Having had his first taste of life on set with a commercial aged two, it wasn’t until Tony Revolori was in his mid-teens that he broke out. When he did, playing the role of Zero Mustafa alongside Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, no fledgling actor could have dreamed of a more stimulating introduction to the world of major Hollywood movies.
Since then there’ve been projects with cult director M. Night Shyamalan as well as parts in Workaholics and more recently The Sound of Silence, Michael Tyburski’s entree at this year’s Sundance. All have helped nourish an interest and appreciation in the collaborative process of movie-making, something which has only grown since recently writing, producing and directing his own short film, The Puppet.
Now, he talks to us off the back of reprising the role of snide school bully Flash Thompson in Jon Watts’ Spider-man: Far From Home. In the rare instance Revlori has been able to return to a role he’d ordinarily have to leave behind, Revlori has relished the chance to build on top of his existing work, adding extra depth to what he describes “a new age bully”.
Finn Blythe: You were born and raised in California, how far do you live from where you grew up?
Tony Revolori: I’m about fifty kilometers from Anaheim, so I’ll go visit home every now and then. Every time I do after a long time away I’ll drive down there and eat at this place called Varsity Burgers.
FB: So what was the last thing you worked on?
TR: It was actually a short film that I directed, wrote and produced called A Puppet. I’ve written before but never directed.
FB: Has directing been a long term ambition of yours?
TR: Absolutely, and obviously it’s a difficult ambition to realise, figuring out where you can make your stories, which stories you want to tell, what your style is.
FB: How did you find that transition from being in front of the camera to stepping behind it?
TR: It’s a very difficult balance and a really eye-opening experience as an actor too. I’m very curious to return to a film set after what I’ve learned from directing, from being the person everyone leans on and looks to for answers.
FB: How did you find that pressure of people constantly looking at you to make decisions? Did your approach change throughout the filming shoot?
TR: You know, I’ve been very fortunate to work with a lot of amazing directors, from Wes Anderson to M Night Shamalayan to Jon Watts. They all have very particular, distinct styles and consequentially I always viewed myself as a certain type of director. When I started directing I realised how you have to become malleable to your crew, your cast, any situations that arise. I think that was more the producer side of me
“I’m very curious to return to a film set after what I’ve learned from directing, from being the person everyone leans on and looks to for answers.”
FB: So the experience you brought from having worked with these directors was knowing, as an actor, what you respond to?
TR: Exactly. What felt good for me as an actor, what I enjoyed doing, that’s what I tried to emulate for my cast and crew. It was less about the way they directed and more so about the feel on set.
FB: The Grand Budapest Hotel came at a really formative time for you as an actor. What are your resounding memories of working with Wes Anderson and what did he teach you as an actor?
TR: I just felt very blessed that I was able to have an involvement in that movie whatsoever. The takeaways were really how he has this idea in his head, which is so thought out and so impeccably tailored that you want to give it to him, you want to make sure that he has the shot. Whenever he moves on you feel confident because he won’t leave a shot unless he gets it, so he really makes everyone feel very confident in what they’re doing. From the script to the actors to the director to the crew, everyone wanted to make this thing as good as they possibly could. He was never arrogant, there was never a sense that he was controlling. It’s the way he phrases things, the way he gets to where he wants to be, it’s never forceful or angry which was really beautiful to see, especially as my first foray into bigger films.
FB: Between shots, was he very hands-on or did he trust you to act?
TR: We did a lot of rehearsals before we even started shooting, to flesh out the character, talk everything through, get the voice right, the mannerisms, the emotions correct. When we were on set there was minimal directing other than, you’re going to stand here, you’re going to say that line here, you’re going to look back, you’re going to hit this mark. So it was more technical direction.
FB: And moving on to your more recent involvement in the new Spider-man franchise, did you look forward to reprising the role of Flash? Is it fun to play someone who’s a bit of a dick?
TR: [laughs] I loved just being able to come back to a role because doing features for so long, you do a project, you drop it, let it go and that character is kind of dead forever. There are characters you want to put to rest and characters you’d love to revisit. It’s sad to invest so much into a character, to do this work and then just to drop it, so it was great to have that continuity and come back to something that felt familiar. It’s always fun to see what the writers have come up with, he’s always a dick so it’s just trying to figure out what kind of dick he’s going to be.
FB: Was there anything from your first experience of playing Flash that you looked at and thought you’d do slightly differently?
TR: Honestly it was less about doing something different and more about adding. Adding more depth to the character, a little more reason why he is the way he is and trying to figure out where and why he makes the moves he does. Putting that on screen as opposed to the first film, where he’s just a bit of a dick for the sake of it.
FB: I thought in the first film you played him with an undertone of insecurity.
TR: Yeah I mean Jon [Watts, director] and I had a lot of conversations about my character in terms of what kind of bully he would be. That old school, physical bully isn’t around these days, it’s more about emotional abuse, particularly with the anonymity of social media and attacking someone’s insecurities.
“Whenever [Wes Anderson] moves on you feel confident because he won’t leave a shot unless he gets it, so he really makes everyone feel very confident in what they’re doing.”
FB: That generational difference is interesting because your counterpart in the Toby Maguire version is this huge, physically imposing, violent guy. There’s that confrontation in the cafeteria where he caves in the locker and that feels modified in this version.
TR: Right yeah, don’t get me wrong there’s still physical abuse in schools but we wanted to update the story a little bit and I wanted to show a way of overcoming the new age bully, which Tom’s [Holland] Peter Parker does in a lot of ways.
FB: Unlike Grand Budapest where you’re one of the central characters with a lot of dialogue and screen time – compare that to Flash and you’re not as central to the narrative. How do you deal with that as an actor how do you make sure you’re still bringing as much to the narrative within the lines you have?
TR: They always say there’re no small parts and that’s true because every cog makes the movie better, makes it work. Even though in Grand Budapest I was at the center of the story, the better I understand filmmaking, the more I realise it’s a very difficult thing to do and the better I can be in support to a scene, moment or specific character, the better the film will be as a whole. Maybe you don’t get the recognition and that’s fine, I know this is a very collaborative job and that’s what we’re trying to do here, we’re trying to make the best movie we can. So taking ego aside, it’s really fun to try and be someone different or set someone up for a punchline – that’s what our job entails.
FB: Also that’s a real art, being able to say more with less.
TR: Right. It’s wonderful you know, everyone talks about these great supporting characters in film and some of their performances overshadow that of the lead, not saying that will be the case for Spiderman [laughs]. But you always have to try your best, no matter how small the part, no matter what your role, you try to service the story, your fellow actors, crew and the director as much as you can.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is out now in cinemas.