Mopping Up the Red in Green Room
Austinite Macon Blair on neo-Nazis and Patrick Stewart
It's always the quiet ones. In violent thriller Green Room, Macon Blair plays Gabe, the placid manager of a punk club in the rural Pacific Northwest. Only the club is owned by neo-Nazi leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart), and when one band sees something they shouldn't have, it becomes a death trap for them, and a moral test for unlikely fascist Gabe. Blair said, "If I was in that situation, that's how I would be, totally shattered."
The story has been compared to siege movies like Straw Dogs and Assault on Precinct 13, and punk classics such as The Road Warrior and Suburbia: Blair said that he and director Jeremy Saulnier discussed both, but Apocalypse Now and Platoon were bigger influences. Blair said, "Aesthetically and tonally, it's a war movie. It's a squad of young inexperienced soldiers being surrounded by an army, trying to get back across enemy lines."
Saulnier and Blair have known each other since they were little kids, and Blair said he'd heard the idea for Green Room well before their breakthrough collaboration on 2014's Blue Ruin. But just because you're friends with the director, doesn't mean you're guaranteed a part in his film. Blair said, "He wanted to work with me in a creative or producer sense, but in an acting sense, he thought we'd done that with Blue Ruin, and he wanted someone else for the part of Gabe."
In a realm of brutal white supremacists, Blair saw Gabe as the antithesis of "the badass soldier character, who can kick in doors and blow things up without a second thought." All Gabe wants, he said, "is a nod of approval from the boss, even though he's wildly out of his depth. He's good at running a club, but he's not good at mopping up multiple murders."
As much as Blair empathized with the character, it was still a tough sell getting Saulnier to change his mind. Blair said, "I had to go through the casting process like anybody else." For authenticity, he contacted a firm that makes custom fake tattoos, and sent them sketches of Gabe's neo-Nazi ink. "They saw this artwork that I was sending them, and they said, 'We don't support this kind of thing; we won't fulfill this order.'"
Finally, Blair had to send them links to news stories about the project before they relented. It seemed like a lot of work, but accuracy was vital, even if it meant hanging around the fascist fringes of the Internet. Blair said, "The search histories on my and Jeremy's computers are probably pretty suspect." That process also answered an important question about Gabe: How does a regular guy end up a loyal fascist? Blair said, "They're disenfranchised and they don't have many opportunities, but these movements offer a kind of belonging, no matter how venomous they can be."
That research also filtered into a dossier on the real-life inspirations of leaders like Darcy. Blair said, "Patrick Stewart requested a bit more backstory for his character – not in the movie, just in script – to understand where this guy came from."
For those used to Stewart playing reserved but benevolent characters like Captain Picard and Professor Xavier, his portrayal of the malevolent Darcy may seem out of character. But it's really a return to earlier warrior roles, like the ambitious and ruthless Sejanus in I, Claudius, or Cold Warrior Karla in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. "He really saved the movie," said Blair. "We were literally a couple of weeks out from shooting, and it turned out that Patrick had joined the same management company as Jeremy, and his mandate was 'I want to play a villainous role, especially a villainous American role.'"
Green Room opens in theatres Friday, April 22. See Film Listings for showtimes and review.