Noah Emmerich Discusses “Jane Got a Gun” Working with Natalie Portman and “The Americans”

Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company
April 26th, 2016

Jane Got a Gun didn’t have Noah Emmerich when it started production back in 2013. But when Gavin O’Connor was hired as the film’s replacement director, he brought along his old friend for their fifth movie together, in a creative partnership that also includes the movies Miracle, Pride and Glory and Warrior.

While Emmerich’s Jane Got a Gun character is technically clinging to life in bed for most of the movie, the plot still hinges around him as a 1860s outlaw who falls for Natalie Portman’s Jane while with a vicious gang. When that gang later finds him and guns him down years later, Jane hires her ex-fiancee from her former life to protect them before their enemies come to finish them off.

Before Jane Got a Gun arrived on DVD and Blu-ray on April 26, Emmerich talked to TMN.com’s Robert Dougherty about the movie, how his friendship with O’Connor drove him to join the film, his TV work on the FX critical darling The Americans and his 20+ year acting career on April 14, which was ironically the day after his second episode as a director for The Americans aired.

Robert Dougherty/TMN: You were cast in this movie way back in April 2013, when The Americans was still airing its first season. What do you remember about being approached to do the movie? 

Noah Emmerich: I remember being really exhausted, because I was just nearing the end of shooting my first season ever of a full series, and it was a pretty long, tiring process. I remember thinking, "I'm ready for a real break. I'm definitely not going to do any work for the next month or two, at least take some time to recharge my battery."

And just around that moment, my old friend and colleague, Gavin O'Connor, called and said, "You know, I need you to come to Santa Fe. I'm doing this movie. I need you to be here." And I thought, oh, my gosh. If really... If it were anybody, but Gavin calling, I don't think I would do it. But it's hard to say no to Gavin now. This is our fifth film together. He's one of my best friends, and I love working with him, and I knew that if he was calling, it would be an interesting, challenging, fulfilling project.

So despite my depletion, I jumped on a plane the day after I wrapped The Americans, and was filming in Santa Fe a week later. And I ended up being quite grateful that I did, because it turned out that I wasn't as tired as I thought I was. I was tired of playing FBI Agent Stan Beeman and I needed a break from him, but to get into a 19th century context, away from Soviet spies, and into the great Wild West, was actually completely reinvigorating.

TMN: What makes O’Connor a director worth coming back to again and again? 

Emmerich: I just think he's great at his job. He understands story, he understands character, he understands humanity, he's great with actors. He's a great storyteller, he really knows how to work with actors, and it's a great environment on set. An enthusiastic, passionate, committed director, who's always inspiring.

Lionsgate

TMN: I'm surprised you didn't have time to be in The Accountant this fall, since its O’Connor’s first film without you in a long time.

Emmerich: It's the first one of his films that I've not been in since he began, because of my schedule. We tried to work it out, but we were in the middle of filming The Americans and it was just impossible to find enough of a window to get me to Pittsburgh.

TMN: Your character in Jane Got a Gun spends much of the film lying in bed. How do you and O'Connor work to flesh out such a character, without a lot of dialogue or mobility? 

Emmerich: That was the primary interesting challenge of this role. It's so limited in terms of physicality and obviously verbally, and that created a really interesting challenge of how to communicate what's going on in the most minimalistic possible way.

We talked through, quite extensively and thoroughly, what's the back-story on the character and what's happening in each scene for the character, and then sort of have faith and hope that it will be communicated somehow. If he films it properly and I live inside of it properly, the audience will get it, and hopefully we got some of that across.

TMN: Without giving anything away, you do get one major action sequence that we don't normally see from you. What kind of preparation went into that scene?

Emmerich: That was incredibly great fun. That was a really fun sequence to be able to film. It's sort of the classic sequence that kids dream about when they're playing Wild West. And then to actually get to do it in a film was really gratifying.

TMN: Did that scene need a lot of retakes? To get that reaction from Natalie Portman at the end, I don’t imagine you would go at it again and again.

Emmerich: Gosh, her reaction is incredible. She's incredible. She just does it great every time. If you want a different tonality or a change in performance, you could do another take, but she pretty much nails it every time.

The Weinstein Company

TMN: This feels like things are coming full circle in a way, since one of your first big roles 20 years ago was in Beautiful Girls with the young Natalie Portman.

Emmerich: I know, it's amazing. It was coming full circle. And it was really nice to revisit that, and to touch that ground again, and to work with Natalie again, who I am incredibly fond of, and I've seen her grow up literally on screen. So it's great to come back and work with her now, as a grown, mature woman, producer, actor, director, and having started with her when she was just barely a teenager.

