COLONY THEATER/ RALEIGH—Paul Schneider makes this stuff up as he goes along. That is, his life, of course. Never, for example, would he have thought he would be in his home state watching himself on screen, an experience he describes as "surreal."
I'd seen Bright Star, Schneider's latest film, at a press screening earlier in the week to prepare for a possible interview with him that didn't materialize. My editor suggested that I attend Schneider's appearance at the Colony last Friday night, Sept. 25.
I arrived around 8:30 p.m. and waited in the lobby for the film to finish. Denver Hill, the Colony's manager, told me that Schneider had arrived early in order to catch part of the film, but had agreed to grant me an interview after the Q&A. I never got that interview; as it turned out, Schneider didn't feel like "doing press" that night. (OK then, don’t "do" us!)
Anyway, I took my seat inside the larger of the Colony's screening rooms as the end credits to Bright Star rolled. The room was anxious for Schneider's arrival as audience members mentally prepared their questions. Following a brief introduction by Indy contributor and movie diva Laura Boyes, Schneider took the microphone to answer questions about the film. He was brimming with energy and dressed in all-black with a T-shirt and jeans,
"You can't trust IMDb," he said as soon as he took the microphone, referring to Boyes' introduction. Apparently, Schneider was not born in Asheville, NC, as IMDb.com claims, but rather Northern California and only later moved to North Carolina as a child. He didn't know then, he told us, that he wanted to be an actor because none of his family members did anything artistic.
However, it was Bright Star director Jane Campion that inspired him to go into filmmaking. After seeing The Piano, her celebrated 1993 film, Schneider knew he "wanted to be around movies" and kept the ticket stub for the film as a reminder. He loved it so much because it was the first film he'd seen that was the result of "commerce and art married."
Sixteen years later, Schneider finally received the opportunity to work with Campion after the Kiwi director saw him in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and asked him to audition for the role of Charles Brown, John Keats' best friend in Bright Star.
For the role he packed on 25 pounds and mastered a Scottish accent, which was his biggest worry. "You don't want to be the American clunker," he said, in a cast that features the Australian Abbie Cornish and the English Ben Whishaw.
To that end, he rented and studied Trainspotting and knew he'd succeeded when the Scottish crew members gave him the thumbs-up.
When asked how he prepares for his roles, Paul replied, "I kind of wish I had gone to acting school because I don't know."
It's a little surprising to learn that such a gifted actor has so little formal training, but Schneider credits his colleagues. "I get to watch these really great actors do all the stuff that they do," he says.
"I've just been so lucky to learn what I'm doing from these people."
Schneider reported that he has no upcoming projects. When asked, inevitably, which famous director he wishes would call him, he replied that he wished for no such thing.
"I'll tell you the truth. I don't wish for famous directors. I wish for evocative scripts."
Catch the evocative Bright Star at the Colony and the Raleigh Grand in Raleigh, the Galaxy in Cary, the Carolina Theatre and Southpoint in Durham and the Chelsea in Chapel Hill. Check Indy listings. Read Nathan Gelgud's rave review here.