Bruce Greenwood is a character actor’s character actor. Talented and handsome, the Canadian can play just about anything, good guys and bad guys, regular folk and presidents, leads and supporting roles, and he smoothly shifts from TV to film and back again. Still in his early 50’s, Greenwood already has amassed more than 100 credits, among them St. Elsewhere (he was Dr. Griffin), Nowhere Man (he starred as Thomas Veil), the acclaimed films The Sweet Hereafter and Thirteen Days, the blockbusters I, Robot and National Treasure: Book of Secrets, John from Cincinnati (he played Mitch Yost), and, of course, Star Trek (2009), which was both critically acclaimed and a blockbuster. Greenwood has a half-dozen projects out right now or on the way, and he was kind enough to jump on the line with StarTrek.com recently to discuss a few of those projects, recount his experiences on Star Trek, and make it known that he’d be happy to reprise his role as Christopher Pike in the next Star Trek adventure.
Well, I didn’t really appreciate the responsibility until I was in the room and then everybody who has been working on it for years and years begins to give you the back story about who’s played Batman and what deep roots he has in popular culture. Suddenly, you go “Holy mackerel, I’ll need some guidance here.” But fortunately the director was fantastic and we had a lot of fun doing it. I saw it the other day and it’s just non-stop action.
Dinner for Schmucks is opening on July 30. What do you play in that?
I am, not surprisingly, I am a very well-heeled financial heavyweight. We have a great big board room and marble tables and floor-to-ceiling glass windows, and my character has an ego to match. But we’re on the brink of bankruptcy. Paul Rudd appears to have an idea that might claw us back from the brink, but part and parcel of his being allowed into the inner sanctum is by being invited to come up with a “schmuck,” somebody off the street who thinks they’ve built a better mousetrap. We invite them to a “Dinner for Winners,” where we quietly ridicule them and the idea is they’re none the wiser. But it all goes horribly wrong.
Mao’s Last Dancer is a real change of pace. It’s directed by Bruce Beresford, whom you’d worked with before, and you’re playing Ben Stevenson, the former British ballet dancer and choreographer who eventually became the artistic director of the Houston Ballet. How was that experience?
It was the kind of role I’m rarely asked to play. I’m so often asked to play these heavies who look at you unblinkingly and don’t take any s—t, and Stevenson was a different animal entirely. I took ballet lessons for a couple of months and that was a real eye-opener. I didn’t get to pick Stevenson’s brain beforehand, unfortunately, but he’s seen the movie and we’ve been exchanging emails, and he seems quite content with it. That was one of my biggest fears, that I’d have to meet him face to face and he’d take me to task. But he’s been very generous.
You’ve also got Barney’s Version, a drama with Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman and Rosamund Pike, and Meek’s Cutoff, a western with Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and Shirley Henderson. Do you ever come up for air?
I know. That’s how it’s kind of working out, three or four a year. And I’m just about to leave for Mexico to do a little thing with Andy Garcia and Ruben Blades called Cristiada. That one’s about the Cristiada defense of the Church in the face of Calles’ suppression of the church in the ‘20s.
Let’s talk about Star Trek for a few minutes. It’s pretty common knowledge that you didn’t know a lot about the original series before signing on for the film…
I was woefully ignorant. I’d watched it as a kid, off and on, but mostly to see the hot girls in the tight outfits, and then I started doing my homework once I got the role. I became aware of Jeffrey Hunter in a more distinct way, and his contributions and the legion of fans he had from creating that role. I thought, “Oh, God, what now?” because my Pike had been written as a very different character. The central dilemma for Jeffrey Hunter is not the central dilemma for my Pike. I was fortunate in that regard, that I wasn’t playing the same conflicts.
What did you make of the finished film?
It wasn’t in 3-D, but the movie feels amazingly three-dimensional. Visually, it’s spectacularly open, and the humor and tempo, I think, were perfect. I think that J.J. (Abrams) is a singularly talented guy. He managed to keep all these plates spinning and at the same time have this heartbeat of real people at the center of it.
As with any film, scenes get cut in the editing phase. Did you lose any major bits?
Not really, no. Maybe a line or two. A scene might have been trimmed by a line or two, but there’s not a (whole) scene missing. Well, in my mind there are several scenes missing. I think I should have kept control of the ship entirely.
There’s no reason Pike could not return to action in the next Star Trek feature. What have you heard about the possibility of that happening and how on board would be with an encore?
Oh, I’ll be there in a second, in a hot second. I know they’re writing the script and I encourage them whenever I see them to make Pike a critical element.
Would Pike be using his wheelchair?
I don’t know necessarily. I think with the latitude of the parallel universe I might be able to get out of the chair, and I’m hoping the mentorship between myself and Kirk (Chris Pine) continues.