Kevin Zegers Talks '50 Dead Men Walking,' Ben Kingsley, 'Transamerica,' Felicity Huffman
He won acclaim – and an award at Cannes – for his role as a troubled teen in Transamerica, and now Kevin Zegers is getting raves for his new part in 50 Dead Men Walking, a film about an IRA turncoat who helps the police, with Ben Kingsley.
I worked with Kari Skogland, the director and friend of mine, on this film Stone Angel before. We struck up a relationship and have very similar work patterns. She said she had this movie she wanted to do. She wanted to go to Belfast, [Northern Ireland] and make this movie. I believed her. She said I would be perfect for the lead role. And we said collectively if Jim [Sturgess] is better for the lead role then let’s put him in that. Then Sir Ben [Kingsley] came along, and it was sort of a seamless thing that came along quite quickly.
The great thing was that everyone involved in it was very aware of what to expect in terms of what the situation would be like. It’s not as explosive as it used to be, but it’s very intense and there are situations that can escalate very quickly there. Kari was very adamant that we had people who were from there – not your standard bodyguards. It’s not about the muscle there, it’s about having a conversation – ‘This guy is just doing his job– it’s cool.’ We were not sheltered like people expect actors to be. We were determined to say, ‘Fuck it! We are going to do this thing. Let’s figure out what these guys are about.’ I also felt very safe.
Jim and I dove into it as much as we could. There are questions that are asked of you. We would be at the Crown Bar, and you are asked very specific questions about who you are and where you are from. There were certain people there who didn’t want this story told. We wanted to give an honest telling of both sides.
From the second I got there, I didn’t go back to the way I normally speak for four months. If it was with my girlfriend or parents or nieces, I was doing it all the time. It was the only way I could get it. It wasn’t a Method [acting] thing – it was literally the only way I could do it. By the time we started shooting, everyone thought that Jim and I were locals who they had never met before.
I think everyone is very tippy-toey around him. He’s probably the most lovely person to work with who I’ve ever met in my whole life. He just wants everyone to do their job well. He knew how much work Jim and I had done and how committed we were to getting it right. If you show up and do your job – we are all paid really well to do – once he sees that in someone he’s without a doubt one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. If I can someday be half as talented and articulate as he is, I think I will have a very successful career.
No, he actually said something very vivid to me: ‘We all have the exact same experience playing these characters. We have spent the exact same amount of time. Who am I to tell you what to do? We are each coming it at it from an equally uneducated place in terms of figuring these characters out.’
That was probably the turning point of my career and life. It was the point at which I realized how hard it is to do our job really well. Felicity [Huffman] is not looking for anything other than just getting it right. I came at it from a sort of emotionally unstable place but that turned out to work perfectly.
I was 19 years old. I had no idea what I was doing and felt completely out of my league. For the first time in my life, I was thrown into something that was way over my head. I learned so much about myself and my shortcomings as an actor, what works for me and what doesn’t. I am never satisfied at this point. There’s no such thing as a good scene, it’s never good enough. [Transamerica] was great for me – it’s kept me employed for years and given me opportunities to do stuff like this. I would still do things differently [in that role] if I had it to do over again, and that’s comforting to me, since I’m only going to get better.
We don’t have a start date yet, and we are still trying to put it together.
I was a child actor and grew up in a really small town in Woodstock, Ontario. I did a bunch of commercials and Disney movies. Throw a dart from a thousand miles away that’s about the chances that you will end up making a living in the job that I have. It’s such luck being at the right place at the right time. I can move forward because there’s a platform for me and I can select a great script now. But before it was like, ‘Who wants to give me a job in 10 bad movies?’ I was just lucky to do Transamerica. I’m very fortunate. But being in that place that I’m in now I don’t want to mess it up.