I had the opportunity to speak with actor Malachi Weir, perhaps best known for his time on Showtime’s Billions, about his role in Netflix’s upcoming film Brazen (adapted from the Nora Roberts novel Brazen Virtue). Weir is a working actor in the classic sense with a career that spans everything from performing August Wilson on stage to sharing the screen with Robert De Niro. It was a real pleasure to speak with Malachi and learn about the process of filming during COVID, how he balances the drama and comedy of a lurid thriller, and his long term interest in science fiction.
The following has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
How Malachi Weir Found a Role in Brazen
What drew you to this project?
MW: Firstly, an audition. That was the first thing that drew me to it. And the opportunity to work with these great people. I told myself during the pandemic if someone was like “how would you work during the pandemic?” and I thought I wouldn’t work unless I’m the lead in a movie, something in Canada maybe, or New Zealand, and then it was like “Oh! You got a lead in a movie in Canada!” Ok!
And then, obviously, it was a character that was new for me, Alyssa Milano, just everything about it. This seemed like it could be really cool.
How did the audition process work? In person? Over Zoom? How does it work during a pandemic?
MW: I think people have done it different ways. Mostly it’s over Zoom. For me, I don’t have a lot of live auditions. Mostly, I’m putting myself on tape and sending it in. So that was that: I put myself on tape with a reader, did the best I could, sent it in and probably went back to watching Netflix.
Is this a genre you’ve been drawn to in your own interests, a lurid serial killer story?
MW: I’ve had some late night marathons with things like that, but we’re not going to talk about that! (Laughs) Thrillers though, I’ve always been drawn to them.
Filming During a Pandemic
What was the process like for you filming during COVID? I gather you were up in Vancouver but how different was it for you in terms of restrictions, face masking, and all the other things we’ve had to go through?
MW: It was like being on another planet, but one I was happy to be on. A year and a half of playing it really safe, staying home, in a country being crazy. When I got the job, I had a lot of questions about how it would all work out because of COVID. Those initial first steps, like any first steps, were a little scary. Oh my God! I’m in a car, I’m in an airport, I’m on a plane. What am I doing? But, I’ve got to hand it up to Netflix, which I know sounds like I’m trying to suck up to Netflix…
There could be a sequel!
MW: (Laughs) Certainly given what 2020 was when someone can make you feel comfortable and safe, the value of that is much higher for me than it used to be and that’s exactly what happened here. I think the entire cast and crew found it was a very safe, fun environment. Our set photographer kept saying “these are historical documents!” as we’re doing rehearsals wearing masks and shields. It was crazy! But I’d take that over no masks, no shields, and just hoping we wouldn’t get COVID.
Malachi Weir’s Character in Brazen
What was your relationship with Sam Page like? The two of you had a great “old buddy” chemistry that seemed very natural so I was curious what it was like to work with him?
MW: I think it’s good casting, very fortunate casting for us. You know you work and you have people you work with and people you end up becoming friends with; Sam and I became actual friends. The best compliment was someone coming on set saying “how long have you guys known each other?” and we’re like “I don’t know… a week?” (Laughs) He made it very easy. He’s very funny and very smart.
Balancing Comedy and Drama in a Thriller
One of the things I find interesting in a movie like this is how to balance the tone. Obviously, there are some elements that are more on the comedic side, and – we’re dealing with a murdered sister – certainly there are serious elements here. A lot of your role here sees rolled eyes at the relationship between the other main characters or a glib aside, so I was curious how you approached the tone of this sort of project generally and in your performance specifically?
MW: I should ask you how I did before I answer that question!
I’ll tell you – I thought you were a delight. Both my wife and I laughed at so many of your line readings, you were my favorite part of the film.
MW: Thank you so much, though now I feel like I just dug for it! (Laughs) It was the most important question to ask Monika (Mitchell, the film’s director). Given the subject matter, given Alyssa and what she’s passionate about in life, given what I’m passionate about in life, given a lot of things, how do we do something where if I’m being told I’m supposed to be the fun one. When can I be funny? What moment can be funny? I know having spoken to a few cops in doing research about playing police officers, they all say if you can’t find a way to laugh, you will go nuts. That informed some of my decisions. Running things past the team and asking if this seems funny: “I’m going to try something and if you don’t think it’s funny just tell me it was bad!” It was a lot of great conversations mostly between Monika and I about trying to figure out if this is the right moment to make a joke or roll my eyes at something. Or if this is a moment where the characters are in a moment where they are completely committed to the police work? Or are they having a moment between moments where they can enjoy their relationship before they have to face the cameras of police work again?
