Dermot Mulroney has been part of our film landscape for more than 20 years, with a diverse slate of more than 70 credits that includes the Billy-the-Kid western “Young Guns,” the impactful AIDS drama “Longtime Companion” and the hit rom-com “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”
Growing up in Alexandria, Virginia, the third of five kids, Mulroney cut his acting chops at Northwestern University, and was recruited in his senior year by a William Morris agent. The now 47-year-old father of three moves effortlessly between low-budget indies and big-budget features, and has some seven films coming out in the next year.
Celebs.com’s Julie Jacobsspoke with Mulroney about his newest project, “The Family Tree,” going behind the camera, and working with Julia Robertsand Jack Nicholson.
Celebs.com: What is it about acting that draws you in?
Dermot Mulroney: It’s like solving a puzzle, making things out of thin air. I love working collaboratively with other creative people. It’s a fantastic job.
Celebs.com: Your mom is an amateur actress. Did she prompt your interest?
Mulroney: I think she did, tangentially. Even though she didn’t always pursue acting, she retained a love of the arts. And living right next to DC, we had pretty easy access to culture. I went to the theater, the symphony, etc., consistently throughout my upbringing and I was pretty absorbed by it all.
Celebs.com: Your career has been so steady, which is an anomaly in Hollywood. Is fear a factor when it comes to the actor’s constant search for what’s next?
Mulroney: I’ve always been pretty sure that I’d be able to work again. You don’t know where or when or how much you’re going to get paid, but the concept of this being my last job, I never really had that as a limitation or worry. But, luckily, even when I’ve had periods of unemployment, the releases sort of time out and fill that gap.
Celebs.com: What do you consider when choosing roles?
Mulroney: I think trying to tailor your career to some kind of quality or taste is kind of a dead end, because you might miss a good opportunity. Instead, what I do now, which is what I did when I started, is take most everything. The good news is that the things I’m getting, between offers and auditions, are high quality. Even small roles, if they impact the story and there’s a great director attached, are worthwhile.
Celebs.com: You’ve worked with some “heavy hitters”, like Julia Roberts and Jack Nicholson. Who would you still like to work with or work with again?
Mulroney: Well, those two are terrific examples. Julia and I have remained friends and I’d love to work with her anytime. And Jack Nicholson, I’ve only seen once or twice since we did “About Schmidt,” but obviously I’d do anything to work with him again. When we did that movie, he was really on his game and it was amazing to watch him take on a really serious character in a comedy.
Celebs.com: So, “The Family Tree,” what was the attraction?
Mulroney: That it’s not a movie you can pigeonhole and that it has a little bit of everything. It bites off a lot: coming of age, rape issues, violence, gun control, Christianity. The list goes on and on. I don’t know a whole lot of movies that attempt so much.
Celebs.com: How would you describe the metamorphosis of the family in this film?
Mulroney: You see them failing at being a normal family. Then they go through all these ups and downs and all these crises and plot twists to arrive at the authentic version of what they wished they were at the beginning.
Celebs.com: How did you portray Jack Burnett [your character in "The Family Tree"], who doesn’t seem to be aware of his own dysfunction?
Mulroney: That’s what’s interesting to me, where the challenge becomes how do you portray a zero on screen, a man that’s checked out of life and doesn’t have a whole lot of input and his family is lacking in sensitivity and perception. The director [Vivi Friedman] and I talked a lot about how to make sure that gets across, that him doing nothing is part of the story. But how do you portray someone doing nothing in a way that’s interesting? It’s ultimately up to the audience to decide if I’ve done that successfully.
Celebs.com: You’ve directed, with 2010’s “Love, Wedding and Marriage.” Was it a good experience and would you go behind the camera again?
Mulroney: It was a mixed experience, but I definitely enjoyed the process, especially shooting the movie, the preproduction, the casting and so forth. And I was there blow-by-blow from having the financing and then having it fall through. To say that it was precisely the movie I thought I was going to have the ability to make wouldn’t be genuine. But it was meant to be a light and humorous movie and it was. I would direct again, knowing a lot better how to do it in a way that would be satisfyingly creative for me.
Celebs.com: Many people may not know that you’re an accomplished cellist and that you’ve played on albums [Melissa Etheridge’s "Never Enough"] and movie scores ["Mission Impossible 3"]. You’re even in a band, Cranky George, with one of your brothers.
Mulroney: Yeah, I’ve been playing since I was seven. I continued lessons up through high school, and I played with the symphony at Northwestern for four years. When I came out to LA, I became friends with Michael Giacchino—a composer—and he’s invited me to play a number of times. In fact, I have a date next week for “Mission Impossible 4.” I’m there with the top players who do it every day. There’s nothing like being part of an orchestra, with the music on every side of you. It’s really nerve wracking, but also fun and exciting.
Celebs.com: Do you play other instruments?
Mulroney: The guitar, the mandolin. I play some instrument every day in one way or another. Music is a big part of my life.
Celebs.com: And obviously, films are, too. What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently?
Mulroney: Probably “Bridesmaids.” I thought it was a scream.