Ray Stevenson goes where the action is: Ancient Rome, Camelot, Asgard, dystopian future Chicago and now … Finland?
As part of the all-star cast of "Big Game," the Finnish-American thriller crafted with ‘80s-style action verve by director Jalmari Helander, Stevenson adds to the travelogue of his globetrotting resume, playing a Secret Service agent named Morris who's involved in the hunt for the U.S. president (Samuel L. Jackson) after Air Force One is shot down by terrorists over the Finnish countryside.
It's the latest in a string of edgy, often highly physical roles for the 6-foot-4 actor, who first caught audiences' attention as Titus Pullo on HBO's "Rome" and has gone on to become a fan-favorite presence in an array of projects, including "King Arthur," "Punisher: War Zone," "The Other Guys," "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," "Dexter" the “Divergent” series and "Thor.” As Stevenson reveals in a chat with Spinoff Online, he’s ready to bring his all to a role, no matter its size. Just don't ask him about his golf game.
Spinoff Online: I'm guessing this must have been a pretty fun project, starting with that terrific entrance shot you get in the opening seconds of the film.
Ray Stevenson: I know! It was a real gift. I went “Really? Thank you!” You couldn't ask for better. Shooting on location. To get to stand in the mountains of such area and it's such a nostalgic feel. Working with Sam [Jackson]. It was just tremendous. It was a lot of fun, it really was.
Tell me about your director, Jalmari Helander. What was the experience like working with him?
Well, he actually has this wonderful sort of impish, devil-may-care sort of attitude. He would kind of sort of giggle to himself about something. But he had a clear idea about the scale and what he was needing from it. And I just admire him. He was great fun to work with. I enjoyed him. I just kept thinking about when he wasn't making movies, he was off making toys for Santa Claus. He just had this look about him.
What did you do specifically to prepare yourself for the role: mentally, physically?
I think it was just that the guy's at the end of his career, his last tour of duty. He's thoroughly pissed off at this president. But you can tell he's got a bearing. It's just about having that, you walk into a room, and everybody stands up straight. He just has that bearing on him -- thoroughly capable, been there, done it. Sort of bullet for the president, and now, he's going to get rid of him because – I think he's kind of not really of the terrorist mode. He's actually more of the fanatical patriot mode. He wants to replace the president with somebody because he sees this president and being weak and who is weakening the United States of America. And his last act before his career's over, before he succumbs to this wound, to this shrapnel in his heart, he's going to try his damnedest to leave a legacy or whatever that will get America strong again. Somehow justifying taking a bullet for this guy.
I can't imagine any day on set with Sam Jackson being uninteresting. Tell me about the chemistry that you had on screen and when the cameras weren't rolling?
Well, funny enough, my younger brother lives in Munich, and he's a golf professional. He's one of the best in Germany; he's won the PGA. He's the No. 1 PGA teaching pro down there. And won the Bavarian Open, the BMW Open. So Sam being a fanatic golfer, I introduced these two and that was it. My brother and him were thick as thieves. They played the tournament together.
But it was great to see him. Sam's openness and attitude to all of that, and then working with Sam, Sam's up for it. I love that about him. And you can sometimes forget how bloody good he is. And his portrayal of the racist butler in "Django Unchained" was just – it was a tour de force. I think he's one of the greatest, living, character, leading men. And you look at his body of work, and his range of characters, I think sometimes you forget. When somebody's that good, you forget how good he is, if that makes sense.
How's your own golf game?
Terrible. My brother describes me as one of the best non-golfers he knows because, professionally, I get a chance to actually swing a stick in anger. I've taken part in some charity games and stole a couple of trophies because we had a ringer for our professional on the team, much to the chagrin of my younger brother. But it's a good walk, but I can't be doing with the matching socks and tops and stuff, all that.
Given your connections in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, had you had a chance to meet Sam before?
No, we never crossed paths. But from day one, he was just completely open. And also, he's a very giving actor on set, and so you've got a lot to work with. And he's just a consummate professional, you would expect at that level. He's just totally prepared and totally open to throw it all out the window and play.
You're in a really interesting and hopefully fun phase of your career, in that you've got a couple of different big franchises happening. Let's start with "Thor." I'm presuming you're going to be back for another one?
I hope so. Yeah, they've indicated, they've talked about the third one because these things come in threes. They're sort of indicated "Thor 3," which I'd be delighted to put on the fat suit again for the finale. So we'll see. That's probably scheduled for later 2016.
What do you love about your character, Volstagg?
Well, when Kenneth Branagh called me up, and he said, "What I love about this character is he's like Fallstaff " in Shakespeare. What I love about Volstagg, actually, is he's got a heart the size of a planet, and he wears it on his sleeve. So when he delights, like my 4-year-old child, it's like every cell of his being delights. When he gets hurt, it's like every cell of his being is crushed. There's something so visceral and vital and alive about him.
And I thought rather than have him be some sort of like big, wallowing heavyweight, chewing on a ham hock or something, I remember the dancing hippos in "Fantasia." So I wanted to make him epicurean, up on the balls of his feet like a ballerina sort of hippo. And he would make sandwiches. He'd cut grapes and sprinkle salt, and he'd make them a 10-tier sandwich. You had that sort of epicurean, light on his feet, and his heart on his sleeve. Who doesn't want to play that? It's exhausting [laughs]. At the end of the day, it's like kids who go a hundred miles an hour and then stop.
Jaimie Alexander has gone on TV with her character Sif appearing on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." twice now. Would you be game to take him somewhere else like that in the expanded Marvel Cinematic Universe?
If they could handle Volstagg! If Volstagg's invited to visit more of the Marvel Universe, I think anything and everything is valid. It's like it's more about the Marvel Universe than movies or TV. They still have to have to keep up their production values and keep their integrity of their characters as much as anybody else.
Tell me about your experience on the "Divergent" films. What's been intriguing to you as an actor to be a part of that story?
It's been interesting, but you never know how it's going to pan out in these movies. And Marcus is an interesting character, but you can only play what's on the script. And what we thought was going to be eventually more involved and a larger role, the other characters and the movies took a different direction. I'm still going to Atlanta to shoot a day or two on "Allegiance," so we're still there, and then we'll see. We're splitting "Allegiance" into two, and then we'll see if they bring Marcus back for [part] four. But it's like, if the movie needs it, then great. If the movie doesn't need it, I'm not one to get all stickety about it.
I think the movies are doing great stuff. They stand out as not "The Hunger Games" –which is a terrific franchise – but it's something different and for a different demographic. And I actually like doing movies where I'm not essentially the demographic because it's all about you've got to serve the play. "The play is the thing from which we'll catch the conscience of the king." And the king being the audience. And it's great to be part of something... there is no small roles or whatever. So we'll see.
”Big Game” is playing in select theaters and on demand.