TMN: Jane Got a Gun may be best remembered in some circles for all of its production delays, recasting and release date delays. What do you think it should be remembered for? 

Emmerich: I think it should be remembered for what it is. And the back-story of any movie is always complicated and complex. There's millions of stories to be told, with so many people coming together. It's such a huge piece of machinery to get a movie made, but in the end all you can really judge, and should really judge, is the final negative. It's what the film actually is. And let that stand on its own.

TMN: You've often been cast as an antagonist to other central characters, if not a real villain, in projects like Little Children, Windtalkers and even The Americans in a way. Have you ever been concerned about being typecast? 

Emmerich: I think typecasting is a concern in Hollywood, but it tends to be people are insecure, and they're nervous about their huge investments, and they want to cast people in roles that they've seen them play before. Which makes sense from an investment point of view and an insecurity point of view. But of course actors are always more interested in diversifying and playing roles that they haven't played. So there is that inherent conflict in interests, in some ways, between the actors and producers. And I think both sides are understandable.

I've been fortunate, I feel, in my career that I've played a pretty diverse array of characters. And it's really up to me to choose the job that I do, in fact, or not do. So I do get offered more roles than I am able to play, and if I find a role that is overly repetitive or I've visited that character before, it's up to me to say no or yes. So I feel, in the end, typecasting is in a weird way, the responsibility of the actor.

FX Productions

TMN: This interview is fittingly taking place the day after they aired your second episode as a director on The Americans. Congratulations for that.

Emmerich: Oh, thanks.

TMN: What lessons from your first time as a director did you take into making your second episode, if any? 

Emmerich: I think it's a rather terrifying endeavor to take on the director's chair, and especially in a series where you have such limited time and room for error. It's very pressured. So the biggest thing I took from having done it once before is knowing that I could do it, in fact. Just bolstering my own faith and confidence in my ability, which trickles down into every element of the job. 

The first time is always, I think, the most intimidating and the most scary. But I had a little bit of wind in my sails this time around, and I felt at least I knew that I could do it. And then knowing my crew and having been in the chair with the crew once, the relationships were deeper, and there's more trust, and there's more understanding. And just like most things in life, the second time you do them you have a little bit more experience, confidence, and faith.

TMN: Is directing something you might want to do more frequently in the future, or is just once a season on The Americans enough? 

Emmerich: I'm definitely interested in doing more. I really enjoy directing. So it's something I'm looking to do more of in the future.

TMN: Are fans more upset with you or Stan for pursuing the Jennings for letting Nina get taken away, or for what's going on right now with Martha? 

Emmerich: To answer your question, I don't have that much interaction with the fans, but I think they're different groups that have different grievances. Certainly, I mean, the primary one is probably not wanting Stan to catch the Jennings. Or, obviously the other side of this is that many people probably want Stan to catch the Jennings. [chuckle] But that's certainly the central dilemma of the show is how long can Stan go before he catches on. And what happens when he does.

TMN: Has the wait for it to happen been as frustrating for you as it might be for some viewers? 

Emmerich: Well, in some ways it's frustrating, in other ways it either spells the end of the series or the end of Stan. Either one of those, it's not my first choice. I'm happy for it to play out.

TMN: Much of your work has been in drama, with the recent exception of a guest spot on Master of None. Have you thought about doing more comedies in the future? 

Emmerich: Yeah, I really do have a strong desire to do more comedy. In the beginning of my career, I thought I would actually be going the comedic route. And it turned out that I got these dramatic roles and people seemed to like my work in the dramatic roles, and that begets more dramatic roles, but I'm definitely interested in doing comedy. It's one of my great joys and passions, and I hope that more opportunities of doing comedic work show up in the future.

Miramax Films

TMN: Back in 1996 when Beautiful Girls came out, what did you envision your career to look like in 10-20 years, if you thought about it back then? 

Emmerich: It's really hard to predict and know. I guess as I just touch upon, I did think I'd be doing more comedies. I actually considered that movie was sort of a comedy. It was a nice blend of comedic and dramatic. But I guess the only difference I thought really from where I am is that I did think I would have more comedies in my resume. And I thought I maybe would have started directing more sooner than I did. I've always had this sort of interest in directing.

So maybe it's as it turns out in hindsight, here it is, here I am, and most of those things are unfolding for me now, which is great. It's a little later than I thought they would, but other than that I feel quite grateful and blessed for having had the opportunities that I've had.

The Weinstein Company