Bill Heck spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about playing the scene-stealing Young Mickey Donovan on Showtime’s Ray Donovan and Jon Voight being generous with the character’s interpretation.
Any actor looking to learn the craft of conveying body language to make an audience believe in what you’re doing needs to watch Bill Heck’s performance on Ray Donovan Season 7 Episode 7 (“The Transfer Agent”). Young Mickey Donovan’s mini dance during a robbery spoke volumes about the character, a lasting immersive visual to frame on the wall.
During an exclusive interview with The Natural Aristocrat, Bill Heck discussed his fine-tuned work as young Mickey Donovan, Jon Voight sitting down with him on the second day of shooting, a Ray Donovan prequel show à la Better Call Saul, and even some preliminary thoughts on The Irishman’s de-aging tech! For those wondering about Jon Voight’s best tip to Bill Heck delievered in classic Mickey Donovan fashion…
“They got great writers, amazing story, everyone really knows what they’re doing… But every now and then before a take, just as they call action, tell yourself, ‘I don’t give a s**t!’ Throw it all out the window and do whatever the f**k you want!”
Interview with Bill Heck on Young Mickey Donovan:
The Natural Aristocrat [Nir Regev]: Did Jon Voight personally comment on your performance? I’m curious what he thought of you playing young Mickey Donovan.
Bill Heck: Jon sent me a very lovely text after the episode aired, and it was a delight to receive. He was more than generous during the job. We were shooting up in the Bronx, and I think on the second day, Jon had the day off and came from the place where he stays during the season in Greenpoint (Brooklyn).
He came all the way up to the Bronx to sit down in the hair & makeup trailer with me and talk about the character and thoughts he had. And he was really curious to hear thoughts that I had. Jon was very generous and interested that I make my own choices, what views I had on the character, and really encouraged me to make it my own. As much as I could! You know, not to just do an impression. Which I’m no good at anyway! (laughs)
But it was amazing! It’s amazingly generous for Jon to come all the way up the Bronx and and sit with me to chat for almost an hour. We exchanged numbers and texted back a few times throughout the shoot. He really gave me permission. That is a real valuable thing to have as an actor. So he was lovely the whole way through. Then at the wrap party he said there with me and my wife [Maggie Lacey] for a long time. Just couldn’t have been more pleasant and more supportive. He was a real gem.
I thought the flashbacks could be a show in itself, something like Better Call Saul.
(laughs) We should put you in touch with the producers!
There’s just so much story there to explore, and it sounds like you’d definitely be willing to go back. Is that something you could see happening with Ray Donovan?
The impression I got from everybody was that they were pleased with how the flashbacks went generally. David Hollander, the showrunner, seemed pleased with how things went. I don’t know what their plans are for next season, by any explicit means. But I wouldn’t be shocked, I think they were definitely pleased to tread new ground in that way. And I had an interesting time, I wouldn’t be averse to any additional exploration, certainly!
Were you picked originally for this role because of your performance in 2013 film, Pit Stop? Even for anyone just watching the trailer for that movie, when you push off, there’s something instantly noticeable about your body language. It’s subtly reminiscent of the way you portrayed young Mickey Donovan. In general, as an actor you had great control of body language on Ray Donovan.
Thank you! That’s a really interesting parallel, I certainly wasn’t doing that consciously. I guess there’s a slight parallel in the characters in that they’re both trying to find their place in a world where they maybe feel a bit out of place. Or are not quite sure of how up to the task they may be. But no man, that was a long time ago that movie! It’s a project I hold dear. I’d encourage people to see that sweet little film.
What was it like working with Aidan Pierce Brennan as young Ray Donovan? Doing all those “Ray Ray” scenes. Those were some intense scenes, especially when Mickey’s stealing his wife’s money out of that can as Ray watches.
I mean on one hand, for me as a person being able to see what’s happening in that scene, it’s heartbreaking. But Mickey thinks he’s doing the right thing to a certain degree. Mickey maybe understands that it’s morally complex but he doesn’t pay attention to that side of things because he’s got a plan. And his plan is going to make things right.
Even if he’s deluded himself about how possible it is or what right is right or what’s best for his family. He’s moving forward in a way that he thinks is best for his family. So, in that sense even though he’s maybe got some conflicted feelings about how it may be perceived, he’s optimistic.
Do you feel in pilfering the money, that maybe Mickey was trying to protect the Donovan family as well? From the aspect that maybe James Sullivan would do worse if he didn’t pay back something.
Absolutely he’s telling himself that, yeah. Mickey’s got rings of stories that he tells himself and he believes them! Mickey doesn’t imagine that he’s deluding himself. He’s not as far as he can see in the future. He’s going to handle it, you know? It’s like he tells Ray as he’s going out, ‘everything’s gonna be fine,’ right? So I think Mickey believes it or at least he knows that to survive, he has to believe that.
That little dance Mickey Donovan does right when he’s about to rob that van, was that intentionally written into the script? Or was that you personally making an on-the-spot, Mickey influenced decision there?
No, I just tossed that in. Kyra (Sedgwick) who directed the episode and David Hollander, the showrunner, Jon, everyone included were extremely encouraging about being playful. It was a very available, open generous set. A very fun set and the character is a fun character.
I asked a few of the people which episodes of previous seasons I should watch to get a decent idea of Mickey. Everyone was really open and interested in making me feel comfortable riffing, more than I have in past gigs. I felt like I got to stretch my arms and play a little bit, which was a real joy. I had an ample opportunity with this character to do so.
