Eric Roberts spoke with Solzy at the Movies over the phone last week about the recently released Inside the Rain, one of the final films to open in theaters in March.
Among the other subjects that came up during our talk was getting the industry back to work and his working with Christopher Nolan during The Dark Knight.
Inside the Rain premiered in March before quickly being released on VOD. Can you talk about your character, Montgomery “Monty” Pennington?
Eric Roberts: Well, I’m Monty. I, Eric Roberts, have had hundreds and hundreds of producers in my life but I based Monty on about a half a dozen of them who are somewhat cliché on how they present themselves as the boss but they all have a habit of saving grace and that they don’t take themselves too terribly seriously. I put half of the guys all on one guy and I played Monty with a little bit of untrustworthy humor. That’s basically him.
The reason that I made the film was not really the character or the part—it was the movie because I feel there’s so many of us on psychotropic drugs. I was on psychotropics for almost five full years. They didn’t work for me. We have a whole understanding now of our psyche and how to find a balance with it, chemically. It’s very valuable to understand how to do this or what not to do or how to find out how to do this, whatever it is. It’s a part of our society now so we might as well address it. This movie does, I think, in a very healthy way.
That answered my next question, which was going to be were there any producers that inspired how you portrayed the character.
Eric Roberts: Yeah, about a half a dozen of them. Don’t get me wrong. All these guys. I like, I just wouldn’t want them dating my mother.
What do you typically look for in a character while reading a screenplay?
Eric Roberts: It’s evolved over the year. The first 20 years—it was always in the dialogue and the character. Now, it could be anything from who’s the director to what’s the location to What, I get to keep those clothes! It can be all kinds of different stuff that’s involved now.
What other things do you take into account?
Eric Roberts: It all relies mostly on the script and the character—what’s going to be most fun for me. Since so many people are making so many movies now, I have the opportunity to play roles that would never be offered before. Because there are more movies being made as we speak right this second than have been made in the history of motion pictures—that’s how many movies are being made! They allow me to play lots of things that Iwould not be allowed to play in the old studio system because I just wouldn’t be right in the studio’s eyes for them.
It’s funny you mentioned the studio system because during the quarantine, I’ve been reading nothing but biographies of those early moguls.
Eric Roberts: Aren’t they great?
It’s interesting. William Fox was the founder of Fox Film Corp. and he’s mostly forgotten to history. It was interesting reading how in those early years of Fox that there were actors that were all exclusive.
Eric Roberts: That’s right. All the bosses came out of Seventh Avenue in New York in the fashion industry.
The film was among the last films to open in theaters before they shut down. Before the digital release was announced, were you concerned that people might not be able to see the film?
Eric Roberts: Well, of course we were. That said, all we thought about was Oh, no. It is a fun movie to watch and it’s a fun movie to watch as a movie. So yeah, I was disappointed but it had a little bit of run.
When you sign onto a film, does it matter if it’s getting a theatrical or digital/streaming release?
Eric Roberts: That kind of stuff, I don’t pay attention to. In fact, I stopped paying attention to that kind of stuff about 2003. It depends on so much and so many filmmakers have infinite faith in their products and in them self that they think after it’s made, it will be good enough that it’ll get all the recognition it’s entitled to but that’s not always the case. You have to set stuff up upfront so you get a running start. It’s hard—there’s a lot of product now and everybody can afford a camera.
When do you think the industry is going to start getting back to work?
Eric Roberts: Well, it’ll be an evolution. It’s gonna happen in bumps and starts but it is gonna happen. We’re gonna just have to approach it differently and be less—movie people are huggy, lovey, kissy people so we got to change the whole works. We’ve got to wear our face masks and all that social distance. It’s gonna be hard on all the kids. The little kids—I have a 13-month-old granddaughter and she’s just becoming very social. It’s really hard on the kids
What are you doing to avoid going stir crazy?
Eric Roberts: Lots are reading but I’m a reader. I’m actually going back and exploring all my books on 9/11 again that I read. I’ve got like every book ever written on 9/11 and what happened. I’m re-exploring that because I was never satisfied with not really knowing what happened. You know what I mean?
Yeah. I saw Worth when I was at Sundance in January—that was rather fascinating about the 9/11 Fund.
Eric Roberts: I know what you’re talking about.
It’s really interesting right now. I obviously watch a number of indies from home per week before everything happened but I miss that communal theatrical experience of watching with an audience.
Eric Roberts: Oh, we all do. That’s why we do what we do is our audience. If were in it or acting for it, the audience is the fun and so it’s a huge miss. I love movie crews but I love a house full of people, too. Where are you talking to me from?
I am in Chicago.
Eric Roberts: We love Chicago.
Which reminds me—you were in one of the best comic movies of all time, The Dark Knight.
Eric Roberts: You ain’t kidding. Isn’t that a gorgeous movie to watch?
Yeah, I rewatched it last year. It holds up so well. It should have been the Best Picture nominee.
Eric Roberts: He’s a real movie maker. Were you living in Chicago when we shot that there?
No. I had actually just moved to Chicago in the summer of 2008. I saw Second City when I was a freshman in college back in 2003 and the improv bug bit me. I moved here in 2008 right as the economy crashed. My parents would only keep me up for so long so moved back to Louisville, Kentucky at the end of September 2009. I came out to myself as trans in late 2015 and started the process of moving back.
Eric Roberts: Wow, what a story!
And then I weirdly become a film critic.
Eric Roberts: (Laughs) Good for you.
Yeah. What was it like working with Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight?
Eric Roberts: Well, Christopher Nolan is the boss. There is no other boss on the set but Chris. He’s a genius. He knows what he wants and where he’s going to put it. He’s one of those guys that obviously does everybody’s homework for everybody and is always prepared. He is the old-world movie maker. It’s a fascist system. There’s a dictator, which is him, and everybody else. That’s how it has always worked best and that’s how you utilize it. He’s the boss.
Would you like to work with him again?
Eric Roberts: I would bend over backwards to what to work for Chris Nolan! Are you kidding?!?
He’s definitely become one of my favorites in last 15 years.
Eric Roberts: Yeah, that’s him. He’s just incredible. Did you like Memento?
I’m actually not sure if I saw that one.
Eric Roberts: Well, if saw it, you you would know you saw it. You have to get it. It’s such a fun movie to watch for the movie-making of it. It’s so cool. You’ll love it. You got to get it.
Back to Inside the Rain, what was it like working with Aaron Fischer? I was looking at his IMDb credits and had seen he’d only done a few shorts and TV miniseries before the feature.
Eric Roberts: Aaron is a bit of a genius. He understands the value of this movie, which is why he made the movie. It’s also what really interested me—the subject matter. One out of three people in all the big cities are on psychotropics of some kind—Prozac or whatever it is. We’re all trying to manipulate our psyches and we’re all trying to do it in a good way without self-medicating off of liquor, drugs, amd what have you. We’re all trying to do it right. It’s great to understand that world and how you go about it. This is a story about that. I love the story and I love the education of the story. I think that’s why it’s a value to watch.
What do you hope people take away from viewing the film?
Eric Roberts: Just a little education about those issues, about psychotropics, and the fact that if people are on the right track emotionally, they can be helped. They aren’t necessarily broken. They’re just on the wrong route. They can be helped and they can be loved properly.