Tai Freligh interviews actor William Mark McCullough from American Made…
A native of Savannah, Georgia, William Mark McCullough has brought his brand of intense, violent and unpredictable characters to numerous films and TV shows. He had a supporting lead role opposite Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and Adrian Grenier in the crime thriller, Southern Fury and also appears in The Birth Of A Nation, which won top honors at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Mark has recurring roles in Underground on WGN America and on the second season of PBS’s Mercy Street. In addition to acting, Mark is also a filmmaker. He has written, directed and produced several projects through his production company, Fort Argyle Films. We asked him about his roles in American Made and Logan Lucky.
Tell me about your audition for American Made.
I initially auditioned by tape for quite a few different characters in the film. I had callbacks for two characters. At the callback Doug Liman was sitting at a long table with a number of very serious looking producers. When I finished the audition for each character the only thing Doug said was, “Do it again. Differently.” It was an intense experience. I left thinking he was not very interested in what I did. That was a great lesson for me as an actor. Now I never try to guess whether they liked or didn’t like my audition. I just go in and have fun.
My agent called a few weeks later and said they were interested in me for the film, but they weren’t sure for which role. Eventually, they cast me as Pete Duboix, a character I never auditioned for. And, luckily for me, it was a much larger role than any of the ones I had auditioned for.
Who do you play in the movie?
I play Pete Duboix, who is recruited by Barry Seal to help him smuggle guns for the CIA and cocaine for the Medellin Cartel. While preparing to play the character, Doug Liman explained that Barry and Pete were old friends who had worked together at TWA. Although Barry convinces Pete to join his illegal operation, at first Pete is very hesitant. But as the money rolls in Pete grows accustomed to their renegade lifestyle.
Initially, Barry, Pete and the rest of the Snowbirds (Barry’s term for his group of criminal pilots) each fly small passenger planes to haul their loads. When the amount of guns and cocaine gets too large Barry buys a C-123 military cargo plane and Pete becomes his co-pilot.
Over the course of the film, Pete gets involved in some serious illegal activity, but by the end of the movie he finds redemption.
Describe Doug Liman’s directing style.
Doug was a man of few words when it came to giving acting notes (as I had learned at my callback). When he did offer notes they were always straight to the point with no added fluff.
In my experience it had always seemed like directing big budget movies was much like steering a cruise ship. Once decisions were made and things were set in motion it took great effort and time to change direction. Doug Liman, however, steered American Made like a speedboat. I was constantly amazed at Doug’s willingness and ability to completely change major elements of the script or action if he felt it wasn’t working.
Tom Cruise actually flew some of the planes on camera. Did you have any scenes together where either of you were actually flying the plane on camera?
In one of the pivotal scenes in the film, Barry and Pete have to fly the C-123 down to Nicaragua. I was ecstatic when I found out Tom was actually going to fly this massive military plane during our scene. Words can’t really describe the excitement I felt sitting in the co-pilot seat next to Tom Cruise as he piloted the plane.
What’s it like working on a Tom Cruise movie?
Working on a Tom Cruise movie can be summed up in two words – intense and fun. Tom has a love for filmmaking that you can feel as soon as he walks on set. He works harder than any movie star I have ever worked with and he expects the rest of the cast and crew to bring their best to every scene.
Tom demands absolute truthfulness and realism from the actors working with him. His passion for making a great film inspired me and the other actors to raise our games. He would sometimes offer guidance on how I could make my performance more powerful. Getting critiqued by the biggest movie star in the world was a bit intimidating, but when we finished every scene Tom would flash me his trademark smile and say, “Wasn’t that fun?”
Tom is one of the kindest actors I have every met. I watched him take the time to be kind to everyone on set. Even during intense, complex shoot days Tom was considerate and thoughtful to all the cast and crew.
How much time did you spend filming this movie?
I worked on the film for about eight weeks. I shot for five weeks in Atlanta, a week in New Orleans and two weeks in Medellin, Colombia.
Any funny set stories?
One of the funniest moments for me was when Tom and I had to do a scene where the C-123 was going through a violent storm. Obviously, we couldn’t shoot that in the air so a massive rig was set up replicating the interior of the plane with a storm maker outside the windows. To create believable turbulence, Tom and I had to choreograph our bodies’ reactions to being thrown around by the storm and then react perfectly in tandem. We spent hours shooting that storm scene with Doug yelling out what the plane was doing as Tom and I pretended we were being tossed around the cabin. We were both exhausted and completely drenched in sweat when we finally wrapped.
What was your biggest takeaway from doing this movie?
As an actor you must be flexible and know how to prepare quickly. Doug and Tom loved playing with the script. They rewrote almost every scene right before we shot it, which meant I usually had just a few minutes to learn my lines before the camera started rolling. I know actors who need hours or even days to memorize their lines and prepare a scene. They would not have lasted very long on a film like American Made.
Tell me about your character, Bobo, on Logan Lucky.
Bobo was a small, but really fun character to play. He is a redneck working on a construction project at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Did you have any scenes with Channing Tatum or the main characters?
I had the pleasure of working with Channing Tatum. I play Channing’s co-worker at the construction site and I give him the crucial information he needs to pull off a heist at the Speedway. I have to say, Channing was one of the most down to earth, friendly guys I have ever worked with.
What was Steven Soderbergh like as a director?
Steven is a master technician. He was low-key, friendly and ridiculously efficient. Eight hour work days were the norm with him. For anyone who has ever worked on a movie, you know that is almost unheard of, with most films shooting twelve to fifteen hours a day. His easygoing style permeated to everyone else on set. It is hard not to get spoiled working with Steven.
How do you survive the zombie apocalypse?
Luckily, I grew up in rural Georgia, so I’m pretty handy with my Glock 23 and I know how to survive off the land. I would get as far from population centers as possible and hunker down.
Favourite big name actor you’ve worked with before NOT named Tom Cruise?
It is a close call between Nicolas Cage and Mahershala Ali. Nic is the most intense method actor I have ever worked with. Watching him do his thing was just fun. And as a kid I LOVED Nic Cage movies. Working with Mahershala was amazing because every take he did was different from the last, but all were absolutely honest and riveting. When I worked with Mahershala I was playing a vicious racist and I had to call him some really vile, disgusting names. Mahershala could see I was uncomfortable and he helped put me at ease by reminding me it was just acting.
Television or movie acting?
Movie acting. The types of characters I usually play aren’t often seen on television.
If you didn’t become an actor, what would you be doing right now?
I would probably be hating my life working as a lawyer.
Favourite role of yours?
I did a horror film called Patient Seven in which I played a violent mental patient who believes he is a vampire hunter. I got to go head to head against Michael Ironside. The very first film I remember ever seeing was Scanners. My dad loved the film and he watched it all the time. As a kid I thought Michael was the biggest badass I had ever seen on screen. So, getting to play his antagonist was a dream come true.
We thank William Mark McCullough for taking the time to chat with us here at Flickering Myth. He can be found on social media at the handles below:
Headshot courtesy Aimee Taryn.
Behind-the-scenes photos courtesy William Mark McCullough Instagram.
American Made official stills courtesy Universal Pictures.
Tai Freligh is a Los Angeles-based writer and can be found on Twitter.