Dermot Mulroney isn’t the type of actor you bombard with questions. He likes to take it easy and let the chat go where it goes. We’re talking about “Careful What You Wish For,” an old school thriller starring Nick Jonas as a kid who gets involved with a femme fatale (Isabel Jacobs), who has a wealthy, abusive husband (played by Mulroney). But it takes us and the “My Best Friend’s Wedding” alum to get there, as we end up talking about aging, a forgotten TV movie and even his sideline as a professional cellist. He even starts things off.
Dermot Mulroney: Where are you?
I’m in the Wall Street area, though I am not myself a broker. Where are you?
I’m in Venice Beach, though I am not myself a surfer.
Have you ever surfed?
I never really tried. I thought I would. There’s a few things I suppose I could still do. Surfing seems to be dropping down the list.I think I’m too old to even start it.
It’s just one of those things I should have tried when I was younger, but now I’m too old.
Well, that’s one way to put it. I don’t think you have to focus so much on the aging part. I’d rather chalk it up to indifference and not have to go into the getting older bit at all.
That’s a much more positive way of looking at it. How about this: As you get older you realize it’s OK to not be interested in absolutely everything and accept your limitations. How’s that?
That’s exactly right. And then there are things you used to do that you’re glad you don’t have to learn now.
As an actor I’m sure you’ve had the chance to at least learn how to do plenty of things, even if you didn’t continue with them.
I’ve been asked to do amazing things, like climbing. One time I had to be a high school hurdler. I trained very hard for that. It was for some TV movie from 1989 [Ed. “Unconquered,” which ran on CBS]. I was in pretty good shape, I was feeling good about myself. We get to the big day of the high school race. It’s a story set in the South during the Civil Rights era. So I line up with a bunch of strong African American runners. They fire the gun, and off we go. And by the time I’m three steps out of the box, I can’t believe how far ahead these kids are. Then they explain to these guys that my character’s supposed to win. [Laughs] That was a pretty good way of winning that 100 meter hurdle race. I never kept it up. Maybe the one victory was all I needed.
You’re also a cellist, which I didn’t realize this until I did some prep.
I’ve been doing that my whole life. I was a top cellist through high school and college. Now I play on the occasional scoring session for these big blockbuster movies. I just did a five-day session on “Star Trek Beyond.” How bizarre is that?
It must be strange to be on the other side of movies.
It’s its own world. Underappreciated. It’s this process of writing, arranging and orchestrating beautiful music. It’s all brand new-sounding. No one’s ever played it before. And I’m sitting there with the best cellists, these award-winning brass players, and to get to work with them at my skill level, which is merely sufficient. I definitely don’t stand out. [Laughs]
And there you are, someone whose name is in opening credits of movies in which you acted.
You don’t get a lot of people patting you on the back, saying, “Great job, man! That take was perfect!”, like they do on movie sets. I’m like the number 11 cellist. Those guys don’t get a lot of glory. [Laughs] I have an incredible amount of respect for people who’ve learned to play a musical instrument, all the practicing. Even a really expert actor might not have practiced as much as a French horn player. That’s about the hardest instrument to play.
You get to do both on “Mozart in the Jungle.” You popped up on the second season and are coming back for the third. When did they realize you play the cello on top of acting?
I’ve known Jason [Schwartzman, one of the creators] since he was a teenager. They knew I could play, not that they ever heard me in person. During the first season they had a post-it on the wall that read, “Dermot cello.” So by the time the show was a success they roped me in.
I should ask about “Careful What You Wish For,” which features another musician-actor, Nick Jonas.
He really kicks ass in this part. He has incredible talent pouring out of him, and not just musically. I had such a great time working on this movie. It’s an old school thriller that’s hard to come by these days. These noirs aren’t easy to come by anymore. Like any good movie it’s hard to make.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge