It was a Saturday afternoon in late April, and the writers strike was looming, if not inevitable. Still, the six men gathered in L.A. for The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Drama Actor Emmy Roundtable showed no signs of panic. In fact, The Old Man’s Jeff Bridges and Dahmer’s Evan Peters were busy sharing breathing exercises, while The Last of Us‘ Pedro Pascal and Succession‘s Kieran Culkin compared notes about hosting Saturday Night Live. Culkin had just been tapped by SNL for the season’s penultimate episode, one of many productions that would be shuttered a few days later. But before Hollywood came to a halt, the foursome, along with Snowfall’s Damson Idris and The White Lotus’ Michael Imperioli, got candid about the pressure, the fandom and who’s really in the Mandalorian suit. (Watch the full roundtable.)
Let’s start easy: When fans come up to you on the street, what are they likely to know you from and what do they typically say?
KIERAN CULKIN The new one, which is weird, is people feel like they can touch me. I was with my kids, and this guy just grabs me and he’s like, “Hey, man, love your show,” and I said, “No touchy.” That’s as aggressive as I could be. “No touchy.”
DAMSON IDRIS I’m apparently married to everyone. I’m everyone’s husband.
How does that get presented, exactly?
IDRIS “Hey, husband, dinner’s ready.” Then they follow me, and I jump in the SUV and dart out.
CULKIN “Come home with me.” Yeah, I get that one all the time too. (Laughs.)
PEDRO PASCAL I remember, earlier on, because of Game of Thrones and the way my character died — speaking of touching — people were super into taking selfies with their thumbs in my eyes.
CULKIN Wow, that’s a lot of trust.
PASCAL And at first, I was so earnest and happy about the success of the character in the show, I’d let them! And then I remember getting a bit of an eye infection. (Laughter.)
JEFF BRIDGES I get The Dude. People just dig The Big Lebowski, it’s such a good movie.
CULKIN Do people shout quotes at you? “This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass.”
BRIDGES Oh yeah, the quotes.
CULKIN And the one I use a lot, because there’s never a context for it, is “Nice marmot.” Whenever there’s a lull in the conversation, I’ll just, like, point at someone’s plant and go, “Nice marmot.”
Evan, Michael, what about you?
EVAN PETERS Mostly American Horror Story. It’s “Can I take a picture?” or “I’ve seen your show.”
CULKIN “Nice marmot.” (Laughter.)
MICHAEL IMPERIOLI I get The Dude, which I don’t understand. I wasn’t in the movie, and I’m not Jeff Bridges. (Laughter.) Nah, it was The Sopranos for a long time, and now it’s a lot of White Lotus from young people. Some people want to take a picture with me pretending I have a gun to their head, and I never will do that.
IMPERIOLI I’ll strangle them, but I won’t put a gun to their head. (Laughter.)
You’re all here because these roles broke through. Did anyone have any hesitations or reservations?
PETERS Yeah, definitely. I didn’t want to play any more bad guys. I was like, “Not doing that anymore,” and then, I don’t know, I read the scripts. First of all, I didn’t know the story of Jeffrey Dahmer, and I was pretty upset about the amount of times that the police department and the justice system failed to stop him because of racism, homophobia, prejudice. It was way too much, and so I was really compelled to try to push myself and really dig into that. I felt like the message of the piece was worth it.
That idea of not wanting to play any more bad guys: Why not? What does that do to you?
PETERS Oh, it’s just incredibly difficult.
CULKIN Can I ask, do you find that it’s easy for you to pop in and out of that? Like, at the end of the day, you’re doing a difficult scene as Jeffrey Dahmer and then do you go, “All right, I’m going to go home and have some soup, shower”?
CULKIN And how long was the shoot?
PETERS Six and a half months.
CULKIN That’s six and a half months of that hanging over you? Oh jeez.
PETERS Yeah, and it was about four months of prep.
And you’re wearing weights on your hands …
CULKIN Weights on your hands?
PETERS I watched the Stone Phillips Dateline interview with him, and when I saw that and the way that he spoke, before I even decided to do it, I was like, “I have to start working on this now,” to try to figure out how he spoke, the accent. And he moved weirdly. He’s got a very straight back and he doesn’t move his arms when he walks. He’s just a very odd man. So I wanted to try to work on that for as long as I could, because that’s the thing: You only get one shot at it and then it’s done.
PETERS It’s terrifying. So I just tried to spend every waking moment working on it.
For the rest of you who are also inhabiting dark spaces, can you turn it off at the end of the day?
CULKIN Some of the actors I admire most are the ones who can just turn it off right after and go home.
