The name Max Williams may not be familiar to you yet, but those of you tuning into IFC this Thursday and Friday at 10:00 p.m. are sure to remember him. Williams stars, along with Eddie Izzard and Eric Roberts in “Bullet in the Face,” a ninety-minute mini series being described as “the most violent comedy in television history.” The Alan Spencer created, graphic novel inspired show follows German psychopathic criminal turned cop, Gunter Vogler (played by Williams), who is recruited to assist in bringing down gang lords (Roberts and Izzard) after being shot in the face during a botched robbery. Williams is no stranger to playing a villain who can make the audience laugh. The actor, whose resume includes many roles in Los Angeles original theater, received an LA Weekly Award nomination for Best Comedic Actor for his performance as gang leader Cody Powers in The Elephant Theatre’s 2009 production of “Block Nine.”
For someone who plays unstable so well, though, Williams seems pretty balanced. In a recent interview, Williams was kind enough to share his thoughts about acting, why he’s so excited about “Bullet in the Face,” and what’s so fun about playing the bad guy.
In a few interviews you’ve done recently, you’ve mentioned that you wanted to be an actor since kindergarten. What about acting was enjoyable to you at that age?
I just remember the freedom of performance, to be someone else and the best of yourself at the same time. It was a musical, “Billy Boy.” I remember playing Billy, really enjoying singing, and I remember smiling a ton. I have a recollection of rehearsing in our classroom, our teacher playing the piano, and there was something so unifying about the whole experience. The whole class was happy to be a part of it.
Since you started as a hockey player, are there any similarities between playing hockey and acting? For instance, how does the mental preparation of getting ready for a game compare to going onstage or in front of the camera?
There are similarities; hockey is an artistic sport, the movement, the grace involved. My favorite quote ever about hockey described it as thus: “A stream of consciousness beat poem.” I love that. And in acting it is much the same; the afflue (flow) you feel within your body and what you are exuding about a character. It is the most zen, the most incredibly, ‘alive,’ feeling. For me, nothing else matches it. I had moments of that in hockey, but thanks to maturity, I can feel it all the time in acting.
How has the progression of your acting career been* from the time you moved to Los Angeles to now? What role has theater played in this?
My progression was unique, as is every artist who comes here to pursue the profession, because there is no one telling you when you get here, ‘Do this,’ or, ‘Do that.’ You are in the wind, and when I first got here, I was not able to be one with the wind. I fought it, thought it would be easy, got a grand connection right away, some high profile representation, a few roles and then…it is as if the air slowly, ever so slowly, gets let out of a tire. I did not know how to work, how to hustle, how to realize that, ‘breaks,’ are only opportunities if you follow up, and create the next break on your own, as the first was a gift from Spirit and that if you aren’t aware enough to stay focused, work smarter and create more breaks…well, you do what I did. Pout, smoke a shitload of dope, drink, and wait for it all to come to you and think you deserve it. I have learned, “you only deserve what you earn, and vice-versa.” Theatre, particularly The Elephant, for me is home, a home to go back to. Plain and simple, and so important all at the same time. And especially small theatre, well, it’s a home where you can accomplish all the subtleties of film and have it be live. I would not trade my theatre training or experience at the Elephant for anything.
What was your reaction when you first read the script for ‘Bullet in the Face?’ What about this story was appealing to you as an actor?
My first reaction was, ‘I know this guy,’ Gunter. Because he was very similar to Cody Powers in, “Block Nine”- brazen, unapologetic, sociopathic, hilarious, vile and completely uninhibited. And he made no apologies for who he was. I felt in my gut it was my part, in that first read of the script. Honestly I did. What appealed to me about Alan Spencer’s writing/story/world was the levels it worked on; the uncomfortable nature of the situations he puts an audience in; how he does not walk a line, which is what art is supposed to be in my humble opinion. And I took it as a personal challenge to take a German sociopath, rightfully with all of the 20th century baggage that embodies, and make him likeable/understandable to an audience. I respect Gunter in that he does not make apologies. Yes, he is a sociopath, but he owns it, and in our world, which is soooo dishonest so much of the time, that aspect of him is undeniably refreshing for me.
A lot of the press on ‘Bullet in the Face’ has focused on how violent the show is, even claiming it to be “the most violent half hour comedy ever.” Is that an accurate statement?
Violence is all in how it is interpreted in my opinion. Is it violent when an Olympic athlete dislocates an elbow while performing a Power-Clean in front of the world? Is it truly any more violent than a football game, where at any one moment someone might end their career? Or a hockey game, when two guys drop the gloves? The thing about violence is this: I find it is talked about most often from a physical standpoint. How about some of those reality shows about housewives and such? Mentally, emotionally, they are destroying each other. But people don’t have a problem with that. Also, ‘Bullet,’ is a satire…it is presenting multiple dimensions, in the conscious and sub-conscious realms, for we as a society to take a long hard look at ourselves and realize that laughter is sometimes the first step toward growth. Alan finds a balance the same way Bruce Lee did in his martial arts. I believe his work is, ‘unnaturally natural” and it will make you take notice. His is a very unique, very substantial artistic voice. I am so friggin’ proud of this show.
What besides the show’s violent nature is going to have an impact on people?
I will keep this one short: people are going to be watching, drawn in, laughing, and then bam, they are going to realize they are laughing and look around to see if anyone else is laughing with them. And all the characters are very, very flawed. We can all relate to that.
Since this character is similar to ones you’ve played in the past, what’s fun about playing the “bad guy”?
Well, the bad guy makes his/her rules. The world often bends to him/her, and so many times in the journey of story deep down the good guy/girl, whether or not they talk about it, wants to be the bad one. You can smell it in the characters. So you get to poke and jab and pry and prey on the insecurities of the, ‘good,’ ones. How is that not fun?
Do you have any other projects in the near future that you’d like people to look out for?
I recently finished shooting a film, “Elizabeth,” in Montreal, which is going to Cannes next spring. Believe me it will turn some heads. Don’t want to say too much about it but the talent involved, including the writer/director Jean Sebastien Chartray and the Lead in it, with whom I co-star, Corina Wells, are so alive, so driven, so passionate. It was a true joy. And I am finishing a true-story screenplay with a writing partner in Boston, “Clyde,” that to me embodies every aspect of the human journey…and to all the ends of extreme.
Photo Courtesy of IFC.