by Moonah Ellison & Chesley Turner
photographer: Leslie Hassler
Tall, strong-chinned, and dreamy-eyed, Corey Stoll is like the deluxe version of the American everyman, with the kind of expression that always looks like he’s got a delicious secret to tell.
And yet when Moves caught up with him, he was open, honest, and unassuming. No secrets. Just Corey.
With a steady stream of work over the past years – you may recognize him from Season One of Netflix’s House of Cards, or from the viral hit The Strain, currently on FX – Stoll keeps broadening his horizons and cultivating the craft. His characters run the gamut, but seem to have one thing in common: full immersion.
“I love becoming absorbed in a character, being able to create a meeting in which I can really dive in and fully commit. A lot of times, that’s on screen, but a lot of times, the mechanics of filming can get in the way of that. … There’s something about the theater where you are that role for the duration of the play, and there’s a satisfaction you get out of that.”
It’s been five years since Stoll’s been on stage, and he’s longing for the chance to hit the boards again, “but then, I’m sure if I went five years only doing theatre, I would be dying to [get back on screen.]” It’s the New York actor’s conundrum – build your artistry anywhere you can, and get a paycheck any chance you get.
Not one to struggle with a search for his life’s calling, Stoll has had the actor’s itch in his bones for a long time. “I didn’t always see it. I remember in 5th grade, my teacher wanting me to be an actor. I was actually offended by that; I thought actors were show-offs. I wanted to be a stage manager, I thought that was a more honorable path. But she convinced me, and I did it, and I got laughs, and since then, I’ve kind of been hooked.” Stoll grew up in New York City, and attended a high school for performing arts. By the time he was a freshman, his path was set. “Somebody asked me if I wanted to be an actor. And I remember – I don’t know where I got this sort of striding attitude – but I said, ‘I am an actor.’ And I never really doubted that.”
The variety of roles that Stoll has tackled has also put him in the orbit of some impressive industry talents. House of Cards, of course, had him facing off with the inimitable (but often imitating) Kevin Spacey. “He has a control over his instrument that is very theatrical. Whereas a lot of what was amazing about Brando was this sense of…even thought he had training and theatrical experience, it was this sense that it was completely unconscious. But what’s so perfect about Kevin in the role of Frances is that you never stop seeing the gears turning. You know, he’s such an intelligent actor. He has a looseness and a sense of humor and a sense of play on a set that’s just really…it’s inspiring.”
The role of Representative Peter Russo was an opportunity for Stoll to truly immerse himself. “From the beginning, I knew what the whole arc was. It felt more like a film in that there was a beginning and middle and end, so there was no need to pull any punches because I had very limited time to create this person.”
Similarly, Stoll’s first interaction with Woody Allen, for Midnight in Paris gave him the opportunity to bring a fully-real character to life, while working with an iconic director. “It was a real dream job. It was sort of a platonic job that other jobs live up to, you know, just being in Paris and having this great script and this…” With a pause, Stoll dives down the rabbit hole of Woody-Allenism.
“There’s a way he directs that has sort of a theatrical quality. There’s energy the actors have to bring because there’s no coverage; we’re out just doing minimal takes. So the actors… there’s this sense of sort of bracing yourself and bringing it, because you know you’re only going to get so many shots at it.”
It was a kismet part, and the unexpected limit on takes made the actors push themselves. “Sometimes the mechanics of filming can become tedious and can be frustrating to get fewer takes than you’d like. There’s a sense of spontaneity and energy to it, which I really love. It can definitely be frustrating, when you’re like, ‘I just want one more,’ and he’s already…he’s not even on set anymore. He just goes and his car is waiting on him and he’s just gone, haha! So, you really have to bring it – which is exciting.”
As a lifelong New Yorker, minus a few years in L.A., Stoll says, “I think I would put myself as a New Yorker first, and American second. It’s just sort of my worldview.” He admits that the nuances of what being a New Yorker means have changed significantly throughout his life. “Certain things have gotten better; certain things have gotten worse; and some has lost its flavor.” But, even while he doesn’t set East Coast and West Coast at odds, he knows where home is. “I don’t feel that my identity is wrapped up in New York or Los Angeles, but I was just happier here. I just found it more interesting…and less lonely.”
As of mid-October, Stoll was expecting a child, “any second now.” So he’s thinking more about the perks a plusses of the New York life. “The one thing I know for certain is that I have no idea what’s about to hit me.” And while he cherished his childhood, the city has changed. “I think it was a really great place to grow up: the diversity, the sense of independence that I had, not having to be chauffeured around in a car, and just all the different things I was exposed to on the streets, and in the museums, and in the theatre.” While he loves the idea of raising his son in that environment, it’s not the same city he grew up and. “And, I have no idea who my son is, or what he will like.” That forethought about his soon-to-be-born child’s opinion can tell you a lot about a guy.
So, with a little one on the way, what does Stoll think about Trump’s bid for the Oval Office?
“Haha! You know, I have so many things I want to say. But I don’t want to give him more than the free press he already has. … I think the joke i extended – the top three Republican candidates in the polls right now are all jokes. But it’s still early.”
Obama was a milestone for American politics, as the first black president, “and it seems to have riled up a lot of the racial anxieties of white folk in the country. And maybe in the end it’s good that a lot of these conversations, a lot of the polls have said that racial animosity has grown since he was elected. But I just think race has become more central to people’s worldview.”
Stoll has a whole cache of films coming out in spring and summer of 2016. The Seagull with Annette Benning and Patricia Ronan promises to be really beautiful, and a new Woody Allen movie will also drop early-to-mid year. Gold, a Matthew McConaughey movie directed by Steven Cagan is due out in summer as well. The Strain is still going strong, too, and Stoll also hints at something else coming to television. Unable to really talk about it, he did say, “…in January, there will be a really fun thing,” which really peaks interest.
Candid and forthright, he has no secrets to tell, no big stories to reveal, no aching confessions to make. “There isn’t one story that I’m dying to tell. I don’t know if it’s lack of imagination on my part, but if somebody asked me, ‘What would be a dream role?’ I don’t think I would’ve come up with playing Ernest Hemingway. But then, when it was presented to me, it was very clear that I had been waiting to play that roll my whole life. So, I’m sure there’s something else out there that’s like that. And when I see it, it’ll be like, ‘Oh! Of course!’”
And when we see you in it, Corey, we’ll probably say the same thing.