Lee Arenberg – Interview

Lee Aaronberg

Interviewing Lee was a fantastic experience at this year’s Collectormania at Milton Keynes. As usual we tried to pick a quiet moment after checking that Lee was happy to be interviewed. The latter was the easy part, but waiting for a quiet moment saw us patiently twiddling our thumbs just to his side for almost the best part of an hour. The frightening thing is, it really didn’t seem like an hour because for every guest eagerly shaking hands with Lee, he had some story or fascinating insight into his acting career, or the film industry as a whole, to share. I was sorely tempted to record every single sound bite he offered up, and whereas he’d probably be happy for that to happen, it still didn’t feel fair to him to record him without his knowledge.

Lee is an exceptional actor, and all round nice guy. The first thing that took us by surprise though was his accent. Having seen his role as “Pintel” in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” saga, we’d actually forgotten he was American. The second thing that took us aback a little was his remarkably humble attitude and honesty. If you were ever after a “yes” man to say how super awesome everything and everybody is, Lee wouldn’t be you’re man, he calls it exactly how he sees it. And finally, there was a point where he dropped into the character of Pintel uttering the phrase “Parley? Damn to the depths whatever man what thought of Parley”, the reactions of some of the younger children in the queue waiting to see him was utterly priceless. Pirates of the Caribbean was almost an embarrassment of riches when it came to the wealth of superb acting talent working on it, and of course if you’re going to work alongside Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush et al, you have to be good.

Great to get this chance to speak to you and you’re a Manchester United fan!?

Lee – Thanks for waiting all that time, and yes, I’m a Manchester United fan, sorry to hurt you with that!

Louis Van Gaal is your new manager, yet to be officially confirmed, but it’s pretty much a done deal now. (Ironically, the day after this interview, Man Utd made the official statement that Van Gaal was to be their new manager).

Lee – You know, I’m ok with that. Let me tell you something, I don’t think David Moyes, I mean he really p***d off the fans. He might have been Ferguson’s guy because he’s also a Scot, but at the same time he just couldn’t get the side to play for him. They were disorganised, he couldn’t get the line up right, and I was disappointed, well, some of the signings just didn’t work out. They got soft at the back, too many soft goals needlessly given away. I’ve always worried about De Gea, he gives up some really simple mistakes, that should have been easy saves.

Moyes suffered at United as Clough did at Leeds (The Damned United), but I hear Ferdinand is going too.

Lee – Yeah, well, he’s getting older. And Vidic, they both look a bit clunky back there now. The defence is a problem. Well, in my opinion any way!

Looking forward to the World Cup?

Lee – Oh yeah! I’ll be supporting America, of course. I like England too, but honestly, I think it’s going to be too hot for you guys. You’re going to have a real problem with the heat and humidity. It’s Brazil’s to lose in my mind. There’s no question about it, it’s going to be Brazils. If it isn’t it there’s going to be riots in the streets, it’s the only way they’ll keep peace in the country, by winning the cup. Because they’re spending all their money, listen, that’s one of the most corrupt countries in the world right now, with the Olympics coming in, and the World Cup. The people are starving, they have no social programmes, all they did was throw cops into the Favelas. My wife lived in Rio for many years, we go there all the time, so Brazil is one of my spots and I know what I’m talking about. The government is so corrupt, it’s almost like the American government (laughs). We sold that to the biggest corporation.

That’s like any government it seems.

Lee – I guess so. Sadly, I guess so, I’m sorry to say. When the Magna Carta was written, maybe we were realising that we’d been had. It’s like corporations don’t realise that there are people. It’s like that Soylent Green, that old movie with Edward G Robinson…

We both say at the same time “Soylent Green is people!!”

Lee – Oh my god, Charlton Heston!! It was fantastic, right!

Corruption is everywhere. Even in smaller countries like Slovenia, they have one of their former leaders going through a court case.

Lee – Slovenia, Beautiful country. Look at all of them though. The weird thing is, you know, at least Russia is honest about it, it’s an Oligarchy. With American politics it’s, no joke, they’re all Bilderbergs. I mean Clinton, Bush, you know what it is? When you get enough money in the bank by ripping off the people, that your safety deposit goes like, clink, it hits a s***load of money, you’re a Bilderberg. It doesn’t matter if you’re an African despot, a Communist, I mean, look what China did. All those Chinese guys who have dumped their money into the Caribbean. They’ve taken all the money out of the country, they’ve polluted everything. They’re going to kill everyone for their riches today, there will be no-one alive there in a hundred years time. That’s my opener!! Follow that up!!

I might just go and hide!

Lee – Hi Abbie, nice to meet you! How was that for a starter! (laughs)

Great to meet you too! I’ve only got some questions about acting now I’m afraid!

Lee – Is that all. Oh, how boring (laughs) Honestly, just joking!

Well, we were wondering how you’ve seen yourself develop as an actor.

