Having played a wide variety of leading roles over the course of his acting career, Dermot Mulroney is perhaps best known for his co-starring role in the big league romantic comedy My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) opposite Julia Roberts, but digging a little deeper, Mulroney’s career is flush with rich projects and under-the-radar features such as the coming-of-age action film Survival Quest (1988) from director Don Coscarelli, the rewarding drama Staying Together (1989) co-starring Tim Quill and Sean Astin, and the apocalyptic suspense film The Trigger Effect (1996), from director David Koepp. His latest role is in the surreal fantasy film The Blazing World from writer / director / star Carlson Young, where he plays a failed father and husband, and whose actions have forever altered his family’s fate.
I’m going to start this by saying that Survival Quest is one of my all-time favorite movies.
That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that!
Why?! That’s such a great movie!
(Laughing.) Well, we can get into that in a moment. Let me just bask in that feel. Yeah, I like that.
That movie really personifies a young man’s coming of age boy scout-type journey. It’s fraught with danger and emotional baggage. I really identify with that movie; I always have. Say something about working on Survival Quest. That was an early movie for you.
I count that as my first feature film. I remember everything about it. It’s so cool to discuss it, and to hear your point of view. I think exactly that way too. It’s funny because I’m playing a convict right now in a movie called Breakwater, so look for that action movie in 2022. In Survival Quest they cast me as the bad kid, even though I was just a kid from the suburbs. There was a great collection of people that came together that try to survive in this wilderness odyssey as well as a survivalist group that they come across. I bet this movie has more resonance today than maybe it did even then. It was 1987 when we shot that. Gosh, yeah. It was all pretty much real stuff, too, on the rocks and in the river. ‘Hella movie. It’s a real era of grindhouse movie. It’s pre-Tarantino. It’s [Don] Coscarelli, man! Phantasm!
I love Coscarelli!
So does Tarantino! It was one of those roots where he came in. At any rate, working with Lance Henriksen … at that moment, in my mind, he was a towering star because he’d just been in Aliens, and so was Mark Rolston, who was in Survival Quest. He played the leader of the bad guy group. So me stepping onto my first film set … I’d done TV movies and After School Specials and episodes, so this was “the movies” for me. That was what I was aiming at, so it was a big moment for me to walk on the set with these two mega stars from Aliens, which was the best movie I’d ever seen up to that moment, right? So that’s what I was thinking. It was a thrill at the time. Sometime in your life, the people you thought were old then, man, are so much younger than I am now. It’s a true time warp. Lance must’ve been 40 on that movie. In my mind, he seemed really like the old guy, I dunno. Time fractures and changes and reorganizes itself. Thanks so much for bringing that up.
You did a little under the radar baseball movie called Long Gone that has won over a small legion of baseball movie fans and continues to grow a following. Every baseball fan should track down and find this movie. Say something about this film and fans of this film.
Long Gone is not an obscure movie. It comes up all the time from a certain group of people. It couldn’t get off HBO, who made it. It’s like the second movie they made in-house. It couldn’t get off VHS to DVD. That one did not get lost because people home taped it, and sold it and pirated it. It’s a wonderful movie. William Peterson plays the aging manager of a AAA league baseball team in the south. It’s got a great story, an unexpected pregnancy … it’s an incredible movie. Gosh, what a privilege it was to work with Marty Davidson, who directed it. I almost learned how to play second base on that. It survived because of the fans and because it’s a great movie. Thanks for bringing that movie up. That’s certainly the journey of a boy becoming a young man. I looked up to Billy Peterson on that movie. He seemed old at the time. He was 32! (Laughing.) It’s amazing to put that in perspective.
I’m going to ask you about another movie you did and I’m going to tie it all into the theme of masculinity and the journey to becoming a man, and I’m going to lead that into The Blazing World because you have this great speech in the movie on what it means to be a man. There’s this fantastic little movie you did called Staying Together in 1989 …
Staying Together? Did you really just say that title?
I did. It’s a movie that nobody talks about but everybody should see. Also, directed by a woman.
Well, first I’d like to say rest in peace to my good friend Tim Quill, who has since passed away, and we had a formative moment together – he, myself, and Sean Astin – on Staying Together. Incredible moment together. We played brothers, whose last name was McDermott, and as you said, Lee Grant was an amazing director of that material. I’m really touched that you would bring it up after all these years. What happened to these movies? I started right in there and they didn’t go from VHS where every movie was on VHS and they sold them for like thirty bucks, but then there was a breaking off point and a lot of those movies didn’t get digitized. They never even went to DVD, which is also now antique. So, they got lost. Thank you so much for watching these films and asking me about them. Can I ask how old you are?
Isn’t that interesting? I really appreciate it. What else can I say about Staying Together. If you think highly of it, I should watch it again.
Yeah, well, it’s about being a man, and becoming a man. It’s a touching story about these three brothers who lose their father and flounder in life without his guidance.
