Interview: Tom McCarthy and Haaz Sleiman from “The Visitor”
Interview: Tom McCarthy and Haaz Sleiman from “The Visitor”

The Massie Twins recently sat down with director Thomas McCarthy and actor Haaz Sleiman (at a resort in Scottsdale, Arizona) from the new film “The Visitor,” hitting theaters April 18th, 2008.

Thomas McCarthy: Wow – you guys are twins! And you’re young!

Mike Massie: I used to have a mustache when I was younger – to make myself look older. The funniest thing is when we’d go to movie theaters I would buy a ticket and not get carded – and Joel would walk up right behind me and they’d card him.

TM: Because of the mustache – that’s hilarious!

Massie Twins: We missed the Q&A last night, so we’re thrilled to have our own one-on-one (or two-on-two) here today.

TM: It was great. Bill was running it. Bill … uh …

MT: … Goodykoontz.

TM: What a great last name.

Haaz Sleiman: Put that in a film and someone would say, “They made that up!”

MT: Well, let’s start with you Haaz.

HS: Finally!

MT: We wanted to gently navigate away from you Thomas.

TM: Well, I’m done talking with you guys.

MT: We’ll be with you in a minute.

TM: Haha – right.

MT: What inspired you to become an actor?

HS: Well, I hated myself.

TM: Self-loathing.

HS: That was my motivation. Actually, I’m not joking. I was pursuing music, singing, and from that I discovered I was doing it for the wrong reasons. Acting was just something I always wanted to do. I took some classes back in Lebanon. Once I started to fully pursue it in New York, it was like looking in a mirror and seeing everything I didn’t want to see. It was frightening and I loved it. I feel like I’m in a therapy session right now.

MT: What kind of a director is Tom? Is he easy to work with?

HS: Ehhhh, he’s okay. Actually he’s my favorite director.

MT: Are you just saying that because he’s right here?

HS: Yeah, that’s true.

TM: I can hear you both. I’m well within earshot.

HS: He’s an actor too, so he has a great way of communicating his ideas and thoughts and it was priceless for me to work with him. He changed my take on acting and how to approach it. I can easily say it was a shift in my career.

MT: When you were writing the screenplay, did you already have actors in mind?

TM: Yeah – I had Richard in mind and Hiam specifically. I sat down with them and had a couple of meals before I finished the script.

MT: What inspired this story? Were you watching the news or reading a magazine article?

TM: It wasn’t that kind of a moment. It’s always about putting characters into a room together. People from different backgrounds and cultures finding themselves in the stagecoach, so to speak. It’s relevant to New York City.

MT: The detention center was a very eye-opening concept that many people are probably not very familiar with. How much research went into developing that?

TM: After I started to develop a storyline, it was then that I came across this detention center and went to visit it for the first time. I was just blown away. After my first visit I remember literally taking out my pad and just writing for ten minutes. This will be a part of the story.

MT: Did you know anyone in a similar situation as Tarek, or did you speak to detainees to get a feeling for their condition?

TM: Do you guys hear this song? Do you know who this artist is? It’s Arabic.

MT: So why do you know this song and Haaz doesn’t?

HS: That’s a very good question. I think he’s more Lebanese than I am.

MT: There’s a scene in which Tarek explains that they aren’t allowed outdoors – but there’s one room without a roof. Is that real?

TM: That is real. That’s what I heard from an inmate. Some of these guys prefer the state pen because you have the yard and you’re afforded legal counsel. They are incredibly soulless places. As far as I know, in my extensive research, there are no documented cases of us turning a terrorist out of these places.

MT: Like Tarek says in the movie, the real terrorists are well-funded and can easily get out of places like that.

TM: They’re staying at this hotel.

HS: Don’t look at me!

MT: Do you have any plans to star in a movie that you direct?

TM: It’s a lot to do. I have a great respect for directors who can do that. I don’t think there are many who can do it well.

MT: Was there any improvisation Haaz?

HS: We pretty much stuck to the script. Maybe little moments.

TM: We didn’t have a lot of time to say: “Do what you want here.” There were moments these guys found that seemed right. If it made it more personal to them without diffusing what the scene was about, then great.

HS: I remember seeing a couple moments and being surprised because you used them – and they weren’t part of the script.

TM: They are now. That’s called a production re-write.

MT: What are your upcoming projects? Anything you can disclose?

HS: I’m going to be drumming in my underwear for the rest of my life.