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In the film Middle Men, Luke Wilson’s character is constantly in over his head, juggling all kinds of problems both at work and domestically. Certainly not helping things is the character played by Kevin Pollack, an FBI investigator with great interest in what Wilson is doing. But there are many reasons why a government officer would be interested in the man who brought the world internet porn, and the reveal is something you would never suspect.
I had the chance to sit down with Pollack and listen to him talk about the film, what it’s like playing in a drama versus a comedy, Luke Wilson’s performance and, strangely enough, Mel Gibson and privacy in the internet age.
When you first got the script and saw that it was a script about porn, what was your first thought?
My first thought was that it’s not about porn, though to be honest instead of coy I thought that the jumping off point was so beautifully absurd, these two idiots coked up in the middle of the night desiring porn online, and creating the software program to use a credit card on the internet and changing commerce forever. That absurd jumping off point was about as rich and ridiculous and “Oh shit, really?” that very few scripts start off with. And then as I kept reading, the thrill ride pays off beyond the ridiculous premise which is another big surprise. So, it didn’t really strike me as a movie about porn or the industry, even. I’m glad that they didn’t shy away from that reality, that the first customers, and the reason that these two idiots created that software program, was because of their own desire for porn. So that was the audience that they exploited initially. But where the story goes from there is what I find fascinating and it’s the only reason the movie works.
I know that Chris Mallick told you a lot of stories that didn’t make it into the script…
You hope to hear some now, do you? You’re not going to get those through Chris.
Was there anything that you were really sad that didn’t make it in?
No, I was so honestly amazed by the shit that actually happened and the way that it was portrayed in then what needs to be an entertainment script, to take the reality of the script and then somehow turn into a compelling story on film was an unbelievable task. And I thought that it was so well executed in the screenplay that I wasn’t left wondering what really happened. It was a sense of such surprise and discovery and bizarre and stupid and silly and funny and then weird and dark and scary. On the set, if you’re wondering if we sat around and he regaled us with the shit that really happened, that wasn’t the case. I knew there were other stories that wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate in the movie but that’s almost like guys sitting around talking about women anyways, which I don’t find particularly interesting. I think the good stuff is in the movie.
How does your performance change when the person who did it all was on set and producing the film?
You’d have to ask Luke Wilson, he’s really playing the Chris Mallick character.
But you’re still part of the story.
Yeah, I would just spend everyday saying, “Oh my God, did this really happen?” and after several days of, “yes” and “we did,” I went back to enjoying myself in the task at hand. So there wasn’t really a sense of “Oh my God don’t upset this guy’s life story,” because everyone made it clear from the beginning that Chris poured out his life story and it was George and Andy’s job to make it a movie. And that was kind of clear from the beginning. It was not a documentary, it was not a historical retelling. And then that actually takes the pressure off, to be honest with you. And for me I’m just trying to have fun anyways, I don’t feel pressure from it anyway.
A big part of this movie is the nostalgia that it brings to just 10 years ago and showing how technology has changed. What are somethings you miss that you had back then but don’t have anymore?
I’m not really thrilled that the banks lost all my money. What do I miss from porn ten years ago? Paying for it? I don’t know. It’s almost like saying do you miss churning butter. Doesn’t it suck that you have to go buy it? I’m a fan of technology and I’m a fan of progress and I’m a fan of what’s next, and I’m a fan of the human condition staying the exact same regardless of how advanced we want to be or try to be. I do an online streaming video talk show live every afternoon which has changed my life completely in terms of using technology to reach an audience and I’ve gained a whole new awareness of what’s available online and how there’s a whole generation of people in their 20s and younger who are now choosing an internet bill over a cable bill and their getting all their broadcasts, if not entertainment, through the interwebs versus through cable. And now, by the end of year, beginning of next year, almost every new flat screen TV will have internet program the same way you’d dial up a cable show, which is through a remote, not through a stupid keyboard like 10 years ago when they tried to do that. Knowing that that’s happening doesn’t make me miss anything. I like the forward progress of that. And the privacy issue to me is, we all say we want to protect our privacy and that we can’t laugh hard enough when we listen to Mel Gibson lose his shit on a voice message. You can make the argument how stupid was he not to know that it was possible that this could get out, but if you can’t yell at the person that you are or were involved in, and lose your shit in that intimate environment – and I agree that everything he did was wrong, he’s fucking nuts – but the privacy issue of that, it’s supply and demand and I wish we didn’t care so goddamned much to laugh at peoples’ pain, but it sure is funny. That’s part of the human condition to, so where do you fall on that privacy issue. How dare she leak it, how dare the rest of us enjoy it. I’m not sure where the fine line is for it’s an individual choice, and shopping online and yet I don’t think I want to bank online. I mean I do, I check my accounts online but I don’t pay my bills online. So it’s all kind of an individual decision how vulnerable you want to be, and, again, I don’t miss the way things used to be too much.
Can you speak to Luke Wilson’s performance a little?
I think it’s some of the best work George Gallo’s ever done as a filmmaker, some of the best work Luke Wilson’s done as an actor, because it’s so hard to be the center of a story and not be the center of attention. And I think Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel are doing such bizarre, over-the-top antics, but for them to be the sort of compelling intensity of the thrill ride, of “Oh my God, what’s going to happen?” and the funny comic relief, the “Oh my God, these two are idiots,” That is an amazing achievement. I think Luke has done really good work and then this is a type of center of a piece that I don’t I don’t think I’ve seen him do before. And I thought the sort of easy going nature that we’ve come to expect from him was there, and at the same time I believed it when he was afraid, when his character was afraid, which I don’t know that real life situation he’s done that before. Didn’t he do a scary movie with [Kate Beckinsale]? So he’s certainly played afraid before, but this is a saga, this story, and his character goes through a ridiculous arc. It’s almost like in Rain Man in the sense that Dustin Hoffman won the Academy Award and he has sort of the flashy role, but the whole film hinges on Tom [Cruise’s] performance. If Tom doesn’t go through a character arc and change, if we don’t start hating him and end liking him, there’s no movie. The truth is Dustin did the exact same beat for two hours, his performance didn’t waver at all, and yet it won the Academy Award. So I think that Luke is that through line. If his performance doesn’t work there is no movie.
So you weren’t disappointed that you weren’t playing a more over the top character, you were happy to play a more subdued role?
I like doing the crazy over-the-top, but the character I play, although government agent of sorts is a salesman. He’s selling something, he’s trying to get something. So he’s a salesman. And, in the end, the scene with him in the bleacher stands between Luke and I was one of the more interesting scenes in a dramatic role that I have ever enjoyed of my own because I don’t really enjoy seeing myself in a dramatic role because I never really believe it. Because I know that I’m a comedian, and I started out as a comedian and I’ve had no formal training and everyone keeps insisting I am one. So I just go along with it and some 60 movies long I’m a member of every guild. I don’t really subscribe to its quality. But that scene in the bleachers I was tickled and surprised how good it came out, because it’s a real throwing it away and there’s danger underneath as opposed to in your face and it’s also a great moment in the movie for Luke’s character.
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