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Kevin Durand on Playing a Bad Guy in Fruitvale Station, and Everything Else

Kevin Durand. Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty

When Kevin Durand walks on-screen, you brace yourself. You may not know his name, but you know he’s usually a bad guy. His latest film, Fruitvale Station, about the Oscar Grant shooting, capitalizes on that recognition: As soon as his BART transit cop comes on the scene, you expect he’ll be the one to pull the trigger. Durand actually wanted to play his character as someone more subdued, until he witnessed a BART transit cop yelling at someone for skateboarding on the train platform. “He went from being a lovely, polite gentleman to this really aggressive energy, yelling, ‘Get off your skateboard right now! Get off your fucking skateboard!’” the actor said. Durand chatted with Vulture about playing a villain and hugging his co-stars after he’s killed them (on-screen).

You’re such a great villain. What’s your secret?
Thank you. I think the first villain that I ever played was on Stargate. I was this superior being that would take over a human host and believe that he was the most superior being in the universe. Everything he said or thought was the most important thought ever, in the history of the universe. And from that point on, I kind of realized I could tap into something that I don’t get to tap into every day. The next one I played was on Broadway, Injun Joe in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and I remember on paper, it was two-dimensional, and one of the songs he had that explained why he acted the way he did was cut out, and that made me so angry! To me, the most interesting villains are the ones who make us uncomfortable because we look at them and we recognize ourselves. I never think, Let’s reach into the villain grab bag that I have and put on a similar face for any of them. They’re all different people and they all deserve to be approached that way. And I have some real doozies coming in the next year and a half! I may have played my absolute, most detestable character ever this last year.

Which one is that?
I did a movie called Queen of the Night with Atom Egoyan, opposite Ryan Reynolds, and I play a very kind of sick, hungry man. He kidnaps a girl at the start of the film, Ryan Reynolds’s daughter, and it’s eight years later, and you have this relationship between myself and this young woman now, and it was a tough one. It’ll be interesting to see what people say after this one. If my friends and family will let me come over to their houses after. [Laughs.]

You’ve done quite a few movies with Ryan Reynolds. In Smokin’ Aces, you got to have a Mohawk and tattoos. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, you were a blob.
I try to make them all look different. For Queen of the Night, I dropped 40 pounds, and I definitely don’t look or sound like me. I kind of approach them all like that. I did another one for Atom Egoyan called The Devil’s Knot

Which is based off the West Memphis Three case?
Right. So for that one, it was the first time I auditioned for Atom, and I went in with my little sketch of who John Mark Byers was, and I didn’t look anything like him, and Atom couldn’t get over that at first. I told him, “Just let me do what I do,” and I started eating as many cheeseburgers and drinking as much beer as I could, and by the time we started, I had about 40, 45 pounds of new fat on me.

Apparently with one of your Lost co-stars, you introduced yourself by saying, “Hi, how are you doing? I guess I’m going to kill you today?”
I know! Tania Raymonde [who played Alex]. I didn’t think about how insensitive that was, but I was in Keamy mode at that point of time. But Keamy wasn’t exactly a sensitive poet.

You can’t really blame him for killing her. Ben did say, “Go ahead.”
Well, I mean, you’re tapping into something, because a lot of people just go, “What an evil bastard he was!” I even told Carlton Cuse, “Well, my backstory on it is funny, because to me, in my head, if I didn’t kill all those people in a certain amount of time, Charles Widmore had a clock ticking down, and if I didn’t do it, he was going to kill my family, back on the mainland.” So it wasn’t that he was evil. He was trying to be quick and efficient and get it done and save his people. It’s always more interesting to look between the lines, I guess. The stories are told from one perspective most of the time, and the villain is just someone who is getting in the way of the hero, or heroes, so you think they’re the bad guys. But if the story was told from Keamy’s point of view … “He’s a really great guy! Just get to know him! You don’t know him like I do!”

What do you do to make it up to your co-stars if you kill or torture them? Do you ever feel like you have to be nicer before or after?
It all depends on the actor. It kind of felt like Tania wanted to be scared. She wanted that from me for that day. I could sense that. So I couldn’t go up and be like, “Hey! What’s your sign?” That would have killed it. I had to keep my steely glare on her and let her know she was in trouble. But at the end of the day, after it was all wrapped, we gave each other a hug: “Hey, you’re really great!” It all depends on what my fellow thespian needs.

Who else has needed a hug after? Does Russell Crowe need a hug after you’ve tortured him? Is he a softie?
He’s usually the one who tortures me! I think he was just pissed off because the first movie we did, I really knocked him on his ass. And then in 3:10 to Yuma, he stabbed me in the neck about 25 times! It just keeps going back and forth with us, but he usually gets the upper hand because they’re his movies. But he gets really bright and cheery when he gets to put me down. [Chuckles.] Yep. But it’s a big life. I’m thinking I might have some chances to get back at his character next time. We’ll see. We have two more coming out in the next year. We are teammates in Noah, which is awesome. We’re on the same team. I think that’s the way we really prefer to be.

What about when you’re a supernatural villain? Like Legion or The Mortal Instruments?
I just try to get to the core of the character’s bones, and if they happen to be able to fly and shoot lightning bolts out of their butts, that’s pretty awesome, too. In Legion, I got to do all the flying, all the wire work, and that was the most fun ever. In Mortal Instruments, I don’t get to fly. I just have a very bad haircut and a very fun accent that I got to play around with. I just laughed my gluteus maximus off. I hadn’t read the books, but I’m pushing 40.

Kevin Durand on Playing a Bad Guy in Everything