As the Tribeca Film Festival gets under way today, prepare for a lot of Morgan Spector. The “Boardwalk Empire” actor, who has starred onstage with Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber in Arthur Miller’s “View from the Bridge,” and in “Machinal” on Broadway, is set for a busy spring, starting with two films at the festival.
Up first is “Permission,” with Dan Stevens and Rebecca Hall (who also happens to be his wife), and “Chuck,” where he plays Sylvester Stallone.
He’ll round that out in June with a TV series, “The Mist” based on the Stephen King novel, and the off-Broadway production “Animal at the Atlantic” opposite his wife. We caught up with Spector before the madness of Tribeca set in.
WWD: Tell us about “Permission.”
Morgan Spector: It’s a script that Brian Crano wrote, sort of in collaboration with Rebecca; she ended up coproducing it, and he directed it. It’s about two couples, but the main story is about this couple who had been together for 10 years, and they’ve never been with anybody but each other, and they’re sort of on that precipice of “do we get married?” or “what does the future look like?” I think they both really want to spend the rest of their lives together at the beginning of the movie, and so after a friend — played by me — poses a provocative question of “how do you know what you have is good if you haven’t ever tried anything else?” they decide to open up their relationship and see where that leads them.
WWD: Is it comedic, then?
M.S.: It’s sort of a romantic comedy — a slightly inverted romantic comedy. I think our generation, my generation at least, has become much more comfortable with unconventional romantic relationships. I think a lot of people experiment with non-monogamy at some point in their life, or they think about doing it, and obviously for many people, I think the notion that we’re biologically driven to mate with one person has been thoroughly discredited. Most of us feel like there are other options out there, and if you’re not going to make monogamy work, that doesn’t actually mean that the relationship’s broken, it just means that maybe another arrangement would suit you better. I think the movie is touching on an experience that a lot of people are having, but hasn’t necessarily been dramatized in the way that this film does.
WWD: You star in “Permission” alongside your wife, Rebecca Hall. What is it like working together?
M.S.: That’s how we met, actually [in “Machinal” on Broadway]. I really love working with her — she’s brilliant, obviously. But it’s also just a way to be in the same place for a while, to guarantee that one of us isn’t going to be in some distant city, which is kind of a big part of the strategy.
WWD: Was it strange to be in a film about the highs and lows of monogamy with your wife in the cast?
M.S.: It was interesting because both Brian and Dave — Brian’s husband, who’s also in the movie — and Rebecca and I had just gotten married. So it was two sets of couples who had just really committed to monogamy. But I think all four of us committed to monogamy firmly aware of the fact that monogamy is insane. Like, the idea that you’re going to spend 50, 60 years with the same person is.… think part of what’s attractive about it is that it seems designed to fail. It seems designed to be a disastrous process, and so committing to navigating that with someone is hopelessly romantic, is really the truth.
WWD: What about your second film, “Chuck?”
M.S.: “Chuck” was a wholly different experience. And it’s funny because I shot them quite close together, and I was like, “this is really fun, playing a very-in-love gay man and then also playing Sylvester Stallone in the same month.” It was a wonderful dynamic sometimes.
WWD: What was it like playing Stallone?
M.S.: I think there’s this [notion] of Sylvester Stallone that Sylvester Stallone is Rocky, or is Rambo, or whatever, and that he isn’t an extremely sophisticated filmmaker, who has started three successful franchises and has an enormous influence over the way action is filmed, and is sort of ubiquitous in American culture. And so [in this film] they present him really as a filmmaker; it was fun to sort of get to approach his character from that angle.
I’ve never played anybody who everyone knows what they look and sound like. [The goal was] to challenge that sort of view, to be free and improvisatory within a character, but then also, do an accurate enough version of that person so people know who you are. But not doing an impression. It’s a fine line. Everybody knows what Stallone is like.
WWD: You’re a classically trained stage actor — with these handful of movies/the series coming out, are you aiming to work more on-screen?
M.S.: As much as like my first love and first entry point into this business is through the theater, it’s hard to make a living exclusively in theater, and so you kind of have to branch out and have as many revenue streams, and capacities and possibilities for expression that you can. So, the fact that I am doing a play in the same time that I have a film coming out and then a show coming out after that, it sort of feels like everything is falling into place.