I spoke with Neil Napier from Bullet in the Face. Neil plays Lt. Karl Hagerman in my new favorite show on IFC that is sure to be a viewing experience that no one will ever forget, Bullet in the Face. I absolutely adore the show and all of the actors that portray these intriguing characters. Neil Napier, Eddie Izzard, Max Williams, Kate Kelton, Eric Roberts, Jessica Steen, and Christopher Heyerdahl all work together so beautifully in this uniquely cinematic television series. It was a pleasure speaking with Neil. We chatted about Bullet in the Face, his new film with Aaron Eckhart – The Expatriate, Immortals, how sexy he looks making video games, his band – Mr. Wilson’s Basement, and so much more. IFC is airing all six episodes back-to-back over two days, August 16-17. You do not want to miss this special presentation.
Lena: They did a great job with the series. I have to stop myself from calling Bullet in the Face a film because it really doesn’t look like a television show. I can’t stop praising it.
Neil Napier: It’s really slick and filmic looking. Erik Canuel directed it. Pierre Gill, who was the director of photography, is an artist and he took his time with every shot. He wasn’t interested in doing a straight up sitcom two shot tight tight, two shot tight tight, you know.
Lena: I also love your character, Lt. Karl Hagerman.
Neil Napier: Oh, poor Hagerman.
Lena: Was it challenging having to cry so much?
Neil Napier: [Laughing] At the pace we were shooting it presented a little bit of a challenge because we were flying long. I think we maybe had two or three takes per set up and then we had to move on. We were having fun and the interesting thing about Hagerman is that he takes everything so seriously and I was just trying to play to the truth of what’s going on, you know [Neil threw in some crying for me].
Lena: The scenes in the strip club were hilarious.
Neil Napier: Oh my god, she was great – Maya – the woman who played Eve. She was perfect and just so sweet. That made it easy.
Lena: I bet it was pure torture to film that?
Neil Napier: It was awful! I never ever want to do that again [laughing].
Lena: So you filmed everything in Montreal. That must have been nice for you.
Neil Napier: Yeah, but I don’t know if I preferred that because everyone else was from out of town – Max, Kate, and Jessica – so they were all kind of on this weird vacation and just enveloped in the world of the shoot and my life is going on; I had to clean my house and stuff. Do you know what I mean? It would be interesting to see what difference it would have been to have just plunked myself down in whatever city it was in without the distractions of my everyday life, just as an experience not artistically.
Lena: You and Max (Williams) did such a great job together.
Neil Napier: We got along really well. We’ve actually remained really close friends. He was just up in Montreal a couple of weeks ago and we went to my cottage for a day or two. We went out for diner with our girlfriends and got a chance to hang out. It was funny when we had our first table read of all the episodes everyone was asking Max and I right after that table read how long we have know each other. I told them we just met three and a half hours ago.
Lena: That’s very rare.
Neil Napier: It is. I don’t know, I guess we are kind of from the same tribe.
Lena: What was it like working with him?
Neil Napier: It was a joy. I can’t think of a better experience that I’ve had working with somebody than with Max. We just got along so well and just immediately created our little bubble. A set can be fast and furious with a lot of stuff going on and we were trying to respect the material that we were working with and timing is key and rhythms are important and the reality of the relationship between these two guys. We really immediately set up this bubble where I would run off and get him bananas when he needed something to eat [laughing]. I would be like, “Dude you need a banana.”
Lena: [Laughing] He did a phenomenal job.
Neil Napier: He’s amazing. He was shooting like fourteen to eighteen hour days almost every day of the shoot, with stamina and focus, and would still be absolutely gracious, generous, and giving the whole time. He’s a pretty amazing fella.
Lena: Did you guys get to spend any time together between filming so you could really bond?
Neil Napier: We did. We went to a hockey game. We went to a Montreal Canadians hockey game and hung out. We tried when we could because Max was filming almost every day. We’ve hung out more since shooting has wrapped because I was down there in December and then I was down there again in May and he came up here in the beginning of July. It’s great to make a solid new friend.
Lena: This new partnership wasn’t an easy transition for Hagerman. He lost his partner that he was really, really close to and he has the pictures to prove it.
Neil Napier: The photo on the beach was photoshopped. I was like, “Ah dude, we could have done that.” I guess time didn’t allow it. There is this one shot of us at the Eiffel Tower and I can’t remember if you can see it, but it’s actually a shot of me at the Eiffel Tower when I was in Paris last year and then they photoshopped Max in; it’s great. For Hagerman he’s a deeply conflicted fellow, to be partnered up with the man who killed his partner but he’s wearing his face. I’ve described that setup to friends and they are like, “I’m sorry, what?” It was so much fun playing that guy because he’s sort of, at least the way that I see him, the moral center of the show. Everyone is kind of crazy or misguided, at the very least, and Hagerman is seeing all of this corruption around him and these people have a very loose moral fiber. It affects him quite deeply. It’s fun to play those conflicts within him. He’s a tough character. He reminds me a bit of Deckard in Blade Runner but he weeps and he’s a little oversensitive.
