10 Actor Contenders on Their Biggest Challenges

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Stars from Adam Driver to Eddie Murphy on giving it their all and then some — from conquering a fear of heights, enduring prosthetic teeth and getting a bus driver’s license to spending months in a smelly spray-on tan.

Adam Driver, Jonah Hill, and Eddie Murphy
Adam Driver, Jonah Hill, and Eddie Murphy
Courtesy of Cannes; Warner Bros. Pictures; CALIRE FOLGER/Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions

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  • Adam Driver

    ‘Paterson’ and ‘Silence’

    Courtesy of Cannes

    “Jim Jarmusch’s script made my character in Paterson very clear, so there were no huge obstacles to understanding him. Probably the biggest challenge was just to get everything done on time because we tried to work quickly. It didn’t help that to play a bus driver I had to get a bus license. I’ll just say that learning how to parallel park a bus in Queens is not an easy thing.

    And with Silence, there was a lot of losing weight I had to do before and during the filming in Taiwan. You get tired from losing that weight, and it becomes hard to focus on getting from point A to point B. It didn’t help that there were seven different languages used on the set. At the same time, religion was a huge part of the story, and I grew up in a very religious household, just like our director, Martin Scorsese. So I understood right away the association of religion and guilt that he was going for.”

  • Aaron Eckhart

    ‘Bleed for This’ and ‘Sully’

    Courtesy of Seacia Pavao/Open Road Films

    “It isn’t easy to do a film where you play a real person. You have to capture the essence of the man as well as rely on some of his specific behaviors. There are rules. You can’t make things up as you go along. So I did a vast amount of research into the guy I play [in Bleed for This, boxing trainer Kevin Rooney]. He suffers from Alzheimer’s now and wasn’t available, so I talked a lot with his son. I also watched a lot of the interviews he did back in the day, especially when he was handling Mike Tyson.

    Still, when I was in Las Vegas and met a lot of the old fight promoters, they wondered how this blond California dude could play Kevin. I remember specifically the look of disgust on the face of one guy sitting by the card tables. I’ve been an actor a long time, though, so I knew the commitment I was going to have to give.”

  • Hugh Grant

    ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Photofest

    “For this film, there were long hours digging into my soul and mining the emotions I’ve had in my life. I used music a lot; I permanently had headphones on playing appropriately sad stuff. I made long playlists on my iPhone of music [that Jenkins and my character, St. Clair Bayfield] loved. Classical music takes time before it suddenly clicks. I played Chopin years ago and thought I didn’t like it, and then suddenly I’m on the Tube in London thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s stunning.’

    It’s been fascinating to dig into a real life like [Bayfield’s]. His diaries had been preserved, so I read them. They were very interesting, but it can be confusing. Reading them can pull you in one direction and the script in another, but on the whole they were helpful. I discovered that deep down he was a man who was a lost soul and who had failed as an actor. Let’s just say he never got any lead roles.”

  • Jonah Hill

    ‘War Dogs’

    Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

    “I played a character who derived joy from other people’s pain. He was so dismissive of people unless he saw some value in them that was good for him. That felt gross to me. I had to look deeply at what I was saying. Every sentence Efraim had said got me looking more deeply at why I’m saying something to somebody. Every sentence I said as Efraim was like playing chess. ‘How is this working for me?’

    I think after finishing the movie I was more aware of [the importance of] saying what I feel in the moment. I was also happy to be done with him because I had to spend four months with his spray-on tan. Whoever gets that tropical orange spray on themselves has a different constitution from mine. You really start to feel like somebody else, which is good, but that stickiness and tropical smell stays with you for months.”

  • Viggo Mortensen

    ‘Captain Fantastic’

    Courtesy of Sundance

    “There were some superficial things I was worried about, like having to do a rock-climbing sequence even though I’m not great about heights. But I saw the kids in the movie swinging like monkeys, and I realized I couldn’t do any less. I suppose it also could have been a problem that some of the actors who played my six children had never acted before.

    I always hope the other actors come to my aid with their reactions so I can have good reactions. There are actors who might prepare roles at home and know exactly what they’re going to do, when they will laugh and cry. They expect everyone else to adapt to them. That kind of actor isn’t going to work well with kids because they’ll do something different every take. I love that, though. I love surprises.”

