Exclusive: SUPER 8 Star Tim Griffin Interview
Tim Griffin may be best known as John Nevins, the CIA agent who interrogated the very silent Jason Bourne in The Bourne Supremacy, but he is also a frequent collaborator with J. J. Abrams and George Clooney and he has had memorable television roles on shows ranging from Party of Five to Grey’s Anatomy.
This year alone, Tim will appear in several very different films, including J. J. Abrams’ highly anticipated SUPER 8, Chris Weitz’s powerful drama A Better Life, the thrillers Carjacked and Abducted, and the horror The Collection. He is also shooting the NBC fall pilot Prime Suspect.
Daemon’s Movies talked to Tim about working with J. J. Abrams, why he loved making A Better Life, and how he’s managed to not be typecast. He also explains how the Bourne interrogation scene evolved from what was in the script to what we saw on screen.
I love your bio. I don’t read many stories where the universe gives someone a push out of college and into acting.
Tim Griffin: I know. Most actors say they were born to do this. Great. I started young and I would never say that, but more power to you.
Is the story true that your car broke down in New York when you were driving home from college right when there was a big audition?
Tim Griffin: Yeah, when I was coming back from my sophomore year, it broke down. I remember being like, ‘I have a week to kill, so I might as well do the audition.’ I got the role in ‘Taking the Stand,’ which was great and that was that.
Do you ever look back and think you should’ve gotten on a bus or are you happy with your choice?
Tim Griffin: I can’t regret it now. I will say that I was a reluctant participant in my own career probably until I was about twenty three because I kept thinking like Menudo my time would run out and fate would step in and go, ‘Okay, that was fun. Time to go and get serious.’ That just never happened. Looking back I realized I had many things that kept me going, before I sort of realized I loved what I do.
It seems like you’ve been working nonstop for the past few years. This year you have five movies coming out?
Tim Griffin: This year it’s getting embarrassing. I have friends who refuse to talk to me because of it. They’ll say, ‘I can’t stand you. Get out of my life. I hate you,’ and these are people I’ve known forever. These are the people that love me. No. Things really changed after ‘Bourne.’ It went to a whole different thing after that because I was always working, but then the projects started getting bigger and bigger.
Your role in The ‘Bourne Supremacy’ really was terrific. Was that when people started stopping you on the street?
Tim Griffin: That’s definitely when more people recognized me. I mean, there were a lot of people who were fans of ‘Party of Five’. When you do something that people are obsessed with, like, I did a little ‘General Hospital’. I did a little bit of ‘Party of Five’ and those shows have fanatic fan bases. So that’s when it first started, but then after ‘Bourne’ came out I think I was even shocked because when we did it you never know what it’s going to turn out to be. That was their second run and a new director with Paul Greengrass.
I think even the ‘Bourne’ people didn’t know, like, ‘Did we catch lightning in a bottle the first time? Was that just dumb luck? What’s going to happen?’ Then I remember that they took me aside because I was doing the red carpet and they were like, ‘You haven’t seen anything, right?’ I said, ‘I have seen one shot of this movie,’ and they told me, ‘You’re going to love it’ because that’s what they ended up going out on the talk shows and whatever because that movie is so frenetically paced that there’s something about the quiet intensity of that scene just made everybody remember it. I don’t know. I love it. Especially since it was something Matt and I came up with off script.
Tim Griffin: Yeah, there were lines in that scene and Matt Damon and I had been workshopping it. We were in Berlin, and like, Paul Greengrass is very into reality. If you’ve ever seen his other films like he did ‘United 87’ and so he loves to just sort of keep it as real as possible.
Matt just came up with the idea. He said, ‘What if I didn’t answer a single question?’ And he turned to me and I said, ‘I don’t know what would happen, but I’d sure love to find out.’ So all of that stuff, when I get up and I snap my fingers under his face, that just happened in the moment. ‘You’re going to play ball with us,’ and so that was just magic.
