There aren't too many actors who could convincingly play Frank Sinatra, Moe Howard, Robin Williams — and Mickey Mouse. But Chris Diamantopoulos isn't like anybody else in Hollywood.
The versatile actor and voiceover performer is best recognized for his roles on "The Office," "Silicon Valley," "Community" and "Arrested Development," but now, he is the co-star of the new Netflix film "Red Notice," playing a mysterious collector with an artifact that Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds are all trying to get their hands on.
Diamantopoulos joined us for an episode of "Salon Talks" to discuss his evolution as an actor, channeling the voice of the world's most famous mouse and why his character on "The Office" would have shown Pam a good time. Watch the video here, or check out the Q&A below of our conversation.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length
"Red Notice" is the biggest movie that Netflix has ever done. This is exactly the kind of movie that everybody loves — beautiful people being funny and then kicking each other's asses to bits, in beautiful locations.
It's a global — and when I say global, I mean some of the most stunning locations around the world — heist, adventure, action-packed comedy thriller. Rawson Marshall Thurber is a tremendous fellow, an excellent director, a cinephile, a storyteller, and beyond all of that is just a guy that you realize loved watching movies growing up. He took so many tropes from beloved movies and stories and beautifully wove them together to create this new caper.
When I first heard about the casting, each of those stars can power a small planet. With their energy and their charisma and their talent, putting all three together might not typically bode well. Sometimes too many massive and powerful personalities can cancel each other out. In this instance, it's just the opposite. The interplay between the of three of them is tremendous, particularly DJ and Ryan. But also, I mean, anytime you slip Gal in there, it's like both men disappear, and there's Gal.
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It's this beautiful cat and mouse dance. Tell me where you fit into this story.
There's cat and mouse, and mouse, and I'm the wolf. I play Sotto Voce, and he is a bad dude. He is this nefarious, mustache twirling, international from unknown origin, arms dealer playboy torturer of people. It was just a great opportunity to really dive into something different than I'm used to playing, which is what I look for if I can be lucky enough to do a character that might be different than something I've just come off of. That's always more fun for me. I became an actor because I find myself pretty boring, and I want to just play as many other different people as I possibly can.
I have a l knack for shifting up the way I sound and the way I look, and I love it. This guy was super fun to play. There's sort of a fun history about it, too. In the script originally, I think he was scripted as a South American, sort of heavyset and short, kind of like Elmer Fudd. Like a South American Elmer Fudd.
So immediately they thought of you.
They thought of me. No, they actually didn't, but my agents were clever enough to say, look, they're having a hard time figuring out who this guy is, do you want to go in and give it a whirl? I said, look, I'm not South American so I don't want to do that because I'm sure there's a terrific South American actor that can do that. But I am Greek and I speak Greek, it's my first language. Why don't I try him as a Greek? That could be fun. I did, and they responded to it and I got the job, which was really lovely.
Except that about three and a half weeks before production started, I got a call from the director and he said, "I just watched a cut of Ryan's most recent film, which was one of 'The Hitman's Bodyguard' movies. There's a Greek bad guy in that. I'm just worried that I don't want to put him opposite another Greek bad guy. Am I going to need to find someone else?" I said, "No, no, no, no, no," and the actor's ingenuity kicked in. I was like, "You know what's funny? I was thinking of calling you and telling you I don't want to play it that way." He said, "Well, you're not going to do the South American thing." I said, "No, no, no, no, no. We're going to do something different."
I, in this moment of panic, came up with this notion of making him of unknown European origin. His story is that when he was a child, his father was the crime boss. He had this study full of priceless, antique guns and the child was never meant to touch them. One day Dad came home and there I was, as a child holding his prize possessions, a beautiful Colt army revolver. Dad freaked out and grabbed me by the throat which is why you can't understand where I'm from, because he crushed my windpipe. Then by accident, I shot him. So I enter into the crime world by killing my father.
That's a good origin story.
Kind of a neat origin story. Then Rawson said, "I love this. He's got kind of a strangled voice. We'll call him Sotto Voce." I was like, okay, you're a genius. Then we came up with this idea that very aspect of this guy's life gets tattooed onto his body, and he carries on with his destruction and mayhem.