  • Eddie Murphy

    ‘Mr. Church’

    Courtesy of Darren Michaels/Cinelou Films

    “I had a really strong emotional reaction that first time I read the script. I’m not usually sent stuff like this. I cried in several different spots, like the scene when the woman Mr. Church has been caring for comes home not knowing that her mother had passed away. And he’s standing there waiting for her. That moment shot through me on paper and got me weepy. And even now, if I see it in the trailer or movie, it gets to me.

    I knew going into this that I’d never done anything like it before, but I’m always wanting to try something new and different. Also, I’m getting older, and I’ve noticed that as that happens, I make mushier choices. It’s a natural human progression, especially if you have kids. I’d say the hardest thing I had to do in trying something more emotional came in a scene near the end, when I’m old and on the back swing with my little girl. There’s a speech about butterflies and stuff. That’s something that if you don’t do it right, it’s really going to come out wrong. I think we got it right.”

  • David Oyelowo

    ‘Queen of Katwe’

    Courtesy of Edward Echwalu/Disney

    “I’m pretty certain that one would have to go pretty far and wide to find a film quite like this. It’s set entirely in Africa, with an African cast and directed by a woman of color, featuring a protagonist who is a 10-year-old African girl. We’re always taught to ask in this business, ‘What’s the comp?’ As in, what’s comparable to it? I couldn’t find any comp for Queen of Katwe. This story is something fresh and new and relatively unseen before.

    I’m of African descent and always wanting to find projects that show other sides of Africa. I felt like this did exactly that. It’s the story of an extraordinary human being, but the treacherous thing is to tell it without seeming syrupy sweet and sanctimonious. The other obstacle with the role? My character is a chess master, so I had to learn how to play and how to teach the game right away. The good news is that my kids now play chess more than me, which is great because they have a real foundation for it, as opposed to me, who just learned for a movie. And, yes, at age 7, my son beat me, which he reminds me of every time we play.”

  • Chris Pine

    ‘Hell or High Water’

    Courtesy of Lorey Sebastian/CBS Films

    “Playing this character was one of the easiest roles I’ve ever taken on because I always consider how I feel [in relation] to the joy I experience creating it. And this, it was one of the happiest experiences I’ve ever had on a set. It was all about what I like and how I want to work. Our director [David Mackenzie] likes to work in a freeform way, and we just had a small group around doing the filming. That allowed us to have an insane amount of intimacy, which comes with a huge amount of freedom.

    I understood this man’s shame and feelings of guilt and need for quiet, and his love of solitude and wanting to do right and better but feeling like he failed. I understood his melancholy. There was a beautiful quality in his stoicism, which taught me about living more simply and quietly.”

  • Trevante Rhodes


    Courtesy of David Bornfriend/A24

    “I loved my character [Chiron] for everything he was, although it wasn’t easy finding his skin and getting underneath it. To do that, I had to kind of block myself off from the world. I personally love to converse with people and vocalize my opinions. Chiron was someone different from me. He’s walking around feeling no self-love, so he couldn’t show any love for anyone else.

    It felt like I had a 35-pound weight on my chest because I couldn’t be who I was. I had to adopt a different way of thinking. We had a six- or seven-day shooting schedule, so there wasn’t much time to go home and take Chiron’s skin off. It was difficult to go home and push that weight off of me. During the filming, I was getting maybe three-and-a-half hours of sleep at night. Still, I felt I owed it to him to stick with it even if at times it felt suffocating.”

  • Peter Sarsgaard


    Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Fox Searchlight Pictures

    “When this part was first offered to me, I absolutely didn’t want to do it. This was Bobby Kennedy, and I felt like I had too much respect for him to play him. I didn’t want to deal with all of the stuff that goes along with playing somebody famous who had fans that will get irritated by how you do your job. That’s usually a bad idea. Then, Darren Aronofsky, who helped produce the movie, told me I should really talk to the director [Pablo Larrain].

    Any time I meet a true artist that is making a movie, I’m there. So I took the part and spent some amount of time learning to talk like [Kennedy]. I wore false teeth and a wig to look like him. But the most important part of the process for me was reading about Bobby Kennedy, thinking about what it was like to be the youngest brother in this powerful family and working for your brother. At first, when playing somebody real, you think your job is to impersonate. Then you start doing that, and it starts to seem silly. So ultimately, finding his internal feelings about seeing his brother die is what helped me.”

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