In terms of what you have coming out this year, ‘Super 8’ is so secret it’s not even on your IMDB page –
Tim Griffin: By the way, the same thing happened with ‘Cloverfield’. The exact same thing happened with ‘Star Trek’. This is J. J. Abrams 101 to the point that I can’t tell you anything about ‘Super 8’ or I will be assassinated by J. J. Abrams.
Have you seen it yet?
Tim Griffin: Oh, of course not. I wrapped filming on it, I think, a couple of months ago. It’s to the point now that I don’t even ask questions. I don’t even see the pages beyond what I’m doing and they all have my name stamped on them. They’re all time coded. You don’t mess with the world of J. J. Abrams.
I’m into it, too. I know it’s going to be fantastic and I was trying to piece together the story based on what I was seeing and talking to my fellow actors. Even then I have a very murky picture of what ‘Super 8’ is.
The CIA has nothing on J. J. Abrams.
Tim Griffin: That man is the master, to the point when we did ‘Cloverfield’ and we showed up for the first week of filming they had already shot the promo, the famous Statue of Liberty rolling into the streets. They shot the promo before we shot the movie.
So we showed up and it was number one on the IMDB most searched chart and nobody even knew what the film was. All they knew was that he put a trailer right in front of ‘Transformers’. Everybody saw it and they lost their minds. They were like, ‘What is this?’ There I was in the middle of this. I was like, ‘What is this? What are we doing?’ So it was fantastic.
Then there’s ‘A Better Life,’ which looks like it’s going to make me sob all the way through it.
Tim Griffin: It will absolutely. I was actually so honored to be a part of that project. It’s Chris Weitz directing and this is what I so love about Chris Weitz. He helms one of the highest grossing movies ever and they’re begging him to come back and do another installment and he takes that opportunity and he’s like, ‘I want to do this project.’
A lot of ‘A Better Life’ is in Spanish. He wanted to get as many unknown actors. I think I’m one of the very few white people in the whole movie. I met with Chris and I said, ‘I love it so much that I’d do anything for one of your productions.’ He took me to my word. He said, ‘Would you do this part?’ I came in. It’s such a beautiful story that you will be in tears. And the kid that they found to play the main kid, he pretty much came out of nowhere and he’s brilliant. I had scenes with him and I was like, ‘I don’t even know where this kid came from.’ He’s just phenomenal.
Can you talk about your role in it?
Tim Griffin: I hate to say it, but the basic underlying story is what do you do when the deck of society is sort of pre-stacked against you. This kid like so many people especially in Los Angeles, he’s got an immigrant father, an illegal immigrant, but he’s born and raised in the states. He goes to school and he’s a good kid. The problem is that the establishment sometimes looks at him and pre-assumes that he’s a gangbanger, that if he gets in a fight at school they instantly associate that. So you sort of see.
It’s not even like we’re big, bad people. I’m part of the system. He gets sent to me when he gets into one of his first fights at school and I end up humiliating him because I ask him to take off his shirt, ‘Let me see your tattoos,’ and he’s defiant, like, ‘I don’t want to show you. I don’t have any tattoos. I’m not a part of a gang.’ And of course I don’t believe him and I start out nice, but finally I roll him. When he pulls off his shirt he’s pretty much in tears because it’s such a humiliating thing and you see the sort of cold shoulder reaction that I give. It breaks my heart to even say it, but he needed a presence that could come in there and do – I don’t know.
It’s a fine line when you’re playing somebody that’s, I don’t even want to call it a good guy/bad guy. You have to get the impression that these people, they’re not bad people. Even like Nevins from ‘Bourne’. Paul Greengrass was talking to me, like, ‘He’s got to get punched in the face and you want him to sort of deserve that punch in the face, but he’s not a bad guy. He’s just doing his job. You have to also instill something where when Matt Damon punches you in the face the audience applauds.’
It sounds like a powerful film, both on a societal and on a father/son level.
Tim Griffin: It’s so beautiful and I don’t want to give anything away. The kid doesn’t realize how much his father has sacrificed for him until the end of the story and it’s heartbreaking. So I won’t give it away, but it’s one of the most beautiful scripts. Everyone that’s associated with it wanted to do it and almost volunteered to do it because we just wanted to be a part of it.
