“This will all be over soon, gentlemen.” That line is Sir Patrick Stewart’s favorite from his acclaimed new thriller, Green Room, because of the delicious double meaning it carries. As Darcy Banker, Stewart is issuing those words of comfort to a punk band being held captive in a rural Oregon hole-in-the-wall after witnessing a murder at the hands of Neo-Nazis running the club. He wants them to believe the ordeal will be over soon, but really he means their lives.
The line also sums up the sheer terror produced by Stewart’s character, the club’s calm, but extremely cold-blooded, owner who shows up to make the night a living hell in the taut, gory, and unpredictable film from Blue Ruin writer-director Jeremy Saulnier.
The gritty, villainous role marks a departure for Stewart, 75, who’s best known for his wise and noble heroes of the X-Men (Professor X) and Star Trek (Capt. Picard) universes. Speaking by phone recently from New Orleans — where he may or may not be gearing up to shoot Wolverine 3 — the iconic actor talked about how the film’s script scared him, and who he thinks Darcy would be voting for this election year. (Spoiler alert: You could probably tell from the headline.)
Darcy is a pretty unsavory fellow, to put it mildly. What attracted you to playing him?
Well, what came first was my attraction to the screenplay. This is exactly how it happened: The script arrived in an email late one afternoon. I printed it up and settled down to read it that evening. Now, I live in a very rural part of West Oxfordshire [England], and my house stands alone in the woods. And after about 30 pages, I put the script aside and I went all around my house, checking that all the doors and windows were secure and locked. I then put on the perimeter lights all around my property. I set the alarm system to mode: stay, and I poured myself a large glass of scotch.
Then I finished the screenplay. And the tension and horror simply got worse and worse and worse the more I read. So by the time I finished it, although it’s been described as a genre movie, I thought there was something very unique and special about this, and I had already pretty much decided that if the director would have me, that would be my next project.
When deciding whether or not to commit to the project of a young filmmaker like Jeremy Saulnier do you look at their previous work?
The next night, I watched his movie Blue Ruin, the one that he directed before Green Room, and that had exactly the same effect on me that reading Green Room had had. I knew that, not only could this guy write, he could direct as well. And after that it was an easy decision, and a few days later I got on a plane for Portland, Oregon.
We don’t learn all that much about Darcy, aside from the fact that he owns this backwoods music club and rules a posse of Neo-Nazis with an iron fist. Did you guys come up with a backstory for him?
I asked Jeremy for a backstory, because I thought it would be very helpful. And he provided me with two pages of detailed backstory, none of which gets exposed or the movie goes into. We didn’t add a line to Jeremy’s screenplay. But it was very helpful for me to get a sense of where the man came from and why he was where he was and doing what he was doing.
By the way, there is a little detail in the film that I’m quite certain very few people, if anybody, ever saw. When Darcy arrives in his van, at the beginning of his part in the story, it would appear from what’s written on the side of the van, that he has an electrical repair business. But that never gets referred to. So that’s his public front, that he has this business. But he also runs this music venue out in the woods where a lot of kids can come along and listen to their kind of music. But as we discover in the movie, that’s not what he’s trying to protect. What he’s trying to protect is what we discover is under the floor of that music venue. And that adds a whole other dimension to the story and a justification for why Darcy does the things that he does.
Stewart in ‘Green Room’ (A24)
Did you do much research into American Nazism?
For one thing, I’ve been involved with politics in one way or the other all my adult life. In fact, my first act of civil disobedience was during the 1945 post-World War II general election. And these days, you cannot be unaware of extremist groups and how they function. So I did some research into the white supremacist movement in the United States, and to my astonishment I discovered that the heartland of this movement is the Pacific Northwest — Washington, Northern California, Oregon. This astonished me because traditionally these parts of the United States are among the most liberal in the country.
Watching this movie, I couldn’t help but think where Darcy would sit on the political spectrum. Who do you think he would vote for this year?
My sense is that it would probably be [Donald] Trump, if only for the reason that Trump is a dangerous idiot. And in an environment governed by someone like that, the kind of things that Darcy Banker is interested in would have an opportunity to flourish.
But you know, [Ted] Cruz would have a lot of appeal to him, as well I think. I mean, there is something I think truly scary about Cruz. So maybe Darcy would feel at home with him in the White House.
Sounds like Darcy would have a dilemma.
The United States is in a bizarre situation. I’ve lived here for 17 years — I come and go now all the time, I’m a resident alien. So this is my fifth presidential election that I’ve been through and I never, ever before encountered a situation as sad as this one is. Certainly as far as the Republican Party is concerned, but anyway we’re not here to talk about politics.
Well, let’s talk about X-Men. Do you monitor the X-Men universe from afar? Are you curious about the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse?
Oh yes, of course, very, very curious. In fact, I visited the set of Apocalypse and spent quite a lot of time with Bryan Singer, who’s a good friend, and hanging out with [Michael] Fassbender and all those guys was delightful. I am looking forward to that movie so much.
‘X-Men’ stars James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, and Hugh Jackman (Clevver)
Do you and your good friend and X-Men costar Ian McKellen have any type of rivalry with the series’ younger stars?
I think there is some present humorous rivalry, yes indeed. I remember reading an interview with James McAvoy when he was cast. He was asked, 'How do you feel about taking on a role that was created by Patrick Stewart?’ And he said, 'Patrick Stewart? I’ll bury him.’ [Laughs] I, of course, am a much nicer guy, so I said how immensely flattered I was to be replaced by somebody as brilliant and hairy as James McAvoy.
Can you say anything about what your role will look like in Wolverine 3?
I can’t. We are sworn to secrecy. It is more than my whole career is worth than to talk to you about that. There will come a time, I’m sure, probably not too long.
I can’t even tell you that I’m in it, by the way. You’re assuming that I’m in it. But I’m not confirming that.
Green Room is now playing in select cities. Watch the trailer: