“I took acting so I could understand the medium better,” says Michael Ironside, a co-star in the action adventure Ice Soldiers, a movie that’s now out on Blu-ray and DVD.
Although one of his first passions was writing, Ironside decided to take acting classes at an early age to gain a bigger picture of working on film and on stage. In a prolific career that includes such films as Scanners, Starship Troopers, Total Recall, Extreme Prejudice, and The Machinist, the actor continues to pave new ground in his work and, to this day, he’s still pursuing his writing endeavors.
Although Ice Soldier’s main storyline centers on a scientist’s (Dominic Purcell) pursuit of three Russian super soldiers, Ironside does fine supporting work as Colonel Desmond Trump, an alpha male military vet who just wants to get the job done. Trump’s showdown with the soldiers’ amoral leader is one of the movie’s most standout moments, and for the sake of a spoiler-free environment, I refuse to divulge the fight’s outcome.
During our phone interview, Ironside talked about working in the snow capped environment of Ice Soldiers and he also reflected on how his approach to acting has changed over the years. He also had wonderful and on-point insight on the acting work of his co-star Camille Sullivan, who also does excellent supporting work in Ice Soldiers.
Did being placed in the middle of a snow covered environment help shape your role in Ice Soldiers?
Absolutely. The environment, especially when you’re in sub-zero weather and wind and fighting through snow, it takes all the pretend out of it. There’s no need for any kind of sense memory or your acting school training. It’s more or less surviving in the environment. He really did see the weather and the environment as a character and as personality in the film. It was something you had to deal and act with.
As an actor, is believability something you can learn or are you born with it?
I think most of us do more acting in real life than we do on film or on stage. We try to act appropriately with our posture and how we communicate. When I’m acting, it’s almost permission to not be appropriate. It allows those organic reactions to come through. When you’re in an environment like this, where you’re dealing with the environment, very awkward wardrobes and the vehicles, the (performances) automatically come through.
With acting, I get to be private in public. I get to actually have a real emotion without have any filter on it. It’s some other person they’re calling you. They’re giving you another name. A different set of clothing. I’m giving real emotional reactions to things.
You started out as a trained method actor and with all the experience you’ve accumulated over the years, do you approach acting in a different manner these days?
I do know that I have to do less now for some reason. I’m willing also to take risks with certain situations that I don’t think I was able to when I was younger. I’m in my mid-60s now and I’d rather reach for something and fail, then reach for something I know I can grab when it comes to emotions or situations. There’s a couple of situations on this film when we’re around the snowmobile where you take the risk of looking like a fool or doing it safely. I’d rather take the risk. I’m not interested anymore in how I look or how I’m perceived. I’d rather try and hit a true note every time I go out if that makes any sense.
Especially in these last 10 or 15 years, most of these characters are bizarre, support characters who take pride and emotional joy in things that most people don’t even consider. Colonel Trump’s idea of punctuality and functionality was all I held onto. That and the elements that he worked in. It was a lot of fun.
Camille Sullivan, the actress who played my boss in Ice Soldiers, had a very difficult role. She was put in a difficult situation of playing a certain amount of sexuality, of needfulness, a certain amount of ambition. It all fit together and it was wonderful to support her as a character and give her more bass line and being heavier in my choices. The male roles were very specific and hers was very difficult.
So do you approach acting in a much different manner than before?
It’s simpler focusing on the work. It’s easier to look around and take in the lights and the crew while I’m working. I don’t have to invent a reality anymore. To be in the moment, stay in the moment and be able to grab the energy that’s in the moment. Enjoy the focus. Enjoy the work, even when you miss something it’s a celebration.
I remember a Buckminster Fuller interview years ago, I think it was in the eighties, and (an interviewer) asked him, ‘What do you do when you have failures?’ And he said, ‘I beg your pardon?’ (The interviewer replied) ‘When you have failures.’ And Buckminster Fuller said, ‘Oh do you mean when it’s an unexpected result?’ The interviewer says, ‘What?’ Fuller said, ‘I don’t see it as a failure, if you attempt something honestly, then it’s an unexpected result. It’s a learning experience.’
I almost crashed my car. I was on the 405 or 5 freeway (in Los Angeles) and I had to pull off to the side of the road. It really hit me. That’s what it’s all about. Nobody hits a home run every time they’re up. If you miss that expectation it’s nothing but a learning experience. I think I embrace that more now. I embrace the idea that everything is a learning experience. I actually think I’m doing my best work in my career in the last four or five years.
To check out my review of Ice Soldiers, check out my Deepest Dream post.
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posted by Greg Srisavasdi