'Shutter Island', 'Lincoln' actor Jackie Earle Haley: I use empathy as an entry point to understand my characters

Jackie Earle Haley in a scene from ‘Robocop’   | Photo Credit: Kerry Hayes

“It’s been a good three months and we’re going a little crazy at home watching the numbers rise. I hope things become normal again,” says Jackie Earle Haley on a patch call from the US, aptly reflecting our collective emotion in the time of COVID-19.

Jack and his wife live in Texas where they have self-quarantined, and have been passing time watching television shows and movies like the most of us at home. On the flip side, however, the pandemic has offered us the luxury of time to take a pause, reminisce about past choices and reflect upon the future.

But Jack has a more practical response. “I’m really fortunate to have worked with some of the great actors and directors,” he says, adding, “If I’ve any regrets, then it’d be the movies I passed on. Otherwise, I’m pretty content with the body of work I’ve done.”

Becoming the character

In a career spanning close to five decades, Jack has been part of projects by legendary filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) , Steven Zaillian (All the King’s Men) and even contemporary filmmakers like Zack Snyder (Watchmen) and Robert Rodriguez (Alita: Battle Angel).

He won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for playing Roonie, a sex offender on parole in Little Children, directed by Todd Field. He has often been described as the ‘master of disguise’ for playing characters that are eccentric; a case in point being Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Is there a character he relates to the most? “Honestly, nothing jumps out,” he says. “Sometimes, the finding part itself becomes a life-altering experience. For example, I spent nearly six months studying the character for Watchmen. I also remember the time when people wanted to embody Kelly Leak [The Bad News Bears] because they thought he was ‘cool’,” he adds.

Jackie Earle Haley at the world premiere of ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’

Jackie Earle Haley at the world premiere of ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’   | Photo Credit: David Edwards

Jack has an interesting take on finding and recognising the “emotional similarities” in his characters, and for why he won’t fake the emotion whether he plays a paedophile or a person with mental disablities. “There’s always a point of empathy where one can find the parallels with his characters. Of course, the situation and circumstances might be different but the emotions are often related,” says Jack, adding, “I use empathy as an entry point to understand my characters. In fact, I’ve learnt a lot from my characters and began seeing the world from their perspectives.”

What lies ahead?

The Bad News Bears, which was his first recognisable role, released when the theatre-viewing experience was considered primal and sacred.

Forty years on, we are at a time where there is a steady decline in audience thronging cinemas, thanks to streaming platforms. What Jack foresees happening in the future is that the ‘genre’ movies would take over theatres, while the small and medium budget movies would get their due on OTT platforms.

“The theatre world would survive on high-concept and tentpole movies like Star Wars. But if you look at television, the way it used to be and it is now, it has seen an exponential growth in terms of production and content. Earlier, good stuff was available at movie theatres. But today, we get that same cinematic experience at home.”

We speak to Jack a few weeks before his 59th birthday on July 14. He hasn’t had the time to think about that for his mind is still wrapped around quarantine, but he ends the call on an optimistic note: “Tenet is something I look forward to watching when the theatres reopen. I just want to get out and watch a movie at cineplex.”

Little Children will be telecast on Sony PIX on July 14, as part of his birthday

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Printable version | Oct 1, 2020 4:51:17 PM |

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