His new film Limitless is released this week where, for the first time, he’s the sole lead, although he’s playing against a huge titan of cinema in a supporting role (more of that below). We caught up with him recently to chat about the film and his life, post-Wolf Pack.
The whole idea of unlocking the full potential of the brainpower is endlessly fascinating. Is that what gripped you about the story initially?
It was the script for sure. Leslie Dixon wrote an incredible script – it was sexy and cool and moved like a house on fire. She wrote the script and it was hard to pin-point which genre it sat in. It had a great concept which was what would happen if you took a pill that could unlock your complete potential. A great hook, and that was planted in the mind of a character who is a guy who is obviously intelligent but emotionally, at the bottom of the barrel.
The joy of the material is it lends itself to so many interpretations and metaphors and it’s also a great cautionary tale.
There was a line in the script which read “it’s just called evolution Carl, and you’re no longer to fittest” and thematically, it’s also a tale about that too. Is he the next progression in human nature where we get closer and closer to almost artificial intelligence in a way. The thing about this movie is it’s not a far cry to believe it could be all credible in a decade or two, maybe in our lifetime. There could be a drug which exists to do that and what would be the ramifications?
How closely does the film stick the original book (The Dark Fields by Irish author Alan Glynn)?
It’s very faithful to the character. I found it to be an invaluable piece of source material reading it after getting the job. It’s written in the first person, so you’re basically reading Eddie’s journal. It’s a journal you’re reading that he’s written in a motel at the end of his life. It’s a completely different trajectory.
On a more serious level, what do you think the film has to say about drug-taking in general?
It uses this idea of taking a pill as a way to drive the narrative and it’s the hook by which we tell a story of power. It will hopefully, like any piece of art, provoke discussion. This movie is a fun ride about the abuse of power and what you do with it, but it’s almost about drug addiction, the political structure and the investment world.
How did you find working with Robert De Niro?
Unbelievable! I still have to stop and think about it even now. It’s incredible. My history with him actually predates the movie. He came to my grad school and I ask him a question about his performance in Awakenings (1990 feature directed by Penny Marshall). That movie floored me as a kid. I put myself on tape to play his son in a movie (2009’s Everybody’s Fine) and he called me in and I met him for 15 minutes. Following that, I was a juror on the Tribecca Film festival and I saw him on the circuit, although he didn’t remember me (laughs). Cut to a year later and I’m asking him to play Carl Van Loon.
The film gives you the chance to really flex your acting muscles due to the fact that there are some many sides to Eddie’s character. How do you approach that and which side of him was the most fun to play?
The challenging part was knowing where Eddie was at a specific moment of the shooting day because we shot out of sequence. We’d have breakfast as old Eddie, then Eddie on NZT (the drug in the film) in the afternoon. Then Eddie already on the drug, but just about to take it. That was all challenging in a fun way. It was almost like playing chess in a sense. It felt like I had to almost be on NZT to do the movie! Playing old Eddie was just wonderful, however. The crew loved it too. Every time make-up pulled the characters’ wig out, we were all very excited (laughs).
Are you looking forward to The Hangover juggernaut starting over again?
Yeah – it’s like I’m and part of some odd petri dish. The second movie is like an interesting experiment and we’re in the next phase of clinical trials (laughs). I’m so proud of what we did in the second one – it’s crazy because it’s due out in, like, two months and we just wrapped in January! The reason why it’s so exciting is due to (director) Todd Phillips. It fells like with Todd, you’re working with a director when they’re at the top of their game.
The first film really brought you into the public’s consciousness in a big way. How are you coping with the fame?
Coping seems like way too stronger word. It’s a life change but one thing that makes it easier is that I like people, so that’s huge asset. I don’t mind doing press junkets and stuff like that. In fact, if I love the movie, I could talk about it forever. The only thing I hate are photo shoots (laughs) I can’t stand them – and the paparazzi.
You have an executive producer credit on Limitless. Is this something you’re going to be doing more of in future?
I hope to. It was a nice gesture from Relativity to give me that credit. I don’t really think like an actor – I’m someone who is always thinking about the best direction for the whole film. Anything I can do collaboratively, with me outside of the role, I love.
Our review of Limitless will be on the site later today.