Did you find the adaptation process gave you more flexibility? I’ve not read the underlying novel, but I understand it’s sold a great many copies and that Nora Roberts has many fans. Did you feel particular fidelity to that universe? Was there flexibility to do what you wanted to do with this character?
MW: I think hiring me showed some flexibility so I continued to run with the flexibility. I think it’s one of things that makes the job really great and this job really great. Monika would say “go do something, go create something” and then you try it and she responds with “ok, more of that or let’s try something different.” There’s a great deal of trust that she, and Netflix, gave the freedom to create as much as we could. Through the editing process, they can pick the pieces that make the most sense. A lot of the stuff with the humor, I may have done two or three different takes that were hitting that comic moment differently and then wait to see how it all comes together.
Malachi Weir’s Perspective on Acting and His Career
Do you feel drawn to doing more comedic work in the future? I know you have a lot of drama, like BILLIONS, on your resume – would you feel drawn back in that direction?
MW: My father would be happy. He’s always like “why don’t you do funny stuff? People will think you’re funny!” I’m like “it’s not entirely my choice, dad, but thanks.” (Laughs)
I loved it. I absolutely had a good time with this project. I felt bad when I was doing the ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) because I got the chance to watch a scene or two and I laughed! I was worried they were going to think I’m so arrogant, but I usually watch stuff I do and think “Ok… Ok… that was not bad… that was a decent moment…” but I never get a chance to laugh or do anything funny! It was really pleasurable to shoot it. I hope other people’s experiences match my own experience of shooting it.
Do you have a big picture philosophy in what you look for in roles? What inspires you to chase a project?
MW: It’s two different things. There’s where I am in my career as an actor and how much ability do I have to actually pick and choose the roles that I do. I do pick and choose auditions. There are things that are disrespectful or degrading that are not revealing about character or humanity that I’m not interested in doing. I would love to be doing science fiction. I consume a ton of science fiction. New York, where I do most of my work, is not a science fiction hub. Hopefully there’s more of that. But generally, I look for a good character. Hopefully, a writer, a director, and a team of people that I’d enjoy working with. The most important thing is remembering that it’s a team.
I ran track in high school and I loved the relays. I ran the 4×400.
So did I!
MW: Did you really? Oh nice! Were you anchor? Where did you play?
I was largely a distance runner. I ended up running cross country and track in college but I had just enough speed to get tossed on the B squad 4×400. I was a steeplechaser mostly.
MW: Oh there was no way! The 100 was too quick. And anything like a 1600? Can’t do it. The 400? I’d hit the wall at like 375 and start flailing!
But I love that there’s that individual aspect where you have to run your race, but then passing that baton is all about teamwork. That’s what I think filmmaking is and one of the reasons I love it so much. It feels like everyone does their part in something we do together. So that’s what I look for: a project where it seems like it’ll be a good time like that, where the character is someone that evolves, or the story is something worth telling.
I am curious about your sci-fi interests – is there a particular sort of science fiction you’d like to pursue in the future?
MW: Well, you know Star Wars, of course, is the high water mark. Star Wars? Star Trek? You want projects? Kinds of science fiction?
Are you a hard science fiction guy looking for an Ex Machina? Are you hoping for a space opera?
MW: Blade Runner! Well this is the thing, all these things I grew up loving have come back. It’s exciting and terrifying. “I’m pursuing it, and I’m here because of you guys!” A friend of mine years ago booked a pilot and so did I. We both were really happy, and then he told me “Oh I get to fly a spaceship!” and I was like “I don’t even want to talk to you anymore!”
So yea, something in space. I should be in space!
I agree and I’d watch that project! I really enjoyed chatting with you. I wish you the best of luck with Brazen and finding a sci-fi film in your future.
MW: Likewise, best of luck to you!
Brazen will be released on Netflix worldwide on January 13, 2022. You can find the film at https://www.netflix.com/Brazen.