David Tennant is an actor well known for his versatility. Iconic for his four-year run as the Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who, he's proven an in-plain-sight chameleon in roles like Alec Hardy on Broadchurch and Kilgrave in Jessica Jones; all different characters, all showing real range.
He's next seen pushing himself further in Bad Samaritan, a horror-thriller from director Dean Devlin (best known for his long-standing collaborations with Roland Emmerich, including Independence Day and Godzilla). Tennant plays Cale Erendreich, an outwardly-aggressive, financially-successful socialite with a very dark secret: when inventive thief Sean (Robert Sheehan) tries to burgle his house, he finds a kidnapped girl in an elaborate techno-prison. What ensues is a tense cat-and-mouse game as Cale attempts to destroy Sean's life.
Screen Rant recently caught up with Tennant to discuss his experiences on Bad Samaritan, how Cale fits in his impressive filmography, and the legacy of some of his most famous characters.
Screen Rant: Bad Samaritan is very interesting. There are so many different aspects to your role. It's about evil in society, you get lots of tech things to do. What about the first attracted you to it?
David Tennant, I just, when I read it I got completely pulled down the rabbit hole. I didn't know what was coming. The initial setup with the Valley guys stealing people's house seemed kind of one of those stories, "Oh why haven't I seen this before? This seems perfect." And I was being so captivated by this all the gentle comedy thriller, and then it takes this handbrake turn into something much darker and weirder. And I just couldn't really stop reading it, which usually seems to be a fairly good indication that it's a project worth pursuing because it's quite rare that you start reading a script and can't stop until you've finished it.
SR: You talk about falling down a rabbit hole, and your character totally does that. Obviously, he's a bit of a dick to begin with, but the more you go the more horrifying he is. What bit of his character proved the biggest challenge? He does some crazy stuff, and some very internal stuff.
DT: I suppose you always just try... with someone who's that extreme, you're just trying to find the bits that you can make sense of and the bits you can build something that feels plausible. As you say, he's a monster, and he's quite extreme, there's very little to forgive him for. So as an actor you just want to make sure you're not sending that up, you're trying to find the bits that make him a real human being, however from your own experience they might be. It's finding the little bits of vulnerability in someone who apparently has none, and those moments get... I mean, I resist saying justify what he does because it's pretty hard objectively to justify any of it, but certainly trying to find the logic that makes sense to him at least.
SR: And that sort of internal conflict, that is what makes whenever you a villain so fascinating. And of course, you're known almost in equal measure for playing heroes like the Doctor and Hardy and villains like Kilgrave and Barty Crouch. Is there a type of character that you find traditionally drawn to, or is it characters that have that little psychological element? What grabs you more?
DT: I wouldn't say either, I'd say just the characters that have some interesting stuff going on at the risk of being a bit vague. You know, I think even when I played heroic types, they're never entirely straight down the line. They're not particularly square-jawed. I mean, I wouldn't really know what to do with Captain America, for instance. Someone who's got that kind of straight as an arrow, I would find difficult, I think. It's the contradictions and the ambiguities that get me intrigued, I suppose that's what seems to me to make any character believable, even if they are a Time Lord or a psychopath or a detective. It's the sort of the inconsistencies, the bits that don't necessarily immediately make sense that make characters interesting.
SR: You talk about the moral ambiguity, and I think that's very prominent in Bad Samaritan because our hero is obviously not necessarily a good person to begin with; he's a thief himself. I wanted to ask a little bit about Robert Sheehan because he plays such an interesting character in this movie and you guys are intrinsically linked, yet so much of it is by the nature of the movie from afar. You don't have that much time together and so much of the movie is spent with you tormenting him from a distance. How did you guys go about making sure that that terrifying relationship worked?
DT: It's interesting, yeah. We were around on set a lot together - although that's just quirks of the scheduling - so we got to hang out quite a lot before we started shooting any scenes together. We did do the finale of the movie last - that whole sequence in the snow was the last bit we did - and it did feel like we'd been building up to it. So maybe there'd been a slightly unconscious preparation for that. But, I mean, you just have to follow the characters, follow the truth of them, and Robert's such a brilliant actor, he doesn't do anything in the obvious way. He creates a real living, breathing contradictory character, so [my job is to] try to match him, try to be honest to the story and so that when the two characters finally meet that they've been on a journey even thought they've barely been in the same room together up to that point.
SR: I talked with Dean last week and we were discussing the scale of this movie and how it is a very small, low-budgeted project, and we talked a lot about how this was originally meant to come out the same day as Avengers: Infinity War, and how it's really counter to a lot of what you get in cinemas at the moment. I just wondered what your thoughts are on the current situation of these smaller thriller movies and how the struggle it is to get them out there and seen?
DT: It's a tough landscape for anything that isn't a blockbuster these days, and that's partly because those blockbuster movies are so successful and so all-powerful. I don't see that as a bad thing necessarily - I love those movies and I wouldn't want them to go away - but it just does mean they suck up a lot of the oxygen. And I guess also the space that used to be occupied by smaller independent films, television has moved into that territory now. People go to more long-form dramas for character development often, for slow-burns and for smaller scale things. And because the quality of what's on television has got so good, the space available for smaller films is just getting squeezed and squeezed all the time. So, I guess, I feel they have to be more a scrappy street fighter, finding its space. And movies can still come through. A Quiet Place is doing a fantastic job at the moment of proving that and hopefully, Bad Samaritan can do something similar. We're not going to make the hundreds of millions of dollars that Avengers has made, I don't imagine, but we can still make an impact. I think it's a film that loads of people will want to see and will enjoy seeing. It's just the message that it possesses, you have to work slightly differently to get that out there.
SR: You talk about TV, and you've done so much amazing TV. It was funny when I was talking with Dean, we were talking about your casting and the thing that he said to me was that he wanted to work with the Tenth Doctor - that was the thing he was really excited about. And obviously, there's been three Doctors since you did that role technically, and it's been eight years since you left. Do you still feel very much that the Doctor lives with you?
DT: Oh, without a doubt. I think it's one of those things... I think anything that is that beloved, if you get closely assocaited with it, you will be forever associated with it - and I don't have a problem with that at all. It's a wonderful thing to be associated with and it has a following and an adoration that goes around the world. Yes, the very fact that's why Dean wanted me to do the film? I'm not complaing, it's a wonderful show to be a part of, it continues to be something that I'm very proud of and have huge affection and love for, so yes it will forever, I will forever be closely associated with it, and I don't ever see that being something I would want to change.
SR: Another great TV role of yours is Kilgrave. What I find quite funny with him is that every season ends and it looks like you're gone. Season 1, you looked completely out of the show, and you came back then in Season 2 were removed from the mind. I'm not going to ask about "may", but would you want to return or do you think that the character is done now? That arc, that role that you played is finished?
DT: I think you'd need to find a story to tell about that character. I can't imagine what that story would be in relation to Jessica but that doesn't mean I that Melissa Rosenberg might not be able to find it. I don't believe that's something she's actively looking before I sound like I'm dropping hints. I think, I'm very happy with the story we told and where it now rests. I don't have any particular sense that I'll ever return to it, but I loved playing that part, it's an extraordinary part, an extraordinary character, so you know it's not really for me to decide. Someone would have to come up with a reason and a story to tell to bring that character back. I'm glad it's not a decision I have to make.
Bad Samartian is in theaters May 4.