IDRIS I heard Heath Ledger was like that. Everyone thought when he was playing the Joker he was just in that mode all the time, but I heard he was chilling, having coffee, like, “Hey, how’s your weekend?”
PASCAL Something that I’ve actually found strange to discover later in life is the fact that it does weigh on you. Because I’ve always forced myself to not be romantic about the process. And that doesn’t mean not take it totally seriously, but (I’d be like,) “Bad guys are fun, I love exploring that stuff,” and I’ve realized the older I get that it doesn’t matter what you do, stuff is going to come home with you. I just felt like I was really naive about it in the past, or that it was a choice, like I refused to indulge that these boundaries get blurred. And there isn’t really a way to keep that from happening, I’ve discovered.
IDRIS I remember I was doing The Twilight Zone, which was shooting in Vancouver, and (Benedict) Wong, he was in Doctor Strange, and they put everyone at that same hotel. And he and I were both going home one day, and he’s like, “Man, I’m so exhausted, I had the longest day,” and I’m like, “Me too.” Then we get off the elevator and he opens the door to his room and his kids come running at him like, “Daddy!” And all of a sudden, he’s out of it. But I’m going in my room and I’m like (shivering) all alone. So, I think family helps.
CULKIN It does, but I think I was kidding myself as well. When I see my kids, it’s gone; it’s bath time, bed- time, all that stuff. And then they go to bed and I’m not sleeping well.
PETERS Oh yeah.
But Evan, you’ve been saying you can’t keep doing this to yourself for years now, and yet here we are talking about your darkest role to date. We really need to get you a light, fluffy rom-com.
PETERS That sounds great. (Laughter.) I’m interested in exploring the light. So, we’ll see. I’ll take a little break.
BRIDGES (To Peters) Did you learn something (from the experience)? Anything positive that you might use down the line?
PETERS Certainly the case changed the way I looked at the world. And I think for me, personally, I learned what I could do, what I can’t do, and what I need to work on. One thing I had learned working on Mare of Easttown with Kate Winslet, who is a fucking incredible person and an amazing actress, (was about how to be a leader) on set: She talks to everybody and she’s compassionate toward every fucking person. I really looked up to that and I tried to carry that with me throughout shooting this.
IDRIS But at the same time, the character is in isolation, right? So just for the process, having to tell someone how your weekend was when you’re trying to get into a place …
PETERS Well, that’s the thing.
CULKIN Yeah, people come up and try to joke with me, and I’m like, “I’m trying to learn my lines.”
IDRIS “I’m about to go kill someone.”
Damson and Kieran, you’ve just come to the end of these career-defining roles. I’m curious how you’ve coped with closing that chapter and how you’ve thought about the next one, which can be both exciting and terrifying.
IDRIS The next thing I’m doing is a film, playing a Formula One driver (opposite Brad Pitt). I think if you seek characters that force you to transform, you’re going to be fine. I played a drug dealer. I’m definitely not going to play a drug dealer again for a long time. It’s like when you (to Imperioli) left The Sopranos, you were like, “Man, I’m probably not going to touch this again.”
CULKIN It hasn’t even been two months since we finished shooting and (Succession) is still airing, so I don’t really know what the feeling is. It was an amazing show to work on, really incredible, and I’m a little bit scared of what the next job may be because of the freedom we were given in the way that we worked. I felt very spoiled, and so it’s scary, but maybe that’s a good kind of scary. I would have liked more, but I also feel really good with what we’ve done.
Michael, you’ve been in their shoes. Do you have any advice to impart based on what you did or didn’t do following The Sopranos?
IMPERIOLI It’s good not to think of things in terms of career moves — just look at what’s the next interesting part. I think that’s where people make mistakes, especially in television. You get on a show that’s a hit and then you say, “Oh, now the next thing, I have to be the star” or “The next thing, it’s got to be a hit.” If you start thinking that way, you really can get in trouble.
CULKIN If you start thinking how people are going to perceive you, as opposed to picking the work?
IMPERIOLI Yeah. I always feel like after whatever job it is, it’s back to the drawing board. My whole life has been that way.
I’ve heard you talk in recent years about your post-Sopranos trajectory, and you’ve said, “I’ve worked consistently, luckily, but it’s not like all the top directors are calling me and want me in their stuff. It still always feels like a battle,” which surprises me. Has it surprised you?
IMPERIOLI Not necessarily. Charles Grodin wrote a book, which was titled It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here. That was what he always felt they were thinking when he’d go into casting offices for auditions. As actors, you go through all this rejection, you’re so insecure, and I think I’ve internalized that my whole life. It always feels like a miracle when I get a job. It still feels like that.
