Interview: Dermot Mulroney Talks Anti-Heros, ‘Inhale’, and Disliking Rom-Coms

Inhale, a film involving organ trafficking, is a detective story. On the surface it seems like a normal thriller, but when you get down to the characters and themes it’s very much done in the old school fashion of classic detective tales. The story follows someone who isn’t a boy scout, there’s side characters who turn noir archetypes on their ear, and the whole film itself is basically a mystery. Inhale could’ve been ridiculous or over the top, but it’s mostly done in a surprisingly simplistic manner. This is detective film told in a gritty fashion.

Dermot Mulroney may be someone known for his “chick” flicks and some may find his turn here surprising, but Mulroney isn’t just that love interest guy people label him as. He’s played not the most charming or appealing characters in some fantastic films: UndertowAbout Schmidt, and even his small turn in Zodiac didn’t show him in the most flattering light. Inhale is another film that can stand amongst his past body of work that doesn’t have him winning the girl in the end.

I recently had the chance to talk to Mulroney – who’s a rare breed in terms of his honesty and openness – to discuss playing an anti-hero, being tied to romantic comedies, and the classical archetypes of Inhale.

When you read the script were you surprised that Paul Stanton wasn’t played as a boy scout?

What do you mean?

That he’s not Mr. Righteous. You see him defending a child molester at the beginning.

Ah, I gotcha. That’s a part I like about the movie because in a lot of other movies, they would’ve cut that whole thing. It’s the character building storyline that doesn’t go anywhere, and that would be the first thing an editor would usually takeout. It adds a lot to Paul, and [the director] Baltasar believed in that so strongly. He did such a good job, especially when it came to the scene in the jail with the actual murderer. That’s what I liked about it, he’s not Mr. Clean running through Mexico- isn’t that what you mean?

Yeah, and the fact he’s not played as an action hero. He’s still a average lawyer.

Yeah, that’s the point. I’m glad that came across, but it’s a good thing he’s also no pussy (laughs). He can stand up against that murder in jail and the molester, be able to deal with the press, and be a loving a father. He’s not going to pull his shirt open and have a vest there or anything.

Would you also say he’s a bit ignorant?

In terms of not knowing how big and scary that world is? I think that opening storyline may lend towards him being incurably idealistic, which is probably an exaggeration, but at least he believes in the system of justice and the way the world works and what he thinks is right.

You’re obviously known for playing a lot of charming characters, was there an appeal in playing someone that isn’t charming and someone you wouldn’t want to hangout with?

That’s great to hear you wouldn’t want to hangout with him, I get you. He falls in this crack somewhere and he really fucks over his wife, especially with the bold decisions Paul and the filmmaker chose to end the film with. There’s no denying that the one person who really gets fucked is the person who didn’t have to look at that bloody little boy, didn’t have a friendship with the bloody little boy’s buddy, and didn’t have any personal connection to the source of the organ. It sounds like you were looking into it, and I’m glad that it remains tough and that it doesn’t become more transparent the more you look.

Was it refreshing getting to play in material that’s not completely black-and-white, which I’m presuming is like most of the scripts you get?

Yeah, it was. Again, I’ll put it into two categories: It was great for me, as an actor, but also as a film lover. I thought, “Yeah, can we still make movies with ending ambiguously or having moral disagreements with how the story goes?”, because it’s gotten tough out there. There are always questions about who’s going to make money on edgy movies, and thank god for IFC, because they’re not going to make a dime on this either. They’re putting it out and there was a question about whether this movie was ever going to make it theaters, but now it’s about whether or not it’ll go beyond the 2 or 4 theaters it’s starting in. It probably won’t, but not for lack of quality.

It would just be further evidence that the climate right now is riddled with fear and that audiences aren’t being valued. It’s not about trying anything new, because there’s plenty of Oscar winning movies that end how you don’t want them to, like The Deer Hunter. God, now I’m ranting (laughs). I’ve gone from enthusiastic interview to rant, but it’s true. I see it as true. People will see that the movie is well made and the story is compelling, but so few people will see it because of the state of things.

But sometimes they end up like Undertow, which is a fantastic movie, but nobody saw it in theaters. It eventually found an audience.

Yeah, I like doing movies like that because they do have that type of “street cred” and have legs. It’s much more gratifying having people talk to me about those films versus some teenage girls, well, all those teenage girls are now 33 and they’ve all grown older (laughs). I don’t think the fans of My Best Friend’s Wedding are all 14 still, but they talk to you as if they are. It’s very bizarre, but it’s the same thing with Young Guns; all those guys are almost 40, but they’re viewing me through the eyes of a 15-year-old. But I’m happy to hear you say that in reference to a movie like Undertow, because that one definitely, probably a lot more than most movies I’ve done, had this late bloom. 

All you really need to know about Jack is his favorite movies are: The Last Detail, Rumble Fish, Sunset Boulevard, The Truman Show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Verdict, Closer, Shadow of a Doubt, The Long Goodbye, Spider-Man 2, Jaws, Adaptation, Get Carter, The Last Days of Disco, Carnal Knowledge, Almost Famous, Ed Wood, Ace in the Hole, Barton Fink, and L.A. Confidential.

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