Pop-Culturalist Chats with Amitai Marmorstein
Amitai Marmorstein has been involved in tons of projects that have dedicated fans. From Supernatural and Power Rangers to Wayward Pines and The Magicians, his supporting performances are ones that you take notice of.
Currently, he can be seen on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and in the upcoming comedy Killing Gunther so we were excited to chat with him about both experiences and how he approaches the variety of characters he brings to life.
P-C: What drew you to acting?
Amitai: My mom would play improv games with us when we were kids—it was a family game night activity sort of thing—and then I did school plays. It felt very [much like] I didn’t have any other thing that I was into in the same way. I wanted to be a professional basketball player, but that obviously wasn’t going to pan out very early on. So, when I applied for theater school after high school, I remember someone saying, “Do you have any back up plans?” [and then thinking] “Oh. No! Should I? Crap!” Luckily it’s worked out ok so far.
P-C: Since you have a theater background, do you have a preference for stage or screen, or do you have something in one medium that you like better than the other?
Amitai: If my theater professors ever heard me say this they would say it as sacrilege, but I kind of enjoy film and television more. I like the ability to play with subtlety and nuance. Not that you can’t do that in theater, but there’s just limitations to what you can do when you have to show 500 people or 1000 people, depending on the size of the theater. I will say, the big thing is whenever you say something funny in theater, you get a laugh. And that feels great. Sometimes you’re in the middle of a scene on film and you’re like, “I don’t know if that was funny. I thought it was really funny.” because you didn’t hear anyone laugh. But, of course, no one laughed because it would ruin the take. It’s a catch-22 in a way.
P-C: Currently, you have a role on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. How familiar were you with it when you were cast? Had you seen season 1?
Amitai: I have to admit I did watch it once I was cast. I watced the first episode when I auditioned so I could get a feel of the world of the show. It had definitely been on my Netflix list for a while; I had been excited for the show, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Getting cast was a really good incentive to finally get me to watch it. It’s a great show. Anytime I’ve been cast by a show and had to watch some of it…you know, sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s not one I would otherwise watch. I feel lucky because Dirk Gently is a really enjoyable show.
P-C: Can you tell us a little bit about your character?
Amitai: The way we left [the show] in season 1 [is that] Hugo Friedkin—who is played by Dustin Milligan very hilariously in my humble opinion—has taken over Blackwing which is the nefarious government agency that all the Holistic people, like Dirk Gently and Bart the crazy assassin, are connected to. You learn more about their backstories in the second season. I play a Lieutenant Assistant Blackwing officer, mid-to-low level. I have to deal with a lot of Friedkin’s gross incompetence without pissing him off and while trying not to take too much brunt from him.
P-C: It’s such a wacky, fantastical show. How is that—being on set and a part of that? How did you create your relationship with Dustin Milligan?
Amitai: One of the cool things, actually, [is that] I had worked with Dustin before. We worked on an indie movie called Primary. So we already knew each other. That was a pretty easy bond to pick up which was great. Most of my scenes this season are with him, and he’s honestly just one of the most fun actors to work with. He’s super present and generous. In terms of working in the environment of it all…Max Landis is just like an endless well of creativity. Every new script would be a crazy new adventure, and that type of energy would carry over onto set. I personally had a fantastic experience.
P-C: If you had a Dirk Gently/Holistic-type power, what would your preferred power be?
Amitai: I would really love it if every time I went to go catch a bus or train, it showed up just as I was getting there. I feel like that would be a really good holistic power. Green lights all the way. I really hate commuting anyway so anything that cuts down on transit time!
P-C: You have worked on Wayward Pines and The Magicians in the past. Along with Dirk Gently, those are all in the sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal realm. Do you find working on a genre show is different from working on a straight forward drama or comedy?