Lee – Oh man, what a question! Well, I started doing theatre, so that was my initial start. I started at a theatre company in College, the Actors’ Gang. Tim Robbins, Jack Black and so on, anyway, believe it or not, I’ve become a lot more subtle! (laughs). Well the weird thing is I never studied film acting until I had a lull in my career and I couldn’t get a job and I realised that it was maybe because I needed to get better. I went back in class and I really discovered a love of acting again. It’s very difficult. Success in Hollywood can sometimes ruin an actor because you forget what you’re doing. You’re in pursuit so much of the money, we make our living doing this, so it’s hard to say that you’re an artist when you’re really trying hard to sell your work to someone who is a jackass anyway. The people that make the decisions seem to be now, bean counters, accountants and lawyers. I mean they don’t know s*** about art. It’s a bottom line business. When I do a TV show it doesn’t matter if the show is actually any good, it only matters if people watch it. My relationship with my fans is very important to me because I know that they define the art. You’re not doing it if nobody is watching you. So when I tell fans that I really appreciate them and their support, I thank them for affording me the great life that I’ve had, I mean it. An actor without an audience is either a crazy person or a man on Bluetooth! (laughs).

Is that why Hollywood seems to go with “safe” bets like rebooting the same franchises again and again or wheeling out more sequels?

Lee – Of course. They’re playing with safe money. And let me tell you something that’s even worse about Hollywood. You can take any Hemsworth and throw him into a costume, you can take any big, hungry, blue eyed dark dude and throw them into that Superman costume. That Henry Cavill, they’re done. They couldn’t hack it. They didn’t resonate with the audience. It’s like “Was their package big enough, were their pecs big enough?”, well yeah they were, “Stuff them in the suit”. That’s Hollywood’s take on it “We can replace you, we’ve got another Hemsworth in waiting”.

Having said that though look at Bale.

Lee – Actually yes. He’s always been an actor. He’s one of the best actors. You look at Empire of the Sun. He’s been good since he was a kid. Just stay out of his eye line though! (laughs) It makes you look bad. I think he went off on that dude because the guy was a schmuck and stood in his eye line. Ok, there may have been a classier way that he could have busted the dude, but at the same time, there’s an immense amount of pressure on a guy like Christian Bale. That movie was going to suck and he probably knew it, possibly a little bit worried about the choice to be in it, and as a result it all just blew up.

About your own acting choices, was the darkness and humour that drew you to the Pirates scripts?

Lee – (laughs) The job, the paycheck got me looking at the script. I joke but at the same time, I’m actually serious. That’s how I make my living. I can’t afford, well, I’m not a big enough star that I can pick and choose. In fact, if you want the truth about that, I was really bummed and crushed that I didn’t get a TV movie about the making of “Three’s Company”. I lost the role to this guy, Daniel Roebuck, it was just me and him for the part and I was crushed because I needed it to live, ok, truth be told. I was in my early forties and I felt like I had missed my chance, when on the next day I get faxed the audition for Pirates. It was a lifeline. I was thinking, “Pirate movie!? With Johnny Depp!?”. Then I read it and I though “Holy ***, I definitely want this!”. But you don’t really dare to want something in Hollywood or else you’ll get doors slammed in your face. We’re the only profession that’s not allowed to want to work (laughs), because it makes you look weak. Seriously. That’s why so many people are living off shows they did thirty years ago, and act like they’re the greatest actor ever. Really, well, if that were the case you would have had a job recently. Let’s be honest about this, I’m more interested in “working recently” and then having that catch up with me. I’d rather resonate less in this world and more in the real world.

Do you feel that the larger roles have more of part to play in your professional development, or are the smaller roles equally as important?

Lee – There’s no small role, only small actors. That’s a saying. But, what I’ve learned is that, what makes a great movie star as opposed to a theatre actor. A great movie star has emotional vulnerability. My coach says “Listen, when they call action, they pay you the big bucks to emotionally vulnerable, to have your mouth saying I don’t love you, but your eyes saying but I really do”. The best actors have that duality. That’s what excites an audience, that’s what sets us on the edge. The guy says he can’t love you but you know he does. Those are the best actors.

Who do you admire, the actors who can do that?

Lee – There’s so many. Probably though, Gary Oldman, Geoffrey Rush, Meryl Streep. I mean all the legends. I buy the legends. What I don’t buy are the retreads. I mean I love Al Pacino, but I don’t like “insincere I did it for the paycheck Pacino”. I like when they go deep. I like when they really get into it. There’s a reason why they’re stars, like Jack Nicholson on his good days, a hungry actor. But then they’re a lot of guys where I just don’t get it.

Like William Shatner

Lee – (Laughs) But you know, he’s done very well. He’s eighty however and he still has people getting in line for him. I did a bunch of “Treks”, actually, I became a Trekkie because of the fans. I’m saying that’s not my cup of tea, but when you’re welcomed into the pantheon of people by the great fandom, you’re actually honoured to be accepted into that family. Am I going to sit down and watch TNG? Hell no, I’m more into sport and other things! But at the same time to be welcomed into the family, that was amazing.

Thank you for your time!

Lee – Not at all, it’s been fun!

Time for the interview flew by, and to be honest, Lee is the sort of guy you could chat to about all sorts of things, putting the world to rights, and you wouldn’t be distracted by the passing sunrises or sunsets. So a big thank you to Lee for his time, the patience of those waiting to see Lee,and to the Showmasters Crew for being terrific, as usual!

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