me by being wonderful to work with. I just had the pleasure of working with the great Bill Irwin and, of course, being involved with this film and Ben and these people was terrific.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
Wow, so many. I’ll pick people who are alive. Phil Jackson, because for a sports figure he’s just about the coolest and most interesting guy around, period. Barack Obama, because I’d really like to know what it’s really like in that office. Gary Oldman, because he’s my absolute idol as a character actor.
If you could choose a literary character to will into existence, who would you choose and why?
Oh, I don’t know. Obi Wan Kenobi, because there are times I could really use the Force in my life.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
A few things. I’m actually off later today to shoot a really interesting film called ‘Home’ about a young woman who wakes up pregnant from a coma. And I’ve worked on a couple of shows that will be airing in the Spring including David Kelley’s new series ‘Monday Mornings’. Otherwise, I’m auditioning. An actor’s life.
Thanks for the interview!