In ‘Part IV’ of Simply Moyer’s Skype interview with Stephen Moyer, we delve into discussing two specific projects: Killing Jesus, which Steve recently concluded filming in Morocco, and the unnamed NFL Concussion project inspired by the GQ article, Brain Game, which is still filming in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Steve was rather animated when discussing how passionate sports fans are, the frustration of the NFL’s refusal to change the rules of the game, how his job opens him up to unexpected interests (like studying the brain), and sitting around the pool with 36 disciples! But first, how about that beard …
Steve: Yeah. I go back to Pittsburgh in beginning of December and then come back again and then I go in the middle of December.
A discussion ensued about the record breaking snowfall in parts of the northeast, particularly in Buffalo, New York, which had accumulated seven feet of snow in parts of the region …
Steve: It’s so crazy, right? It snowed when we were there [Pittsburgh]. The sun was out and it started snowing. I love snow! As a boy growing up in England who got the occasional bit of snow, you get like two or three days a year in England. We loved it … all of us! We’d go nuts when it snowed! I can imagine living with it. What is it? Eight or 12 feet or something at the moment?
Simply Moyer: What role do you have in Concussion?
Steve: I play this guy called Ron Hamilton, who is the neuropathologist at the University of Pittsburgh. His life’s work is everything to do with the brain and he was Bennet Omalu’s (Will Smith’s character) teacher. So, when the story happened with CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and him finding it … he did the autopsy on Mike Webster, who was a famous Pittsburgh Steeler. And he (Omalu) found these things, and ultimately the first person he took them to was Ron, to say, ‘I found this, what do you think this could be?’ Ron sees it, and not giving anything away … he kept going up the food chain and every time they sorta saw what this thing that Bennett had found, they had to go higher and higher and higher and higher.
So, it’s only a small part in the movie, but I was so touched by Pete’s script and how extraordinary it is. Pete’s a friend of mine, Pete Landesman. And he said to me before it was being made, ‘What do you think of this?’ And I thought it was an extraordinary piece of writing. And he offered me two or three bits … characters … and said, ‘Is there anything you would want to play in here?’ And I sort of was interested in Ron … there was a couple of parts that were bigger, but I was interested in Ron specifically because of the scene that he has with Will (Smith). Which is, just beautiful writing. I’ve always loved that and I’ve always wanted to work with Peter and we’ve tried to work two or three times now. He offered me a part in Parkland that he directed a couple of years ago, but I couldn’t do it. I really want to, but couldn’t at the time because I was working and actually … I think it was shooting when the babies were born. That was the reason I didn’t do it.
We’ve got plans to do stuff together. We love each other and want to work together and this (Concussion) was an opportunity to work with him. Just so happened I got to do some stuff with Will as well.
Simply Moyer: Had you ever heard of CTE and the problems with the NFL?
Steve: No! I knew about it. I’d seen bits and pieces, but I didn’t know about the illness. I didn’t know about the disease. I didn’t know about Bennet Omalu. I didn’t know about how the NFL had tried to quash so much of what was going on. It’s unbelievable.
Simply Moyer: Do you think changing the positions of the players on the line would solve some of the concussion issues? Hitting with the shoulders instead of the heads when they come off of the line?
Steve: That’s right! If they used shoulders instead of heads, right? It’s interesting … as an Englishman I’ve played Rugby and Billy, my son, plays rugby. He’s a fantastic player. He’s the quarterback, we call it the scrum half, but that’s the quarterback. But, the difference is, what I didn’t really realize until I got here and started living in America, was that you can use the head as an offensive weapon. Whereas, in rugby you can’t tackle above the neck … so you can, but you get told off for it. There’s many times as you, as a rugby player, you do it on purpose to intimidate the player. You know, you want to hurt them to make them scared of coming into the tackle with you. But, you can’t … that’s why we don’t wear head gear. You can’t do head on head collisions. It’s shoulder to shoulder. Or when you tackle someone you’re running after them and taking them down like you would in football or you’re running straight into them as they’re running into you and you’re using your shoulder to hit their legs. It’s fucking agony! Fucking hated it when I was growing up.
But, as you sort of live here you start to realize the differences between the games and so I think ultimately what has to happen is that during the line up, during the play and the hut, when they go for each other they have to go shoulder to shoulder. I don’t think it ruins the game, but I think there are some changes that have to be made.
Simply Moyer: Players used to go shoulder to shoulder back in the day when the players wore the leather helmets. The NFL doesn’t seem to be interested in changing anything about the game.
Steve: That’s right. There’s just worries. It’s money isn’t it? They’re just worried about … It’s always money.
There’s an amazing moment in this script, actually I shouldn’t give too much away about it. But, there’s an amazing moment where … it’s like saying to somebody from England or the rest of the world where soccer is so gigantic. It’s like turning around and saying, ‘You can’t play soccer anymore.’ You know, I think there’s like three billion people that play soccer. Can you imagine turning around and going, ‘Okay, Stop! No one deserves to kick the ball anymore!’
Simply Moyer: There would be riots.
Steve: That’s what it would be like for America. Because so much of the American consciousness is steeped around Sundays and football and Monday night football … that is very much a part of the male psyche as well as female. So for me, it actually helped me to understand it a little bit more when I started reading up about it and reading those articles like you were talking about … or seeing Frontline documentaries and bits and pieces about it and the 30s to 30s (ESPN films) that are about football. It’s like anything, the more you know about something, the more fascinating it becomes.
It’s the kinda things I love about my job. You know, I never thought about neuropathology. I’ve never wanted to fucking study the brain. But, as soon as I’m starting to play somebody, I started reading up about Ron, I start reading up about what these guys do, what they spend their lives doing. How they use a microscope, what that involves. And I’m fascinated now.
Simply Moyer: Did you get a chance to talk to Ron Hamilton?
Steve: I did. I spoke to him two or three times on the phone and the next time I go back I’m going to go see him in his laboratory. He’s an Alzheimer’s specialist and I’ve been dealing with a little bit of that in my family, so I’m going to sit down and talk to him about it, which I’m really fascinated to see.
Simply Moyer: Tell us about Killing Jesus and being out in the desert?
Steve: Hilarious! Ouarzazate, where we were shooting, is right on the edge of the Sahara in the middle of nowhere. It’s where they shot some of Cleopatra, where they shot some of Lawrence of Arabia, as well as many, many, many other movies.
Everybody stays in the same hotel, it’s like being at an Equity annual general meeting. Or like a SAG, you know, like walking down the High St. in London and seeing all the people you know that you went to drama school with on a daily basis. One of my best friends is a guy called Iddo Goldberg. He’s over there doing this thing called King Tut and I didn’t know he was there. And he turned up when I walked in and everyone’s in the same hotel. Another great mate of mine, Mike Higgs, who I’d directed in plays, who played Mercutio when I played Romeo … one of my best, best friends. He was there in another Jesus project playing another disciple. A guy I was at drama school with, Alexander Siddig, he’s there doing King Tut. There’s 36 disciples sitting around the pool at any one time. There’s three Jesus’ at the bar. There’s two Judas’ talking out there about what they did. I’m sitting there talking to another Pontius Pilate. I mean, you couldn’t fucking write it! It’s a film in itself. It was hilarious.
We’re not quite finished! In the next installment, the discussion centers around Steve’s multiple talents of acting, directing, and producing, including which of those is his favorite. And just what exactly does an Executive Producer do? Stay tuned …