You create this "can't wait to get your hands on it" character. You're with this dream cast. It starts shooting in the winter of 2020 . . . and you get shut down. You have to pick up the pieces again. People may have moved on. How did you get the momentum back?
It was incredible. It's a real testament to Rawson, and to Beau Flynn who produced it, and to Netflix, because we were midway through. I remember the day. It was March 12th. I was on set. I went in to shoot a quick sequence and the makeup artists were talking about, "We might be shutting down." Looking back, I can't believe how cavalier I was about it because I was just like, there's no way. They're not shutting this down. I got in my car and drove back to the hotel and when I got to the hotel, they were starting to pass out masks. I was like, this is so weird. That night I got a call saying, "You're going back to New York. We're shutting down production."
It just happened so, so quickly. I called Rawson and said, "What's the deal here? What are we going to do?" He said, "I have absolutely no idea." Everyone was baffled, and it was many, many months before I heard back from production. It wasn't until August or September that I got a call saying, "Look, we are going to gear back up, and the quarantine protocols are really strict." I had to quarantine at home for two weeks. My whole family did, before getting on a plane and landing in Atlanta, quarantining for two more weeks just in my room because this was pre-vaccination. And then we were all in a bubble and we couldn't leave. We had trackers on our cars and we could only go from set to our room. We couldn't even go around the hotel facility.
I remember I just wanted some sunlight because I'd been indoors for so many weeks. The hotel room was this tiny little room, and the windows were those childproof windows that could only crack. One of the actors, Ritu, told me before I flew in, "You're going to want to figure out a way to open your window because you're going to go crazy." So I brought a tool kit with me when I got there and I undid the screws on the window, opened it up. I brought one of the bureaus up against the window, and I would sit in my underwear in the window for the 20 seconds that the sun was out. That would be a great photo if someone has that. That was a look.
But you know what, to their credit, we finished. We were there, we shot, we finished everything. And the movie looks tremendous. I'm blown away by how good it looks.
I want to talk about the character's voice. That's your thing.
Yeah, it seems to be.
You are known to a lot of people who've watched different TV series, but you also have this other big career. You're the voice of Mickey Mouse. You've been on "Family Guy," "Invincible," you're going to do "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." You've got this other new series, "Inside Job." Is it something you always were into? Were you a guy who was doing voices when you were a kid?
The short answer is yes. It all ties together. When we would go to Greece in the summer when I was a little boy, we would stay in this tiny little place right near the water. It was me, my mother and my brother before my sister was born, and there was no TV. There was no air conditioning and at night to go to sleep. For entertainment, my brother and my mom would ask me to do the Stooges. I would redo all three of the Stooges in the Stooges episodes that we used to watch on WUTV, Buffalo 29.
They had about 40 or 50 of the shorts that they would play in a loop, and I memorized all of them. I was really good with the voices, and then I spent a career in school getting put out in the hallway for doing the very same thing. I realized that that was my thing. I loved playing with my voice. I had facility with it. It got me into musicals because I realized that I could hear the way a voice sounded. I could manipulate my voice, and manipulating it that way meant I could also probably manipulate it within a melodic framework. It turned out I was actually not a bad singer, and I took some voice lessons and realized I was actually a pretty good singer.
Broadway helped inform how I was able to really use voice, and it stretched it even more. When I was doing "Les Miz," in between shows on Wednesdays and Saturdays, we didn't have enough time to go away and eat because the show was so bloody long. So a few of the guys and I would order food from one of the delis or one of the diners, and we had a poker table downstairs in the basement of the Imperial Theater. We would play poker and eat our sandwiches and get ready for the second show. I would do all these voices at the table. It was Nick Wyman, a great character actor who's still a great friend of mine, said to me, "You should do something with that. You're messing around here with us, but you've really got a real talent for that." I was like, what am I going to do?
He said, "I'm going to introduce you to my voiceover agent." He had a commercial agent here in the city. I went in and met Jed Bernstein, who's just a sweetheart. He said, "Look, we've got a lot of actors. I'll give you some copy to read in the booth and maybe you'll be good at it." So I read the copy, and neither he nor I were particularly impressed, but I booked the job. It was my first audition out and I booked the job. That ingratiated him to me, and then I started working in voiceover commercials — AT&T, Claritin. I started doing that quite a bit.
