“… That’s one of the beauties of this industry, that you’re literally passing hand-to-hand knowledge of things that don’t exist in a book or an instruction…” manual.
Dermot Mulroney is in the right place at the right time.
“I got into this business on word of mouth, there wasn’t email, it was people calling people and saying ‘Yes,’ who passed me along.” With his signature lazy grin and smoldering gaze peeking out from under a dash of dark brows, his tousled silver hair is the only thing that looks different from the beginning of his decades-long career. The big break that started it all was a phone call from the director of his first studio film to the director of Young Guns. That’s all it took to land him in the iconic Wild West super-group romp that heated up the summer of 1988. “All because another guy said, ‘Yeah he’s good, put him in.’ In other words, I was already working somewhere else, I didn’t audition for Young Guns. Can you imagine? I was handed this incredible character role to play as a 23, 24 year old.” His joyful and boyish energy is almost giddy and seemingly unbothered by the years of Hollywood grind since.
Of course rom-com fans know there’s nothing special about the big 3-0 — the real mile-stone that mattered was the big 2-8 — the age of the marriage pact in My Best Friend’s Wedding. While Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz duked it out for his affection in the iconic flick 25 years ago, his charm absolutely still shines as bright. Looking at the plot in 2022 and clocking the “expiration date” of 28 (!?), it’s clear that age in Hollywood is undergoing a renaissance. Dermot points to actors like Jane Fonda, “She’s had a great bloom in her, whatever, seventh decade of being an actor, yeah? I’d wish that on everybody— that’s certainly my plan.” At this point in his career, he’s enjoying his experienced outlook. “Maybe I’m noticing it more now from my vantage point of being kinda like “the older guy” on the set or whatever, but I really see technicians as well as cast being like, ‘Come on, we can do this together,’ or, ‘Here, let me show you this.’
That’s one of the beauties of this industry, is that you’re literally passing hand-to-hand knowledge of things that don’t exist in a book or an instruction manual. It’s amazing making movies. It goes back to how much I work. I can’t turn stuff down because I love it so much. Being asked to, it’s just so touching to me.”
“The more you do it, the more you have to do it. It’s really a craving kind of thing, wanting to act.”
While Dermot has rounded up a slew of western roles throughout his career, including The Last Outlaw and Bad Girls, there’s one cowboy role he’s never played. “I’ve yet to do my first rodeo movie so anybody out there, clock’s ticking on that one.” He laughs, “But you know now I’m gonna be the old guy leaning on the fence instead!” From westerns to action to romance, what matters is that he’s working — a LOT. “The more you do it, the more you have to do it. It’s really a craving kind of thing, wanting to act.” Chasing that full work schedule along with ever-expanding platforms for content, is why well into his fourth decade of acting, he’s busier than ever. “For some reason, I just fit this new landscape of jobbing.” Gone are the days of all of Hollywood scrapping for top billing in the few new releases of the year, content is the new Wild West — and it’s allowed him to continue to grow. “I’ve changed that mentality with the industry and it’s worked out great for me. I’ve wound up with some of the most varied types of roles, you know, than ever at this age.” Recent projects range from Agent Game, the spy thriller with Mel Gibson, to Along for the Ride the coming-of-age Netflix movie based on the Sarah Dessen novel of the same name. “Now that there’s all these places your work can be seen, I’m getting calls from all over the place.”
Not content with just being seen in movies, he’s taken up another professional career in the arts. While Dermot’s been a cellist since he was in school, it wasn’t until he was in his 40s that he became a union player in scoring orchestras all over Los Angeles. He figures he has played in the orchestra for about 20 major motion pictures — and a few galas. “I have been known to ask the cellist to go get a drink on me and I play their instruments, I’ve done that a couple of times at fancy dress parties. That’s like my parlor trick.” He cred its his range of talent to his upbringing. “I’m a parent, and I recognize how important it was to my parents to put us into museums, the symphony hall, and into theater to watch plays. They took us to all the great movies, the westerns with my dad and car chase movies, I had such an influx of culture.” Culture of course includes the classics, and he admits those sometimes feel very recent. “The classics have changed since the classics of shall we say, our day. The classics are now [the original] Scream from ’96 which, to me, seems like yesterday. And now they’re on Scream 6 and they invited me on board to be in that cast.”
With all the wild experiences playing over 100 roles has given him, he’s got his feet on solid round. “I don’t want to learn how to fly a helicopter so that we can scratch off my bucket list,” he laughs. “I think Tom Cruise was put here on earth to show us all that. Knowing how amazing his skill set, multi-combined the way it is, has shown us the way but, uh, no thank you with the flying thing.” He scrunches up his face and punctuates the thought with a shrug. It’s not to say that he doesn’t have a need for speed in his blood. “I have race car driving in my family so I could have taken that path. My dear departed dad drove cars for 35 years from the age of about 48 to his last race at 83 years old at the Indianapolis 500. The Brickyard means a lot to us in our family.” His siblings race and collect cars and he’s happy to let them keep the family legacy going. “It is a strong strain in my family but I don’t think I’m going to do that either. They’re all really cool things, but I don’t have the balls for it!”
He might not want to be behind the wheel, but it brought him one of his most cherished memories. “One of my dear friends was Paul Newman, we knew each other for like the last five or six years of his life. I believe I appeared in his final on-camera movie and we remained friends. In the summer that we worked together, he and his partner Carl had a race team and he took me around every weekend. We’d get on his private jet and fly to the race and go into the pit and then watch open wheel Formula 1 cars driving two feet in front of me. I was even driven by Paul twice. Once on a track in Pomona, California, he was in a lap car, a pace car. I was in the passenger seat and he’s flooring a street car going about 120 on a ramp like this,” He slices a 45-degree angle through the air in amazement. “And then he drove me in a street car in between the races at Long Beach, California, which is a road race, like a Lemans-type race. I’m in the car with Paul driving at top speed on a street course. My heart is racing,” The memory of the day comes at him fast. “I have a lump in my throat even talking about it,” he manages.
“He signed a hat for my dad. He knew he was, you know he knew he was a driver. And Paul didn’t sign many things, the story that he told me was ‘the last time somebody asked me to sign an autograph I had to put my dick down to do it because I was standing at a urinal.” The story comes out with the panache befitting a legend. “Hell of a guy, and everyone that ever worked with him would tell you exactly the same full-blooded, big-hearted stories that I just did, he was just, he was the exception. Incredible.
Experiences like this, being open to the work, to people, have created a career full of magic that he doesn’t take for granted, even for a minute. “A lot of actors forget that we come for just a small portion of the whole making of the movie, if you date it back to when the writer picked up their pen. You can’t beat acting for hard work, weird hours, but it’s a privileged position, and we’re working with people who work even harder than we do.” While Dermot still has work he wants to do — a turn on Broadway, for one — he’s happy. “My heart’s full, the people that have been half as kind as Paul was to me, I mean it. You know, just to give me the opportunity, it’s amazing what people did for me.”
He flashes back to the phone call that got him his big break in Young Guns, and he’s almost flustered by it even now. “That’s 37 years ago and I still remember it. I haven’t thought about it in a long time so I wanted to honor that moment. Two guys just said, ‘Yeah sure, why not him?’ And then, look what happened.”
Photography: Baldomero Fernandez
Stylist: Wyman Chang
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