Scott Speedman: 'It's Still a Struggle'
Scott Speedman may never fully escape the shadow of Ben Covington, the college swimmer and brooding heartthrob he played on Felicity, and that's fine with him. Now 33, his squared-off good looks and narrow gaze mellowed by a few character lines, Speedman looks back on his Felicity days as a "a hugely special time in my life." But while opportunities abound to return to series television, the actor has committed himself to establishing a career in feature films, with results ranging from the big-budget ridiculous (he twice played a vampire-romancing werewolf warrior in the Underworld movies) to the indie sublime.
His latest is a starring role in the new project from fellow Canadian Atom Egoyan, Adoration, opening in limited release May 8th. The film is quintessential Egoyan -- a time-jumbled jigsaw puzzle filled with longing and regret. It tells the story of a chatroom-obsessed, orphaned teen who clings to a random newspaper report -- about a terrorist sending his pregnant, oblivious wife onto a plane with a bomb buried in her luggage -- as if the story were about his own mother. Speedman, hiding behind a thick beard and icy wall of pain, plays the boy's uncle and guardian. It's a heartbreaking performance in a great part. And he had to fight to get it.
What made you want to work with Atom Egoyan?
What made me want to work him is that he's a filmmaker, first and foremost. A lot of people make movies, but there are few true filmmakers, in a sense. And he's a great filmmaker. Also, [he's] a Canadian. When I talk to my Canadian agent, there's maybe two or three guys I really wanted to work with. So when a part came up that was in my range at all, that was something I was going to go for, for sure. I like his movies a ton.
Had you ever met him before this?
Yes, he was on the jury at the Berlin Film Festival when I had a movie there.
Is it true he had to reconceive the part for you?
It was written as a 45-year-old guy. I had to convince him to change it to my age. He didn't see it at first. It took some convincing. I had to audition for it, jump through some hoops.
Yeah. It was good, though.
I would have thought he would have been excited to work with you.
He was excited, but, I don't know, all great artists and people who really believe in themselves see things a certain way, and it takes a lot to knock them off of the way they're seeing things. So yeah -- he saw him as 45 years old, that's just the way he wanted it. And it took a lot of convincing, for sure.
I wanted to ask you a bit about The Strangers, too. There's some surface similarities between the two films, at least in that they both are very small and bleak domestic stories, and your characters are pretty depressed in both of them.
[Laughs] Absolutely. The Strangers was a really good script. It always had commercial possibilities, I felt. Yeah, it's dark, but essentially, if you're a movie company, you can sell it as a horror movie, no matter what you put in the can. So we were covered on that end. I'm sort of attracted to that kind of material, though. I like dark things, screwed up guys, guys with histories that aren't perfect. So yeah, I was attracted to both of those parts.
That was Bryan Bertino's first movie. What made you take the leap of faith to go with a novice director like that?
I had to jump through hoops to get the fucking movie, man! It's too competitive. Nothing is easy. It's never easy. Same thing as with this -- I took him out to lunch, talked to him, auditioned twice for The Strangers. I really fought to get it. And yeah, it's funny that he's never directed a movie, but he wrote such a good script that he gained leverage because of that. He gets power. And that's great. That's good for him.
I find it kind of surprising to hear you have to jump through hoops for these parts, because you're good. You're really good. I think you're kind of underrated, actually.
Thanks very much. Yeah. I don't disagree with you. But I get it, to a certain extent. I'm not out there doing talk shows, and I haven't really connected with that part of the business that's really important. I'm trying to get better at it, because I'm losing parts to people I shouldn't be losing parts to.
What's causing that?
That. The ambivalence about... press and all that shit. You really have to be willing to go out there.
Do you think there's a perception that you're difficult? Or just that you're not willing to go the extra mile and be... fake?
I mean, it's not for me to say, but yeah, something along those lines, possibly. And, you know, I mean, there's a reserve there that doesn't go hand-in-hand with going out and selling a movie to a hundred different countries at a time. But I get that. I mean, I want to do that. I'd like to be doing that. So I'm trying to get better at it.
What does it entail?
You know, playing the game a little more. Doing talk shows.
So we're going to see you on talk shows soon?
Oh god. The idea really makes me want to vomit, man.
Nerves. Fear! It's not coolness. It's not -- it's just nerves, man. It's something to get over. You know, I just gotta fucking do it. The idea of going out there and doing that stuff -- selling -- is a foreign idea to me. As a Canadian, it's not in my culture. It just doesn't feel like me to sell myself. But I would like to be doing more work, and I think I can.
Would you ever go back to TV?
Never say never. I would like to avoid going back to 22 episodes a year. Not that that was ever a problem for me ever, at that time. I loved being on Felicity. But, just in terms of right now, I just feel like I'm working towards getting my foot in the door in films, you know? It's still a struggle. So I don't want to go back, and get taken out of the game for nine months a year.
Are your agents pushing you to go out for pilots?
No. I got really lucky with my agents. I got offered shows this year. I get offered shows quite a lot. I got offered a really good show this year, actually, that I liked. And I just didn't do it.
Was it a network show?
Yeah, network show. And it'll be a good show. They've got talented people in it. But I think the show would be even better on a cable network. The same script on a cable show I'd be much more interested in doing for two reasons, A: You're not selling soap. You're selling, but you're not selling soap. You can go into different directions. The creative writer has more freedom. And B: There's 11 episodes a year, if that. You're not there for 22 a year. It gives you more time to do more projects. But in the end, you can take more risks as the creator of the show. You have to. That's what's nice about it. On networks, I feel like it's tougher. It's an upward battle to really make it interesting. You can make a great pilot, but then inherently it gets more difficult to keep up the level of the show.
Was that from your experience on Felicity?
No -- they did it great. I mean, we did it. J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves did a great job. No, this is just now, when I'm looking at pilots, and I think, okay this is a great pilot, but where does it go from here?
What if it were a J.J. Abrams show?
Oh, man, I would love to work with J.J. again, man. I'd love to.
That was pretty early on in his career, before he became "J.J. ABRAMS," the brand.
It's amazing, isn't it? It's wild.
What was it like working with J.J. back then?
Well, I got that job by sending a videotape down to J.J. and Matt. They were looking for this guy, and they couldn't find him. I was living on my mom's couch in Toronto. I sent down this videotape -- I rented a room for 75 bucks, and got this guy to just record me doing scenes. You do that every once in a while in Toronto and you don't think anything of it. But they called panicked, "We need him. We need him now!" Basically Fox legal scrambled to get me the documentation to let me work in the States in the first place.
I got down there, and basically J.J. and Matt were the first people I met with. I think it was at the Chateau -- how funny is that? So we were at the Chateau Marmont for dinner. Two days later, I was working on that pilot, man. It was trial by fire, and a hugely special time in my life. I didn't know anything from anything, but I knew this show was good, and I knew these guys were talented. I've always had a sixth sense for that kind of stuff. I knew it was going to do well. It was a great time.
Are there any parts you regret having turned down?
No. There's no role I turned down that I regret. There's roles I didn't get that I regret. I've gotten second so many times.
When you turn it down, that's one thing.
Exactly. I mean, they were good movies that I would kill to be a part of. But all the people that have beaten me out are great. There's a lot of talented people out there, man. I mean you can be talented, but you have to be a great auditioner, and you have to be great in the room. You have to do all that stuff; it's important.
What do you do to get better?
I'm so humbled by this process. I was watching Adoration last night, and just kicking myself. Bad habits, things I'm still trying to break out of, or evolve. So you know, I'm still taking classes, working with an acting coach, all that shit. It's like anything -- the better you get at it, the more fun it is. ♦