CULKIN I like “back to the drawing board,” I don’t know about you. If I knew what my next two or three jobs were, that would give me panic attacks. I like the job being done, and then there’s nothing, and then there’s something.
IDRIS That’s so interesting. I have a mortgage. (Laughter.)
Damson, a few years back, you said that Idris Elba offered you some advice based on his experience on The Wire, which was, “Make sure they kill you, otherwise you’re going to walk around your whole life with people going, ‘You should bring Snowfall back.’ ” Well, spoiler alert: That’s not what happened. So first, are you prepared for that?
IDRIS I get it already.
And what were the conversations around the ending?
IDRIS Well, the drug dealer (typically) dies or he goes to jail, right? So it was, “Oh, what if he loses everything and he’s just wandering into the abyss?” Which is what happens to (my character) Franklin Saint. And I’ve accepted that that show and that character belong to the people now. It doesn’t belong to me. When I finish a part, I take an exotic trip to Trinidad and Tobago, I leave the character there, and then I come back and I start again.
CULKIN In between seasons, did you feel that way as well or were you carrying it the whole time?
IDRIS Oh man, I was definitely carrying it. I remember being in London talking in character, and my mom’s like, “What are you doing?”
I’m curious what doors these roles have opened for all of you. Pedro, for instance, there seems to be a feverish excitement around you and your career right now. Do you feel a pressure, professionally, to strike while the iron is hot?
PASCAL My body temperature just went up. (Laughs.) I’ve had the interesting experience and the fortune, really, to be a part of jobs that have these franchise-size successes, and you’re very taken care of in terms of their level of exposure and, if you can, being a part of elevating that or nurturing that in any way with your acting. That’s been very lucky for me, but they’ve all felt like these kinds of big machines. And so it would be really interesting to see what happens if I can step into something that is more of a risk as far as how big the project is, where it would be more story. Not to say that it’s not because of the stories that these things that are grander in scale work. … Oh, do you see (my glasses) fogging?
CULKIN They’re fogging! (Laughs.) But wouldn’t you say that there’s a lot of risk in doing something that’s so beloved? There’s a huge fan base for the Last of Us game. That’s scary.
PASCAL Totally scary. And it’s that funny thing of compartmentalizing your feelings about stuff and dealing with the amount of pressure on you. I have this psychological game where I’m like, “It’s no big deal, nobody cares, nobody gives a shit …”
CULKIN I do that too.
PASCAL But this time around, I was scared. I was so scared. Because there was more of an exposed silhouette, a silhouette of coolness maybe, and an expectation to be met as far as what people’s immersive experience of the story was. And to disappoint them in that regard felt like it would be … I don’t know. You don’t want to let people down, but also nobody’s impervious to disappointing people. I want people to like me.
IDRIS We like you, bro.
At the same time, you seem to be having fun with the fandom. I don’t have a good handle on what the whole “daddy” narrative is all about …
CULKIN (To Idris) Husband, (to Pascal) daddy.
PASCAL I think one is (to Idris) young, (to himself) old.
What I do know is if you google your name and “daddy,” 1.5 million pages turn up. So, my question is …
CULKIN Will you be my daddy? (Laughter.)
Am I right that you’re having fun with it?
PASCAL Yeah, I am having fun with it. (The daddy thing) seems a little role-related. There was a period where the Mandalorian is very daddy to baby Grogu, and Joel is very daddy to Ellie. These are daddy parts. That’s what it is.
BRIDGES Are you a daddy?
PASCAL I’m not a daddy and (looks directly to camera) I’m not going to be a daddy.
CULKIN I’m a daddy. Nobody likes my daddy parts.
PASCAL Did you just say, “Nobody likes my daddy parts”?
CULKIN They like your daddy parts. (Laughter.)
Michael, how has The White Lotus changed the way you’re received in Hollywood?
IMPERIOLI Well, you start getting invited to a lot of parties and events, and I hadn’t in a long time. And The White Lotus has a lot of young fans and a lot of people who never watched The Sopranos. Or maybe it was too violent, I don’t know. So it’s a different fan base, which is cool.
BRIDGES Tell us about Mike White. What a talent!
IMPERIOLI Mike wrote all the episodes and directs them all, and it’s very collaborative. He wants input and takes input, but also has his point of view. He’s very kind, too. I never heard him raise his voice once on set, never saw him lose his cool at all.
PASCAL I don’t trust him. (Laughs.)
IMPERIOLI And he’s apparently really, really fast.
Evan, you were supposed to be part of this past season, right?
PETERS Yeah. The scheduling didn’t work out. I was devastated.
CULKIN Which character?
