Chris Meloni, who said good-bye to his twelve-year-long stint on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to branch out into cable TV (True Blood) and more movies (most recently, Man of Steel), is about to pack it in, leave the tristate area, and go back to network TV for a comedy called Surviving Jack. But before he goes, Meloni rang up Vulture to chat about almost shooting his Superman stuntman, learning to fly a jet, and flexing his comedy muscles. Some Man of Steel spoilers ahead.
Before it was announced which character you were playing, fans speculated that you might be Lex Luthor. Was there a part of you that wished you were?
Sure! Of course. You want to be recognized as a franchise name, but Colonel Nathan Hardy, I enjoyed his arc. I thought it was an important arc. And when they told me he was named after a Navy SEAL who had lost his life in combat, I was really honored and I felt kind of a sense of importance and duty or something to approach it respectfully. It really added a sense of gravitas to what I was doing, because I felt like I was carrying along a real person. And the Air Force gave me all the information, if my character was what he was, where he was, what his educational trajectory would have been, what he would have accomplished, so that helped. And I researched my guy, because they were using his name out of a sense of respect, to honor him in a small way.
You almost died in hand-to-hand combat with Faora, but Superman saved you …
I had her. [Laughs.] He didn’t need to swoop in. I had her right where I wanted her.
Faora says a good death is its own reward, and Hardy’s last words indicate that he agrees. What about you?
You know, that’s one saying I’ve chewed over in my head since I shot the film. Hmmm. I guess it is. I guess if you are a warrior, that’s your credo, and a good life and a good death is its own reward.
Did you have to train a lot for those scenes?
We did some weapons training — shooting guns, making transitions from one weapon to another. I just had to make sure I didn’t shoot my stunt guy that was sitting next to me — which I almost did. I pulled out the weapon one time, and it went off. It was loaded with blanks and exploded out, and it put a hole in the seat. They were cheap seats, come on! [Laughs.] And I didn’t hit him. He’s a stunt guy, stop crying! Come on!
And you learned to fly a jet?
I think part of the whole superhero ethos or fantasy is these special powers put you outside the boundaries of the norm, to be able to say, “I want to go to Missouri, right now.” Well, there you go. You have that within your ability. But all the work and study that’s needed to become proficient and safe and good at flying, and understanding the system, I feel like that’s giving me superpowers, because that’s me using my brain again. There are a lot of atrophied muscles in my noodle that are being used again, including my comedy muscles.
Because you’ve been shooting with David Wain for the Paul Rudd–Amy Poehler comedy They Came Together. Did David tell you that the Wet Hot American Summer sequel was happening? Is there a role for Gene in that?
He told me. They had a really funny idea set up for No. 2. As a matter of fact, that’s a great text for me to make right after I get off the phone with you, see where they are with that. Your knowing more about it than me is kind of annoying! [Laughs.] I think I suffer from the grass is always greener, so if I’m doing drama for a bit, I look over at the field of comedy and say, “Gosh, just look at them having so much fun over there, just playing around.” I got to do some outrageously stupid things that are always a pleasure to do. It’s great to have the license to be stupid, publicly. But then you’re doing that, and you look over at the drama people doing this cool, important, intense work, and you say, “I want to do that.”
Perhaps you get to do a bit of both in the Sin City sequel, A Dame to Kill For.
I’m an upright dude trying to do right, but then Eva Green’s seductive powers are too much for me to resist.
She just wants you to save her from her abusive billionaire husband.
Please. She’s a femme fatale. Don’t take her side in this. She’s evil. [Laughs.] And it’s the second time that Eva Green and I have gotten together. We also did White Bird in a Blizzard, the Gregg Araki film. In White Bird in a Blizzard, we’re married, and in A Dame to Kill For, we’re not, but we have more sex in A Dame to Kill For. And Eva, she’s beyond cool. She is the bomb. She was such a pleasure to work with. She just really connects to the decisions we’ve made and commits to them. So great, so much fun.
Even though they killed you off, are you watching True Blood’s new season?
Absolutely. Don’t think that I haven’t been calling them every other week and saying, “Hey, is it time for Roman to come back? Flashbacks? Long lost twin brother vampire?” You know, like they do on the soaps, goddamnit!
What about SVU? You kept up with that one?
Ah, because then you would know Brian Cassidy is back, and with Olivia …
Who’s Brian Cassidy?
Your old pal from Oz, Dean Winters. They had a fling early on, he left the show, now he’s back.
Oh, yeah! Yes. Yes. They’ve rekindled? They hooked my girl up! Hmmm. The plot thickens!
When you move to L.A., does that mean you’ll get to spend more time with one of your other pals, Tool’s Maynard James Keenan? He’s got that winery in Arizona …
Oh, absolutely, yeah. It’s time for me to taste the wine right when it comes out of the cask. I would love to help with the harvest. Maybe if I stomped the grapes, we could make a bottle and call it Meloni’s Footprint.
So how are you saying good-bye to New York?
You never really leave New York, but some of my boys are planning a going-away dinner, and that’s always nice. A boys’ night out. It’ll be R-rated — not for children.