The actor did supporting turns this year in “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Lincoln,” two Oscar contenders that couldn’t be more different.
“I’m sort of amazed to work on both of those and watch two very different kinds of masters at work,” Strong said on a chilly day in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
In “Zero Dark Thirty,” Strong plays a CIA analyst who works alongside Jessica Chastain; in “Lincoln,” he plays John Nicolay, the president’s private secretary. The latter was a role tailor-made for Strong, who served as Daniel Day-Lewis’ assistant on 2005’s “The Ballad of Jack and Rose.”
“To reprise that role on film and stand by Daniel’s side was profoundly meaningful for me because I have such reverence and love for him,” Strong said. “His commitment and humility and courage as an actor is on another level.”
Strong landed on Spielberg’s radar after “Lincoln” casting director Avy Kaufman saw him in Adam Rapp’s stageplay “The Hallway Trilogy” at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, which Strong describes as “a 60-seat theater above a falafel stand.” His work treading the boards also played a part in his “Zero Dark Thirty” casting, as he knew casting director Mark Bennett through theater and previously co-starred opposite Chastain in the Williamstown Theater Festival’s 2004 production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.”
Strong said that he and his fellow actors on both films had “a sense of responsibility to history,” though the sets couldn’t have been more different. ” ‘Lincoln’ was a very sacred workplace. Everyone did a lot of research for that movie and wanted to show up informed and ready to enter that world. Frederick Douglass called President Lincoln’s second inauguration ‘a sacred effort,’ and that was the feeling I got while we were making it,” he said of his two months on set in Virginia.
“Being in India and shooting ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ was equally exciting. I have friends who have served (in the military), and everyone felt a huge responsibility to verisimilitude and people who lost lives,” said Strong, who was at the Waverly Inn in New York with Chastain and her manager when a waiter put on the TV and Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan.
The cultured thesp went on to liken Spielberg and Bigelow to famous painters in their differing approaches to historical material: “Whereas Steven’s set was very disciplined and exacting — like watching Rembrandt paint — Kathryn’s set was like one of Pollack’s action paintings. It was shot run-and-gun guerrilla style with three cameras going all the time. It felt like we were rehearsing on film, which lent it a real quality.”
In addition to “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” the year saw Strong, who is repped by ICM Partners and Mosaic, co-starring opposite Frank Langella in “Robot & Frank.”
Peter Landesman wrote and will direct “Parkland,” a recounting of the chaotic events at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Besides Strong as Oswald, pic stars Zac Efron, Billy Bob Thornton and Paul Giamatti.