‘First Cow’ Star John Magaro on the Film’s Queerness and Shooting the ‘Sopranos’ Prequel

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Marc Malkin
·3 min read
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John Magaro doesn’t have a lot to say in Kelly Reichardt’s “First Cow.”

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He stars as Otis “Cookie” Figowitz, the cook to a group of fur catchers in 1820s Oregon, who is befriended by King-Lu, a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee) on the run for killing a Russian man.

His performance, which earned the 37-year-old actor a Gotham Award nomination, is made even quieter because he’s covered by unruly facial hair, a hat and layers of dirt-covered clothing.

“King-Lu does most of the talking. Cookie is listening,” Magaro says during an appearance on Tuesday’s episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket.” “So it’s scary and it’s a daunting task, but it was really exciting to have that challenge. You don’t get that a lot…I felt a sense of confidence because I think a big part of why Kelly cast me was she says my eyes are these kind of sad eyes. [With] the beard and everything, all you really have are the eyes.”

On Tuesday, “First Cow” garnered three Indie Spirit Award nominations and was among the National Board of Review’s top 10 films of the year.

Magaro says the relationship between Cookie and King-Lu has “queer undertones.”

“That’s sort of the chestnut that’s still yet to be cracked, and I don’t think Kelly wants to talk about it much and I understand why because that’s not what’s important about the story,” Magaro says. “I have my thoughts on it and I believe Orion has his thoughts on it, but we never discussed it…I do think — whether you want to call it a ‘queer film’ or a ‘queer adjacent film’ — there’s something there. At least from Cookie’s end, I felt that. I mean, he loves King-Lu. It’s a deep love. They’re beyond friends. They’re soulmates. They have a divine connection to each other.”

Next up for Magaro is David Chase’s much anticipated “Sopranos” prequel movie, titled “The Many Saints of Newark.” He can’t officially confirm he’s playing a young Silvio Dante, originally played by Stevie Van Zandt in the HBO series, but says, “As this was approaching, I really wanted to be a part of it and I wasn’t sure what it was going to be. When I found out what I was going to go in and audition for it, it became even more scary because I know that person personally…I did my best to not do just an ‘SNL’ imitation, [but] to give it life and acknowledge that he’s about 20 years younger at that time.”

James Gandolfini’s son Michael stars as his late father’s iconic character Tony Soprano. Magaro remembers Chase telling him over dinner that he was going to offer the role to Michael. “I said, ‘No way,’” Magaro recalls. “And he said he came in [and] auditioned, and it’s scary how similar not just their looks, but manners are. Also he’s a fantastic actor.”

Hear the full interview with Magaro above. You can also listen to “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you download you favorite podcasts.

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