Corey Stoll is a busy man these days. Lucky for us, he managed to find a few minutes to discuss his latest film "Glass Chin," which costars Billy Crudup and is currently in competition at the Tribeca Film Festival. Modest but powerful, the film is a great showcase for Stoll’s understated, effective acting. He is not a big-name actor quite yet, but he is surely on his way.
Stoll has appeared in numerous television series, but it was his role as the manipulated, dejected Peter Russo opposite Kevin Spacey’s vulture politician in the hit "House of Cards" that won him his first Golden Globe nomination and the love of TV critics and fans alike. He’s also been a regular on the stage, and it was his appearance in "A View From the Bridge" that caught the attention of Woody Allen, who consequently cast him as Ernest Hemingway in Allen’s highest grossing film "Midnight in Paris." His spot-on, scene-stealing performance of the famed writer’s exuberant intellectuality opened up his career to a whole new set of opportunities.
In "Glass Chin," he plays a former boxing champ who agrees to work as muscle for the idiosyncratic businessman J.J. (Crudup) in exchange for opening up a restaurant in the city. What most drew him to the part, he says, was the script, which he found "pretty perfect"--"surprising, funny, sorrowful, and very deeply felt but not sentimental." "It was a really beautiful piece of writing. I then saw [director Noah Buschel’s] ‘Missing Person’ and ‘Sparrows Dance.’ It was clear that Noah had this incredible vision. He is really fearless in his choices. If he wants to keep the shot from twenty feet away, he’ll do that. If he wants to get up in somebody’s face, he’ll do that. It was very exciting to be part of something that had such a strong point of the view. The character is definitely not easy to like at first, but there is a real person and soul there, and that really leapt off the page."
"I was acting without a net. In that scene [of a long take], you’re not going to have the benefit of cuts and coverage to make you look good. You’re exposed. That can be scary but bracing. It brings a theatrical energy to it. It was a learning experience to find a balance between theatricality and filmic acting. If you’re too theatrical, it looks like a staged play; but if you’re too filmic, relying too much on cuts, it can easily fall apart." There was "surprisingly little" improvisation, he said, and gave all the credit to the high quality of the script.
Stoll and costar Marin Ireland have great chemistry in the film and appear very natural and comfortable in their shared scenes. "We’ve known each other for a while," he said. "We were in a play ten years ago. She makes it really easy."
The Zen Buddhism of the film did not rub off on him, "not at all." "It has all these tropes of noir with these hard-boiled characters. I’ve never seen Buddhism integrated into that kind of story. There’s a lot of symbolism that Noah has a very specific idea of what it represents."
Because of the tightness of his interview schedule that day—with the film’s premiere only a few hours later—I did not get to ask him about "Midnight in Paris" or "House of Cards" and if he was keeping up with the new season. I did, however, ask him if he felt a similarity between Russo and Bud, who are both fallen men disillusioned with their lives and seeking redemption. Although admitting that others had observed a similarity, he responded, "I did not see that. I feel that Peter’s weakness was his constant need for everybody to love him and his inability to say any truths that may be challenging to people or make him look bad. Bud doesn’t care about what other people think; although, he is status-obsessed. From the inside, they seem very different. They’re both victimized; they’ve been flattered to the point of selling themselves out or sabotaging themselves."
Though the film is reminiscent of "On the Waterfront," with the last scene taking place in the back of a cab, Stoll did not take open inspiration from Brando’s iconic performance. He said, "I made a point not to watch that; it’s the prototypical boxing movie without boxing."
With a two-minute warning from his publicist to end the interview after only five minutes, I became flustered but managed to squeeze out a question about his latest work on the upcoming FX series "The Strain," which was co-created by Guillermo del Toro, the acclaimed Mexican director of both big-budget productions and smaller dramas. He said he was "absolutely" a fan of del Toro’s from before filming and attracted to the project despite not particularly being a fan of horror. "It’s not necessarily what something is about that it’s about," he offered, which is why the best of films and television series transcend their audience-drawing genres.
When I quickly asked him to compare the experience of acting for TV and film – something I’m sure he’s asked quite a bit as an actor who so easily switches between mediums – he said the lines were being "blurred" and that, while "House of Cards" felt like "making a studio film in the 70s," "Glass Chin" was a quick shoot much like TV.
I had no time left and, as we were both being ushered out of the room, rushed a question on which director he’d want to work with on his next project. Without hesitation, he immediately answered "Martin Scorsese." After I had turned off the recorder and was on my way out, he tapped my arm to offer one more bit of trivia. Painting the picture for me with his hands up, he told me that he had always kept the photos of two directors in his room: Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. I mumbled "One down, one to go," and he waved goodbye before being moved along on to his next appointment.