For Whom the Buzz Stolls: An Interview with Midnight in Paris' Corey Stoll

Joe Vallese

Actor Corey Stoll breezed in to steal Midnight in Paris out from under his co-stars and now, headed into awards season, his memorable characterization of legend Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen's most successful film to date feels decidedly poised to enter the Supporting Actor race.

Midnight in Paris

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Michael Sheen, Nina Arianda, Carla Bruni, Kurt Fuller, Tom Hiddleston, Mimi Kennedy, Alison Pill, Corey Stoll
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Year: 2011
US date: 2010-05-20 (Limited release)

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris took critics and audiences by surprise this summer with its charming blend of quintessential Allen -- hopelessly romantic, helplessly neurotic protagonist, timeless cityscape backdrop, self-conscious jabs at the upper class -- and a seamless stepping-into-the-past-at-the-stroke-of-midnight conceit straight out of a fairytale. The latter magical absurdity was seemingly the breath of fresh air both Allen loyalists and cynics had been craving (tried and true box office draw Owen Wilson in the lead role didn’t hurt either), and the film now enjoys the distinction of being the top (non-adjusted) grossing film of Allen’s career.

But the real word-of-mouth surrounding the film was that Allen, who has a history of unearthing revelatory performances from newcomer and veteran actors, may have once again struck gold in the form of Corey Stoll. Stoll’s pitch-perfect embodiment of Ernest Hemingway (as imagined by Wilson’s Hollywood-screenwriter-in-crisis as he steps back in time to the heyday of art, intellect, and imbibing: 1920’s Paris) marries the near-comical stoicism and juvenile clenched-fist ruffian qualities that have become almost as iconic as Hemingway’s prose with an often overlooked fragility. The performance has quickly catapulted Stoll to that select club of actors who have convincingly tackled beloved, culturally ubiquitous figures onscreen while managing to eschew impersonation or mimicry (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Truman Capote, Meryl Streep’s Julia Child, Ben Kingsley’s Gandhi, Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk among them) and has fast-tracked him to the top of Hollywood’s It list.

PopMatters recently sat down with Mr. Stoll to discuss becoming Hemingway, Oscar buzz, working with Woody, cop roles, Lifetime movies, and the virtues of a good wig.

* * *

Congratulations on the success of this film. It’s amazing to see Woody Allen having this somewhat unprecedented resurgence.

Yeah, I don’t think anybody was expecting this movie to explode as it has.

Speaking of the unexpected, your being cast in the film was somewhat serendipitous.

Definitely. I was doing a play here in New York, A View from the Bridge, with Liev Schrieber and Scarlett Johannson and, of course, Scarlett and Woody have this kind of muse-maestero relationship... She seems to have that with a lot of people... (laughs) Right. So, he came to see the play once, and then he came back a few more times, because either his casting director [Juliet] Taylor tipped him off, or he saw me in this wig and mustache and thought I looked the part, I don’t know. But it was incredible luck because if I had been on stage with my usual bald head and no mustache, I don’t know if he would’ve been able to see that. Prior to [Midnight], I had actually read another script where Hemingway was a character in it, and I really liked it, so I did all this research on Hemingway online and I was like, “Wow, I really look like this guy! I look like a young Hemingway.” And so I sent that director, who’s a friend of mine, these side-by-side shots of me and Hemingway that I made. That script hasn’t been produced yet, but yeah, I guess it was fated. And now I know a lot of useless factoids about Hemingway.

Your performance -- transformation, really -- in this film is both hilarious and uncanny, which can be attributed, I think, to the fact that much of your dialogue is lifted from or a play on Hemingway’s prose. How did you manage to avoid what could have so easily devolved into caricature?

Mostly, it was a function of the time I had before the shoot. In my experience, when you get a part you go right into it, but here I had about two months to just read and prepare. And that can be attributed to how well organized Woody is. Often with films it is sort of a mad scramble but [Allen has] a pretty well-oiled machine. He makes a movie a year and he knows what he’s doing and he doesn’t gum up the works with a lot of different people’s opinions. That’s what’s great about working with him. He’s a benevolent dictator and what he says goes, and you’re really dealing with a singular artist. So I read and I read and sort of got it into my bones, and it’s not that I forgot that I was in a comedy, but the power of Hemingway’s language that I was steeped in for all these months was intoxicating. I’d read so much of his work that when I would try to read other things, it all just seemed sort of flaccid. His prose is so muscular and attractive and it feels powerful and good to speak. Even though he did become sort of a parody of himself later in his career, with some of the semi-autobiographical stuff where he just gets really boastful and a little ridiculous, when you really look at his great early work, it taps into something very real and tragic and not funny at all. So, on my own, I was so immersed in that world, and then I’d show up on set and remember, “Oh wait, this is a Woody Allen comedy. This isn’t Interiors.” (laughs)

What’s so delightful and surprising about Midnight is its masterful blending of this latter- career “Woody Allen’s Europe” motif with the “alternate reality/time travel” trope that’s typically relegated to sci-fi or fantasy flicks. And at certain moments, in the best possible sense, when you’re on screen with Owen Wilson, it seems almost as though you’re acting in different movies. Were there any major differences in the way Allen directed you and the rest of the literary figures versus the “real” people?