I notice that you’re working with Maria Bello a lot this year.
Tim Griffin: What’s so funny is when we did ‘Abduction,’ which is the John Singleton film coming out in September she came on set before me. All of my stuff is with Alfred Molina and I’m chasing Taylor [Lautner] all over. She plays Taylor’s quote unquote mom and so she was filming at an entirely different time than I was.
When I showed up on ‘Carjacked’ we both realized, ‘Wait a minute. Weren’t we just in the same movie together?’ Now that I’m doing the pilot ‘Prime Suspect,’ she’s going to think that I’m stalking her, but yes, it’s purely by coincidence. It’s an honor for me. She’s a phenomenal actress.
Have you started shooting that yet?
Tim Griffin: I’m flying off to New York to shoot the pilot with Peter Berg at the end of this month and I’ll be gone through April, and then hopefully the show will be shooting in Los Angeles.
If that goes to series that’d be your first series regular role, right?
Tim Griffin: What’s so strange is for someone who’s been doing this forever, I’ve back doored my way onto more series. I’ve usually been the recurring lead on a handful of series and to me that’s always been the greatest because I don’t have to go through the terrible process. The funny thing is that ever show that I’ve ever done either didn’t go or didn’t make them or they say ‘We’re going to give you the series regular deal as soon as we hit episode ten,’ and then it gets cancelled. I’d been doing so much film that this was a surprise, but with the caliber of this pilot, it’s going to be sort of a game changer for sure. This will be the first one where from the outset I’m one of the main guys.
Fair Game’ comes out on DVD at the end of the month. I wish more people would’ve seen that.
Tim Griffin: Did you see that?
I did. I loved it.
Tim Griffin: Well, I think it’ll have it’s day. Even movies like ‘Men Who Stare At Goats’, I don’t know how much they did domestically at the box office, but I think that worldwide they ended up doing great, but yeah, it’s one of those things where people wait, like, ‘I mean to see that. I’m going to wait until it goes to HBO.’ But that movie, I don’t know if it’s because people had Iraq war fatigue, but if you see the movie like you did you realize it’s not even about that. It’s really about that incredible dynamic, that relationship and sort of what would you do if suddenly you became persona non grata for the entire U.S. government and all of the weapons were sort of trained on you and can a marriage survive that. I got to know them a little bit. It was great working with Naomi [Watts]. I thought that movie was so well done. I loved it.
Of the movies you have coming out this year is there one that you’re most looking forward to the release of?
Tim Griffin: That’s like ‘Sophie’s Choice’. It’s because they’re all such different animals. They’re all every different genre. I guess ‘Conception’ which is like fun romantic comedy. There’s ‘The Collection’. That’s a horror. ‘Abduction’ is a spy thriller. ‘A Better Life’ is I feel like one of those rich dramatic pieces. So I’m thrilled for each of them for different reasons. I’m just thrilled that I got to do all of them and that nobody ever put me in a box and says, ‘Well, you’re going to do this because we only see him in this light.’
Is that something you do on purpose, picking the different roles?
Tim Griffin: No. I actually feel very, very lucky because somehow I’ve always managed to straddle all the different worlds. Even doing comedy versus drama, sometimes when you become successful in one arena that’s where they want to put you in every time. So I got started out in L.A. and I did all the big sitcoms of the day and for a while it would be like that was my thing and then it would transfer and they’re like, ‘You have to do “21 Jump Street” and “Hunter”,’ and then that sort of runs its course. But I have been very fortunate. Now that I’ve been established in all these different roles I’ve now sort of broken free and they realize that they can put me in sort of anything. That was something that I didn’t do intentionally, but just something that I was fortunate enough and put together a long enough career.
Super 8 will be released in theaters June 10, 2011
You can read all our Super 8 coverage here.
A Better Life will be released in theaters June 24, 2011
Follow me on Twitter @michstjame