Although he has shared the screen with Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, and Colin Farrell, 32-year-old Gabriel Macht is not a household name—or at least not yet. Now that his latest film, A Love Song for Bobby Long, has hit theatres, Macht could become the latest "it" actor. Starring opposite John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson, Macht plays wannabe novelist Lawson Pines, who lives in New Orleans with former literary professor–turned-alcoholic Bobby Long (Travolta). When 18-year-old Pursy Will (Johansson) comes to town unexpectedly to reclaim her childhood home, which Long and Pines inhabit, both men are suddenly forced to re-evaluate their lives.
Macht, who spent several years co-starring in Hollywood action-based pics—including The Recruit and Behind Enemy Line—was not intimidated by complexities of the Bobby Long script, which is character-driven and filled with literary allusions. Indeed the thesp had been searching for a role such as this for quite some time.
"In the beginning of my career I was more open to various projects," he says. "I would think, 'Who do I want to work with?' 'Do I want to work with some [of my] heroes?' 'This might not be the greatest script in the world, but I get to work with a hero of mine that I have been wanting to work with forever.' So I got a lot of opportunities like that, but at a certain point it really isn't creatively fulfilling if the character is not there, if it is not written on the page. So I actually took a year and a half off from working until I found a character that meant something to me. That's when I did Bobby Long. The character of Lawson was so well-written, and he just had a lot of places to go that I haven't played onscreen, and I really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity."
Macht's years of training allowed him to not only hold his own alongside Travolta and Johansson but also on more than a few occasions steal their scenes.
Inspired as a young boy by the performance of his father, Stephen Macht, in the made-for-TV movie The Immigrants, the 6-year-old Macht thought, "Maybe I can do that, too." He quickly started to study his father's craft.
After participating in elementary school plays, Macht made his film debut in Why Would I Lie? (1980), then attended high school drama classes and studied at Carnegie Mellon, becoming a professional actor at age 21. However, after working for more than 10 years in a series of television roles, off-Broadway plays, and a handful of films, he has yet to commit to one specific acting method.
Macht says he has tried "a bunch" of different acting techniques throughout his career. At the pre-college Carnegie Mellon conservatory program he attended during his junior year of high school, he learned various techniques. Then, as a drama student at Carnegie Mellon, he used that education as a foundation. But then, after graduation and about three years of acting in New York, "I sort of let go of a lot of what I had learned," he says. "I tried to get it out of my head because so much of it becomes just too heavy. So I took on a couple of different acting techniques and started working with an acting coach and took on his philosophy at times. I go back and fourth between my roots, my foundation of Carnegie Mellon, and what I learned since graduation. I use sort of a hodgepodge of technique here and there."
In preparation for shooting Bobby Long, Macht, who did "a lot" or reading and talking to writers, found himself gaining even more insight into the acting craft when prepping with his co-stars. "We had a week and a half of rehearsals," he says. "It was a great education for me to be in there with [Travolta and Johansson] and learn how they like to work their process and for them to see how I like to have my process. For each of us it was different."
Regardless of how well the individual and group preparation for Bobby Long paid off, Macht says his main concern is to continue enhancing his career creatively.
"I don't really buy into all of that 'next big thing' stuff, because, if you do, it is only going to get way more frustrating and actually ridiculous," he says. "I try to just take every opportunity as it comes. I feel like every opportunity is a big break, whether or not it is a financial success. I am always hoping for a creative success, and that is where my head is right now. If the financial success of a film comes along, great. Maybe I will get some more opportunities." BSW