From director Nick Stagliano and writer James C. Wolf, the noir thriller The Virtuoso follows a professional assassin (Anson Mount) whose latest assignment sends him to a small town with only a cryptic clue and an order from his mysterious boss (Anthony Hopkins) to get the job done. Once there, he must avoid any possible danger and uncover all deception while relying on his instincts to put together the pieces and single out his mark.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Mount talked about loving The Virtuoso script, how he connected to this character, the moment he pushed to get into the film, his experience working with co-star Anthony Hopkins, and how he felt about the film’s ending. He also talked about getting to play Captain Pike in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and how he feels about the show’s episodic nature.
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Collider: The way this story unfolds is with such an interesting approach to the storytelling. When you first read the script, was that evident on the page?
ANSON MOUNT: Yeah. The best scripts are the ones where you put it down and you go, “Oh, my God, all we’ve gotta do is shoot.” It was one of the tightest scripts that I’d read in a long time, so I knew I had to do it.
Did you also know, at the time, that Anthony Hopkins would be a part of it?
MOUNT: No. Nick sent the script, and I’ve known (director) Nick [Stagliano] awhile. We had tried to collaborate on something, a decade previous, that just never worked out. He sent it me to me and said, “Hey, do you wanna be in it, and do you wanna produce it with me?” I said, “Absolutely.” All we had was him and me and a script. That was it. Thanks to his tenacity, he was like, “The Mentor is Anthony Hopkins. We’re gonna work this out.” It took awhile, but we got there, and then everything else just fell into place.
Image via Lionsgate
Did you actually believe him when he said that to you?
MOUNT: It was a long process. I knew the script was going to Anthony because Anthony and I are at the same agency. That helped a little bit, to make sure it got in front of him. And then, it was just a process of working it out with Anthony’s schedule, which is considerable, as you might imagine.
What was it about this character that you immediately connected to? What did you see in him that you felt you could bring to it?
MOUNT: A lot of times, you get a script and you see the exterior spine of the story that happens out in the world is very clear. And then, you have to come up with and imagine or create what the interior journey for your character is. This one was ready-made. It was just so clear what this was about, from an interior point of view. This was a guy who had been raised by a psychopath to believe that he was the same. And then, he makes the first big mistake of his life and a person dies, and then he starts to break his own rules and he doesn’t understand why he’s doing it. As the viewer, you realize that he’s developing a conscience and he doesn’t know what it is. It was so clear in the script. There was no work for me to do. We literally just had to shoot it.
I loved the small moment of you, early on, practicing how to smile and trying to be more natural with it.
MOUNT: Thank you. I really pushed for that because it wasn’t in the script. I managed to wrangle a little bit of time to get that first scene in which he does that on the schedule. And then, Nick decided to throw it into another scene. I thought it worked really well. It was so important to me for that to help establish the character. Particularly before spending time with The Waitress, we have to understand something about what his relationship to the world and other people has always been.
This is a movie that’s full of characters that present themselves one way on the surface, but are really someone else, deep down. As an actor, is there a fun in playing scenes that have that kind of duality and unpredictability?
MOUNT: People have always asked me, “Why is playing a villain or an anti-hero more fun?” I think it’s pretty clear. It’s because you never have to worry about what their agenda is. It’s very, very clear. It is often with the hero or the protagonist or the everyman that sometimes that sometimes is not so clear or has to be ironed out in the performance, and it doesn’t always get there. There’s a lot of freedom to play, when you know exactly what their agenda is, in every moment of the script.
How did you actually find the experience of working with Anthony Hopkins? How did he challenge you as a scene partner, as you were actually looking into his eyes?
Image via Lionsgate
MOUNT: The thing is, I watched that scene and I think it came out so well, but it’s so weird to think about the fact that between set-ups and even between takes, we were just cutting up and telling jokes and trading stories. They’d have to wave to get our attention, so that they could move us in the direction of the cameras because we were having so much fun. We hit it right off. I obviously have a tremendous amount of respect for him, an actor, but as a human being, he has maintained this childlike sense of wonder at life that I really admire and I hope that I can manage to keep in my own life for that long. We just have a lot of the same questions about life, love, the craft, and everything. He’s one of the most emotionally open, giving people that I’ve ever worked with.
I love that we’re going to get to see more of your Captain Pike with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. When you signed on to do Star Trek: Discovery, did you know that it would evolve into what it has, or has that been surprising?
MOUNT: No. Funny enough, I only found out after Strange New Worlds was picked up that, early in the days of planning Discovery, Akiva Goldsman, who’s our showrunner, had lobbied to be on Discovery because he’s a huge Star Trek fan. Akiva is so busy in his film career that he didn’t need to add a TV show, but he wanted to do Discovery. All he had heard about was that it was going to be a pre-Kirk show, so he assumed it was a show about Captain Pike. He gets in the writers’ room and he’s like, “Wait, what?! This is a different show. Okay, all right. We can play with this, but we’ve gotta do another show.” So, he was lobbying for it and lobbying for it and lobbying for it. I got lucky enough to be cast in the role for Season 2 of Discovery, and they didn’t tell me any of this, thank God, because I would have been far too nervous. I just thought it was a one season gig and that was it.
I thought you were an unexpected casting choice for that, but I loved you in the role, so I’m glad that there was a way to keep exploring that.
MOUNT: Yeah, and thank you for saying that. Honestly, I’ve never felt such embrace from a fan base, on anything I’ve done. It is really night and day, and I’m very thankful to everyone with Gene Roddenberry and CBS, and Alex [Kurtzman] and Akiva for putting a huge amount of trust in me to be able to do it.
What are your thoughts on the series being episodic? How do you feel that works to the advantage for this particular show?
MOUNT: Well, I think that Star Trek is, by nature, episodic. Now, that doesn’t mean that Star Trek can’t be other things. Star Trek can be a lot of things, as we’ve seen in every iteration of it. But classic Trek is really founded on the big idea of the week, and the big idea of the week needs room to breathe. In serialized structure, you’re trying to take care of so many relationships that there doesn’t tend to be a lot of room for that. Now with that said, I think Discovery does a phenomenal job with that structure and I was very fortunate to be a part of it. Normally, serialized is my taste, as an actor, but this really felt like it needed to be episodic.
Image via Lionsgate
When you first read the ending of The Virtuoso, what was your reaction? Did you feel like it was an earned and deserved ending? Did you wish it had played out a different way? Did you feel like it was exactly what it should have been?
MOUNT: I inherited this thing from my mother, who drives me crazy when we watch movies, because we’ll be a half an hour in and she’ll turn to me and tell me the ending, and she is always right. I’ve developed some of that, so I was like, “Okay, how much of this is me and my mother, and how much of this is gonna be obvious? I don’t know.” I did work with Nick to throw in a couple more curve balls, the largest of which is the character admitting his own doubts, where we, the audience, have doubts. Then, you’re subsuming the same questions and not inadvertently treating the audience as dumber than you are, and then they trust you more. By and large, there weren’t huge changes. Just a few little tweaks, here and there.
The Virtuoso is in select theaters and everywhere you rent movies on April 30, and is available on Blu-ray/DVD on May 4.
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About The Author
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Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.
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