Later this week fans of up-and-coming actor Devin Ratray will have a new role to celebrate when they see his critically acclaimed performance as Bobby Saunders in the new Bruce Willis movie Surrogates.
Ratray, who is from a family of actors and has a career that dates back to the late 80s and early 90s, is probably best remembered by many for his role of Buzz, the older bullying brother to Macaulay Culkin, in the popular Home Alone movies. For a time the actor took a break from performing to learn more about productions and had a brief music career, but returned to acting in a series of television appearances on shows such as Third Watch and Law and Order.
Surrogates represents Devin Ratray’s first steps into a science-fiction movie universe, and Scifipulse recently spoke to the actor about his career to date and his role in Surrogates.
SciFiPulse: As a jobbing actor you’ve played many roles in various television and movie projects, but many people probably still know you best for the role of Buzz the older bullying brother in Home Alone, which of course was written by the late great John Hughes. What was he like for you to work with back then, and what affect did it have on your career?
Devin Ratray: John Hughes was a tremendous influence on me, even before I met him. It was a great loss to me personally and a loss to the whole industry when he passed. I individually was deeply affected by him even before Home Alone because of his movies in the 80s such as The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and all the other films that he’d done.
When I got a chance to work with him, I felt like I was the luckiest 13 year-old on the planet. And when I got to meet him, I learned what a genuinely great person he was. He was a man of character, a person of wit and really devilish humour. He had a kind of wicked streak in him and enjoyed playing pranks on people without them knowing–you know, just having a gas with them without them really knowing he was.
I of course was delighted by this because that’s exactly how I was as a mischievous 13 year-old boy. I instantly was drawn to him and, after the success of Home Alone years later, I look back on it and realize that he perhaps single-handedly changed my life the most out of anyone in terms of my career. He put me on the map with Home Alone and put me in the third-most-successful film of all time. My life was changed forever because of that and, on a professional level, he’s deeply and profoundly affected my life. On a personal level, he was a good friend, and I’m still mourning his loss.
SciFiPulse: Surrogates is pretty much a major motion picture and perhaps your biggest role since Home Alone, and I’m wondering if you read the graphic novel by Robert Venditti prior to you taking on the role.
Devin Ratray: When I was shooting it, I found out about the graphic novel, but I’ve yet to read it. I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to see what my character looked like. And I wasn’t even sure if I was naked in there. I have not as yet read it. I’m going to keep it a surprise and see the movie first.
SciFiPulse: What attracted you to the role of Bobby Saunders? What did you relate to about him as an actor?
Devin Ratray: Where many actors are in a position to choose their roles, I’m still auditioning for them, which is like scrapping for and grabbing for bits of meat! George Clooney chooses his role, Bruce Willis chooses his roles.
Bruce Willis chose to play Agent Greer, and I can see why he’d be attracted to the script.
I know when I read the script that I wanted to be in it and was thankful to be able to become a part of the project.
Once I got it, I had to bring myself into the role by immersing myself into the whole world of computers, technology and video games, sort of a huge cyberworld.
Bobby is a voyeur of the most extreme sorts. I can’t give too much away, but he’s in charge of spying on everyone in the Boston area. It’s kind of interesting having grown up in Manhattan where you can just look out your window and see all these other windows and in each one is a different story, a different life. As a kid, I’d spend a lot of time just looking. “He’s a peeping tom, and nothing more than that,” I guess, but I was always fascinated by what people were doing and how people would lean out a window just smoking a cigarette. There are sort of quiet little stories in every window that you look out of and, for Bobby I kind of related back to that because in the movie, I have computer banks full of screens, and through each screen is a different life. One would be on a roller coaster, one would be swimming through somebody’s pool and some were even committing crimes, and those are the people my character has to stop.
I brought myself into the character as much as I possibly could, bringing in any type of humour that there was, and bringing in any kind of levity to an otherwise very serious science-fiction thriller.
SciFi Pulse: I recently saw the trailer for the independent movie Courting Condi, and it looks like a lot of fun. It looks like a reverse engineered Michael Moore movie. What can you tell us about this movie?
Devin Ratray: Courting Condi is directed by a fellow British man like yourself. He was educated at Cambridge and he has a twisted sense of irony and humour. To me it breaks all genre ground. It is a musical Docutragi comedy. There is a Michael Moore aspect to it in terms of a large guy going around interviewing people about political figures. In our mind it’s sort of a Cyrano de Bergerac gone awry, as in desperately awry. Here you have this wondering hopeless romantic in a very cynical world who is going after what he thinks is true love and ultimately sees reality seep in. It’s less plaintiff than Michael Moore, but definitely in a similar sense where I represent America’s love affair with the Bush Administration in the beginning, and the disillusionment as time marched on.
Scifipulse: In Surrogates you got to work with Bruce Willis, not as a jobbing actor. Did you at all feel star struck or were you pragmatic in your approach to working with such a big name in the Hollywood scheme of things.
Devin Ratray: I’ve been doing this since I was six so I’ve been around for a bit, and I interviewed Michael Jackson with my own home movie camera when I was 15. I was taking him off guard making him laugh and putting him at ease. I’ve always had a way of dealing with people I work with on set as colleagues and as fellow actors.
That being said, it’s Bruce Willis, man! He has a presence about him that is definitely serious and professional. However, the first time I met him he burst into the make-up trailer at 6 in the morning showing, ‘What’s Up’ ALA J.J. from Good Times. That completely put me at ease. I don’t think he knew I was in the trailer, but he just has a way about him where he is very funny and charming. It’s like getting drunk with a Navy Seal. It’s like he’s your buddy and your palling with him, but somewhere in the back of your mind you know he can kill you … not that Bruce Willis is violent in any way. But it’s still in the back of your head. I mean, that’s Bruce Willis, man!
He’s very charming. In New York City I ran into him at a restaurant with his now wife, and he’s rather … not shy, but he’s very quiet when he’s not bursting into trailers imitating J.J. He has a shy demeanor about him and is reserved, and there’s an elegance to that. So he is definitely a dynamic person to be around and never a dull moment.
You can hear the full interview with Devin Ratray on the latest episode of SFP Radio by using the link below. You can also subscribe to us on i-Tunes by typing in the keyword search SciFiPulse.
By Ian M. Cullen