Take a look at Dermot Mulroney’s IMDb. Holy crap, it goes on for miles. It may not have occurred to you until this very moment, but this cat has worked steadily in the movies since Reagan was President. Go ahead, name somebody famous – yep, he’s worked with them: Julia Roberts. Paul Newman. Leonardo DiCaprio. Jane Fonda. Steve Buschemi. Even Emilio Estevez.
For three decades, he has brought his own gravelly gravity to film, often cast as the Crackerjack prize in a romcom, or a determined suburban dad (in Gracie), or a no-count like Dirty Steve in Young Guns, but he is never the same character twice. Ever.
Granted, he’s had every opportunity to phone it in and coast on his steady in-demandness, but he doesn’t play that game.
“I try to be real good every time I take on a role,” he tells me. “That’s what’s half the fun.”
Even when that fun is no fun at all, like the subject matter of one of his recent projects, Trade of Innocents. In it, he plays a human trafficking investigator in Southeast Asia. Heavy drama for sure, but another battle won for the brave actor, who again courageously stumbles into unknown territory.
“I have to admit that at first I didn’t know anything about child sex slavery,” he says. “So I looked into it right away and recognized what kind of massive problem it is. It blew me away. When I saw the script, I knew I had to do it.”
Directed by Christopher Bessette (of The Enemy God and the documentary Niagara: Thunder of the Waters), the film deals with the engine of guilt, and how it drives the characters in ways that will not let them return to Start.
It co-stars Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino, playing Mulroney’s wife, whose character is grieving for the loss of her own young daughter under a similar devastating consequence.
“She’s one of our finest actors,” he says of Sorvino. “And on top of that, she’s been around the world with the UN and other organizations.”
True that: she was named as Goodwill Ambassador to combat human trafficking for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Coincidence? We think not.
The haunting film won “Best of the Fest” at the Breckenridge Festival of Film and Best Picture winner at the International Christian Visual Media Festival. The Huffington Post called it “unflinching” but “with a glimmer of hope.”
“There are so few films that have touched on this,” Mulroney says. “It almost has pop appeal, but it couldn’t be darker material. It’s a strange and effective combination.”
The steamy jungle of Thailand was only the next career layover in a series of globetrots. Previously, he was in icy Canada filming the The Grey.
“I finished shooting The Grey in February 2012 and went right away to Thailand finishing this movie. Back-to-back days in between shooting those two movies. We were based in Vancouver, British Columbia but the scenes of the storm and the plane wreck were in Smithers, British Columbia. That’s 595 miles north of Vancouver. I went from one extreme to another: 35 degrees below zero in British Columbia and then to Thailand where we are easily shooting in 100 degrees, 105. It’s half the fun to have wild experiences like that.”
He’s also a man on the road earning a living for his new family (he has two young daughters), with long jags away from home.
“Thank goodness for Skype,” he says.
Mulroney came of age in Alexandria, Virginia, and attended Northwestern University, graduating in 1985. He started working as an actor in Hollywood almost immediately after that, first in melodramatic TV movies (The Drug Knot, Sins of Innocence). It wasn’t long before Young Guns (1988) and Longtime Companion (1989) placed him higher on the go-to list, and he was immersed in a lifetime of steady work. It’s an actor’s dream, but not a dream that he conjured from the beginning.
“I was so dedicated to the idea that having a shot as an actor in Hollywood was impossible,” he says. “My Plan A was to learn film and to hopefully become a cameraman or cinematographer. I was taking acting classes, but I was also studying film, so I was learning how to pull cable and load film and be involved in making movies. And it happened anyway.”
His turn as Michael in the 1997 smash hit My Best Friend’s Wedding established him as the romantic leading man: handsome, yes, but also grounded and smart. The funny, ironic script won millions of repeat fans and accomplished two tasks: it knocked the romantic comedy on its ass while showing that Mulroney could be that guy’s guy who women love. It was the anti-rom-com.
“That’s what was genius about that movie,” he says. “That’s why it’s had the life it’s had. It was exactly the opposite of what you thought it was going to be. That’s so hard to do in the movies. Sometimes the simplest idea is the best.
“She doesn’t get the guy. It’s that classic, classic portrait of the sad clown, and yet you’re looking at Julia Roberts! I watched it again about two years ago, and I couldn’t believe how dark and edgy it was. It has qualities that you’ve never seen in any other movie. It was really smart.”
A long-time companion of independent, small films, Mulroney has also lent his talents to such gems as the now-classic surreal comedy Living in Oblivion (“It sticks around. It sticks in your head.”) and the acclaimed 2001 sleeper hit Lovely & Amazing. In addition, he’s made memorable TV appearances on Friends (as Rachel’s nemesis) and recently on New Girl (as an older love interest).
“It’s always changing,” he says of his career. “I’m definitely in a great place now. I was also in a great place when I started. But I had ebbs and flows. I’ve had creativity block and opportunity. These things are never the same.”
Good to hear, Derm! Your acting roles may always vary, but don’t you ever change.
Photos courtesy of Monterey Media Inc.