Lena: He seems like he would keep a journal, so what do you think he would write in his journal?
Neil Napier: That’s a great question. I hadn’t considered that. I’m going to use that moving forward with other characters. I think that he would bemoan his situation with Gunter. He would probably try to figure out ways to be better in the situation, to rise to beat it. I think he would ask for guidance from his higher power to find ways to deal with the situation that he’s in. I think he’d pray for strength.
Lena: They say that time heals all wounds, so do you think that if the show gets picked up for another season that the partnership could eventually work for them?
Neil Napier: I do. That’s actually something that Max and I have spoken about. That’s one of the big reasons, and I mean obviously it’s great to work and we would love to do another season, that I would love to see what happens with Hagerman and Gunter and where the relationship would go. As we discussed it you start to see, in the later episodes, that they each have something to teach the other. I think that Hagerman has humanity and integrity to teach Gunter, among other things, but Hagerman can also learn from Gunter in terms of really being true oneself and being in the moment and seizing the day. I think it’s really interesting as to what the possibilities are for these two characters moving forward.
Lena: He’s also suffering some from side effects from the surgery so that could work in your favor.
Neil Napier: That’s right, every time he takes pleasure in other’s pain he gets to experience some of that pain. That might be a good kind of classical conditioning setup.
Lena: Now Braden (Jessica Steen) doesn’t seem to understand or care that you are so upset by your new partner. How does Hagerman feel about that?
Neil Napier: It drives him a little bit crazy. He also believes in the system. He believes in the idea of hierarchy. His boss should be exemplifying the values that he has and he should be exemplifying the values that she has; that’s just how the order of the hierarchy works. When he sees that breaking down he sort of skips a groove. All those instances where she shows her recklessness or her lack of integrity, Hagerman almost doesn’t compute. How could she be the chief of police yet still be part of this corruption?
Lena: I can’t wait for the DVD to come out so we can see all of the deleted scenes.
Neil Napier: There should be some because I know that there are deleted scenes from watching the series because there are a bunch of things that just didn’t make the time.
Lena: Eddie Izzard was so great.
Neil Napier: Oh my god, I’m so jealous of Kate because she got to work with him all the time. I only met him. He’s super. I just had lunch with him one day and then met him at the photo shoot again. He’s super gracious. I was a little bit star-struck when I met him mostly because I just started watching The Riches.
Lena: Yes, I’m so angry that they cancelled that.
Neil Napier: The second season goes to episode seven and then it ends because there is a writers strike and it never got going again. All of those characters are stuck where they are. I was just finishing the first season when I met him I was like, “I hate to do this but I think you were fantastic in The Riches.”
Lena: His stand-up is amazing. I saw him live a few years ago and he was so good.
Neil Napier: I’d love to see him live. The next chance I get I’m definitely doing that. He’s just so great on the show. Max and I went to the set to watch him work a bit because neither one of us have any scenes with him, and it is just amazing to watch him work. His attention to detail and improv is incredible.
Lena: He’s a natural storyteller and history buff. He knows everything about anything. If you watch his stand-up he’s out of this world.
Neil Napier: There is a scene, I don’t know what piece he’s playing, in his liar where he is playing a piano and he’s actually playing it. He was sitting there actually teaching himself how to play it because I don’t think that he had played that particular piece before. He’s pretty incredible.
Lena: What scene did you have the most fun filming?
Neil Napier: I think one of them was the getting out of the office bicycle scene. It was fun. They were just shooting it as a real clip there and they said do something. I just had a blast committing to that and knowing that Jessica is corpsing. She just has to keep this straight face on me the whole time. I know that there is no way that she’s going to be able to do it. That was a lot of fun, also the one in the school on the basketball court. That was a fun day. I was glad that they let me do the little fall in the hallway. I was a little bit of a thorn in the side of a couple of the producers on the set because I always wanted to do as much of my own stunts as I could but they were like no, no you can’t. I told them I would pad up and it would be fine. They were just cringing that I was going to hurt myself like that I might go over the handlebars of my bike or fall in the middle of the hall. I like physical stuff.
Lena: What was your overall experience like working with the cast and the brilliant Alan Spencer?
