Dean Norris shot to fame as Walter’s brother-in-law Hank in Breaking Bad. Now he’s taking the big screen by storm in the hard-hitting new psychological Nazi revenge drama Remember.
The movie tells the story of two former Auschwitz survivors in a nursing home, played by legendary actors Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau, who hatch a plot of vengeance against a Nazi guard who had their families murdered during World War Two.
Plummer sets off alone on a journey across the US and into Canada to find him and meets a man at a remote farmhouse whom he believes is the guard’s son John Kurlander.
We caught up with Dean, who plays John, at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Monsters & Critics: How did you get involved in working with director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter/Chloe)?
Dean Norris: I met Atom in Rome a year prior to doing the movie and we had dinner and had a great time. I had always admired him and his movies. He’s one of those guys you want to work with.
And a year later I got a phone call ‘and by the way Christopher Plummer is in it’. What I get to do with Christopher Plummer is insane. It couldn’t have been better.
The film includes very high-intensity moments between you and Plummer. What was it like working with him?
DN: We spent eight days shooting the set-up stuff and then took one day to do the insanity at the end.
It was weird, when I first arrived at the set I was nervous to meet him, but he’s so nice and such a gentleman and so sweet and that made me so comfortable.
When you’re getting ready to do those scenes how do you consistently raise the pitch?
DN: We tried to find the humanity of my character. He’s sad, broken, divorced and I love the fact that Atom made his place really dirty. It was just dirty and he doesn’t care. It suggests alcoholism, and he was an alcoholic.
You had to get to the emotion. The few times in your life you see red, you forget. So you have to get to that point, then turn the camera on. We tried to get as close as we could. Christopher was right there in the moment and, like temporary insanity, you go to this place. But as soon as it ended, its “snap”.
Christopher’s so funny and I have a great shot of him laughing. But then it’s time to do it again and suddenly he’s [back in character].
I was in a home once and noticed Nazi memorabilia. Reading the script, table reads, seeing the props, when did seeing all the memorabilia hit you hardest?
DN: Seeing the props and the Nazi uniform – wow. When you first see the Nazi uniform…it was the power that struck me. It could have been on someone, and that imagery has so much power to it. When I picked it up, it up was like ‘wow’.
Was your character’s dog as vicious as he seemed?
DN: No, he was a sweetheart. We used sound effects. The dog was cool. Thank God, because it’s a scary looking dog.
You play a horrible person. How did you find something to hold on to?
DN: I found it in the words in the script. It’s not for me to judge the character; if you do you’re screwed. I just needed to find whatever humanity there was in him – and there was some.
He made me cry. This father figure, Plummer, ends up at his door, and he took him in so easily. He’s just alone all the time, and here comes this frail old guy who reminds him of his dad. Maybe it was the best thing that happened to him that month or that year.
He showed up and started talking about things he can’t talk about to anyone else. He’s like “Dad!”. He was happy to be sharing his thoughts. They’re crazy and weird but from an acting point of view, its good. The twist comes later.
It’s good to do sleight of hand. People think they know who you are and you get to throw out something different.
How did Breaking Bad change things for you?
DN: It changed things for everybody on that show. I went from a regular actor to someone who can pick and choose more stuff and have the opportunity to work with Christopher and Atom and that’s the obvious way it changed.
But when you start out as an actor, I always wanted to be in films students would see in art houses, 20 or 30 years after they’re made, as I did. And I want to look back and see I was part of something great. And turns out Breaking Bad is going to be that.
There are going to be college kids who couldn’t see it for good reason at fourteen years old and they can see it later and go ‘wow!’. It’s nice to have that in your back pocket.
Remember opens in Canada on October 23 and in the US on January 15.