That’s so interesting. There were some beautiful performances in that.
Well, I feel like in this new film The Blazing World, you’re a failed masculine character, or at least you’re playing an idea of a failed masculine character. To me, you’re not playing so much a character in Blazing World, you’re playing an idea of a character. What do you think about that?
Yeah. Yes, I think there are two versions of my character, maybe more, written into the fabric of Blazing World. It’s interesting that there’s a woman writing this man, who is demanding he be seen as a man. It really rattled me. I can tell you about ten other movies where my character went through some sort of – not just growing up, but becoming a man – even My Best Friend’s Wedding had that way, way deep in it. If anyone ever bothered to look at Michael’s story, you can bet that when anyone talks about him, it’s about how bored he is, and he wears tennis shoes, and then we just see him man up and come into his own, and which woman he likes best. There are always different ways to look at a movie. I’ve been asked to do that many, many times. So, I really appreciate it that I’ve had that. And if you’re talking about American masculinity in films, then that’s really a conversation that I appreciate. Because it’s really what we’ve decided to do, right or wrong, much of it wrong … there is a thematic iconography that goes into who’s playing your leading man or your leading villain, or whatever version in between like I play in The Blazing World. I have to take a second to tip my hat and even more so and bow down to Carlson Young, who put this concept together and really came out of the inner workings of her spirit, handcrafted, lovingly and precisely made … it’s such a beautiful, grand vision. It’s a tiny little movie, but we see it all on screen. It takes a really great mind to make a movie like this. We’re in a moment where a lot more people might see this movie were it not for different tides moving in the industry, namely streaming, coming out of lockdown. It’s a great time to hear great American film voices right now. Hers is just so crystalline, such a great vision. She was great to work with, and she’s just a wonderful young woman.
You mentioned lockdown, and I wanted to mention The Trigger Effect for a second.
(Laughing.) You’re awesome, man! David, come on! Let’s talk Trigger Effect! That movie did cross my mind during lockdown. Several times during lockdown! I should watch it again. Go on: ask away.
I remember seeing this in a theater when I was a teenager when it came out. It seemed so real, but at the same time, it felt like it could never happen. It felt like apocalyptic science fiction. Now, we’re coming out of a situation as a people, where we’ve come out of something comparable where we’ve fought for something as simple as toilet paper, for goodness sake.
Say something about The Trigger Effect and how it foreshadowed a future.
Yeah, I’m trying to remember how it ends. You’ve given me a great assignment. But, really, it’s from the mind of David Koepp who wrote and directed that. But it’s also of the school of Amblin, a branch of Steven Spielberg’s company. They produced it. That’s the closest I ever got to Spielberg. If you talk to him, tell him to give me a call any time. David had come off of the Jurassic movies, or he was going into the second one or something. He basically came up with that idea. A whole grid electrical blackout and it’s told with just a few characters like they’d do now in the pandemic, and they play out this global or regional shutdown. Gosh, it was great to work with Kyle MacLachlan and Elisabeth Shue, and it was incredible to work with them in a three-hander type of movie. I remember everything about shooting that movie. It was just a remarkable experience. We shot it outside of Sacramento, where they had a nuclear plant. It was kind of gothic in some ways.
Last year during the shutdowns, did you ever get the sense that we were coming into a situation like that? Was there a resource that you couldn’t get?
No, not so much. But I sat there looking at the news channels and thinking, Is this a version of The Trigger Effect? That movie came into my mind, for sure, and how it compared. Gosh, yeah. Michael Rooker shows up in that movie too. He’s so good.
I’ve only got a few minutes left, so let me go back to The Blazing World. You appear to me to be a failed father, a failed husband, a failed man, in the movie, and at the end there is some redemption. Say something about that. What was it that drew you to this character?
I don’t know. It was just such a jump off the shelf script. They came to me right at the beginning of the pandemic. I opened the script, and I went, wow. I’ve played roles where I’m maniacal. I’ve played evil, bad, demented. I’m not known for that, so you’ll see more of those roles coming because I’ve done some recently. In this, it has the triple task of playing versions from her perception of her father. He’s kind of a person who never got anywhere and he takes out his lack of life on his young daughters. His failings in life, cost his family trauma and the movie takes place in about a flash in the mind. It’s a beautiful film to think about afterwards. It has staying power. Just wait to see what Carlson cooks up. I hope I’m involved in whatever she does. She’s got a lot more to come. It was cool to be in one of her first films.
Thank you for this interview, sir. It was nice talking to you.
David, thank you so much for bringing these movies up. You took me down memory lane. You picked some really good movies that I’m proud of and got a chance to speak about them. So, thanks a lot. It means a lot.
Of course. Thank you!
You bet. Thank you for spreading the word on The Blazing World.
THE BLAZING WORLD IS IN SELECT THEATERS AND EVERYWHERE ON DEMAND OCTOBER 15 FROM VERTICAL ENTERTAINMENT.