Amitai: The thing with Dirk Gently…it’s not a drama, it’s not a comedy. It doesn’t fall into any category. It’s not full sci-fi. It’s a million different things. So, I think I’ve always approached these characters with a similar tack. If the lines that I am supposed to read have jokes in them, I try and say them as funny as I can. Then, if they have exposition or story that I need to get through, then I say them as clear as I can or as interesting as I can. I think that in terms of playing to specific genres, I mean, maybe that’s something I should be doing, but I play it from a place of what I feel like is true or what is true to the character.
P-C: Another project of yours coming up is Killing Gunther. That one is a mockumentary-style film. Was there a lot of improvisation?
Amitai: There was lots of improv. In the audition, we were encouraged to improvise. Taran Killam, who wrote, directed, starred in it—it’s his baby—was great with that type of thing. We would do a couple clean takes, and then he would always throw in a take at the end [that was like] “Just go wild with it.” I mean, I’m an ok improviser, but I was working with some SNL superstars. They were so good and would come up with really funny things so that most of the stuff I ended up doing was trying to keep a straight face to react to the crazy stuff they would come up with which was hilarious.
P-C: Was that your biggest challenge for that film?
Amitai: There’s that and the other side of it: mockumentary style—I love the genre, and I think it’s such a cool way to integrate the audience and camera into the storytelling—also requires it to be all that much more real. The whole idea is that you are trying to suspend the audiences’s disbelief. This is a documentary and it’s all actually happening. In that same way, the acting has to be as natural as it can possibly be. You can’t overplay anything; you can’t make the jokes too broad and too big. You have to find as much subtly as you can even when it’s a comedy because otherwise it comes off as clearly not a documentary.
P-C: Do you have dream collaborators that you’d love to work with?
Amitai: I’ve always been a big Darren Aronofsky fan. I love the way that he works. There’s a dream of mine that I get to work with the people I was obsessed with growing up like Al Pacino. But, I think I’ve learned with this business to not make your goals too specific. It should be like, “I get to work with people I respect” rather than, “I get to work with this specific person.” You never know when that role comes along with this person that you’re a big fan of, but [then] you don’t get it. It can feel like a real crushing blow. So, I’ve tried to generalize my goals a little bit.
P-C: Who would you say are your biggest influences?
Amitai: A lot of the time when I think about actors that influence me or inspire me, they’re not very similar to myself. They don’t play the types of parts I play. There was a kick I went on where I watched every single Christian Bale movie that I could find. You know, there’s the Batman movies, but there’s also The Machinist and the Todd Haynes’ movies [I’m Not There. and Velvet Goldmine]. I get caught up in these actors. I love all the ways [Christian Bale] would come into different characters. But I don’t really see that much of him in my performances. Adam Driver is another one I find very fascinating to watch. His process just seems so otherworldly to me. His instincts are so original.
P-C: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten that has been helpful to you?
Amitai: The thing that I think has helped me the most—and I don’t remember specifically when I got this advice, but I was definitely told it maybe not in so many words—was basically to keep a level head. You’re going ot have successes and failures and neither of those things define you. You can’t let the highs get you too high, and you can’t let the lows get you too low. It’s just going to swing like a pendulum your whole career.
Pop-Culturalist Speed Round
Guilty Pleasure TV Show
That’s a huge question, but Stand by Me is up there. Also, Y tu mamá también.
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegaut
Favorite Play or Musical
I’m a big Angels in America fan.
Artist You Could Play on Repeat
Chance the Rapper
I’m pretty good at puzzles.
3 Things You’d Want on a Desert Island
My phone, a really big battery pack for my phone, and a book that I haven’t read yet, like Infinite Jest…something that is really long.
5 People, alive or dead, You’d Invite to a Dinner Party
Jon Stewart, Charlie Chaplin for all the bits he would do with the food, like the potatoes. Jenny Slate…I’m watching Big Mouth where she does one of the voices, and she’s so funny. Ta-Nehisi Coates, to keep us talking about real things. And…my favorite comic book writer Brian K. Vaughn.
Photo Credit: Kristine Cofsky