John Carroll Lynch has been astonishing audiences for decades with his portrayals of a wide array of characters’ on both stage and screen. In recent years he’s become a fan favorite among horror fans for his portrayals of Twisty the clown and John Wayne Gacy on American Horror Story, Eastman on The Walking Dead and his cold as ice role as Pruitt in The Invitation. I had the opportunity to sit and chat with John at Walker Stalker: Atlanta about his acting influence’s, his experience directing David Lynch, and much more. Read on for an intimate look at this multi-faceted talent that truly brings his best to every project he’s involved with.
Terror Time: Hi John, You’re an accomplished actor of both the stage and screen. What was the first performance of an actor that really hit you and made you want to be an actor?
John Carroll Lynch: Well it’s interesting you say that. I had an inkling of wanting to act and it was solidified by seeing my brother, Daniel Lynch in a production of Camelot at his high school and he was playing one of the knights that sings. I couldn’t understand why I was believing that he’s a British knight. I got interested in the transaction of the performance. The first movie I remember being wowed by was Westworld with Yule Brenner and Richard Benjamin.
TT: That’s a fantastic film to be influenced by. As of late your known for the extreme darkness that you bring out in the characters you portray. Is there a different genre you would like to explore? Perhaps a musical?
JCL: I absolutely would love to do a musical. I haven’t done a musical since I was in college. I’ve gotten to do two television comedy pilots over the past two years which has been great and I’m in a lovely independent film which is called, Anything which is a drama but also a love story which was great. I loved doing it all and the darkness is something that as long as it’s real and true and human it’s worth exploring.
TT: Exactly. You played the integral role of moving man in Grumpy Old Men. With two icons like Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon did you get a chance talk with them and pick their brain on set?
JCL: Wow. You really do your homework. I got a chance to listen to them and I got a chance to listen to Walter Matthau one evening sitting on a porch in Minnesota. It was a great joy. I briefly got a moment of watching them together off camera. There was such deep and abiding love between the two of them. I think it went beyond a sense of friendship. There are people that I work with that I don’t get a chance to be with because of the gypsy like lifestyle of this career but you could tell by watching them that they had that for sixty years so it had become sort of a rich affection. There was a deep well of trust between the two of them and it was really fun to be around even for a few seconds.
TT: Wow. The Invitation is one of my top films of the year thus far and your performance is so fantastic and multi layered.
JCL: Thank you. I’m so glad to hear you say that.
TT: What would you do if you were in a situation like the characters in the film?
JCL: Get Out.
TT: Ha Ha Ha.
JCL: You know it really plays on the social anxiety of dinner parties in general and the social contract which is I can’t be rude no matter how uncomfortable I am. There are reasons you want to leave and you should follow them.
TT: Run and run fast. Ha Ha.
JCL: Oh yes exactly.
TT: I saw that you’ve directed your first feature film Lucky and David Lynch is in the cast. How in the world did you approach David Lynch on set in regards to the director/actor relationship?
JCL: We’re in post-production currently and we’ve submitted to Sundance. I had my hands full with all of the actors and their needs. David was consummately prepared, a total consummate professional. He knows how a movie is made to a degree that I will never understand. He knew what his character needed to do and he nailed it. He was also a joy to edit because he knows exactly where to be and knows exactly what the cut is going to look like. He knew exactly what the camera was going to do. He was so respectful to a degree that was humbling. It was a master class of how to be an actor for a director and that process has taught me more about the service of actors to the story than I ever would have known in any other way. It was really great.
TT: So is directing your future calling?
JCL: There’s nothing more humbling than knowing your powerless when directing. The process of directing the film has been incredibly moving. As the memory of the childbirth fades the joy grows. It all depends on how the film is received. If it’s received well then maybe, I’ll get another shot. If it’s not received well then I must have done something wrong. I think it’s an absolutely moving film. It’s beautifully shot, the performances are great I’m just really excited about where it’s headed.
TT: I can’t wait to see it. Cinema has taken on a very different model since you first started acting. Today it seems to be all about the reboots and superhero films which seems to have caused the real authentic actors to migrate to television as of late. What change do you think Hollywood can do to bring the authentic performances back to film?
JCL: The thing about the CGI movement is it’s helpful to making a movie. It does have a tendency if not used responsibly to diminish the emotional stakes of the story. It doesn’t have to. Gladiator for example is full of CGI but Russell Crowe and his performance makes you feel the story. It’s not the tool that makes the mistake it’s the tool user and sometimes people get so enamored with the tool and they forget to ask themselves two questions that I think are crucial. What is the story? And What am I trying to say with the story? The best movies regardless of what they are based on are filled with theme and they catch your emotions based on the truth of the performance and the truth of the stakes and then they haunt your mind with what the filmmaker is conveying to you. If they have with those elements arresting visual images that you will never forget then you’ve really done something.
TT: Damn. I wholeheartedly agree. So what’s an underrated film that you feel everyone should see before they die?
JCL: Oh my God. Well I watch a good amount of Turner Classic Movies so a ton of films they show aren’t really underrated but they’re under watched. Rebecca is one of those. It’s so haunting and evocative the performances in the film are great. Recently I saw The Lobster which isn’t really underrated because people are enjoying the film but it’s a movie of which I’ve never seen before and it has what we’ve been talking about this entire time. It has emotional stakes it has a surreal quality but it’s disarming and arresting. The emotional moments in the film really catch you but it also makes you think about what the stories about and why is the filmmaker exploring this?
TT: Exactly. It’s not of this world but it is of this world. It’s an acid dream.
JCL: Yeah that’s right and I think the great movies that are like that are just so rare and hard to do. You have all earnestness and tools to make it and sometimes it doesn’t turn out but sometimes it does. As an older example Casablanca had six writers and none of them knew what the story was and it turns into Casablanca. One hopes that one is in a few of those.
TT: Absolutely and you mention Casablanca a director can also end up like Orson Welles who chased the success of Citizen Kane for the rest of his life.
JCL: You know if he had never made Citizen Kane. The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil are plenty good enough.
TT: And The Trial with Anthony Perkins for Christ sake is fantastic.
JCL: Yeah exactly. We hold people to standards that are just ridiculous. I mean if all he ever made was that wouldn’t that be enough? Really great movies move you and you remember them and you just have to hope you’re in a few movies that are like that.
TT: Amen. What advice would give someone who is just starting out with acting?
JCL: The advice that I got that is as true now as it was then is work begets work. Do what you can do right away. If it’s improv and sketch whatever entry you have into performing do it and then learn your craft and be excellent.
TT: That’s wonderful advice. Thank you so much for the time and wonderful conversation today John.
JCL: Thank you for the interview. I appreciate your work.