In ‘The Founder’, John Carroll Lynch stars as Mac McDonald – who, partnered with his brother Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) – created the first McDonald’s restaurant in California in the 1940s. Based on a true story, the new film from director John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks), follows the trail of how traveling salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), impressed by the brothers’ innovative assembly-line approach to the kitchen, maneuvered himself into a position where he was ultimately able to take control of the company, transforming himself in the process to the ‘founder’ of an economic empire.
Appearing in over 50 films and television productions, John Carrol Lynch first sprang to prominence in 1996 with the Coen brothers’ critically acclaimed, ‘Fargo’. His films include ‘Gothika’, ‘Things We Lost in the Fire’, ‘Zodiac’, ‘Gran Torino’, ‘Shutter Island’, and ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’. On television, Lynch has starred in such popular series as ‘The Drew Carey Show’ and ‘American Horror Story’ amongst numerous others.
We spoke with John Carroll Lynch about the making of ‘The Founder’.
What initially attracted you to ‘The Founder’? How did your casting come about?
I got a call about it from my manager, read the script, and thought it was spectacular. I then had a chance to talk with John Lee Hancock about the role and the movie, and then was offered the part. The expression of love between the McDonald brothers in the script was so beautiful and it felt really true to me. So it was great to be able to play that – to play someone who really thought his brother was great. And it was great to be paired with Nick Offerman for it.
I have to say, you really do come across as brothers on screen.
(Laughs)… We just fell into it. It was written beautifully on the page, so you start with that and take it from there. We got to rehearse a little bit with John (Lee Hancock) and that was obviously helpful in building that relationship…You got a sense of where you were supposed to tune your instrument.
How much did you know about the origins of McDonald’s before making the film?
I had heard of the McDonald brothers. I wasn’t under the illusion that Ray Kroc had created the original company. But I didn’t know the extent to which the brothers had transformed the industry. That was new information. I also was not aware of the way in which the company changed hands, nor of its transformation… Before reading The Founder script, I was still under the mistaken impression that it was a restaurant company not a real estate company.
How did you go about researching Mac McDonald? Was there a lot of information available to you?
The production had a lot of material, all sorts of interesting things from the brothers’ archives. I also watched a couple of documentaries. And then, later, the family came and visited the set. That was great because you really got a sense that many of these scenes that we were in a sense reenacting came from their scrapbooks. It came from their family album.
Do you actually look like the real Mac McDonald?
I have to say Nick looks a lot more like Dick McDonald than I look like Mac McDonald (laughs)…
How faithful is the film to the actual events?
My understanding is that it’s quite accurate. Certainly there is dispute as to the question of royalties that’s discussed in the movie. Whether or not they deserved or had created a deal where they would get 1% of the company. There’s obviously dispute between the Ray Kroc Estate, the McDonald’s Corporation and the McDonald family about that. But there’s no disputing they didn’t get it.
What’s your take on Ray Kroc? On screen we see him do some pretty reprehensible things, yet he emerges as a somewhat empathetic character.
Ray Kroc is a figure that you can make up your own mind about in the movie and in real life. He was without a doubt an American success story. Without a doubt, he was a hard worker, a terrific salesman. He was able to create a massive multinational corporation, one of the largest real estate holding companies in the world. All of those things are 100% true. He was, for all intents and purposes, successful. Was he a good man? That’s a different question and one that people will have to answer for themselves.
Most of your scenes are with Nick Offerman. Had you worked together before?
We hadn’t and it really felt great to work with him. It just felt like a great duet from the very beginning. We certainly look great together – the Mutt and Jeff of it is terrific (laughs)… I got to
work a lot with him and with Michael (Keaton) and they’re both terrifically gifted actors. They really throw the ball around, and that’s what I like.
Tell us about working with Michael Keaton.
I had the good fortune of working with Michael on Live From Baghdad (2002), also a true story, and now this one. And I’m also an admirer of his work in general. I think people misunderstand sometimes what actors do. The word ‘transformation’ is tossed around a lot, and a lot of it has to do with, you know, if you wear a wig and a mustache – that kind of thing…You’re transforming; that’s true. But Michael transforms from the inside in a way that’s so subtle that if you don’t look closely you can sometimes miss it… He’s a real joy to work with.
What do you think of his take on Ray Kroc?
The great testament to his performance, the screenplay and John Lee Hancock’s work is that you watch a man decide to tell a lie about how he is the ‘founder’ of this company and how slowly for him it becomes the truth… In the movie you watch Michael’s character ingest the lie… And it’s so human – how the deception starts with yourself.
What was your collaboration like with John Lee Hancock?
He’s a master storyteller and he knows the business of this up and down. But I will say this. In all of his movies he tries to find something that’s true and human. He doesn’t demonize people, no matter how reprehensible they may behave. But he doesn’t soft sell it either, particularly in this movie. Both John and Michael Keaton were in tandem about that. There’s a lot of ugly moments in this movie and yet you never lose sight of the fact that Ray Kroc has great humanity. In some ways you have to see him as a hero even though at the same time he does some really reprehensible things.
What was the biggest challenge making the film?
For the production as a whole, the challenge was to create all the McDonald franchises that the movie took place in – to create that world in the limited amount of time and with the limited amount of money we had. And its genius what they did. It’s incredible that way – it’s so real, the vividness of the production design, the art direction, the cinematography and the costume design. For me, personally, the challenge was to try to be true to the screenplay and create the brothers’
relationship in a way that was believable and fully human. Sometimes on film, good people end up having no edges. They end up feeling too good. They end up feeling not human in the other way. I think that was the challenge – that there was some dimension and shadow there.
What kind of film are audiences in store for?
I love this movie because it’s extraordinarily entertaining. It is a Hollywood picture – I mean, it’s fun. But it not only tells a great story that deserves to be told; it also asks a lot of important questions. In talking about it, doing interviews, I’ve come to realize that the movie is a lot deeper and more complicated than what we imagined it was even when we were making it…. It stays with you. This movie stays with you in a way that I think great movies do. You’re always turning it over in your mind.
THE FOUNDER is at Irish cinemas from February 17th
Words – Steven Goldman