by Julie Gorski
photography by Baldomero Fernandez
Michael Stuhlbarg is one of those character actors you read about – the kind who only read books related to characters they are playing and who put or lose 25 or 50 pounds for a role. He’s completely dedicated to his craft, and it has paid off; he’s currently playing the lead in the Coen Brothers’ newest black comedy, A Serious Man. A Juilliard-trained actor, his talent and his dedication to his craft have helped him build an impressive resume of roles in film, on Broadway, and in television.
We speak on the last day of the A Serious Man press junket. After, he is headed back home to New York before shooting resumes for Boardwalk Empire, Martin Scorcese’s new HBO drama. He is a long way from his childhood in Long Beach, California, and early college years at UCLA. He attended a reform Jewish synagogue and as a child began acting in community theatre and high school; he continued to act at UCLA because, as he casually puts it, it was his “favorite thing to do.”
He had been at UCLA for two years when a roommate mentioned he was auditioning for Juilliard. Stuhlbarg auditioned and was accepted; upon graduating, he immediately began acting in plays, playing roles he dreamed of, including Hamlet and Richard II, he has been nominated for a Tony Award for his role in the play The Pillowman. He has also acted in several movies, including Body of Lies, Afterschool, and Cold Souls and has appeared in Damages, Ugly Betty, and Law and Order on television; this is quite an abbreviated list of parts he has played.
When asked how it feels to be chosen for so many parts, Stuhlbarg responds “Well, I don’t know… its one of those things where we all do the best we can with the circumstances that we have in our lives and I have been very fortunate. I’ve been working very hard since I got out of school and I’ve had a lot of great opportunities and I’ve just tried to make the most of it.” He is not a braggart and is also very reserved about his life outside of acting. Throughout the interview he stays away from making more than one-sentence statements about his personal life: “I have a girlfriend,” or his opinion on the job the president is doing: “I’d like to believe he’s doing the best he can. I support him in his journey to do that.”
One thing he is passionate about and loves to speak of is his work with the 52nd Street Project, a local kid’s acting group that allows children to work with professional actors and directors. “The kids write the plays and they get professionals to act and direct them, it’s so much fun and it really sort of opens kids eyes to the possibility of learning about the theatre and about acting.”
He works hard at acting, but he also tries to have fun with it: “Part of my initial joy of doing this for a living is the fun of doing it. And I try to keep track of that and try not to lose that fun, because it can become a very dark and serious business rather quickly. So, when I get a chance, I try to have as much fun as I can.”