Creating an account with gives you access to more features and services, like our weekly newsletter and other special features just for the film community.

Large michael oldboy

Michael Imperioli On ‘Oldboy’ and Why Character-Driven Films Are Hard to Find

At NYCC 2013, we caught up with Michael Imperioli to talk 'Oldboy' and reuniting with Spike Lee.

New York Comic Con audiences were clamoring for a seat at the Oldboy panel during last month’s festivities, so we were fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Michael Imperioli, one of the stars of Oldboy, about the film, VOD and working with Spike Lee again for the first time in over a decade.

Tribeca: What about Park Chan Wook’s Oldboy lends itself to become a Westernized remake?

Michael Imperioli: I think it's very thematic. Karma plays a large role in the film. The story is all about cause and effect and, inevitably, in turn, the consequences of your actions. Universal themes like redemption and revenge carry over from the original film. They lend themselves to this trial by fire type of story. It’s almost biblical in a sense—very much like Job.

Tribeca: Were you familiar with the original film?

MI: No. And I was glad, you know? I don’t like to go into things with pre-conceived notions.

People now are reluctant to do human stories or movies driven by characters.

Tribeca: Not much yet is known about Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy. Even though it’s clear that you play an old friend of Joe Doucett’s, can you describe your character in any more detail?

MI: I play his buddy, Chucky, from school. We've been friends since we were kids, up until the day he disappears. I help him piece his life back together once he gets out. I'm one of the few he can trust because he's a wanted man. He needs shelter.

Tribeca: This is your first collaboration with Spike Lee since you co-wrote and appeared in Summer of Sam. Why did you choose to re-team on this project?

MI: Well, he chose me. [laughs] It wasn’t like there were five projects in between that I said “no” to. It was actually very funny - he called me one day last fall and said, "Mike, what's up? I'm so excited we are working together again. I'm psyched.”

So I was really confused and I said, “What? I don't know what you're talking about?" He then explained I’d be playing the role of Joe’s friend It turns out my agent hadn't called me to let me know because the deal hadn't been finalized. Spike had just assumed it was going to come through. I vividly remember reading the script the first time around and being just knocked out by it.

Tribeca: Can you describe your collaborative process with Spike Lee?

MI: The great thing about working with Spike is that he has a proper rehearsal period. I really miss that in working with other directors. He sets aside a couple of weeks before production and you just sit in the room together and read the script. You are able to feel what works and what doesn’t work within the group. He encourages a lot of input from his actors. He encourages you to be creative.

Tribeca: You starred in the horror film Foreclosure, which recently was picked up at Toronto. Do you think actors have been reluctant to take roles in movies that are going straight to VOD with limited theatrical releases?

MI: When you take the role, you don't know where it's going to go. It’s a roll of the dice. Of course, you hope it will play on a thousand screens, but it’s unlikely Now, everything is so different. The future for TV and movies is platforms like Netflix or Hulu where you can watch whatever you want to watch whenever you want to watch. Patience is a thing of the past. People want to be able to consume media almost immediately.

Universal themes like redemption and revenge carry over from the original film.

Tribeca: Is having a big theatrical opening still as important as it used to be?            

MI: It's always wonderful to have a big theatrical opening, of course. When you work on an independent movie, you know it's not always a reality. But it is fun to have your family and friends come out to see it and to have it be accessible on other platforms for them to enjoy. It’s nice to have your work available in a lot of different formats.

Tribeca: What was the biggest change you saw in the film industry during 2013?

MI: It's harder for things that aren't giant blockbuster movies to get theatrical releases or to get made at all. It's really hard. I mean, Spike Lee had to raise money on Kickstarter to do his next project and have complete control of it.  It's really hard for art house films to compete when you can do some kind of franchise movie that will make a billion dollars worldwide. People now are reluctant to do human stories or movies driven by characters. Things like that are harder and harder to get made.

Oldboy opens this Friday, November 29, across the country.


What you need to know today