Victor Garber is doing what he does best in the new film Big Game, but it’s still a departure.
The actor, best known for his Emmy-nominated performance as a superspy father on Alias, appears in Big Game (in theaters and on VOD June 26) as the vice-president to Samuel L. Jackson’s president. When Air Force One crashes in remote Finland, Jackson is forced to rely on the help of a 13-year-old boy in order to survive, while various government officials figure out exactly where he is and whose malign motives might be to blame.
The context is new: Big Game is goofier in its depiction of government officials than other films dare to be. But Garber’s been playing officious men for the bulk of his career, including in Titanic (as shipbuilder Thomas Andrews), Milk (as the mayor of San Francisco), and Argo (as the Canadian Ambassador).
Of late, he’s turned over a new leaf as the star of an upcoming CW drama, The Tomorrow People, but don’t expect Garber to open up like your typical tween star. The actor tells TIME: “I’m old enough that I don’t have to get attention outside my work.”
TIME: What does it take to work in such a diverse slate of projects? I can’t remember much you’ve done that has a lot in common with Big Game. Do you avoid doing projects that are similar to one another?
Victor Garber: I guess it was on a conscious level. Really what interests me is the material, and finding something I think would be fun to do. I make my choices based on that. When I was younger, after Godspell, I didn’t want to get typed into musical theater—I was very conscious of not doing too much of anything in a row. It was a conscious choice. It’s about the material. In this case, the part was contained. It wasn’t a long haul. And it was going to be with Felicity [Huffman] and Jim Broadbent, whom I worship. It turned out to be a good experience, I think.
You’ve been in Oscar-winners like Argo and Titanic, and this movie, which is fairly broad and kind of a throwback to 1980s action movies, feels like a departure.
I thought that was a cool thing. You never have any idea how it’s going to turn out or what people are going to think. It was a great idea— loved the idea that this kid and Sam Jackson are paired as a duo. I think it works really well. There will be a lot of people who won’t be interested in this.
Though the movies and shows you’re in tend to differ, you also tend to play a similar sort of fellow—authoritative, wise. Did you have to learn to develop gravitas?
I think it’s just genetic. We’re all typecast in a way. They’re not going to cast me as a Midwestern farmer, though I would love to do that. It’s up to me to make sure I don’t get typed. I’m on the show Power and I play a sleazy, rich businessman, which is fun. It’s more about the dynamics of character that attracts me, but if there’s a government official in the script, I’ll be called in to be seen for it. That’s the way it goes.
Do you find playing U.S. government officials dull, being Canadian?
Oh no! I find it all just bizarre, peculiar, and fascinating. Being Canadian—the only way it’s affected me is I couldn’t come here earlier. I always wanted to be in New York. There was no way to move up in Canada, it was all lateral movement at that time.
All my friends moved to the States. I’m very close with Marty Short and Eugene Levy because we were in Godspell together, and I see Paul Shaffer on occasion whom I love.
Have you noticed a new generation of fans since you started appearing on the CW’s The Flash?
I do notice it. It’s slightly daunting. They’re spinning off this character onto a new series called Legends of Tomorrow that’s going to premiere in January. We’re going to Comic-Con, and it’s the first time I’ve ever been there. This is a new world for me. I’m kind of surprised it turned out this way. I’m excited and curious to see what will happen. It’s not just young people; it’s middle-aged guys, nerdy guys who say “I can’t wait for Legends of Tomorrow!” I say—you’re a father! You’re a grown-up! It shows the power of this genre; it’s really all encompassing. It’s fantastic! I feel so lucky this occurred.
Did you anticipate the impact it’d have on your career?
I came to it after it had been established. I hadn’t watched it; I’m not conscious of all that sort of stuff. I made a point of watching it and was really taken with how far we’ve come. It seemed like a feature film: the production values, the writing, everything seemed way more advanced. I was very happy to be a part of it. They’re all very optimistic about this new show. I’ll believe it when it all happens. I hope it’s a success. You just don’t know what’s going to catch on. The Flash shares what made Alias take off. It was really a family drama, and they happened to be spies. This is a similar setup, it’s about a broken family and then this boy becomes a superhero. What’s interesting to me is the dynamic of the actors and the family and how they’re looking to connect. That’s one of Greg [Berlanti]’s great strengths as a writer—it’s not about special effects, even though every kid wants to be a superhero.
What do you watch when you’re not working?
I’m very picky! I’m trying to think of what the last… I don’t see as much as I probably should. I really like smart comedies. I like wit and I like subtlety. I don’t go for most comedies that are made; I just dont get them, and it doesn’t make me laugh.
Why does Alias, nearly a decade after its finale, still have such ardent fans?
Those questions are so hard to answer. J.J. Abrams—he was young. He still is young. It was one of the first things in his career, and he had this passion and genius for creating these characters. The casting—I would never have cast myself as Jack Bristow. J.J. did. Ron Rifkin and I were New York actors and did specialty things here—that was part of the magic of the show, and Jennifer Garner was the heart of the show. Frankly, I haven’t seen anyone before or since who can do what she does in that way. Obviously, I’m prejudiced, because we’re very close. When I think back to the first scenes of Alias, she was just incomparable. People respond to the intelligence of the script and the intelligence of the people involved.
Every time you go out to lunch with Garner, it’s covered by the tabloid press, but other than that, we know next-to-nothing about you. Do you avoid the media outside of your work?
It’s never interested me, really. I find it bewildering, and I see how people suffer because of it. I’ve witnessed too much of it. It’s become obscene, frankly. I have strong feelings about it. I don’t seek it. I don’t think it has any bearing on what I do, but if it did, I still wouldn’t be able to do it. Thank God I’m old enough that I don’t have to get attention outside my work. What’s interesting about an actor—the less you know about them, the more interesting they are.