Neil Napier: Amazing! I can’t think of anything bad to say. It was a bit fast but that’s the nature of having thirty days to shoot six episodes. You adapt to the speed that you are going at and it just becomes the reality. I had an amazing time working with Max and Jessica. I had so much fun working with them, especially when it was the three of us. We had this little triumvirate of timing. I didn’t get to work with Kate. Working with Erik went well. I had worked with him on a video game before. I had worked with Pierre Gill on a feature that he did before. The whole crew was amazing. And Alan is, yeah you are right, he’s a genius. I remember during the reading I don’t know what episode it was but after one scene I just looked up at him and said, “What is wrong with you?” He took it as a compliment. He’s twisted a little bit and I love it. Reading the episodes in the first table read I was like, “Oh my god, this is fucked; it’s amazing.”
Lena: He’s twisted in the right way.
Neil Napier: Oh absolutely! I love that he’s not safe; there is nothing safe about this thing.
Lena: That’s what makes it so fantastic.
Neil Napier: I think so. He’s also smart and he’s not just out there to shock people with some outrageous stuff, he’s a really smart and considerate fellow and he is trying to make some sociological commentary through this and isn’t holding any punches. If you look at who his mentors and heroes are – Andy Kaufman, Mel Brooks, Marty Feldman, and Gene Wilder – these are all socially aware artists.
Lena: Are you going to have a viewing party with you friends because this series would be so much fun to watch with a group? It really lends itself to a large audience. Are you comfortable watching yourself on-screen?
Neil Napier: We don’t get it in Canada and I was going to try to go down to the screening but I have a film festival that I have to do. I’m going to get the DVDs as soon as it airs and I’m going to have a screening with my friends. I’m not comfortable watching myself. I told Max and Jessica when we watched it, we were all impressed with how it looks overall, that it was amazing and I loved every scene that I wasn’t in [laughing]. I just can’t, I’m just no good at watching myself.
Lena: A lot of actors are like that.
Neil Napier: You get critical. We start watching our performance and we are like, I missed that beat, I could have hit that shift a little harder. I get technically critical about my work. Occasionally, I can watch it and just relax but other times I get a little nervous. But seriously with this series, I loved every scene that I wasn’t in. It’s not that I’m insecure about my work, it’s not that I don’t like my work, it’s just that I can’t focus on the whole picture when I’m in the scene. I was actually slapping my knee laughing so many times watching it.
Lena: Oh yeah, you will cry watching it because it is so funny.
Neil Napier: We had a great time. I hope we get to do it again because I fell in love with Hagerman.
Lena: I would love to have it come back so we could see what happened with the characters and how they progressed and developed.
Lena: Between you and Max, who ruined the most takes laughing?
Neil Napier: You’d be surprised that there are going to be very few ruined takes. There were hardly any. We hardly ever corpsed because we just had to be so focused and just fly right along that there just wasn’t any room for it.
Lena: Not even during the strip club scene where Max’s head is moving from side-to-side?
Neil Napier: No we didn’t lose it once but I think there are a lot of right after takes. They say cut and we are like fuck hahaha… I think we tried really hard to hold it together. There might be a couple; I would be interested to see. I might be talking out of my ass. I have no idea. The director might be going fucking Napier man ruined every second take [laughing].
Lena: I saw Immortals in the theater. I quickly looked at the character list and I thought it said that you played the breast handler instead of the beast handler. That would obviously be your part in another movie.
Neil Napier: Yes, like in one of those cheap pornos [laughing].
Lena: I just gave your character a name for the porn version of Immortals.
Neil Napier: Nice! Did you like Immortals?
Lena: Honestly, no. I like Henry Cavill and I saw a preview at Comic-Con that made me want to see it but the story really wasn’t there.
Neil Napier: I think it got chopped apart in the end. There was a lot more in the script. I saw it in L.A. with Kate, Jessica, and Max. It seemed like they turned it into a big, crazy action movie and less about the mythology. I know that they shot the whole backstory of Theseus and Lysander as children. They shot all that, the rivalry of these kids growing up, so when Lysander comes back as a traitor there is actually some history behind it. It’s interesting that they chose to leave that out for some reason.
Lena: That’s probably one of the reasons why it didn’t work. It wasn’t awful but…
Neil Napier: A lot of exploding heads.
Lena: Did you have fun working on Immortals?
Neil Napier: I had a blast working on it. It was a big, crazy fun film to watch. I had a lot of fun working on it. The stunt guys were hilarious. I know a lot of the stunt community here and I’ve trained with some of them here in Montreal. It’s just so funny when you are on the set and you are walking by the trailers, I call it stuntman alley, with all these kind of big and burly guys all dressed in their period costumes on their iPhones and smoking cigarettes. It’s beautifully anachronistic [laughing].
