In the Oscar-winning film Spotlight, actor Brian d’Arcy James plays Matt Carroll, one of the fourBoston Globe reporters who uncovered a scandal involving systemic child molestation by priests within the Catholic church.
Prior to the film's big win for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, James opened up to us about his relationship with religion, the easiest scene he did in the film, and what it was like working alongside Michael Keaton.
How do you feel about Spotlight being nominated for an Oscar?
Brian d’Arcy James: It’s reaffirming. It’s having a societal impact and this is going to allow more people to see it. To me, the possibility of this catapulting into a different sphere of distribution or awareness in terms of people seeing this movie…that is a huge advantage from an emotional pride point of view.
How did you land the role of Matt Carroll on Spotlight?
BDJ: I got [it] the good, old-fashioned way: auditioning. I knew Tom McCarthy was going to direct it, so that was the biggest signal at the outset. I knew it was going to be a great project because I had seen all of [McCarthy’s] work and I was a big fan of his. For me, it was just an opportunity to go in and give it my best shot and, low and behold, sometimes actors get these jobs it turns out.
Is it different to play someone who exists versus a completely made-up character?
BDJ: This is my first and only time doing it, so I can’t say that I’ve had the experience before, but the difference obviously is knowing that the words in a script are the words that Matt Carroll said or represent his ideas, and there he is right there on set.
Did you guys get to meet the reporters you were playing?
BDJ: Yes we did. Some to a greater degree than others in terms of time spent, but the first thing [was], “Okay, who is this person I’m going to be representing and how can I do it in a way that is going to honor them?” We all had that in common. They [the reporters they played] were all extremely willing and gracious to us.
What was it like working with Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Michael Keaton?
BDJ: Everyone was extremely inviting and gracious, and welcomed me with open arms. These are content actors who are interested in getting it right, telling a story, and honoring that.
A pivotal scenes in the movie is when you realize that one of the church’s “rehab centers” is right by your house. Was that hard to play?
BDJ: No, that was not hard to play because, as opposed to some of the other things, like the procedural machinations of a newsroom, […] you don’t need any kind of information to understand protecting a child. It’s there. So, in a way, those were the easiest things for me to click into and to latch onto because they’re universal.
Are you religious?
BDJ: Yes, religious to the extent that I went to Catholic church and Catholic school. It’s just a part of who I am, my DNA, and it’s something that is part of my family. I never hesitated in terms of what this material meant to me in terms of my faith. In fact, the opposite—I felt quite a calling to be part of the conversation in a pro-active way. To represent someone in the community who, hopefully by virtue of the film, has a voice and is screaming to the world that this happened and happens, and this shouldn’t happen again. The abuse, number one, but also the cover up. They’re two different things for sure, but they obviously both lead to disastrous results.
That is something that is definitely a challenge for me in terms of reconciling the institutional and the spiritual. That’s what the movie addresses as well. Not only within the church, but also in the city of Boston itself in terms of the people who were able to kind of control the narrative in a way. How could we have let this happen? Not just the church, but people who knew that it was happening. It’s a fascinating conversation and an endless psychological endeavor to try to figure it out. Not only the behavior, which is impossible to understand, but also this idea of silent complicity and how that happens in communities worldwide.
You starred in the early Hamilton shows. How do you feel about this recent obsession of sorts toward the musical? Have you ever seen such a thing involving a Broadway show?
BDJ: No, I’ve never seen anything like it and I don’t think many people have. My first reaction is to kind of go back to Tom McCarthy, equating Tom to Lin-Manuel Miranda [creator and lead inHamilton] in the sense that here are two people who had a very specific vision of a very complex story. By staying in that particular lane from A to Z, the result is astounding because it never strays from its own intent. On top of that, you have the vernacular that he uses and the way that the words, within this popular form of music, are telling a historical, compelling story.
You now also star in Broadway’s Something Rotten.
BDJ: I’ve been doing [it] for a year. The joy for me is having all these conversations at the same time and knowing that I continually get to do this incredible job that is just a luxury.
Does it ever get tiring to say the same lines every day—sometimes twice a day?
BDJ: My pat answer is that it’s always dependent on the material. If you have got something that pops and just bounces along in the way that this does, it’s not hard at all. Does it get tiresome? It gets tiresome in the physical aspect of it, [which] is a huge element that changes the older you get. I’m more mindful of that and therefore try to create less of a chance of the car breaking. This particular show is so fun to do because of the people that I’m doing it with, who are all aces, and then also the communion of material and audience. I’ve never been on a show that was so uproarious and happy and joyful, and it really has been a joyful time. To be able to go do a Broadway show every night and have it be a hit show, there’s nothing better than that.