Best known for his star-making performance in the coming-of-age classic, Breaking Away, Dennis Christopher is the definition of an eclectic actor. He started his film career working with such accomplished auteurs as Federico Fellini (Roma) and Robert Altman (3 Women, A Wedding). In 1979,Breaking Away, the defining film of Christopher’s career, was released.
As Dave Stoller, an idealistic young cyclist determined to leave his humdrum surburban life and became an Italian bike racer, Christopher gives a charming, poignant performance—one that nabbed him a BAFTA award and a Golden Globe nomination. After the film’s release, Christopher played everything from an Olympic runner (Chariots of Fire) to a mentally unstable film buff (Fade to Black) to a compassionate army medic (Don’t Cry, It’s Only Thunder). In the past decade, Christopher switched gears to television, appearing on such acclaimed series as “Deadwood” and “Six Feet Under.”
Christopher’s latest role, however, finds him back on the big screen in one of this year’s most highly-anticipated movies. In Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, he co-stars as Leonide Moguy, a lawyer working for Calvin Candie (Leondaro DiCaprio), a gleefully malicious plantation owner who forces his slaves to fight one another. Django Unchained marks Christopher’s highest profile film role in years. With its audacious style and controversial subject matter, the film is gearing up to be one of the award season’s most talked-about movies, and is sure to bring Christopher a whole new generation of fans.
Before the film’s release on Christmas Day, MM caught up with Dennis Christopher to discuss Django Unchained and how the legendary moviemakers he’s worked with—Felllini, Altman and now Tarantino—compare to each other.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): Could you tell us a bit about the character you play inDjango Unchained—Leonide Moguy? What drew you to this role?
Dennis Christopher (DC): He is the lawyer for Calvin Candie, played by Leo DiCaprio. Mr. Moguy is a racist southern gentleman and long time friend of the family who owns one of the wealthiest plantations in the antebellum South.
MM:How did you come to be cast in the movie? Did you have any previous connection with Quentin Tarantino?
DC: I had never met him but had long admired him and his work. I had been on his radar for some time as he said he had seen everything I’ve ever done. Hard to believe, but when it comes to the moving image there is nothing that Quentin Tarantino doesn’t know. Pure and simple he sent me the script, just like that!
MM: What was your experience like working with Tarantino? Any juicy stories to share?
DC: A very juicy experience indeed. I’ve worked with some really great film directors, but I’ve never been on a set brimming with the kind of joy, excitement and love of craft that Quentin creates when he works. He’s a passionate, focused, generous artist who relishes every minute he is on set. That feeling infects the entire cast & crew; naturally you want to give your best.
MM: You’re probably the only actor who has worked with Altman, Fellini, and now Tarantino. How do the three experiences compare?
DC: All of them Masters. Fellini: was like the maestro, hand crafting each element of the shot. He could be quite intimidating, but I personally found him to be a tender, affectionate man. I’m half Italian so I’m sure there was a bit of a father figure exchange going on. Altman: liked to create a family among his cast and crew. His favorite part of life was to be on location, on set. Low key, but extremely grateful for any idea you might bring to the mix. He trusts his instincts and the actors he casts. Really, I think of him as my cinematic Godfather.
Tarantino: More than takes his place among these great filmmakers. His cast and crew has a loyalty and love for him that makes everything achievable. Some geniuses can be bullies but not QT. Working for him is like winning the jackpot!
MM: Your unforgettable performance as Dave Stoller in Breaking Away is one of those classic “career-defining” roles. Blessing or curse?
DC: This question is easy. Nothing but a blessing! The film is a classic; it’s a movie that one generation can share with the next. I’m very proud of it and grateful for the kind of good will that has flowed towards me as a result. I’d be remiss to not give a shout out to Breaking Away’s great director, Peter Yates.
MM: And finally, more than 30 years after Breaking Away, please tell us what we’ve all been dying to know—do you still shave your legs?
DC: LOL. No, au naturel!