Yeah, I thought those little details really made the scene. Kind of like what they call reveries on Westworld, those extra touches that make a character feel real. I mean obviously there was that iconic teeth sucking thing that Jon Voight does often on the series.
There were a couple of teeth sucking scripted moments. (laughs) That was the only little characterization that they specified! I threw in a few more here and there, and replaced a few here and there. I’m not quick to recall which ones they used in the edit but that one they definitely zeroed in on. I think at some point here I was like give me a tooth suck right here. (laughs)
Do you feel you were able to study the character more through watching other Ray Donovan episodes, meeting Jon Voight in-person, or a mix?
It’s definitely a mix. Early on I had to rely on the episodes, I think maybe watched in the neighborhood of 8 to 10 in total. I had a dialect coaching session where I’d work with the material and met Austin (Hébert) who plays Jimmy (Sullivan) and we worked through some of that and just spent some time building on it. Playing around and then we actually shot the van robbery, that was the first thing I did.
That was before I met Jon, the second day was when Jon came up and definitely he helped me expand on all the work I had done before. Just being around him you get a sense of how he’s carrying himself through the world generally, and how it applies to the work you see him do on the show.
I think maybe the most pointed tip he gave me was like, “They got great writers, amazing story, everyone really knows what they’re doing… But every now and then before a take, just as they call action, tell yourself, ‘I don’t give a s**t!’ Throw it all out the window and do whatever the f**k you want!” (laughs) That was advice to an actor that would definitely inform where the character came from and where he lives. So it was very helpful and fun.
What’s your viewpoint on a film like The Irishman where they used the same actors for flashbacks with de-aging VFX technology? Is there always going to be a place for other actors to play a major part of flashbacks or do you feel as the price of the tech drops the industry will become heavily reliant on it?
It’s a tricky one, my friend. (laughs) You know I have not seen The Irishman, though I’m certainly a lover of Scorsese and his crew. So I can’t comment on that directly. I certainly suspect it’s obviously something they’ll decide when it’s appropriate to use and when not. And I’m sure as you say it will shift as technology becomes more advanced and more affordable… I don’t know, I think that’ll come down to each individual artist.
I find it hard to imagine that a community of artists, especially when you’re speaking about a collaborative art like filmmaking or storytelling in general… That most artists would opt to interact with something that is not available to them at the moment.
You know to try and create a story or human moments, that is sort of waiting on the computer, three weeks down the road. So, in terms of The Irishman they were still working with the guys there in the room. But I can’t really speak to how the de-aging tech effected the work as far as The Irishman goes.
I think the artist will always choose what’s most fun, what’s interesting to them. I think some will find the technology very intriguing and it certainly is in its way, and some will say, ‘I want the whole warm body.’
I think actually the evolution of that question will lie more with audiences. What they’re interested in receiving. How crossable the uncanny valley truly is… Because the people are going to decide if they’ll buy it or not. That’s a good working answer down the line one way or the other.
Are you going to appear in any other flashbacks in this season of Ray Donovan? Without any spoilers of course.
That’s it for me… At least for this season.
You’re going to be in a new Netflix show called Locke & Key that’s arriving on February 7th. What kind of character will you be playing in that?
Locke & Key is based off a graphic novel series, written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. It’s a series of books that is just gorgeous. It’s beautiful. It’s sort of family drama, meets horror film meets father legacy. In that series, I’ll play the father of the family that comes to live in my childhood home. I don’t know how much I can say beyond it…
I mean it’s all in the books for anyone and they’re well worth the read. The show looks amazing and all the people that I’ve worked with who’ve seen bits of it are extremely pleased with it. So I’d say it’s well worth the look this February.
I saw Liam Neeson at BUILD series and he joked around, then got a bit serious, about how theatre actors are just better actors than TV/Film-only ones because they get to perform every night. How they get more practice in and have to constantly adapt to a live audience. Since you’ve had experience on both sides of the aisle, on-stage and on-screen, what are your thoughts?
(laughs) You know one of the things I love about what I do, and brings me into context with what other people are doing, is that there’s no real template for it. There’s not one way to get where you’re going. Nobody’s ended up where they are for the same reasons. There are definitely skill sets that come with different environments and different experiences and different lengths of experiences.
There are certainly things that I know having come up in the theatre side and being trained in storytelling and acting… That I wouldn’t know had I just come up through the Television ranks in Los Angeles. But there are definitely things that that those guys know that I don’t. That I’ve had to learn later in life that I’m still learning.
I think it’s hard to stick a pin in any one answer about what’s going to make an actor better, more effective or not. Aside from maybe if they’re still curious, if they’re still interested, if they still feel like they have something to learn. Anyone that thinks they’ve got all the answers about anything, is more likely than not to not know anything.
Do you feel you prepare any differently as an actor than from when you first began? Do you have any kind of ritual every morning to kind of get into that kind of mindset or is it different for every role really?
Yeah it’s different for every role, every circumstance. Like if I’m doing a theatre gig, I have a pretty standard warmup just to get get into my body. But I switch it out based on what I have to do for a show and where I am. Mickey is an easy guy to get into physically to kind of shake your fingers up in the right way and feel it through your body (laughs) as opposed to maybe a more still character.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the comments on the Ray Donovan fan group on Facebook but a lot of people commented on your performance and the episode (“The Transfer Agent”). Do you read those usually? You should go check it out!
(laughs) Oh no, that’s dangerous man! I’m glad to hear it came off well though for sure.