IMPERIOLI Which Will Sharpe ended up playing. Aubrey Plaza’s (character’s) husband. Was it on the heels of Dahmer?
IMPERIOLI Oh, you needed some decompressing after that.
Maybe you can go to Thailand for season three?
PETERS Thailand, let’s go!
When casting directors call you guys, what parts do they tend to want you for, and what are the ones where you’re like, “Nope, not doing that again”?
PASCAL You mean, like, (looks to Imperioli) mobster? (To himself) Caretaker of cargo? (To Culkin) Annoying? (Laughter.)
IDRIS I’m reluctant to play myself. Like, a British guy from southeast London, I’m not interested in that at all. There are a million actors out there who could go and do that. I want to transform.
For the entire first season of Snowfall (on which Idris plays a young man from South Central L.A.), nobody even knew you had a British accent, right?
IDRIS Yeah. That’s why I’m asking you (to Culkin) about the show getting all this press and stuff and then having to go back (to work), because for me, if I was doing all that press and everyone was like, “Oh, he’s British,” I almost feel like it would have taken them out of it when they watched me.
Pedro, you have two shows, The Last of Us and The Mandalorian. Presumably, you don’t always have to be present for The Mandalorian?
That can just be voiceover?
CULKIN Is that true?
PASCAL For a lot of it, yeah.
CULKIN Really? I thought that was you. I kept thinking, “That guy’s really good.” It’s all a lie! (Laughter.)
PASCAL Now you know he’s better.
CULKIN Let’s get him here. (Laughter.)
PASCAL There was an extended amount of experimentation, being in the suit for a lot of it, and frankly, my body wasn’t up for the task as far as, like, the four months of it. But I was in it. I was in it a significant amount, an elastic amount (he pretends to tug at his neck, where the suit would chafe). But now we’ve figured it out, which is super cool, and amazingly, it gave me the opportunity to be able to go and do something else.
CULKIN That’s good. I have a question. Sorry, I’m curious. Do you ever watch and go, “I wouldn’t have done that”? Like, “He leaned on the thing, and that’s not (how I’d do it).” Do you ever have the sense of ownership of, “I should have been in the suit,” or are you like, “No, this is good”?
PASCAL I think it’s great. (Laughter.)
CULKIN Great. I’m not trying to be a dick …
PASCAL No, I do. I think that there are things that you have to let go of in terms of what can be an OCD level of attention to detail because, you know …
BRIDGES Because we’re part of a collage.
PASCAL Yeah, exactly. But even so much as wanting your component of that to fit perfectly into the collage, you really have to give it all up.
IDRIS You can know too much sometimes, too. For the last two seasons of my show, they made me a producer, and everything just changed. I didn’t feel like an actor anymore.
CULKIN Did you like that or was that too much?
IDRIS It was a lot. Prior to that, I’d get an episode script probably a week before I did it, so there was that mystery. But now it’s like, “I know exactly where I’m going, I know exactly where I’m going to end up,” and it was … interesting. And a lot more actors are doing that, producing.
CULKIN Oof, all that sort of stuff scares me. But on our show, we wouldn’t get a script till two or three days before we started shooting.
PASCAL That’s crazy!
CULKIN And I memorize fast.
It’s like your party trick. And I’ve heard you say that it could infuriate some co-stars …
CULKIN Some. (Laughs.)
BRIDGES Any of you acted with cards? Like, cards behind the guy’s head?
CULKIN I did a job (Igby Goes Down) when I was 18. We did a scene with Gore Vidal. It was me and Susan Sarandon with him, and he’s not an actor and he had a lot of dialogue. So she’s just like, “Let’s get cue cards.” It was her idea, and she sat there and just did this (holding up card after card), and it was great.
BRIDGES I remember my brother, Beau, was doing a thing (Child’s Play) with (Marlon) Brando once, and Brando says, “I want eye contact. Can I write my lines on your forehead?”
BRIDGES He got fired during rehearsals. But yeah, we all have our tricks.
PASCAL Oh, I’d let Brando write on my forehead.
CULKIN Fisher Stevens (who plays Hugo Baker on Succession) told me once, he goes, “I think I might actually be a good actor if I could just learn the damn lines.” In our show, he always has his prop phone because he has his lines on it. He just can’t learn them. He says he’s always been that way, that’s not new.
PASCAL I don’t mean to segue too severely, but I’m shocked to hear that (Culkin) would get pages last minute for something that comes across as so tight. (To Imperioli) Was The Sopranos like that? Shock me.
IMPERIOLI No, they came a couple of weeks before.
PASCAL That’s good. It’s also crazy that we’re all here and part of different television shows because The Sopranos broke the wheel as far as what could be done.
