“I love movies,” Michael Stuhlbag told us, when we chatted with him on the phone. He’s been doing what he loves since the 1990s, having starred in projects like Lincoln, Hugo, A Serious Man, Steve Jobs, Boardwalk Empire, and, opening this week, Pawn Sacrifice. He feels honored to be able to work with the folks he’s collaborated with thus far: “I love having new worlds and new filmmakers thrown at me, so I can learn more about human beings,” he said. “I think it’s a great window into human lives and it certainly makes me feel less alone in my own life, which is a beautiful thing.”
We think it’s a beautiful thing that he loves the art of filmmaking so deeply, as demonstrated by his list of favorite movies. He obviously couldn’t name them all, but he made a point of expressing how influential filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese have been to his career, as well as more recent filmmakers like David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson. Here is the list.
Cabaret from Mr. Fosse, initially, as well as Lenny — those two films seem to have made a very big impression on me. With Cabaret — I got a glimpse of it again on an airplane; it was offered in the classics section in the airplane that I was traveling in. And there were moments in that film where it seems he has created painting. For not even an entire second — or an entire half a second — you capture a glimpse of a “creature” that seemed to exist only in the world of a night club in Berlin in 1931. And it was still, but there was smoke coming up from the creature’s cigarette. Like the cartoons of George Grosz, there was a grotesqueness to some of the laughter, and he mixed what seemed to be an almost documentary-like reality combined with a very private story and also a kind of fantastical theatrical reality as well. The camera was always in fascinating spots, the sound creeped in, in ways that captured the subconscious level.
I loved that about Lenny as well — it combines this documentary feel and captures a spirit of who the true people were, separate from who the performer was. I love that sort of dialogue in cinema in general. It’s sort of the difference between the private and the public.
I remember seeing A Clockwork Orange as a very young kid — probably too young to be seeing it — and there was something kind of dangerous about that world. It was like I know I should have been watching, but there was something about the style in which it was shot. Maybe it was how long the camera stayed looking at one thing, but it didn’t move very far. It captured a certain theatrical nature of something. There was almost a vaudeville quality to it all as well. I think I’m drawn to that because I have a love of theatre, and of pictures that are perhaps a little bit larger than life.
Mr. Scorsese’s stuff — I couldn’t watch Raging Bull Enough. I couldn’t watch Taxi Driver enough — every time it was on, I would just watch it. I couldn’t stop. I think there’s just, you know, being able to capture something that was real and something you just couldn’t tear your eyes away from. I don’t really know how to articulate it so much. These are all things that hit me young, and that’s why I’m talking about them now. Because they’re the things that opened my eye to movies and they are the ones that drew me to want to see more films. Almost like they chose me, and I didn’t really choose them, if you know what I mean. It’s like, they were put in front of me and I didn’t know what hit me. That’s more appropriate, actually.
That’s a masterpiece that always moves me, every time I see it. I love epic films, I love epic theatre — bold, big stories, with intricate character work, but truth, you know? At the base of it all, something true. Whether it’s a raging spirit or style to the hilt.
Pawn Sacrifice is now open in limited release.