Jeffrey Donovan has been working in the film and television industry for three decades now, showing up in works as varied as Burn Notice, Fargo: Season Two, J. Edgar, Sicario and it's sequel Sicario 2: Soldado and Lucy in the Sky. In Let Him Go Donovan plays Bill Weboy, a villainous member of the Weboy family who run afoul of Diane Lane and Kevin Costner's married couple when they refuse to give their grandson back. Donovan was kind enough to give us some of his time to discuss his role, and the film at large.
Your role in the film is a quite a sinister, unlikable character, how do you go about preparing for a role like that?
Well, what's the quote from that film with Bob Hoskins? I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way.
One of the things I always try to do, when I approach any role, is try to understand their point of view. In this day and age it seems we're doing that less and less, trying to understand points of view. But, when I take a role that might be considered quite nasty as you say, I try to reserve my judgement of them. I think truly bad people, unless their a sociopath, don't think they're doing wrong. Truly bad people who are robbing banks don't think they're a bad person, they think what they're doing is necessary. So, I think Bill Weboy, the way he was raised, the family and the culture, I think it forced him to view the world in a very selfish way. So, when I prepare, I read the script many many many times, discuss it with the director, but I always try to start with the idea that the idea is that the character doesn't think of himself as the bad guy.
You're in quite a few very intense scenes, particularly the motel room scene. Are they difficult to shoot, or are you able to compartmentalise?
You know, I get the question a lot of “what's it like to live in the skin of a character”, especially if they're a horrible person. In the end, and I know the British approach it the same way, it's just acting. It's just pretend. I'm just pretending for that moment.
But, in that particular motel scene, the difficulty wasn't my character or what he was going through. It was a tiny motel room that they made, and it was two days for a five minute scene. You can imagine, shooting twelve hour days, twenty four hours inside that room. So we felt the claustrophobia of that scene because we had nowhere to go on that set, and all those bodies. My cousins are two big boys, they're bigger than me, over six foot and two-hundred pounds, Kevin's big, I'm big, and there wasn't much space to navigate with Lesley (Manville) and Diane as well.
So it was a tense scene that got fed by the closeness of it.
You mention Lesley Manville who's quite terrifying in the film, is it difficult in the presence of someone playing that role or when someone shouts “Cut!” is she just a normal person?
No, Lesley is so lovely. She's an extraordinary actress, and you know she had a lot to pull off with Blanche. I think she was shooting a Hulu series at the same time, so she flew across the pond and met up with us in Calgary and her accent was just so good. She was in and out in just two weeks, and she was quite spectacular in that role. But, when you yell “Cut”, in the old days before the pandemic, we'd stand around the craft service table and get a cup of coffee.
Now we have cellophane bags handed to us by people in hazmat suits.
That must be quite a difference.
Yes, I just finished shooting a movie and it was quite isolating. You're not only in a bubble on the set but you're also in a bubble within the set. You can't really congregate anymore, you can't socialise anymore. It's quite different.
With your role in this, there seems to be a link between this and the second season of Fargo, especially with Jean Smart and Lesley Manville as these imposing matriarchs. Was that something you were aware of, or was it just a coincidence?
It's not only a coincidence, Paul, I hadn't even thought of it! You've drawn a parallel and I'm the guy doing it. Shows you how smart I am.
You know I didn't even think of that. But, it was certainly lovely to go back to Calgary and some of the crew that we used on the film were the crew from Fargo, so it was nice seeing them again. Two very strong and powerful women played by amazing actresses, it's always great to see that. You can't ask for a better scene partner than those two.
Looking back on your career, you've played both John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, is there a desire to play Ted Kennedy and complete the trifecta?
I guess I'm not too old to play him, and he lived an incredible life, so yeah, I wouldn't mind. He's an amazing character as well. It's quite interesting, having played Bobby with Clint Eastwood [in J. Edgar] and JFK with Rob Reiner [in LBJ], two incredible directors to play two incredible people. I really enjoyed playing them, thanks for reminding me of them.
I feel like I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the immensely popular Burn Notice, is there a desire in you to return to that series and that character?
Absolutely, I loved that show. I have an idea of how to make a stand alone movie, but you know in this day and age, with everyone rebooting it would make sense but as of now there are no plans. Obviously, I'm just the actor, I'm not the guy who wrote the cheque and owns the characters, but I'm certainly a big fan of the show and would love to revisit it.
You mentioned you were making a film with the Covid restrictions, are you keen to get back onto sets and take your mind off it?
The reality is when you work you're reminded of it. You're tested every three days, you're quarantined in your hotel room, you can't leave. If you do leave you have to test wherever you're at. I was fortunate i just did this movie called Surrounded with Anthony Mandler, the star is Letitia Wright. It's a Western set in the 1800s and it was shot down in New Mexico which was just an eight hour drive from my home in Colorado so it worked out perfectly that I could drive to work. So I didn't have to get a plane, it was ideal.
It's a difficult thing, it's challenging, but I think the movie companies are doing an amazing job to make sure not one cast member or crew member gets exposed in two months.
Just finally, is there any news of a third Sicario film? Are there any rumblings that you're aware of?
I would love to say that a third is coming, but I have no knowledge. They're immensely popular films with an incredible casts, I was very lucky to be a part of it. You know there were rumblings of a third, but I never saw a script, or heard of a third. But I would jump at the chance to do it again.
Let Him Go available on DVD, Blu-Ray & Digital now.