It ended up being a pretty lucrative gig. When I met my wife, we were ready to leave New York and move to Los Angeles, because we wanted to try out that TV and film thing, I had this whole other career here. Back in those days, you couldn't translate that. I couldn't do the voiceover stuff from Los Angeles. It was too expensive, so I had to say goodbye to it and when I moved to LA. I said goodbye to Broadway and I said goodbye to the voiceover stuff. I found myself with no work and no agent. I would go to a casting with my wife, and she was 23 at the time, but she looked like she was 16. They would say, "Your dad has to wait outside." I always looked like I was 46. I really was like, oh gosh, I think I made a really terrible mistake. Then what happened was a casting director out in LA gave me an opportunity on "American Dad."
Linda Lamontagne was the casting director. Super, super sweet and creative and thoughtful. She said, "We have a small part, do you want to come on it?" I read on it and it was funny, and then she kept bringing me back. That ended up beginning my animation career, which is very different than the broadcast career. But it wasn't until I did "The Three Stooges" movie, that animation took off for me. Once "Stooges" came out, my agent heard that Disney was putting out a very quiet and small net for a recasting of Mickey Mouse, to find a Mickey to do the original Walt Mickey, really go back to the roots and do where Mickey really first began. Having had the facility with the 1930s vernacular from Stooges, he thought I'd be a good candidate for it.
I at first avoided it because I'm more of a baritone and Mickey is Mickey. But I watched this documentary about Walt. It showed him speaking, and he had a very similar speaking voice to mine. The interviewer asked him to do a little Mickey, and he he kind of ignited his body when he did it. I watched him and I was like, I think maybe I can do that. I watched what he did with his mouth and with his face and with his body. I thought, yeah, maybe I'll give it a try. It was really neat. I got to go to the old animation studio and I animated to some real old Mickey shorts. I got to put my voice on "Brave Little Tailor." You watch it, and it's all the production value with all the original voices, and there's my voice. It's so magical.
Then I found out I got that, and that really opened the doors. After Mickey Mouse, I really started working consistently in animation. It's some of my favorite work because I get to sing, I get to use my singing voice, and singing as Mickey is a lot of fun. There's some singing stuff in "The Wonderful World of Mickey" that we did that's just tremendous. But I get to use my singing voice. I get to use all aspects of my voice.
Now, when COVID hit in particular, the adult animated world really opened up. I'm on a show called "Pantheon" for AMC that's just a straight adult drama. There's no pyrotechnics to it. It's just an adult drama, which is just terrific. Then as you mentioned, "Inside Job," which is an adult comedy. It's kind of like "The Office" meets "The X-Files," meets "Family Guy." Really, really cool. And "Invincible" on Amazon and "Centaurworld" on Netflix. I mean, there's a slew of really, really cool things. It's been fun.
And "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."
"Diary of a Wimpy Kid," which was a blast to do. That whole world is so well crafted.
You mentioned "The Office." I want to ask you about that, because you are such a pivotal character in that show, yet you had such a small role.
People hate me on that show. I get people yelling at me on the street. When I lived in New York, people were like, "Oh hey, why'd you try to break up Jim and Pam?" I'm like, "I just needed to pay my mortgage.
They called me, they said, "We have a job. We have an audition for you." I remember it was actually really sweet because Jenna [Fischer] was at the audition with Greg Daniels. They really cared deeply about out how they were going to end this show. Of course they did, it was the show that we all loved. I mean, if we loved it that much, imagine how they felt. So they were very, very tenuous about what they were going to do, and I loved that. I admired how involved they were. John Krasinski was as well.
I remember there were a few, not tense, but very important days, where we stopped production and the three of them just were in really, really intense conversations about, really, what direction are we going to go? Particularly with this character where we break the fourth wall. I'm the boom operator and I've been watching Pam for all these years. I just had a divorce and I'm kind of smitten with her, a little in love with her, and I'm seeing that she's having some marital problems. I mistake some of her signals for maybe a flirtation. Obviously Jim and Pam are alive and well. They're canon. I didn't go in there to try and break them up. I mean, listen, I think Pam would've had a good time with Brian.
