Interview Thomas McCarthy July 4, 2008 Actor-director Tom McCarthy chats to us about his second feature film ‘The Visitor’. It sounds like a horror film, I say to Tom McCarthy as he visits Dublin for the release of his new film ‘The Visitor’. Laughing he concedes the point. Fortunately, ‘The Visitor’ is no run of the mill horror; indeed it’s not even horror. Instead we watch the deeply personable tale of Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), a widowed college professor who finds a path to renew his soul through the unexpected relationships he forms with several illegal immigrants. Here, we chat to the equally personable actor-director Tom McCarthy (from films such as Syriana, Good Night, And Good Luck, Meet the Parents) about the film. Q: Why did you decide to follow your first feature ‘The Station Agent’ with ‘The Visitor’? I don’t know actually, that’s a good question. I knew I wanted to write my next project. So, I started putting together pieces and characters and it slowly developed into a storyline- including the immigration angle, which came a bit later in the process. And it fit together; I felt tonally and thematically it’s similar to ‘The Station Agent’ but than structurally it was more challenging. It picked up where I left off as a writer-director and also pushed me forward in a new direction. That felt like where I wanted to be at this stage in my career. Q: The two storylines are distinct in many ways. Is this a story of immigration or more a character driven narrative? I think it was a question of marrying the storylines. I stumbled into the immigration storyline but when it came to me it was very organic. In fact, it was difficult for me to avoid it; it would be almost irresponsible to avoid the subject. I was very conscious of not letting it overwhelm the story and that was difficult because there is so much information that goes with it. So it was a balancing act with those two tracks so to speak. Then, at a certain point, it started resonating with me… Q: How so? Well, you start to realise, there are places in the world were terrible things are happening but, at the same time, life goes on during these times. People fall in love, people fall out of love, people form friendships and I think these periods of are important for self-discovery. That’s what I found interesting to explore in ‘The Visitor’. Q: You say you stumbled on the immigration storyline; how did that come about? I read about the detention centres and for about a year I visited one centre in Queens. Let me tell you, my first visit was as eye opening for me as it was for Walter… Q: Given their sensitive nature, was there a lot of red tape getting into these places? No, not really. I read about an organisation that you could sign up to as a social worker for the detainees. It was kind of like a bedside chat. Much of the immigration story is based on an amalgam of different conversations I had when I visited. I often heard people saying “ there are no terrorists in here” and “I don’t understand”. It was just that sense of frustration at the lack of respect that I wanted to convey. Q: I read elsewhere you tend to do casting and writing at the same time, what’s your process there. I think it might be because I’m an actor myself. I believe a lot in the specificity of a voice. So when I’m writing I’m very aware of who I’m writing for. For Walter I definitely had Richard in mind. I’d never worked with him but I arranged a dinner to discuss it. Before we had sat down he was high on my list and after that he was my list. I also think I’m starting to believe in my own process more and more. I tend to go to an actor with a strong draft I believe in, sign them, lock them in and that’s when I start writing, writing, rewriting and writing again. Q: Where you ever nervous about casting Richard in a lead role? No, there was never a moment in my mind. He’s just great actor. One thing good and bad actors alike know is good acting. Every actor friend I talked to just agreed Richard was a great call. I think its imperative in projects like this to work with people you are interested in and want to work with. Q: Did you ever consider casting yourself in the film? To be honest, there really wasn’t a part for me in this project. But generally, I don’t really see the need; so few directors do it well. I think John Cassavetes is an example of how to do it, but at the same time, you have to say to yourself “to what end?” Q: Where did you think you are in your career? I think I’m still trying to establish myself in everything I do. I have a good foothold in all my areas – acting, directing and writing but at the same time, I’m still learning. Q: Are you recognised much? More and more, just because I’m starting to work on bigger projects. I get a lot of “do you go to Boston University” or “do you work for dell?” Honestly I quite like that. It can be easier when research for a film; not to be impeded by a sense of celebrity. Q: Would you consider directing a blockbuster? At the moment I’m interested in stories I feel connected to. With smaller budgets, you have a freer reign- for better or worse. With both films I’ve directed I got to tell the story I was interested and work with actors I wanted to. I feel lucky to have gotten that opportunity – directing, after all, is a very expensive learning experience. Would I consider directing on a bigger scale? Sure, many directors start off on smaller more personal scale and expand. Look at Ang Lee. His first two or three movies were relatively small, he stepped it up with Ice Storm, went temporarily insane with the Hulk and after that produced ‘Brokeback Mountain’, you don’t get more personal than that. Q: You’re signed on to Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lovely Bones’. When are you doing that? I’ve done my part. It was very brief for me. It was just two weeks; it’s a small role I probably wouldn’t have done, but for the fact it’s Peter Jackson and this was a great chance to see how he works on set. He’s such a bright and intense man to work with. Q: And you were recently confirmed for Roland Emmerich’s ‘2012’; what can you tell us about the film? Wow I didn’t know that was announced yet (laughs). Yeah, it’s starting in September. It’s a great part, its one of seven leading roles in the film with some spectacular talent. Again, I’ve never done a big movie like this before; it’ll be a cool new acting experience for me. It promises to be all the things you expect from a Roland Emmerich film. Q: So CGI and more CGI? You bet! Q: How long will you be shooting on that? A while – long enough that my dog is coming with me to Canada. The Visitor is in Irish cinemas now.