One of the more, shall we say, divisive elements of Pacific Rim was its pair of seemingly insane scientists, Hermann Gottlieb and Newton Geiszler, played by Burn Gorman and Charlie Day respectively. In keeping with the outsized menace of the movie, Gorman and Day played their roles in a “heightened” (to use Gorman’s word) manner, giving their almost cartoonish relationship a manic energy and even an eccentric kind of soul.
Both are back in Pacific Rim: Uprising, but they’ve split up: Gottlieb is still working for the Pan Pacific Defense Corps on studying ways to understand and repel the kaiju should the Breach ever open again from their hostile dimension, while Geiszler toils for Shao Industries to develop a new fleet of drone Jaegers to protect the Earth. Both men also have lingering effects from drifting — telepathically linking — with the kaiju precursors, an event that has set them on very different paths for the 10 years since the first movie took place.
With the first film’s director, Guillermo del Toro, stepping aside to produce this time around and Steven S. DeKnight (Daredevil) taking his place behind the camera, Pacific Rim: Uprising is both similar to and different from its predecessor, but Gorman — along with Day and Rinko Kikuchi — is one of the important links to the original movie. We spoke with Gorman about his return, as well as the advantages of being a character actor whose career has ranged from The Dark Knight Rises to Torchwood to Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle.
Den of Geek: Were you surprised to get the call for this? Because this was kind of on the bubble for a while, they weren’t sure if it was going to happen or not.
Burn Gorman: Yeah. I didn’t hear until they had a script, fairly late on in the process, like “Look, we’ve got a version of a script. If this was to happen is this something you’d want to do?” And I thought about it for five seconds and of course, said yes.
And then they said, “Well Guillermo, because of scheduling, for Shape of Water I think, actually, he’s going to produce. And Steven’s going to be taking it on.” It was pretty effortless because he’s so sort of relaxed and has the blessing of Guillermo and shares the right tone, which I think is one of creativity, honoring the sort of source material and its influences, and also making a really sort of fun movie. I was really pleased that I was playing in that sandbox again.
Maybe this is a silly question, but do you ever think about characters that you’ve played, in this case Gottlieb, and think, “I wonder what happened to that guy?”
I was always told when I first started acting, an older actor said to me, “You’ll get one or two characters in your whole career that will be really memorable.” Actually, now that I’ve been doing it 20 years, I now disagree with him because every character has a resonance. Some of them really, really pop with me and also with audiences or whatever. Gottlieb is one of those characters, because you either absolutely hate him or you really love him. You either hate the level of performance because it’s a heightened performance, you detest it as crass and it’s not going to win any Oscars, or you fall for it.
I think my job as an actor is to make you either laugh or at least elicit a strong response from the character. And this was one of them, so I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I didn’t always keep a little backburner hope that we would do another one. Because it’s so much fun to do and this job is not always fun. It felt very creatively satisfying in a really collaborative way. And again, that doesn’t always happen.
How did they pitch you on what Gottlieb’s role in the story was going to be this time?
10 years on, he’s got a budget. Gottlieb was always someone who always had always worked best under duress, scraping by, back to the wall. Steven said, “Look, it’s not like that now, he’s very well-funded.” He is not working with Newt anymore, but he is utterly obsessed with learning about kaiju and solving the problem should they ever come through again. I think that he was really affected in the first film.
He and Newt were the only people that really drifted into that world with the Precursors and he’s carried some of that resonance with him for the last 10 years. You know, he’s lonesome, he’s a lonely guy. His work is his life and I think that I love that. Steven said, “He’s hasn’t changed an awful lot because he’s somebody who just obsesses.” We sort of need people like him, particularly in our scientific endeavors and tech endeavors, people who have this bone and they won’t let it go until they get a solution.
When you did the role originally in the first movie, was there a lot of trial and error about just how heightened to play him? How far to go and when to pull back?
I’m the sort of actor who does what the director tells me and I think that Guillermo was looking for a performance that was slightly heightened. Now, I’ve never spoken to him about it, whether that was almost the sort of homage to the theatrical nature of anime or the influences of that tone. Listen, it’s not the most subtle performance that I’ve ever given and there were times where I just thought, this is not good. But in the actual scale of the thing … If you imagine that in the first film, you’re working with things like 24, 25 stories high, I think that whether you like it or not, the scale of performance in the world needs to be appropriate.
Did Guillermo write out a biography for Gottlieb, as he’s known to do?
Oh yes. Education. Historical relationship with father. You know, how the injury happened. You know, stuff like that, which he’s quite open about saying take it or leave it, but when you are given that by Guillermo del Toro you might as well use it. It’s source material, you know.
What did you respond most strongly to in the new movie?
I think what I really responded to personally was the younger members of the cast. I like that, I like the energy that they bring, I like the sort of irreverence. It has a bit more humor to it, a bit more lightness with those younger characters. I like that.
Was it easy to get back into the rhythm with Charlie again, even though the relationship is a bit different in this film?
Charlie’s the consummate professional. You know, he’s been doing (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) for 10, 11 seasons now, something like that. They rattle through the days. And I think one of the reasons it keeps fluid and light all the time is because they try different things and Charlie has a sort of lightness which is fun to work with. It always feels sort of live, you know, which is great.
How was this set different from the first one in any ways?
My stuff from this film is pretty similar to the first one because I mainly do interiors, I don’t go outside. I barely did any green screen, apart from when I arrive in a helicopter or something like that. But I certainly never get to see the monsters, the kaiju or the mech. So actually it was extremely similar. It’s quite nice getting back to the lab. There was less half-eaten burgers around the set this time. It’s cleaned up a bit, but yeah it was good.
You’ve done movies, TV, theater, and you’re a musician. What are some of the goals in this field that you’re still looking to meet?
Well, I’m always grateful for the work. There are so many actors who don’t work. Most of our profession at one time have been out of work. So I always try and be grateful. So I suppose that I’ve been lucky that I’ve got a face like this because, you know, I get interesting characters-slash-jerks. But quite honestly, I would very much like to do a bit more theater. I haven’t done it for a few years. I’ve been doing some interesting sort of indie films this year, and anything that gives me a bit of a challenge to be honest is good. But that’s the great thing about the business. One day you’re out of work and then the next day you could be doing something in China or Australia.
Most people would call you a character actor, and there are advantages to being a character actor.
I totally agree. I sometimes feel sorry for, shall we say, more sort of archetypal leading men because they get boxed in and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have less range at all. But yeah, I’ve been very lucky in my career to play mainly ne’er-do-wells and compromised characters, shall we say.
What else will we see you in after this comes out?
I have been doing another period drama about Jamestown, you know, about the original colony in the States. I did a series for a while about the American Revolution. I’m extremely interested in American history. I was born in Los Angeles, but raised in London. And I love doing historical things, which interest me. But at the moment I’m trying to do more films. I just started something called Undergods in Serbia, which is a very dark, almost like Holy Motors-type dystopian story, you know. But that’s what I’m sort of looking to do really, is just to do interesting stories.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is out in theaters today.