John Turturro: “At 50, I almost stopped everything to go to medicine!”

The elusive New York actor changes his costume again for Severance, on Apple, TV+ and slips into the skin of an ordinary office worker… Encounter.

Just as capable of having fun with the Coen Brothers in O’Brother than to fight alongside transformersor playing the Nazis for David Simon in The Plot Against Americathe elusive John Turturro changes his costume again to slip into the skin of an ordinary office worker in Severance. An incredible Apple TV + series, directed by Ben Stiller (to be seen tomorrow on the streaming platform), which tells of a society in which employees voluntarily agree to have their brains crushed, in order to concretely separate their private life from their professional life. A cold and fascinating satire of the “corporate world”, which the 64-year-old actor has never really known, even if he admits to us that he wanted to stop his acting career, to feel more useful. ..

Where does that little mustache come from that you wear in Severance ? It’s the same one as Carmine Falcone in The Batmanno ?
John Turturro: Yes, it’s true, I grew it for The Batman at the beginning. But in the Matt Reeves movie, I also wear big black glasses and I have lots of scars and all that… Thinking about it, I thought that wouldn’t be a problem and that mustache would also go very good for Severance. Because my character displays this kind of formality. It worked. Ben Stiller was not very warm at the start. But I insisted.

The BatmanJohn Turturro
Warner Bros.

You have this ability to change your look from one film to another. Is it one of your great pleasures as an actor?

It’s clear ! When I did the series The Name of the Rose, I had my head completely shaved and this enormous beard. The physique is an important part of a role. It was Lawrence Olivier who said that it starts from the outside and then it comes inside… You know what I mean? The smallest detail can help you leave your reality to enter a character. It could be an accent. A way to stand. A way to sit. Little things from which the actor’s creativity develops. That’s what Marlon Brando did. Or Lawrence Olivier. Or Daniel Day Lewis. Or Michel Simon in France. They were able to play very different characters. Playing like that brings joy, because it brings us back to the 5-year-old kid we were. We put on a mask, we put paint on our face and we think we’re someone else. When you’re little, you easily believe in it. The hardest part is maintaining that credulity when you’re a professional actor.

Would you like to undergo, too, a “Severance”, as in the series?

No, I will not accept an operation on my brain like that! Now, I believe that it is really essential to separate the professional from the personal. Because it can quickly become invasive. You don’t have to get overwhelmed. When you’re sitting with your family and your thoughts start drifting to the worries of work… Everyone knows that. The journey between work and home often allows you to put your head back in place. Except that with COVID and telework, it doesn’t work anymore.

You started acting while studying dramatic arts at Yale. You were at Scorsese before you were 30. You have always been an actor in fact! Could you have done anything else? Have an office job as your character in Severance ?

When I turned fifty, a few years ago now (he’s 64, editor’s note), I went to see my doctor. I told him that I wanted to go back to school. I had the idea of ​​stopping to go to medical school! So he explained to me how long it was to study. And that even though I was good at science… (laughs) But I had this feeling that I had to do something else. Something more useful for people, with more meaning than acting… And then this doctor explained to me that in fact, it was a job that also had an impact on the lives of others . That we helped them get better when they were depressed and all that… He gave me quite a speech. Anyway, I would have finished my studies at retirement age so it made no sense…

But were you really ready to turn the page?

I was very serious you know! I think everyone goes through this phase. Sometimes we find that what we are doing is vain or stupid. With all these award ceremonies… Honestly, do teachers get any awards? Is there an Oscar for Best Teacher? No ! And yet, a teacher turns a life upside down. It can leave a lasting mark on you. Sometimes I feel like my job is a circus. That’s why I also go to theater from time to time. Because there, we face a real professional challenge! You have to understand difficult texts. I did Chekhov, Beckett, Shakespeare… Sometimes I need to do that, to go beyond myself.


Since The Night Of, we see you more and more often on TV. Is that where you can play great roles now?

The thing is, there aren’t a lot of serious movies being made in Hollywood these days. In France, you still do a lot of it. But here, two-hour films with magnificent roles, there are not many of them. It’s on TV that I was able to do strong things like The Night Of Where The Plot Against America. It was really great to play. I believe that there is still room in the cinema to make a 90-minute feature film… Unfortunately, no one makes any more. All the movies are really too long. Even the good ones. And to be honest, the films that have been attracting me lately are not made in America. My favorite last year was Julie (in 12 chapters), which is a Norwegian film. Or A hero, by Asghar Farhadi. So I watch a lot of old movies at home (laughs).

But you accepted a role in The Batmanmarking your debut in a comic book role?

This version is more an adaptation of the old Detective Comics in fact. It has a real film noir quality that I love. That’s how I saw this role. I’m more of an old Batman fan, but this vision Year One;, written by Frank Miller, really suits me.

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