Exclusive: ANOTHER EARTH’s William Mapother Interview
Talented character actor William Mapother (pictured above) may be best known for playing the morally ambiguous and endlessly complicated Ethan Rom on TV’s Lost, but his career is filled with memorable roles on both the big and small screens. His latest film, ANOTHER EARTH, is a science fiction/human drama indie that follows the intertwined lives of a brilliant composer and a young budding scientist as the world comes to terms with the fact that an identical planet exists in our solar system. Another Earth won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival for a film that best focuses on science or technology as a theme or depicts a scientist, engineer, or mathematician as a major character. It will be released by Fox Searchlight on July 22, 2011.
Daemon’s Movies talked to William Mapother about what drew him to Another Earth, what we can expect from the film, and how he would describe Lost‘s Ethan in a single sentence.
‘Another Earth’ has been tearing up the film festival circuit. Sadly, I just missed it here in Boston, but it drew raves.
William Mapother: That’s so wonderful. Mike [Cahill], the director, went up and he told me that it was a great festival, that people really liked the movie. Brit [Marling] and I were in San Francisco a week for the San Francisco Film Festival and they loved it up there, too.
I keep hearing the words stunning, beautiful and thought provoking. Those are good words to hear.
William Mapother: They’re very good. My sister joined me at Sundance and she used the word spiritual.
What I’ve heard is that this film uses science fiction to get at the human condition –
William Mapother: Yes. I think that’s true.
What can you say about the character you play in John Burroughs?
William Mapother: John is a composer and a professor, a music professor at Yale. At the beginning of the film he has a lovely wife who is pregnant with his second child and he has a young son. Something very traumatic happens early in the film, very early, in the first five minutes.
So, that’s John at the beginning of the movie and then he spends some time in a coma and then comes out of the coma, but one may say only partly. He is deep into grief and unable to move forward with his life. A woman comes into his life unexpectedly and he develops a relationship with her and through that relationship he finds a reason to live again.
There’s also another earth that’s making its appearance through all this. It seems that earth is getting closer to our earth, but this isn’t a disaster film is it?
William Mapother: No, not at all. The other earth draws a little bit closer, but it’s not posing an immediate danger or else people would be running in the streets. So it’s approaching closely, close enough that we can begin to study the topography in a way that we couldn’t when we first saw it at the very beginning of the movie.
Since indie movies are notoriously hit or miss, what was so special about ‘Another Earth’ to make you want to take a chance on it?
William Mapother: That’s a good question. I have had good luck working with independents before and with first time directors. As a matter of fact the first time I was at Sundance was with ‘In The Bedroom’ which also had a first time feature director. Todd Fields.
I’m like a lot of actors. I like to work. This business is so hard that if you were only in it for money or fame you’d have to be a damn fool. So like a lot of actors I’m attracted by material and the other participants. In this case I was actually in New York working at a Shakespeare Lab at the Public Theater in the summer of 2009 and I came up with a list of the casting directors in town, because I live in Los Angeles, who I had not met. I emailed my manager and asked him to set up meetings. One of them that I met with, it was a very unassuming meeting. They were on a fourth floor building in Chelsea. The elevator was out. It was dusty. There was construction. We talked for twenty five minutes. They were very nice and I left.
Two weeks later they emailed a script to my manager and said, ‘We have a little indie for William. We’re not sure if he’s interested, but the filmmakers would love to meet with him,’ and they had shot some of the movie. They’d already shot some of the movie, but they couldn’t find my role. And I read the script and I thought, ‘This is a really interesting concept and I haven’t played a character like this.’ Then I met with Mike and Brit and we got on like a house on fire. I knew that they’d be great to work with.
I said, ‘I’d love to do it, but in order for me to participate we need to work on my character, John’s scenes with Rhoda.’ I said, ‘All John’s scenes need some work,’ and they said, ‘We’d love to.’ So they came over to my house for a week or two everyday and we rehearsed and workshopped and rewrote all the scenes and by then I knew that we were going to have a lot of fun. The movie, it was the smallest feature that I’ve ever worked on by far. In addition to the lovely things that are happening to the movie, from an actor’s point of view one of the best things is the confirmation of doing what you love. Then the reward is in the pursuit, the action itself and anything else that happens like the reward and the accolades are just icing.
