On the spot

Brian d'Arcy James on clothing, Catholicism and Spotlight

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Something Rotten! and Spotlight star Brian d'Arcy James
Something Rotten! and Spotlight star Brian d'Arcy James Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At the Spotlight dinner, hosted by Christian Borle, Laura Linney, Kelli O’Hara and Bobby Cannavale, Brian d'Arcy James and I started out with clothes talk - what Alexander Payne's remarkable, long-time costume designer Wendy Chuck did for George Clooney in The Descendants and for everybody on the Spotlight team at The Boston Globe; Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and d'Arcy James himself.

In a newsroom filled with reporters who were raised Catholic and are now in varying stages of commitment to their faith, the new executive editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who is Jewish and not part of the fabric of Boston society, wants to reinvestigate the allegations of child abuse against the Catholic Church.

Brian d'Arcy James as Matt Carroll
Brian d'Arcy James as Matt Carroll

Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) and Matt Carroll (d'Arcy James) go door-to-door searching for victims who will come forward, while Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo) literally runs and runs in order to keep up with the rapidly changing findings he uncovers. The toll the investigation takes on their private lives begins to mount up. To expose a powerful, entrenched system becomes an all consuming task on the journalists. When Baron has his mandatory meeting with Cardinal Law (Len Cariou), he learns a few things about what is expected of him and is given a package, gift wrapped in gold paper with a wine-red ribbon.

Spotlight was honored with the Robert Altman Award for best ensemble from the Independent Spirit Awards. Moving from the outside in, Brian d'Arcy James told me about his research, identifying as a Catholic, the impact of the story after 9/11 and how the outcome affected his personal faith.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Great performance. How much did Wendy Chuck help to get into character?

Brian d'Arcy James: Wendy Chuck deserves all the accolades she has been receiving, whether people know it or not. She really captured something about the kind of non-sexy work uniform of these journalists. We joked a lot about our pleated khakis. It's amazing that people have taken note of that because it's a pretty remarkable thing to do something that is muted and unremarkable in a way. But I think that's the genius of her work.

AKT: She is the expert of finding nuances in these khaki pants. I spoke with Wendy about it in connection with George Clooney and high waisted pleats in The Descendants.

Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d'Arcy James of the Spotlight team
Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d'Arcy James of the Spotlight team

BdAJ: Oh, is that right?

AKT: Was there anything specific for your character that you did discuss with her?

BdAJ: Based on my research, having worked with Matt Carroll, he at one point said, that he would go out to rummage sales trying to find the ugliest ties he could - to wear to work. He would get a lot of razzing from his cohorts about how his ties and his sweaters were pretty off the charts.

AKT: He did that on purpose?

BdAJ: I think there was probably some fun he had in that. Matt wasn't too concerned about making a sartorial statement at work. He was more interested in sitting down and getting to work.

AKT: Do you remember when the story broke? It was soon after 9/11 so it might be blurry in people's memory.

BdAJ: I do remember. I'm a Catholic, so I was very interested in seeing what this story was all about and how it was playing out. I didn't realise the full scope of it. Doing this movie and researching the role and the story gave me obviously a lot of detail about the breadth and the scope of it, which I wasn't aware of.

I knew that there was a big problem in the Archdiocese, enough that would cause Cardinal Law to step down. Which was the big headline - that was the one I grabbed onto along with everybody else in the world. Again, the breadth, the scope and the cover-up of it was something that was a revelation to me.

AKT: On a personal note, you say you're a Catholic, did the revelations change something about your belief?

Spotlight US poster
Spotlight US poster

BdAJ: I think everyone who lives a life of faith, who puts their faith in … however they hitch that to their wagon, whatever that is - there's always going to be stumbles and problems in terms of dealing with the institution of practicing one's faith. So, yes, this was an unbelievable thing to try to reconcile with the pursuit of one's faith. I think the church is dealing with it, as best they can.

I think they can probably do better by being more proactive by letting people know what it is they are doing. And maybe pushing it into the realm of accountability and letting us know that the men that abused children in a Catholic church will be held accountable and put into jail for the crimes they committed. All of those things on one side are almost unfathomable to understand. On the other hand, there is my own desire to continue my faith and try to figure out how to reconcile what the institution has to offer and what I gain from my own spiritual endeavors.

Brian d'Arcy James stars on Broadway in Something Rotten! with Christian Borle as Shakespeare, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw at the St. James Theatre.

Read what Spotlight screenwriter Josh Singer and Bobby Cannavale told me at Circo.

Coming up, director Tom McCarthy in the spotlight.

Spotlight is in theaters in the US and will open in the UK on January 29, 2016.

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