Q: How did you prepare for the role of a half-breed demon?
GR: How did I prepare? Well, I really tried to imagine a person without compassion, and without fear of causing trouble. Someone who enjoyed pain, someone who enjoyed giving out pain. Balthazar is one of Satan’s emissaries, and it’s almost like I have a stack of evil cards and I’m just standing there handing them out and telling people I’ve got the way to get to heaven. How I prepared also went in line with the script, because the words do so much for you. There’s a rhythm, a sense of music to them that I could sense, that I could hear. And just try to keep it real, try to keep it evil, and the suit really helped too.
Q: Was that you doing the coin thing, or a stunt double?
GR: No, that’s me. I had that coin in my pocket for a couple months, I guess, and whenever I wasn’t on guitar, stroking my wife or making food, I could just get it going. Everyone would always want to have a go on it, and everyone would watch it fall to the ground real quick. It’s a knack and the guy who showed me, a magician, was amazing at it. I got to the point where I could do it. It was tricky, that first scene, because the gravity was downhill; it was on a stairwell. Shooting in downtown Los Angeles, I was like, ‘I don’t want anyone to sue me, this is L.A., keep clear at the bottom because some coins will be flying.’
Q: How did you like doing that ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ scene with Keanu? Was it hard to keep a straight face?
GR: Yeah, I really liked it. It was very much keeping a straight face on the set by being in the moment, because the set was such a positive place in such a concentrated moment while you’re shooting. When you’re off-camera, it’s a whole different story. I just knew that he hated me, when I first came in the room during that scene, the director would just hop up and down and say, ‘He hates you, he hates you! This is great, this is great!’ The thing was to just play with him. I wanted to just make it seem like he’d be delicious, so that ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ comment was fun.
Q: Could you talk about your own religious background, and if your belief in angels and devils had any part in this? Was it ever tricky to put yourself in a demonic frame of mind?
GR: For me, I didn’t grow up in any particular religious kind of way. My father’s family came from Russia in 1867, my family name was originally Rosentar, so there’s a Jewish side. My mother is Scottish, and they’re Christians. So, you take Jewish from one side, so I wasn’t really Jewish even though I have that blood in me, and a mixture of denominations. Throughout my life I’ve felt an affinity towards spirituality, sort of based in common sense – it’s almost as close to Buddhism as it is to Christianity, the idea of conscious, of contribution, of mindfulness towards other people. Those are simple rules of humankind that are common sense. And in reference to the whole heaven and hell thing, what was so interesting about the film to me was that there was this one man’s journey, and the tension that is there between good and evil, heaven and hell isn’t so much two doors, as being this symbolism of temptation versus not. The concept of being selfish versus selfless. So, it didn’t effect me on a theological basis or strike me in any way. I just thought that it was an incredibly well-written, interesting film that I was lucky to be a part of.
Q: Did you have to audition for the role?
GR: Yeah, I was actually in the studio for a week, I was doing some recording, and then I was on my way to Brazil to work on another film, The Game of Their Lives. They wanted me to go in and audition for Constantine. Because I was in the studio, I needed to concentrate, so I said, ‘Can I do it when I come back from this two-week trip?’ I’m really fatalistic, so I figured if the part is still there, then I’d like to try out for it, but I can’t interrupt what I’m doing. So I get on the plane to go to Brazil and I get in Sao Paolo for my change, and I had read the film by then. I got on the phone right away, going ‘You’ve got to make sure they keep this open for me, this is really something special!’ I got really excited about it, and I auditioned he day I got back from Brazil. Francis took a real chance with me – I had done two other films on a small level. It really was a leap of faith, no pun intended, for him to put me in this film. I will be terribly grateful to him, not least now that I’ve seen the film and was blown away by it.
Q: Did you get to act with Tilda Swinton?
GR: I didn’t, no. I got to do my press with her on the first day, and I’ve been a real admirer of hers for a long time. We really hit it off and had a great time, the angel Gabriel and the devil’s emissary, together in one room. It was really complete.
Q: Keanu seemed to enjoy beating you in that one scene. Was that really you or a stunt double?
GR: No, he was there to beat me. I was in an enviable situation – a lot of people would give a lot of money to be straddled by Keanu, but I’m not one of them. I found it really interesting because it was such a challenge to be so constricted. I had the prosthetics on my face, my range of movement was really limited, and here was this character Balthazar who considered himself infallible, and there he was at this moment being unexpectedly fallible, becoming a victim. I’m used to picking on people, so the idea that suddenly I can become fearful and I’m being dominated by him in that way, and it was so uncomfortable and I was in that suit, that wool suit, and he’s beating the life out of me. I’ve got these brass knuckles swinging past my nose. It was intense, and it really helped me to feel that pain.
Q: How important is it to become an actor to you, and what are the rewards of acting versus music?
GR: Well, it’s real important to make sure that I do it in a serious way. I don’t want to be some dilettante, where I just happened to have a successful record so I get to play a vampire in some film. I really wanted to make sure that I found the right script and the right director. The catch-22 of that is that people won’t take chances on you, it’s very rare, particularly as time moves on people are taking less and less chances in entertainment. The stakes are too high. So the rewards are really much in the same way as when I write a song and I have a sense of artistic achievement. This is a different strata, a different area of my life where I can walk away, when I drive home every night at 7:30 from the set, I knew that, wow, maybe there was another twenty seconds added to the legacy that if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, would always exist. I’ve always been intrigued by this idea of making music or making films or videos, these testaments of time and where you’re at. It’s a blessing, I really enjoy it. I really enjoy acting, the exchange, the written word becoming real.
Q: Do you and [wife] Gwen [Stefani] coach each other on acting?
GR: Well, as we know, two great films, we’re really lucky, we never could have planned it. She played Jean Harlow, I played Balthazar, but they’re both a bit separate. I don’t know how I could advise her on jean Harlow, and she knows nothing about the devil. She’s a good Catholic, so she’s terrified by the devil. Balthazar maybe came too easily to me, it shouldn’t have come that easily. There’s something to be said for that, but I’ll save that for my psychiatrist.
Q: Are the two of you planning on going to the Oscars?
GR: Gwen, if she’s going to go and be invited for The Aviator… which I would imagine she is, because she brightens up anywhere that she goes. She can even go to Gelson’s and she makes it look good. So I think that they will be inviting her, and if she decides that she wants me for her date, I’m up for it.
Q: What’s the ring on your thumb?
GR: The ring on my thumb is just…someone pointed out earlier, weirdly, that it’s a cross, as you can tell. I guess it’s just symbolic. Forces are at work, obviously. I don’t know.
Q: Was it a gift?
GR: No. As usual, I got it myself.
Q: What’s coming up, music-wise, for you?
GR: I have a new band, Institute, and that record comes out in July.
Q: How does it differ from Bush?
GR: A lot of musicians write one song, and their career is a variation on that theme. It’s just a further example, from my own perspective, of the human condition. The joys and the highs and the lows. It’s similar, it’s probably a bit harder than Bush. Yet the singing hopefully is more melodic, or as melodic. Again, there’s more of that tension that I like. As opposed to that music where those guys do the gruff sounds, which I still don’t understand. [So] to get anywhere near melody is where I’m at.
by Staci Layne Wilson