I'm a little team Brian.
Brian was a badass, let's be honest. He beat someone up with his boom pole, come on.
When people stop you on the street and say, "I hate you," do you think, "Thank you"? What is your reaction?
The hard thing is when I'm walking with my children and people yell, "This guy fucks." And my son's like what? I'm like, no, he's saying, this guy's a fox. He's like, "That's weird too," and I'm like, "I know. Everything's weird."
You've got a very limited window of time on that one before he catches on.
The whole point of what I do is that I want to entertain people. So if someone's like, "I hated you on 'The Office,'" okay. As long as they're not threatening me physically, I'm A-OK with it. I love it. I don't mind somebody recognizing me or wanting to talk to me about something that they enjoyed or a question that they had. I was raised in front of the TV and if I could have met one of the people that I watched on TV that would've blown my fucking mind. So I don't take it lightly.
I'm not on social media because I missed the boat on how to really do that correctly. I tried it for a brief period of time. One of the studios mandated that I had it and it was a failed experiment for me. Not that it didn't work. There were certainly people that wanted to communicate with me. But I felt beholden to communicate with everyone that communicated with me and I felt bad if I couldn't. I also felt that if I meant something as a joke, it might not necessarily translate that way. I just thought, maybe I'm better off not doing this. So if someone wants to chat with me when they see me. I'm A-OK with that.
We talked about your comedy work, which is extensive. But another one of the next things you have coming out is more dramatic, even though it stars a big comedian. Talk to me a little bit about "True Story."
It's funny, after "Silicon Valley," I really wanted to go in a different direction because the character was so overtly funny. "Red Notice" was a nice sort of stepping stone to bridge between "Silicon Valley" and "True Story" because "Red Notice" is this big action adventure and I play this bad guy. There are some comic overtones, but not necessarily from my character. My guy is dead serious.
Now, in "True Story," it goes to the next level. It stars Kevin Hart and Wesley Snipes. I just have to say for the record I think there should be a picture of Kevin Hart in the dictionary next to the word "movie star." Not only because of his charisma and his talent, but because of who he is on a set. A movie star, that term carries with it weight that sometimes I don't think the person that has that title recognizes the responsibility attached to it. And that's a guy that gets it. He understands that it all comes down from him. The energies come down from him, and he's just a prince to the crew, to the cast. Not to mention the fact that he knows the material so well, that when I would flub a line, he'd say, "Oh no, no you have to say this." I'm like, oh shit. You know my lines. It's not enough that you've helped write and produce this whole thing, but you also know my shit. He was just tremendous to work with. This show is a limited series that's a heightened, fictional take on aspects of his life coming up as a comic and becoming the huge, massive star that he is.
But there's sort of a Scorsese-esque, "Goodfellas"-esque filter on it. It takes us into this very dark underworld in Philly, this mafia-like underworld run by this colorful Greek American family. I play Savvas, who's the heavy of this family. I'm basically the brother that's called in when someone needs to have their fingers broken, and he's not a nice person. He's not a funny person. He doesn't really say much either, which was interesting for me because I'm a pretty verbose guy. He just hurts people in a horrible way. He's violently abusive and yeah, he's terrible.
Most important question about him though — this takes place in Philly.
He's got good hair, yeah.
Do you do the "Mare of Easttown" accent?
No. It's interesting. There's this slight feathered accent in there. All of us talked about it because there has to be a unity too. Originally we talked about how Greek versus American they were. Were they fresh off the boat? It's funny, because I grew up in Toronto and most of my friends were Greek Canadian. There was a very Gringlish way of speaking, where the Greek had permeated into the Canadian and the Canadian had permeated into the Greek. Billy Zane played one of the other brothers in the family and John Ales played the other brother, and all of us are of Greek origin. We sort of found this nice happy medium that really worked. And Eric Newman who wrote and produced it, signed off on it as well, as did Kevin.
So I guess I have to wait for another project of yours to hear you say "hoagie."
Yes, exactly. You'll have to wait for the other hoagie project.
Watch a trailer for "Red Notice" via YouTube.
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