Lena: You have some pretty cool projects coming up like the untitled Chronicles of Riddick sequel.
Neil Napier: I had a bunch of days on that, not a big role but I had a lot of fun and died a horrible death, so that is always fun.
Lena: Did you get to work with Vin Diesel?
Neil Napier: I did not but I met him and we had dinner and stuff. He’s always kind of lurking in the shadows so I don’t think a lot of people got to work with him because the character is always hunting. He hunted us but I didn’t get to work with him.
Lena: I’ve heard that he’s a really nice guy.
Neil Napier: He’s a super guy. I wasn’t totally surprised but you never know about someone’s persona and then when you finally meet them when we had the cast dinner before starting shooting. I chatted with him for about a half hour and he’s totally into Dungeons & Dragons. He loves all these big mythology games. He’s a bit of a geek in that way, which was very endearing. He’s a really dynamic and excitable guy. He loves what he’s doing. That was a fun one to work on too. I got this thing coming out at the end of September called The Expatriate with Aaron Eckhart. That was a lot of fun to shoot. We shot a bunch of days here and then went to Brussels to shoot a day. I really like working with Aaron. We have this great fight scene together, which we both did. That was a lot of fun and he beat the hell out of me.
Lena: Well at least he’s a cool guy to get beaten up by.
Neil Napier: Totally! I had a lot of fun that day. I’m just finishing up work on a video game called Assassin’s Creed 3. It’s a big franchise video game by Ubisoft. I play one of the villains in that.
Lena: Are you just doing the voice?
Neil Napier: I’m doing everything. I’m doing the performance capture with the Velcro suit with all the markers on it and the helmet with the camera at the end of a beak, basically. It’s the whole character.
Lena: How is it doing that?
Neil Napier: I do a fair amount of motion capture for video games here in Montreal and every time I look down and go I am an adult and this is my job; I’m running around in a tight Velcro suit. It’s a really cool exercise as an actor, but it’s deeply inorganic because you are having scenes with somebody and both of you are wearing these black Velcro suits and helmets so you really can’t get too close to each other or else you will hit your beaks together.
Lena: So you guys look really sexy?
Neil Napier: It is so hot you couldn’t imagine. I actually did some erotic, well not deeply erotic, love scenes in this game that I was working on and a friend of mine was playing the woman, man you want to experience something that is so unsexy (laughing). We were trying to do these mildly erotic scenes between these two characters and we are getting Velcroed to each other. You are trying to slowly move your hand up her thigh and it’s like [Neil contributed this really cool Velcro ripping sound effect]. You get stuck and you lose a marker. It’s not hot.
Lena: You are also doing Upside Down with Kirsten Dunst.
Neil Napier: Yes, I only had one quick day on that. I shouldn’t even mention it because it’s like a blink and you’ll miss me. It was a funny experience though because it was right during the playoffs when Montreal was playing against Pittsburg. In this scene there were like a hundred extras that all had ear buds in listening to the game. When we wrapped everyone ran off to go and watch the game. We take hockey pretty seriously up here.
Lena: And Max used to play hockey.
Neil Napier: Max played hockey professionally or semiprofessionally and he was on his way up, I think he was about to go to Europe and play for a professional league in Europe, when an injury took him out. It changed his life and got him into acting. We both have similar histories like that. I played hockey, rugby, and football all of my life and Max played high level hockey and an injury brought him to acting and the same with me. I had spinal surgery and it was after that that I turned to a lot of theater and then film and television.
Lena: That’s great that you recovered. I’m sure it wasn’t fun.
Neil Napier: It wasn’t but I was back playing rugby a year after when I was 30. I got back in shape and ended up playing rugby. I just stopped about five years ago, thank god.
Lena: What do you do during your time off?
Neil Napier: I practice a lot of yoga and play guitar and sing with my band. I have a band up here in Montreal called Mr. Wilson’s Basement. I have a lot of fun with that with a bunch of other actor friend’s of mine in the band. When we are not working we work on that. I run and I don’t travel too much but I traveled a bit last year. I went to Paris, Scotland, Ireland, and Belgium. I’ve been down to L.A. a couple of times. A lot of music lately, that’s kind of something new in my life that is taking up a lot of room in it.
Lena: I haven’t been to Montreal in a while but they had a pretty good music scene.
Neil Napier: There have been some big acts coming out of here like Stars and Arcade Fire, a lot of big arena stuff. It’s pretty exciting. I’m actually moving to Toronto soon. There is a lot of television in Toronto. Montreal is a beautiful town and we get a fair number of American movies here but we don’t have a lot of television productions. We have Being Human, that’s shot here and it’s doing well. My girlfriend was just shooting on it yesterday.