411mania Interviews: David Costabile (Suits)
David Costabile is one of TV’s busiest and best character actors, with high profile stints on Breaking Bad, The Wire, Damages, and Flight of the Conchords along with guest spots on The Good Wife, The Office, House, Elementary, and Franklin & Bash. He can currently be seen on the big screen in the Oscar nominated film Lincoln. Tonight he resumes his current run on USA’s hit legal drama Suits.
Al Norton: How do you feel about the term “character actor”?
David Costabile: I think it’s great, actually. It’s certainly what I am. I got my masters degree in acting at NYU and then taught there, and one of the things they tell you there is that most great actors are character actors. You’re transforming yourself into something that someone else has written, at least in the best case scenario, and when it’s written well you have to go and become a well defined and interesting character. I certainly aspire to be that; I would not want to be anything other than that.
Al Norton: When people see you out and about, are there specific roles they know you for or do they just give you that, “I know you” look?
David Costabile: It depends on where you are. I live in Brooklyn and I get noticed here more for Breaking Bad and Flight of the Conchords. If I am walking around in Manhattan I get noticed more for Suits, or maybe Lincoln. It sort of depends on the demographic; if I am going through an airport, everybody who works for the TSA is a Suits fan. If you’re on Suits, you’re guaranteed to get recognized in an airport.
Al Norton: I wrote last week that Suits is the most popular show that isn’t fully mainstream yet.
David Costabile: I’ve never seen a more diverse fan base on any show I’ve ever been in. It’s incredible. All different kinds of people; all the different races and classes and walks of life. Everybody seems to love Suits.
Al Norton: When you got the Suits script, what drew you to Daniel?
David Costabile: I liked how mercurial he could be and how you don’t really know where he stands. Do you believe him? Is he telling the truth? Is he not telling the truth? And because who he was is so powerful to the people who worked with him when he was that person, that you can as you go draw from all sorts of streams we’ve never seen before. You know he was a nasty bastard so you can be a nasty bastard at some point if that strikes you. The writing really supports that, too; I think there’s something really fun about how they never box him in to being just a bad guy.
Al Norton: Being able to work in an environment where everybody already knows each other and has had time to gel is obviously a skill set you have but how hard is it for you?
David Costabile: It’s a challenge, for sure, but it’s certainly a fun one. On many of the shows where that’s happened, almost to a person the actors are such generous folks that they are willing to include you in trying to figure out your job and their job, and they are as interested in meeting you as you are them.
If you pay attention and listen, because those people are doing their jobs so well, it makes it easier for you to find where you fit. As long as you don’t come with a preconceived notion about how you are going to, when you are there you can just sort of find where you fit in the jigsaw puzzle. That was certainly true of Breaking Bad and it was true of Suits, too.
Al Norton: I know you were a big Breaking Bad fan when you got the part…
David Costabile:…Yes, very much so…
Al Norton:…What’s it like to be on the set and be a fan, “oh, this is where Walter cooked” and “this is where he and Jesse had that huge fight”?
David Costabile: It was terrible (laughing) because I had to distract myself and trick myself to into thinking I was a pro who could do my job with a cool exterior, and I held it together for about 20 minutes before I totally geeked out on Bryan Cranston. I think I scared him that first day. I was totally enthralled by his acting and kept bringing up different scenes to him and he kind of looked at me like, “how did they let you in the door?” It all sort of worked out after that.
Al Norton: Are you ok knowing your singing will live on forever on YouTube?
David Costabile: (Laughing) The first tune that I sang, the Italian song, I very much enjoy. The second tune, the karaoke video, was more of a challenge for me. I’ve sung in the past, done some musicals, but that song was outside of my wheel house, let’s just say that.
Al Norton: Individually, working with Steven Spielberg or being part of a cast as talented as Lincoln would be an actor’s dream come true; what’s it like when it happens together?
David Costabile: That’s a great question because by the second day I kind of felt like I had had enough, like it was too much to take in and I wanted someone else to share in how great it was. It really was like a dream come true, a dream you never really imagined you could have, too. To be working that closely with Daniel (Day Lewis) and to have Steven be as mindbogglingly kind as he is. You’d assume someone of his stature would have 10,000 things going on but he is so attentive and kind and present when you need him.
Also, I had worked with Tony Kushner in the past and am a huge admirer of his and to be able to say his words, to be directed by Spielberg, to be working next to Daniel Day Lewis…even as I say it I don’t believe it. I wonder who that happened to (laughing). It really was a once in lifetime, you can’t believe the riches you’ve been given experience. It was awesome.
Al Norton: You’ve worked with Daniel Day Lewis and seen his talents up close; if he got a hold of a good comedy script do you think he’d knock it out of the park the same way he does everything else?
David Costabile: Yes. I mean, the guy is almost super human. He’s incredible at his job. You talk about a character actor, that’s him; you watch him transform into that character. I can only imagine in a comedy he would be just as good. I think Jerry Lewis said, “comedy is a man in pain” and if anybody can do that, it’s Daniel (laughing).
Al Norton: Do you ever stop to think that you were a part of two TV shows that will be remembered as not only two of the best of the last 20 years but likely of all time?
David Costabile: It’s interesting because both of them just sort of happened, I do sort of wonder at it. Lots of people ask me questions about how I choose only such great projects and I think, “how do I choose? Are you kidding? It’s how do I get so lucky to get chosen to do these incredible pieces.”
I think the audiences respond to really great writing – I know I do – and I happen to have been lucky enough to be have been the recipient of some incredibly high quality writing.
Al Norton: What can you tell me about Low Winter Sun (Costabile’s new AMC series that is currently filming its first season)?
David Costabile: It’s cool. Detroit has a feel like it’s a busted city but you can tell it was something extraordinary at one time and wants very much to be so again, and what’s great about the show is that it reflects that and makes the city very much a living, breathing part of the show. And the characters are very much like the city; busted, trying to come back, and perhaps not making the best decisions of their lives in their quest to do so. At the end of the first episode I think you’ll find yourself thinking, “oh yeah, I can’t wait to see what happens now.”
Al Norton: If you could control the casting universe and appear on any show on TV, what show would you choose?
David Costabile: I’d love to do Modern Family because what I came up doing was mostly comedy and that’s my natural thing even though I mostly get cast in dramas now. I would love to do that show because the writing is very smart and funny. You know what I’d love to do? Wield a sword on Game of Thrones!
Al Norton: Can you preview your Suits return for me?
David Costabile: I can tell you it will be fun and that I certainly turn the temperature up, which is very exciting. I get myself into all sorts of shenanigans. I can tell you Donna slaps me.
Al Norton: Nice. How many takes?
David Costabile: We did a bunch (laughing) and Sarah (Rafferty) was excellent at it. Frankly, it was somewhat well deserved. I don’t think it will fail to disappoint.
Don’t miss Suits, tonight at 10pm on USA