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LOS ANGELES (Backstage) - Better known for playing charming romantic leads, Dermot Mulroney has recently turned his attention to a darker, deeper role.
In the thought-provoking "Inhale," which opened Friday through IFC Films, he portrays a man facing a moral dilemma that will mean life or death for his critically ill child. It is, pardon the pun, breathtakingly poignant work in a film that at first appears to be a thriller.
Mulroney began his film career with "Sunset" in 1988 and also starred that year in "Young Guns." Years later, with "My Best Friend's Wedding," as the eponymous friend, he began to be known to the general public. Soon notable roles followed -- in "Lovely and Amazing," "About Schmidt," and "Zodiac," and on "Friends" as Gavin, Rachel's replacement at work.
Mulroney, who turns 47 on Sunday, made his directorial debut this year with the upcoming romantic comedy "Love, Wedding, Marriage," which stars Mandy Moore.
With "Inhale," he is taking on a serious issue in a serious fashion, and he praises IFC Films for tackling it, especially as the film doesn't have a "Hollywood ending."
BACK STAGE: WHAT'S THE HARDEST YOU EVER WORKED TO GET CAST IN A ROLE?
Mulroney: The roles that I've worked hardest for I didn't get. And don't wring them out of me! But there's a couple over the years that I still remember. Aach. Each of the ones I've hotly pursued, there's a reason why you don't get it. And whenever I hotly pursue something, it's because it's just a little bit out of my reach anyway. So it all makes sense, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow if you don't get the part. At this age, I've done it this long, and I still get disappointed, which is infuriating. So silly.
Mulroney: I don't, and it just occurred to me that I should. Literally a week ago. Somebody else mentioned it, and I thought, "Well, there's an idea. I should find some sort of acting coach." So I think I will. Last I did was 15 years ago or something.
Mulroney: I hate to beat a dead horse, but I did have an audition one time where the casting director said to me, "I really loved you in 'Hamburger Hill,' Dylan."
Mulroney: Yeah! So I was like, Hmm, now do I read? I actually had the balls to say thank you and I left. D.B. Sweeney got the part and did a great job.
Mulroney: Sometimes I look back and realize how miscast I was. Again I won't say where. But what I find more interesting is when I've been so well cast, when I didn't believe it at the time. The best example is "About Schmidt" ... (I)t was fantastic casting. But it felt like a stretch to me, and it felt like perfect casting to the director (Alexander Payne), so I went with his take on it. So that's answering the flip side of the question.
Mulroney: I never was, 'cause I (moved to Los Angeles) in late August '85 and I had my first job January of '86. But my father said, in lieu of him spending on graduate school, he'd pay my rent for a year. So he paid September through December.
BACK STAGE: HOW DID YOU START GETTING WORK AFTER GRADUATING FROM NORTHWESTERN?
Mulroney: Hey, listen, this is what happened. That year, 1985, was the year that I'm finishing at Northwestern, and all those Steppenwolf actors took over Hollywood. So an agent from William Morris, Hollywood, Calif., came to the school -- a traditional talent scout -- and signed me up. I graduated that spring and moved out at the end of the summer, with an agent. It's the lucky kid at the right place at the right time.
But the problem is that there is no such thing anymore. Here's my biggest complaint about Hollywood: Agents, principally, but also producers and by extension whatever remnant of the studio system, have let actors down. And I'll tell you why: They don't talent-scout anymore. I am, like, the last man standing that somebody went out and took that hook and brought him in and turned him into a working actor. So my big complaint about this industry is that they've all forgotten how to support talent, how to hire a person more than once, how to promote someone as if they're a movie star, by which maneuver they will be one.
Did we have a 25-year-old movie star since Brad Pitt? McConaughey maybe. It's insanity, because there's no investment in the studios' future. So that now that I'm a middle-aged actor, I'm like, you've got to put somebody up there so that I can play the colonel or the priest or the principal. Right? And what they did instead was hear about some kid that was in a soap opera in Australia, or who's in a play in England. And you know what the problem is? They're not American. I hate to break it to you. They always just seem a little bit foreign. And I'm not a flag-waver. I just think that people forgot to do what they're supposed to do, which is go find talent and support it.