Did you have a sense of that at the time, Michael?
IMPERIOLI When it started airing, yeah, but before, when I got the pilot script, I had never really done television. I mostly did movies, and mostly independent movies. And an HBO series, that was the bargain basement of television (at the time). It was not prestige at all. And then, obviously, it turned out well. The first season, it caught on really quickly and you knew something was happening.
How good are all of you at predicting how your work will land?
IMPERIOLI I have no idea.
PETERS Yeah, none.
CULKIN This was the first time that I actually had that thought, because this is my first time doing a TV show. When it’s just a movie, to me, it’s finished, it’s none of my business if it’s good or bad or how well it does, it’s just done now, I’m doing the next thing. So this time, I had a little more of a vested interest, like, “I hope it’s good, I hope people watch it.” And I remember while we were shooting it, feeling like, “OK, I can tell this is good quality, but who the hell is going to want to watch the show?” And then about halfway through (filming season one), I remember coming home and my wife asked how work was, and I was like, “I think the show is good.” And it was reassuring to know that was what the response was: a little bit slow at the beginning, and then people really connected to it.
BRIDGES But there is that thing when you have high expectations, and then the way that they put the collage together exceeds your expectations, and it is so wonderful.
Jeff, with The Old Man, what was going on with you and your health was presumably harder than anything you experienced onscreen. (Mid-production, Bridges was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and then spent five weeks in the ICU with COVID.) Did you return to the show, which deals with aging and mortality, with a different perspective?
BRIDGES It was just more in focus. And it’s that love thing. When you’re in that kind of situation, and you’re dancing with your mortality, you realize how much you love the people that love you, and you feel that love, and it just intensifies all of it. And I’ve used some of the philosophy of my character. I’d asked our technical adviser, who’s a CIA guy, “What’s your guys’ philosophy?” And they said, “We’re into stoicism,” so I started to read this book called The Obstacle Is the Way. But coming back to work after two years of being sick like that, it was so psychedelic because it was all the same people, the same crew, the same cast. It was like we had a long weekend, and I felt like saying, “I had this weird dream.”
Are you making different choices in terms of what you want out of your career on the other side?
BRIDGES Nah, my choices have really always been based on resistance. (Laughs.) Early on, because my father and my brother were actors, I didn’t want to compete with them, and who wants to do what their parents want them to do? So I resisted it. I’d done, maybe, 10 movies, I got nominated for Academy Awards and stuff, and I was still like, “Oh, I don’t know.” Then I got an offer for a part in The Iceman Cometh with Robert Ryan, Fredric March, Lee Marvin, all these old pros. John Frankenheimer was the director, and it was eight weeks of rehearsals and then shooting for two weeks with these masters. And I took the job when I didn’t want to work, and I thought it was going to put the final nail in the acting coffin for me, but it did the opposite. I was just like, “Look at these guys!” They all had that anxiety that we have as actors. They just wanted to do the material justice.
PETERS But what happens when you really care and you’re really into it, and then you’re on your way home, and you’re like, “Fuck, why didn’t I do that thing? I should have done that thing.”
CULKIN “Now I know what to do. Now I know what that scene is about. Shit!”
BRIDGES Don’t you hate that?
PETERS It’s the worst feeling in the world.
PASCAL It’s a psychologically crazy thing that we do. Sometimes you just fucking hate yourself.
CULKIN If you’re me, yeah.
PASCAL There are so many instances where I’m in that moment and I’m like, “This can’t be good for you.” And it’s not the fact that I’m living the apocalypse for 12 months or (to Evans) that you’re somebody who’s terrifying or (to Culkin) that you’re annoyingly toxic …
CULKIN Or just annoying.
PASCAL Never annoying! (Laughter.)
CULKIN Too late. I am annoying.
Before you all disperse, what’s left on your professional bucket lists?
PASCAL I would like to be in an ensemble of (looks around the table) six men …
CULKIN You can say five, it’s cool. (Laughter.)
BRIDGES I keep resisting things and they keep kind of popping back up.
What are you resisting right now?
BRIDGES That’s none of your business. I’m a secretive dude. (Laughs.) But it’s almost like I don’t want to meet directors. With The Old Man, I really resisted meeting Jon Steinberg because I knew once you meet with a creative person, another creative cat, it’s fun and you’re (in it,) it’s harder to resist, man.
PETERS I’d like to do a play. I’ve done a couple, but nothing when I was older, so I’ve been craving that.
CULKIN That’d be great. I’d love to see you onstage.
What about you, Kieran?
CULKIN I’d like to play someone tall. Just to see what that’s like. (Laughter.)
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the May 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.