48TH THESSALONIKI FILM FESTIVAL
November 16-25 2007
DAVID STRATHAIRN & CHRIS COOPER MASTERCLASS
“With us today we have two of the most prominent members of John Sayles’ family who aren’t interested in star status, but in making us part of the cinematic world that they have been faithfully serving for years”. With these words, the Director of the Thessaloniki Film Festival, Despina Mouzaki introduced David Strathairn and Chris Cooper at the masterclass they gave on Tuesday, November 20th at the packed John Cassavetes theatre.
Coordinating the discussion was the President of the Thessaloniki Film Festival, George Corraface, who started off with the subject of actor typecasting. David Strathairn mentioned that typecasting is unfortunately an indivisible part of cinema: “It’s a trap, a kind of “copying”, a problem for actors who want to explore their art. We want to be the messengers of the world. However, the film industry doesn’t like to take risks so it forces actors to play the same roles. These are the conditions of our work. Therefore, you either go back to the theatre, or you go… to John Sayles”. On the same topic, Chris Cooper said: “Typecasting is like a bad joke. They are always offering me the part of the bad father, the government official or the soldier”. Regarding how he selects the films he plays in, Cooper said that he uses the three-one rule: “Three films for the heart, and one for the money”.
In a question regarding the research that they do for the roles they play, David Strathairn said that “this is one of the best parts of our job. You learn about the clothes that were worn in any given time in history, about the politics of the time and you generally have a lot of information and data to think about. If you’ve done your research properly, then the result is truly educational, both for yourself, as well as for the audience”.
The two actors were also asked whether they have ever been afraid of accepting a particular role. Cooper mentioned that it depends on how high the actor aims for: “In American Beauty, every time I read the script, I became more and more disheartened. I kept dwelling in darker areas. Finally, I listened to my wife and accepted the role”. Strathairn noted: “When you say no to a role and then someone persuades you to accept it, you usually end up regretting it. You question your own judgment and blame yourself for trusting someone else rather than your instinct”.
Regarding how difficult it is for actors to switch in and out of their roles, Cooper claimed that he isn’t affected by it: “Of course, the characters continue to exist inside of you even after the film is finished, but that doesn’t bother me”. On the same topic, Strathairn compared an actor to an athlete, and each role as a separate and active member of his body.
In a question regarding their collaboration with John Sayles, the two actors revealed that he is one of the few directors who gives concise résumés of the roles when he offers them to actors. “This is something very special and an incredible help to actors, who have a starting point for their research” said Chris Cooper. David Strathairn added that he only experienced something similar to that in Goodnight and Good luck by George Clooney.
Finally, regarding the Oscars and the changes they brought in their lives, Strathairn was firm: “There is no way that an Oscar can change the 25 years of my work in cinema”. Cooper agreed and added: “We became more popular, which isn’t bad, but nothing more. Regardless, we don’t even live in Hollywood”.