Zachary Quinto on Margin Call, Occupy Wall Street and the Business of Coming Out
It's been a hell of an autumn so far for Zachary Quinto, who has followed his appearance in last month's Anna Faris comedy What's Your Number? with a forthcoming role in the FX hit American Horror Story and the lead in writer-director J.C. Chandor's superb economic-meltdown drama Margin Call. And he dominated headlines last weekend after officially coming out as gay.
Not bad! But as Quinto told Movieline this week in New York, Margin Call remains the focus for now, and for good reason: Not only does the film feature arguably Quinto's best performance to date as a young financial analyst who uncovers a crisis in the making at his investment bank, but it also represents the 34-year-old actor's feature producing debut. He did it with class, too, rounding up an excellent ensemble including Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Simon Baker and Penn Badgley. The film opens Friday after a warm receptions earlier this year at the Sundance, Berlin and New Directors/New Films festivals.
I spoke to Quinto about pouring his ambition into Margin Call, the coincidental timing of its release opposite the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests, and both the political and professional implications of coming out.
I had no idea what to expect going into Margin Call, but I really loved it. How did you get involved with it?
I started a production company three years ago, and we've been producing all kinds of different things. We published two graphic novels, we explored some short-film content online, we've been developing televisions. And this was the first feature that we got behind and wanted to produce. So for us, there was a lot at stake, you know? We met J.C. at a meeting when he was out in L.A. about two years ago, and he told us about the project, and he gave us a copy of it. We all went home that night -- I have two business partners -- and we called each other the next morning and said, "This is it." There was just such a unanimity to it, and it became really clear based on the integrity and caliber of the material -- added to the affability of and point of view of J.C. That was the beginning.
What was your first instinct: To produce or to act?
It was always in terms of producing; we were looking for my company's first movie. And for me with projects, they're not mutually exclusive -- they're not dependent on one another. We've made three movies now, and I'm only in this one. I think it's good in this instance -- with the first project -- that I'm involved as an actor and was able to rely on that exposure, and that association to make this declaration about my company. But yeah, I wanted to act it in it when I read it. It was something I felt compelled to do. But it wasn't one or the other or all or nothing; it was always a conversation of both things.
There are a handful of roles in this film that you could have played. Why Peter?
From a practical standpoint, I think that my age and my sensibility lend themselves most aptly to Peter. But in a creative way, I was really drawn into him because, first of all, I think he's the portal for the audience into the world of this movie. He's responsible for making this discovery and is sort of the catalyst for this information moving up the ladder within the chain of command of the corporation. And yet he has a seemingly rooted moral compass, which gets thrown off in the course of his journey. And I liked that -- that was something I was really interested in. I mean, I tend to be drawn to characters who have some level of internal complexity or ambiguity or duality, and I thought he was no exception to that.
This cast is amazing, obviously. What was your role in helping assemble these actors, if any?
I was pretty instrumentally involved in producing the movie every step of the way, but especially in the beginning -- when we were meeting financiers and pitching the movie. I was really involved in that phase of it. And also the casting phase. I was reaching out to actors directly, and talking to their reps and having conversations and setting up meetings and going to meetings with J.C. and other actors. I was really, really involved in that, because that's where being an actor in my own right allows me to utilize those contacts that I have and that access that I have that somebody coming to the table just wanting to produce a movie definitely does not have. So the resources of my agency and my management company and all of that stuff were really helpful along the way as well.
What do you pick up from guys like Jeremy Irons and Kevin Spacey -- or even younger peers like Paul Bettany, even Penn Badgley -- when you're going to work in this environment every day?
There's an immense professionalism, commitment, preparedness, punctuality, confidence, sense of humor... It was a really enjoyable production. And it was every day -- the lessons were just such a part of the experience. Working with these legends in their own right really made me feel inspired and challenged in the best way possible.
The timing of this film's release could not be better -- not only because of the continuing economic malaise, but of course it coincides with the Occupy Wall Street protests. Have you been down there at all?
I haven't been down to Zucotti Park this week; I've been so busy here doing press for the movie. It's kind of funny: I accidentally got swept up in a movement they were doing on the Upper East Side the other day. I was going to a meeting and crossing over Park Avenue and heard all this chanting and saw these cops, and I realized the movement was chanting outside Rupert Murdoch's house and other CEOs' houses on the Upper East Side. I thought that was really cool, and if I hadn't had somewhere to be, then I'm sure I would have followed them for a little while to see where the energy was moving.
But you know, I think we never could have anticipated this. This is such a gift from the universe that all this conversation is happening and this movement is gaining so much momentum right now as we're putting this movie out. I think it's really incredible.
Is it actually in good taste for celebrities to even be down there? There's a exploitation factor to some degree -- guys like Kanye, for example, who otherwise brags about being among the 1 percent? Is it better to stay away? Or does that deprive you of your personal right to protest as a citizen?
Well, I've certainly protested other things in my life, so I think for me, it's about the message. And I think the Occupy Wall Street movement is still trying to define and clarify its message. It's really a kind of interesting and amorphous movement; I don't think it came out of the gate knowing clearly its standpoint -- its manifesto, so to speak. So I'm just really interested in seeing how that unfolds. But when they do come up with that declarative position and it's something that resonates for me personally, then by all means I would love to get involved. I think these are exactly the kinds of conversations that need to be happening in this country. But what worries me is the divisiveness of these conversations and the way they tend to just be ideological debates where one side is completely invalidating and undermining the position of the other side. That's unfortunately the political climate that we seem to be living in these days, and I think it's actually that which needs to shift. And as long we perpetuate these cycles of, you know, back-and-forth and round-and-round, then nothing's going to change, and it's going to be much more destructive than productive.
And of course you recently made a pretty significant stand on a social issue by publicly declaring your sexual orientation. How do you intend to help move that cause forward?
It's a big part of why I did it. I feel like I did it in my own time, on my own terms, in my own words -- which I've always is how it would happen when the time is right. And I just felt like I would help in whatever way feels organic. And I'm sure that now that I've made this statement and acknowledgment, opportunities will present themselves in many different ways. And I look forward to being to meet those opportunities with integrity and open myself up to helping a conversation move forward in a way that I think that it has to for all us -- not just for the sake of gay people or straight people or whatever. It's for the sake of humanity that we need to be looking at these issues with more compassion and more acceptance and more openness and less judgment and intolerance.
As a producer, is there anything to be said for declaring this the week your movie comes out?
As opposed to what?
To bring visibility the film.
That was never, ever in any way a part of my intention. This was something that was an intensely personal decision and intensely thought-out. I gave it a lot of thought and attention. It has nothing to do with marketability or visibility. I mean, I'd rather be doing it in association with a movie that I have a significant impact in bringing to bear and bringing to life than at any other time to just generate attention for me myself. I'm making a lot of declarations this week -- as a producer, as an actor, as someone who's interested in human rights and wants to help advance those conversations. So I dismiss that idea completely.
Considering the inescapability of other subjects like Star Trek or Heroes, though, do you have apprehensions about adding another topic to the conversation that precedes or even limits talking about your work?
I don't really understand that line of questioning. I'm really interested in talking about my movie, and I'm really interested in talking about issues that are important: My work as an actor, and my belief that people need to start opening up to each other with more tolerance and more acceptance. I mean, they're totally separate things. I feel like my work is my work, and my political points of view and social points of view are exactly that, and I'll talk about them when it's appropriate. So no, I don't expect that it'll limit me or restrict me in any way.
[Top photo: Getty Images]