Interview: Ray Stevenson, Kill the Irishman

Ray Stevenson is an incredible man and a great actor. He was the best Punisher in “War Zone” and can now be seen playing a spot-on Danny Greene in “Kill the Irishman”. You may also have seen him in “The Other Guys” or “Book of Eli”, and soon he will be front and center for “Three Musketeers”.

Ray is a friendly, talkative fellow. He would love to chat with you about how “Irishman” had a budget of 10 million but made it look like 40 million with some key innovations. No crane? No problem. They tied the cinematographer to a rope and just swung him out over the set. He can tell you how Cleveland today is not the Cleveland of 1970, having undergone a “gentrification” process.

And unlike many actors, Ray has never lived in Los Angeles. Not even close. He recently purchased a house on the island of Ibeza in the Mediterranean Sea. He plays by his own rules and comes out ahead every time. And underneath the leading man’s exterior lies a fan of film, who still gets excited when he meets one of his idols.

I spoke with Ray on June 10, 2011 and wish we had more time… he was full of great stories and humor.

GS: In “The Theory of Flight” (1998) you played the part of a gigolo hired to help Helena Bonham Carter’s character to lose her virginity. How do you study for that role?

RS: Basically, leave your dignity at the door. (laughs) No, just kidding. It’s just playing reality — gigolos exist. Just play it like you mean it. I don’t even care if people don’t like me, just so long as they believe me. Then my job is done. And it was a lot of fun. That was the first time I got to meet Kenneth Branagh.

GS: Ten years later, you did “Outpost” (2008) — a movie with Nazi zombies. What’s worse, Nazis or zombies?

RS: Zombies — I hate those guys. Well, you know what, I had just finished the “Rome” TV series and a script came in. My agent said there’s no money, it’s a low-budget thing, but the director would love to meet you. I read the script. And zombies are not my thing, it’s just not my genre. But I met the director and he knew everything about every zombie film — he was a geek of that genre. He had such enthusiasm, such passion, and it was a good script, as well. So I called my agent and I said, “I don’t care that there’s no money, I really want to work with this guy.” It’s an area I don’t know. But it was still playing a character, which is what I do know. It’s his field and it was a very exciting journey. We spent five weeks shooting in the wooly wilds of Scotland on a wing and a prayer. And i love it when someone comes up to me and says, “Oh my God! Outpost!” I’m always like, “Oh my God, really?!” (laughs)

GS: In 2010, you appeared in “The Book of Eli” with Mila Kunis and “The Other Guys” with Sam Jackson. Did you get to spend much time with either of them?

RS: I never actually met Samuel L. Jackson. He came in, did his piece, and left. The way that film was done we went from location to location and shot at each particular one. So, I never got to meet him. I did get to know other people pretty well, spending four months shooting in New Mexico. We were a very collective group because we were all fish out of water. Even the altitude was unfamiliar. But Mila, she’s a blast.

GS: You just recently worked with Paul Anderson on “The Three Musketeers” (2011). Much like the director of “Outpost”, I get the impression that he is a big geek. Would that be correct?

RS: You know what? It’s hard to throw these terms around. He’s fun and he relishes in creating his world of movies. He’s a delight and he’s inspirational to work with. But yeah, you know what? He is a big geek. A big, beautiful geek.

GS: In “Kill the Irishman” you looked just like Danny Greene. What sort of hair and makeup process was there?

RS: I looked at the photos of the man and he has a very receding hairline. I said to myself that the only real way to do this — because he has such distinctive hair — would be to razor my hair. So I am actually completely bald throughout the movie. At the end of the movie when they show actual footage of Danny, you go “Oh my God, look at that hair.” It’s distinctive. It’s not someone’s hair who has been curled or pressed. So I razored my head every morning and depending on which scenes we were shooting, the mustache would go on or the sideburns would go on. That was the only way we could do it. It’s a very important part of the man, too. His hair could only be the hair of an Irishman with a bit of Celt in him. He was a Celtic warrior and he did not need to groom it. Originally he tried to groom it to ingratiate himself with the mafia, but ultimately it just went wild as the Celtic warrior came out.

GS: Do you feel that the film raises any moral issues? Danny is shown as the film’s hero, but he’s also a killer — he’s blowing people up.

RS: Absolutely. And I think this is a testament to the script, because it attracted a lot of great actors. The script never set out to redeem the guy or to justify him. He was a career criminal, a villain, and a murderer. And we never sought to glorify that. A lot of women have taken to this movie, even though on the page it looks like a guy’s movie — it’s guys blowing up guys. But it’s actually a movie about a man’s journey. It’s a rite of passage. Not a teenager’s rite of passenger, but a man’s. Every human being on earth is on a journey, and this man’s is the tale of mobsters and the bombing capitol of the US. It’s the turning point of the existence of organized crime. It was such a dynamic period of America history. I went to the premiere in New York and I also went to Cleveland. Danny’s wife turned up to the premiere and I met her and her daughters. And out of nowhere, his son turned up and he was the spitting image of Danny Greene. He came over and he said, “I want to introduce myself.” I said, “You don’t have to do that. I already know who you are.” He wanted nothing to do with the movie, but he said that he heard me on the radio doing an interview that morning, speaking about his dad, and something inside him made him come. He watched the movie and we had a long chat afterwards as well. It’s not a documentary, I’m not trying to mimic the guy. But it was a tremendous feeling being surrounded by his living family. And they loved the movie — not because we made him a hero, or glamorized or glorified him, but because we got something of the man. I was asked in a previous interview if I would have liked to meet Danny Greene, and the answer is no. (laughs)

GS: Do you have any stories of the iconic Chris Walken?

RS: He’s a damn fine actor. The first time I met him, he was dressed in like a track suit. Him and I got together and sat down in a bar, going through our scenes in the script. And on his script, there was not one millimeter of space around the actual script. His notes filled the page — right side up, upside down, along the edges of the page, top to bottom. I got the feel of what his personal method is. I looked at my script, which was blank, and I thought to myself — should I be writing something? I almost never write on a script. His script was noted, annotated, written on… but we sat across from each other, broke this thing down and discussed the scenes. We established Danny Greene and Shondor Birns’ relationship. After getting over the initial shock of “Oh my God, I’m sitting across from Chris Walken” I saw myself looking at him as an actor who was going to work with me and regarding me as an actor. It was the same with Denzel Washington — you tell yourself, it’s an actor, it’s an actor. Denzel was a passionate man, and the same is true of Chris Walken. And then Vincent D’Onofrio! This guy’s just like the real deal. He’s raw, he’s bare, seeing everything as a challenge. You owe it to the actors around you to bring everything you have to the set. It’s professionalism and it shows when you come out with a very full, rich performance.

GS: Last question. Something I’m trying to get to the bottom of. Was Tara Reid ever on set?

RS: I’d have to think, but I’m pretty sure not. I’m trying to remember if she showed up at one point. You know, this was three years ago when we shot, so it’s hard to say. I know Tara — I’ve met her before and I’ve met her since. She was an executive producer on it along with her brother, Tommy Reid. Tommy had this passion for the movie and was such a driving force behind getting it made and keeping it in line with the budget. He was not a directorial producer. There are many different kinds of producers.

GS: That may be as close to a definitive answer as I am going to get. Thank you so much for your time, Ray.

RS: Thank you.

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