RW: Your first major film, The Human Stain, dealt with race and identity, so I know it’s something you’ve spoken about at length. Is it a subject you’re sick of talking about?
WM: I was when the movie came out. Part of me thought, I don’t want to be forever linked with this issue as an actor. But at the same time I thought the movie spoke to such important and often unaddressed issues that it was necessary to talk about it. I’m very proud of The Human Stain, but it was not a critical or commercial success; I think part of that was because it touched on some incredibly complicated and challenging themes. Aside from race it asked, What lies are you telling to get through the day? What masks are you wearing to reap certain rewards? Those can be unsettling questions to wrestle with.
When did you start acting?
When I was a kid. I would get involved in any stage production my parents would let me participate in. I did that up until college, which is when I took a detour. At Princeton all my friends were heading to Wall Street or med school or law school; acting didn’t seem like something to take seriously postgraduation. So I back-burnered that ambition, got my degree in English literature, and discovered I had no desire to go to grad school or law school or med school or Wall Street. I still loved film and TV, though, so I decided to make a career behind the camera; I actually worked on that side of the industry for years. I don’t regret that path at all because to make it in this business you have to have the soul of an artist and the pulse of a bureaucrat.
How did you figure that out?
Well, I’ve heard “no” once or twice. Only recently I’ve come to realize that one of the traps of auditioning is walking into that room feeling as though you’re a guest in someone’s house, and being really careful not to spill wine on the carpet. What you have to do is walk in there as though you’re the host.