Griffin Dunne has been popping up in key supporting turns for three decades now, in everything from “Straight Talk” to “Dallas Buyers Club.” Now he’s co-starring opposite Rebecca Hall and Jason Sudeikis in the new indie “Tumbledown,” in theaters Feb. 12. He talks to us about his role, being a fan of Alicia Vikander, and getting pinched by Tennessee Williams.
Tell us about “Tumbledown.”
I’m a close friend to the grieving character that Rebecca Hall plays. I’m kind of a curmudgeonly sort of fellow who runs a bookstore and involves myself in her growing relationship with Jason Sudeikis’ character, a journalist who’s looking into writing a biography about Rebecca’s husband, a very talented musician. I’m what’s known in script terms as a bit of a sounding board, but it’s a very charming, touching film, and I did it to work with Rebecca and Jason, who were just great and funny.
How did you get your SAG-AFTRA card?
As I think is almost always the case, a good deal of it had to do with luck and timing. I was caught in that typical Catch-22 of not being able to get an agent without a card or a card without an agent. And I’d gotten a job through nepotism—I guess this isn’t fair—because my father had worked with a director named Larry Peerce on a movie. Some years later, when I was 18 and decided to very seriously be an actor, he brought me in for a small part, which he made me audition for a bunch of times, and I got it. A movie called “The Other Side of the Mountain”—I played the childhood friend, some kid named Herbie.
What do you wish you’d known before you started acting?
I always knew it would be very hard. I was always told it was about rejection, so I wasn’t terribly surprised by that—although no matter how many times you’re told, it doesn’t make it any easier. I guess I wish I knew how to either pretend or be genuine about how little you care whether you get the job or not while you’re in the room reading for the job. To not wear your hunger on your sleeve. And just truly be yourself and be prepared and not feel your life is going to rise and fall on whether you get this job or not.
On whom do you have an acting crush?
Alicia Vikander. I wasn’t aware of her until I saw “A Royal Affair.” And when someone is as talented as they are beautiful, it’s worthy of a crush.
What was your most memorable survival job?
I moved to New York and promptly didn’t work [as an actor] for four years. I was everything from a waiter to a popcorn concessionaire at Radio City Music Hall. I was a mover. I was a personal assistant to a few people, which I was terrible at. I got one job with a very rich, very elegant older actress, and she lived in the Dakota, where she would have dinner parties. Her best friends were Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote, and I was this young kid and I’d run the bar at those parties and get pinched on the ass by Tennessee. It was one of those crazy jobs while you’re hoping to be an actor. But they’re experiences!
What is your worst audition story?
My worst was my best. The worst audition but the most important, best moment in terms of life. There was a play that was going to be on Broadway, and I had been asked to audition for two different parts. Now, my acting career and my producing career began at the same time, and sometimes you can have conflict with a director [as a producer]. And the director of this play was a director I’d had a kind of unfulfilling experience with, so I was amazed that I was going in to audition. After the audition, I planned to drive across country from New York to L.A. on a wild, soul-searching thing. So I prepared both scenes, and the guy with the clipboard, before he sent me in, said, “You’ve got plenty of time because you’ve got these two scenes.” I go in and I get about four lines into the scene and the director goes, “Great, thank you very much.” And I realized I was set up. I go, “Uh, what about the other scene?” “No, no, no, I’m good.”
I go outside into the hallway and the guy with the clipboard goes, “Wow, that was quick.” And I realize I’m going to be driving across country in a rage. I’m supposed to be thinking about the future and instead I’m going to be thinking about this stupid audition for 3,000 miles. I turn around and I look at the doorknob and I grab the doorknob, throw it open, go into the room, and I burst into this hilarious monologue and they look horrified. They look actually scared. Needless to say I don’t get one laugh. Nor am I being funny. There’s something psychopathic about my delivery. But I get to the end and go, “Thank you, just wanted to get that out of my system.” The feedback was the director and the producer had never been so scared in their entire lives and they thought I was Travis Bickle. I’ve never felt so good about an audition in my life.
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