Movie critics have been releasing their end-of-year top ten lists and mine, like many others, includes three films that feature one of Hollywood’s finest actors, Michael Stuhlbarg. In “The Post” he plays New York Times Executive Editor Abe Rosenthal, friend and rival of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep. In “The Shape of Water,” he plays a scientist at a top-secret government lab who is hiding a secret of his own. And in “Call Me By Your Name” he plays a professor deeply imbued with culture and learning spending the summer with his family in Northern Italy. The wise, compassionate speech he makes to comfort his heartbroken son is one of the most moving scenes ever filmed.
I once had the privilege of interviewing Stuhlbarg. The movie we were talking about was “A Serious Man,” written and directed by the Coen brothers, where he played a professor of physics. In one scene set in a classroom he covers the blackboard with equations, writing so quickly that I assumed it was a camera trick until the shot opened up and it was clear that it was him and he really was writing all of the numbers and Greek letters as though he had been doing it all his life. I asked him about it and his answer was simple, straightforward, and very meaningful. He said that the character would have been able to write all of the equations very fluidly and he wanted to make it look as though he was completely familiar and at ease, and so every night he just wrote them and wrote them and wrote them over and over until it was completely natural.
Stuhlbarg is an immensely talented actor who brings enormous depth to every role. I highly recommend taking a look at “Men in Black 3” to see his gem of a performance as an ineffably sweet alien with extraordinary powers of perception and “Steve Jobs,” where he plays a frustrated computer scientist who finally speaks up to his demanding boss. He is also outstanding in “Trumbo” as Edward G. Robinson, a sophisticated art collector who played tough guys in movies and as actual tough guy Arnold Rothstein in “Boardwalk Empire.”
Stuhlbarg will return to Italy in the upcoming “Gore,” playing the longtime partner of writer and enfant terrible Gore Vidal. I am looking forward to it.