You could think about a character like Frank — or a lot of people you’ve played — as fundamentally inhumane as written on the page. But you have a way of infusing all these vicious characters with something approaching soul. Are there keys to doing that?
The rule in acting is you never make a judgment about your character. The characters have their reasons, and you understand them. You’re trying to look at their point of view. I mean, in “The Irishman,” Frank has a problem with his daughter. He has problems that anybody can relate to. I never thought of him as being amoral or immoral. He lives in a world where the penalties are harsh if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do. He says he’s going to do something, he does it. I don’t like to go to Trump, but he is a person who, to me, has no morals, no ethics, no sense of right and wrong, is a dirty player.
Could you find your way into the character of President Trump?
I wouldn’t want to play him. He’s such an awful person. There’s nothing redeemable about him, and I never say that about any character.
You found redemptive qualities in Travis Bickle, and you’re saying you couldn’t do the same if you were playing President Trump?
I can’t compare. There’s not one moment that Trump said: “I’m sorry. I realize I’ve done something that I shouldn’t have done.” He has not one speck of redeemability in him. He’s not owed one speck of redeemability.
People have argued that some of Trump’s rhetoric has emboldened others to make threats or enact violence. Those arguments are not a world away from ones that people made about Travis Bickle or “Joker.” Do you think those arguments hold water?
They might, but Trump has people who follow him who are crazy and want to do crazy things. What we’re doing in film, it’s like a dream. We know it’s not real. There are people who will take anything to be real and that we have no control over. The president is supposed to set an example of trying to do the right thing. Not be a nasty little bitch. Because that’s what he is. He’s a petulant little punk. There’s not one thing that I see in him or his family, not any redeeming qualities. They’re out on the take. It’s like a gangster family.