Absolutely. He was definitely directing [the literary characters] a lot more. We were playing such specific people and Woody has been living with such strong connotations to these different characters for so long. Back in the 60’s, Woody wrote that story set in the 1920’s [“A Twenties Memory”] so he’s had this take on that era since then and he had a very clear of what he wanted. With [Hemingway], it was all about paring away as much as possible in the same way he did in his writing. So I actually had the luxury of more takes than most other people in the cast because Woody really wanted to perfect that very spartan dialogue. Whereas Owen, like his character, is such a buoyant personality, so enthusiastic and present in this really bright way that he really didn’t need to be directed.

Your first scene with Kathy Bates’s Gertrude Stein character is a real highlight of the film. They are two such powerful and important figures and watching them interact on screen is something of a surreal treat. Did you two figure out that dynamic together in advance, or did you just dive right in?

No, unfortunately, we didn’t have time to discuss anything at length before shooting. Kathy and I had our scene together on the very first day of principle photography so everybody was in such a daze, just jumping into it. But Kathy was so perfectly cast. She’s such a strong, formidable presence, not unlike Stein, and I think because we were both so invested and researched in our characters, we were able to hit the ground running. It’s funny, because I remember when I heard that Kathy was playing that part, and I thought, “Of course! Who else?”

There’s well-deserved Oscar buzz surrounding your performance. It seems pretty unanimous among critics and moviegoers alike that your work in the film was the definition of “scene stealing.”

I’m incredibly flattered, of course, but it’s really the role, not me. You just don’t get roles this good that often, and I really lucked out because Woody Allen can get anybody he wants. But in some ways he was really interested in having an actor who wasn’t well-known because it helps the audience get into that world even more. So, I was incredibly lucky in terms of that. Just the idea that I could get awards or even nominations is great and it’s all gravy; I just need to make sure that I don’t get too wrapped up in that because it’s all really nice and exciting but I know it isn’t something I have any control over. But this role has been the gift that keeps on giving. From the people I worked with and the people I worked for, to the part, to the filming location. There was nothing bad about this job, that’s for sure.

I was fascinated to learn that your diehard fanbase --

Wait. I have one? (laughs)

Absolutely. Google yourself sometime. Anyway, your diehard fans really revere your performance in the Lifetime movie A Girl Like Me with Mercedes Ruehl, about the murder of Gwen Araujo, a transgender woman.

I’m so glad to hear that. Something that is really lovely about that film is that it’s still so relevant, maybe more than ever today than it was six years ago. It was a really great feeling on set despite the subject matter. We had to be very delicate, especially with the love scene [between me and JD Pardo], but it has been really great because over the years many people have told me it really meant a lot [to them]. It’s tricky because that movie-of-the-week genre can be pretty manipulative and a little lazy. [Director] Agnieszka Holland did a great job. She’s a world class filmmaker and she assembled a great cast. I was actually really surprised, frankly, with the end result. I thought the network would change it and try to sanitize it, make it easier to digest, but for what it was, it was kind of groundbreaking. I’m proud it’s still out there doing its thing.

Yeah, I remember seeing that movie and thinking that love scene was brave and pretty bold for a television movie. Speaking of television, you were recently the lead on the short-lived Law and Order: Los Angeles, and you’ve often played cops, detectives, SWAT team members. Are you especially drawn to those roles? Is it typecasting? Both?

It’s probably the bald head and the deep voice. I don’t think people would buy me as a wedding planner...

Depends on the wig.

Cory Stoll: Good point. I grew up in New York City so I guess I understand and can easily convey that blunt shop talk. I actually really love playing those characters. And I don’t think it’s a mistake that so many shows on the air right now are cop shows.

Does it ever become difficult to distinguish between those characters? To make them distinct and not feel like a repetition of what you’ve done before?

I haven’t felt that yet. As an actor, you’re always using yourself, it’s always your voice. And I like having different facial hair and accents. But in the end, there’s always something unique you can bring to the character, even if you’re only making that explicit or known in your mind.

You’ve worked in pretty much every medium an actor can at this point: television, film, theater, even video games...

No! That’s not me! I don’t know why it’s there. And they refuse to take it off IMDB. I mean, I’d love to sometime, sure, but it definitely hasn’t happened yet.

Well, video game hoaxes aside, what do you bring consistently as an actor regardless of mediums, and what invariably changes depending on medium?

They all definitely have a different sense of time and space. With theater, you rehearse and you try to find the rhythm on a basic level and then you’re off and running. In film, when you’re working with some sort of a budget, you’re finding out in the moment what those beats are and then finding ways to perfect them [with multiple takes]. With TV, it’s often first impression stuff because there’s not as much time. It’s always a question of stakes. For me, it’s always the same in terms of finding the way into my character. When I first started working I made the mistake of thinking [the mediums] were more different than they actually are.

So, what’s next?

I just finished the new Bourne movie -- that’s what this is all about (touches his beard) -- with Jeremy Renner, who is playing the new lead. It’s a different character from [Matt Damon’s] -- I think I’m allowed to say that. I had to sign all these non-disclosure agreements but I think that’s already out there.

Playing a cop?

Oh, I’m not allowed to say who I play. That I know for sure.

* * *

Midnight in Paris, released by Sony Pictures Classics, is still playing in theaters.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.