We’ve talked about audience reaction to the film, but what was your reaction to seeing the finished film?
William Mapother: Disbelief. It’s an interesting thing being in a movie, meaning being a member of a crew because I was a production assistant on a few movies and then also acting in a movie because you’re so deep into the forest that you have no idea of the big picture. I’m sure you’ve heard that from many people. That’s very much the way that it was with this. Our crew could’ve fit into a station wagon. I’m literally not kidding. But for a feature like this, Mike was the director and the DP and the camera operator. Our first AD was the script supervisor and the production supervisor did wardrobe. That’s what I’m saying, I’m not kidding. We had a ball, but it was very inexpensive and we had no idea what was going to come of it. So the short answer is that I was as shocked as anyone and thrilled. Shocked and thrilled.
Now, if I can just take you back to a former role because I am such a fan –
William Mapother: [laughs] I know what you’re talking about. ‘Moola’, the one that Don Most from ‘Happy Days’ directed. I didn’t know you were a fan. No, I know what it is. You’re talking about my sociopathic cinematographer on ‘CSI’, that one episode. Go ahead.
If you could describe Ethan from ‘Lost’ in one sentence what would it be?
William Mapother: I’ve been asked a lot of questions by fans and journalists, but I’ve never been asked that one. That’s a very good question. I would say…one sentence. A heartbroken former physician is struggling to do right amidst forces beyond his control or understanding.
That’s a good one. I loved Ethan. I thought he was a great character.
William Mapother: Well, thank you. That first word might throw a lot of people, but for really big fans might remember that we made a series of very short films I think in season three called ‘Lost Pieces’ and in mine with Jack, Ethan revealed that his wife died.
That was the first time that we knew that.
William Mapother: Obviously we found out that he was a former surgeon, and a lot of people also forget and even I’d forgotten the exact episode until I had to go back over my stuff for a reason, but I think it’s in season three episode six – I think that’s it, somewhere early in season three – where Juliette says, she complains to the survivors that the serum that Ethan was giving to Claire was a serum that she had developed to help Claire.
So all those scary shots of Ethan with the damn syringe, he’s giving her what Juliette has developed. But of course by then, you know how we Americans are, we hate uncertainty. We don’t like black and white and that’s why this show made people so crazy. We made up our minds on Ethan when he first dropped down the golf club. ‘No. I don’t want to hear it. Don’t confuse me with the facts on that guy.’
Ethan became so much more than he first appeared, which of course can be said for so much of what made’ Lost’ special –
William Mapother: Thank you. That’s what we were striving for. It was a very good show, and look, you’re not alone. I get a lot of people that come up to me. I was walking around the Hollywood and Highland complex, this huge new complex in Hollywood where they held the Oscars one year and now it’s where the Graauman’s Chinese theater is. This woman was out celebrating her birthday. She was probably in her mid forties and was out with all her friends, and she gave me a hug. ‘Oh, can I get a photo.’ Unabashed.
She said, ‘You were so evil on the show.’ I said, ‘Really?’ I have a standard defense of my character, and I said, ‘How did you feel about Sawyer?’ She said, ‘Oh, I loved Sawyer.’ I said, ‘How did you feel about the fact that Sawyer committed cold blooded murder onscreen twice?’ She said, ‘Oh, but you weren’t on the plane.’ I said, ‘I hope you never make it to jury duty. You’d give the facts a little more quick than that.’ But that’s what the show did so well, it threw people to a certain degree. Look, we all have our favorites and we’re just not going to be budged.
I was happy that they brought you back for the sideways world.
William Mapother: It was a lot of fun, a dream job. Not only going over to Hawaii, but to be a part of something that was so important and so beloved by so many and something that proved you could have something challenging on television and people will still watch. The creators, the producers, the other actors, the crew, everybody was lovely to work with.
Another Earth will be released to theaters on Friday, July 22, 2011.
You can read all our Another Earth coverage here.