In a different light

Spotlight's Neal Huff on Wes Anderson, Hitchcock/Truffaut, Kimberly Levin and more.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Tilda Swinton and Neal Huff in Moonrise Kingdom
Tilda Swinton and Neal Huff in Moonrise Kingdom

Neal Huff, who plays Phil Saviano in Tom McCarthy's Spotlight, co-written by Josh Singer, discussed working with Wes Anderson on The Grand Budapest Hotel with Mathieu Amalric's sister's head, over breakfast at Cafe Orlin. We talked about Moonrise Kingdom with a thread of Bob Balaban to Kent Jones' documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut, which screens at this year's Glasgow Film Festival. Plus a family connection to Kimberly Levin's Runoff and an encounter with Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Let's start with Wes Anderson. You said you were in Berlin while filming The Grand Budapest Hotel?

Neal Huff, Reese Schonfeld, Kimberly Levin, Philippe de Montebello on Runoff
Neal Huff, Reese Schonfeld, Kimberly Levin, Philippe de Montebello on Runoff Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Neal Huff: I was in Görlitz. We filmed The Grand Budapest Hotel there, which is about two and a half hours south of Berlin and two and a half hours north of Prague. Even though I had a small role in the film, I had a bit of time in between filming.

AKT: What was your role?

NH: Basically, I played Edward Norton's [Henckels'] Lieutenant. There's a really fun scene where he is presented with a head which is the one of the sister of the man [Serge X.] played by Mathieu Amalric. His sister [Giselda Volodi] is beheaded and I present the head … It was nice, because I had a little bit of time to go up to Berlin. I was just utterly in love with the city.

AKT: Did you have any scenes with Mathieu?

NH: No, just his sister's head.

AKT: You had worked with Wes Anderson before on Moonrise Kingdom, no?

NH: Yes. I was the pilot [Jed]. I bring Tilda Swinton [Social Services]. I fly her in during the storm and then fly out that injured kid who had been stabbed. Jed was kind of the bush pilot of the area, delivering mail and stuff like that.

Neal Huff as Frank in Runoff
Neal Huff as Frank in Runoff

AKT: Last year, I did the introduction to Fantastic Mr. Fox at the French Institute Alliance Française - the French version where Mathieu Amalric voices the George Clooney part and Isabelle Huppert that of Meryl Streep.

NH: Oh, wow! I really want to see that version.

AKT: It's great. To link it all together - that same day I was at a lunch for David O Russell's Joy where I spoke to Bob Balaban, who was your narrator in Moonrise Kingdom.

NH: Bob and I have known each other for a few years. I've been directed by him in two different TV jobs. I've worked with him twice in episodic things. I adore him.

AKT: He is a great narrator. Have you seen Hitchcock/Truffaut, Kent Jones' documentary?

NH: Yeah. I loved it. I wasn't that familiar with the book. I had the book, so I dug it out of the bookshelf. My wife and I are on a huge kind of Hitchcock kick right now. I wish the film was twice as long.

AKT: It's great to hear all these filmmakers talk about the book.

NH: [David] Fincher was incredible - as well as Wes. And Bob's narration. I was floored by that.

Neal Huff: "Kim Levin is just an extraordinary, eloquent filmmaker."
Neal Huff: "Kim Levin is just an extraordinary, eloquent filmmaker." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Do you have a favorite Hitchcock movie?

NH: Strangers On A Train, I think is my favourite. My wife and I watch The Birds all the time. I don't know why.

AKT: What does that mean, "all the time?" Once a week? Once every three months?

NH: Yeah, once every three months, that's about right. We were driving the other day in Yonkers and we've never seen anything like this.

Neal shows me on his phone a lot of birds congregating on a suburban road.

AKT: They are waiting for you.

NH: They hit the car! Here was this flock of birds, it felt vaguely apocalyptic.

AKT: Nature reacting. You were also in Runoff.

NH: You saw Runoff?

AKT: Yes, I was at the screening with Phillipe de Montebello. Robert Kennedy Jr. was supposed to come and then cancelled last minute. There is a strong message, as there is in Spotlight.

NH: Thank you. It's been a nice year. Runoff - I'm so proud of that film. Kim Levin is just an extraordinary, eloquent filmmaker. My mother is from there, where we shot in Kentucky. My father's side of the family goes way way back in Iowa and my great grandfather was like the mayor of Sioux City, Iowa for one term, way back when, in the first part of the 20th century. I've heard he was kind of a thug.

AKT: Tell Quentin Tarantino - The Hateful Ancestor.

NH: Exactly. It was kind of a stockade, beef town. You know, cattle and processing meat.

AKT: Are you a vegetarian?

NH: No. He was a veterinarian as well and he was instrumental in developing this hog cholera vaccine. It was a neat opportunity for me to connect doing Runoff.

Read what Neal Huff had to say about teaming up with Phil Saviano, Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer for his role in Spotlight.

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