Michael Stuhlbarg is having a big year. And it was supposed to be even bigger.
The journeyman actor (A Serious Man, Boardwalk Empire, Steve Jobs) stars in three major upcoming awards-season releases that are poised to be nominated for Best Picture—Call Me By Your Name, The Shape of Water, and The Post, which is certainly a rare, if not singular, feat for an actor. On the small screen, he won rave reviews for his supporting turn in the third installment of FX’s Fargo series.
He also had filmed a key role in Netflix’s Gore Vidal biopic, Gore, playing the late writer’s longtime partner, Howard Austen. Though the film was in post-production, the streaming service announced earlier this month that, in light of mounting sexual harassment allegations against Kevin Spacey, who starred as Vidal in the film, it was not going to move forward with Gore’s release.
When asked about the cancelation of the project after shooting had already wrapped, Stuhlbarg told The Hollywood Reporter, “Honestly, we all have some hope that perhaps… over time there will be a chance for people to see it in the light in which it was meant to be seen.”
As far as the future of the film, which was directed by Michael Hoffman and based on Jay Parini’s biography, Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal, he told the Reporter, “I don’t know what will happen. When you work hard on something, you want people to see it. I think there’s a desire for us to maybe have that happen.”
We had the opportunity to discuss the matter further with Stuhlbarg while meeting in New York to talk about his performance in Call Me By Your Name, in which he plays the accepting father of a teenage son who’s in the throes of a romance with a visiting male grad student—delivering a stirring, tear-jerking monologue that could win him an Oscar. (More from that conversation will publish on The Daily Beast later this month.)
We mentioned to Stuhlbarg that we saw his quote about Gore’s cancellation in The Hollywood Reporter. It was a measured and perfectly fair response from someone who worked hard on a film and hoped that maybe one day an audience would see that work.
Stuhlbarg certainly won’t be alone in grappling with the tension between a person’s behavior and the work affected in the fallout.
The release of Louis C.K.’s film I Love You, Daddy was canceled just days before it was meant to hit theaters. Several Harvey Weinstein-backed TV shows in pre-production were also scrapped.
In the case of Kevin Spacey, Netflix will not be involved in any further production of a project that includes the actor, which not only leaves Gore on the cutting room floor but complicates the future of House of Cards. The upcoming J. Paul Getty drama All the Money in the World will, in an unprecedented move, reshoot all of Spacey’s scenes with Christopher Plummer mere weeks before its planned release date.
Because he’s in a unique position as an actor who starred in one of the projects immediately affected by the dizzying number of sexual harassment scandals, we thought we’d ask for more of Stuhlbarg’s thoughts on how the industry should be dealing with projects affected by the news.
“With conversation, honestly,” he says, after a long, contemplative pause. “We need to talk about these things.” He looks down at the table in the conference room where we’re sitting and starts rubbing his forehead, indicating that he really wants to think carefully about his response. “Can you ask me the question again?” he asks.
We’re seeing the industry try to figure out in real-time how to respond to horrifying news about major Hollywood players being published on a daily basis. As he bears witness to that, what are his thoughts on how the industry should or could be dealing with these issues?
“I think everyone’s trying to address what’s going on to the best of their ability,” he says. “It’s heartbreaking when you put your heart into work and it may not be seen. But it’s important that there’s sensitivity in the addressing of every aspect of what’s going on. It’s a complicated thing to talk about, and I believe we are going to be talking about it for a long time.”
He takes another moment to think about how to word what he wants to say.
“It’s a longer conversation, and I wish I had a more succinct answer,” he says. “But it’s a conversation that we should all be having. There seems to be a lot of talking going on and revelations coming out that just seem to be snowballing right now, which is interesting in and of itself. And heartbreaking. So obviously a nerve has been touched in a very large way.”
Again, another pause: “We need to look at it as a community and address it in the most sensitive and helpful way that we can.”
He gives me a sheepish look, the look of someone who knows he needs to be careful about his words in a matter like this, but also someone who is still gathering his thoughts. Not to mention, the look of an actor on a press tour who’s not quite sure if he’s giving the interviewer what he wants.
“It’s a very complicated situation,” he says. “I don’t know if I’m answering the question.” Later, after more discussion about Call Me By Your Name and his other upcoming projects, he offers again as I leave, “I hope I was able to articulate properly what I was trying to say. I hope I answered your question properly.”