PJ Byrne is known best for his scene stealing roles in films like “Final Destination 5”, “Horrible Bosses” and most recently in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street”. He is also the voice of Bolin in Nickelodeon’s hit animated show “The Legend of Korra”. PJ is not only a great actor but also a great personal friend and Media Mikes got to chat with him about about his role in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and his new show on CBS “Intelligence”, which premieres on January 7th.
Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about how you got involved with “The Wolf of Wall Street”?
PJ Byrne: Having gone to Boston College as finance major, this was one of those movies that I had been tracking for a while. I wanted to make sure that I got an audition for this film. Mr. Scorsese wasn’t going to be at the auditions and they would be held in New York not Los Angeles, so I decided to put myself on tape and improvise my own monologue. So I came up with this monologue with me calling up a guy and finding out that he passed away from his wife and I end up selling her like $100,000 dollars’ worth of stock, just to show how manipulative these guys where. Mr. Scorsese saw it, loved it and asked me to come out to New York to audition. So I went there and was freaking out but he is just the coolest guy there is man. He put me at ease, I improvised some more and next thing I know I am in the movie and for the part I wanted, which was even better.
MG: What was it like working a legendary director like Martin Scorsese?
PJB: It was a really special experience. He is this great iconic director that if you are lucky you get to work with as an actor. The thing with these iconic directors is that they are also great communicators. They give you the confidence to go out and do anything you want but at the same time they also prepare you so well during that process. At the end of the day, he realized that he wasn’t in from of the camera we were and he just let us do our thing. That was the greatest gift that he could give. The trust he gave me and confidence he gave me to sort of unleash because a lot of the things I did was improvised, which is a scary world in its own but I have been doing it for a while now. It is also scary in the sense that these guys are extremely unethical and crazy guys, so I have to leave PJ at the door and go in and become this character.
MG: How can you address the reactions about people saying that the film is glorifying these characters?
PJB: You want people in America to know how bad these guys are, so you want really get into these characters and portray them correctly. So if anyone ever calls you on the phone, be aware since these people are out to get your money. This is a great way to tell people to be very aware and to raise your radar and in this film, we do it in an interesting way. Removing the fact that this is an artistic movie, we really break down what these guys are doing and how they are taught to sell. Not saying that all guys that sell you stocks are bad but this movie is aimed to raise your awareness to watch and realize who is handling your money. If I learned anything in college is that, first, there is no such thing as a free lunch and second, no one cares more about your money than you do. I think it is important for people to watch this movie so it is seared into their brain.
MG: How does it feel to be called a “scene stealer” in your films?
PJB: I guess it is flattering to be called that but I do not go into a scene thinking that I am going to steal this scene. I think it is a lot of preparation, especially when you are improvising. I did all my work and I know my character. If you wanted me to sell a cupcake, I was so prepared for this guy and I could have sold anything in that moment, using “Wolf” as an example. So that is one thing, the other is coming armed with not necessarily jokes but different approaches to the role. Let’s say I prepared like twenty things and I only use two, I am still fully armed and ready. The third piece of preparing is being ready to roll with it and see where any of it goes. What you prepared might not be useful at all since the director and actors might be thinking about something else. But since you know the character so well, you are ready to go any which way. In the film, there is a bunch of stuff that I prepared for and then there are other parts we just went with. I had no idea that Jonah (Hill) was going to do the part of “Don’t look him in the eyes” and we ended up just riffing off that. I had that horrible line the first time that we see Margo (Robbie) and the line that came out of my mouth even scared me, which was “She is so hot, I would let her give me AIDS”. As horrible as that line is that is exactly who these guys were though. It is inappropriate because the time period is inappropriate with AIDS but is something that is going to stick in your head. This goes back to the idea of glorifying them; this was there to show that these are bad dudes and to be wary of them. So it is not just about scene stealer, it is about being prepared when going into a role.
MG: Let’s talk about your new TV show on CBS called “Intelligence”, tell us what we can expect?
PJB: After doing “The Wolf of Wall Street” and I have done a lot of comedies, you can’t plan this but I have always thought in the back of my head that I would love to do a drama. This came along and everything worked out and I feel just blessed to be a part of it. Everyone involved is really cool and I love the premise. This show is great mixture of “Homeland” meets “The Bourne Identity”. Being a guy that loved watching James Bond as a kid and in this I get to be the Q character a bit was very appealing. I also have this family relationship since Josh’s character who is considered a brother to me and having that conflict there was also interesting.
MG: Can you give us a run down about your character, Nelson Cassidy?
PJB: I am a computer genius in the show. I can do anything that Josh’s character can do on the computer…except he can do it 1.6 billion times faster because he has a microchip in his brain. So that is very annoying to me. My father created this chip and Josh’s character and he looks to him as his own son as he is a brother to me…except Josh is incredibly handsome and I am not as good looking, so that is a point of contention. I can get into fights but he is a trained Delta Force guy, so he can kick ass better than me…and that is annoying. So there is a lot of that brotherly jealously going on if you will [laughs]. But he is my brother and I have his back and we are always there for each other and that is a cool part of the show. When you have that family aspect when working on a show and you play a scene with a person you know or a co-worker you have to be more delicate. But when it involves your brother you can go from 0 to 10 right away and to me that is much more interesting. Another aspect of the character that I love is that I am not just behind a computer; I actually get to be put into the field. I had to shoot guns, save people and pull bombs out of bodies, so it is awesome from that perspective. The last aspect that I loved about the show is that I am like the person at home watching being thrown into this world where Josh’s character is the complete opposite and trained to be in this world. Meghan Ory’s character Riley is Secret Service, so she is also trained to be in this world. Same goes for the character Lillian, who is played by Marg Helgenberger. I just happen to be this super genius and by default I was just thrown into this world. So I do not know how to be a “super-agent” and I had to slowly transition into it and I found that to be a lot of fun to play out.
MG: What else do you have going on for 2014?
PJB: I’ve got this show right now. So this is the first time that I haven’t had to do pilot season, which is a little scary but still comforting. I get to go off now and go into the movie world. I got something brewing but I can’t say officially yet. I have a little window now to shoot something because if the show gets picked up then we go back to work in June. Then I still have “The Legend of Korra”, which is coming back for its third season and let me tell you…it is awesome! We are currently doing ADR and I have seen it all and fans are going to freak out since it’s that good. I am so proud to be a part of that show. So for now be sure to tune in to “Intelligence” on CBS and watch out for some other great projects in the works this year.