The Station Agent: Actor Bobby Cannavale discusses the reality behind the film

Have you heard of “The Station Agent”? Not many people have. It’s a little film with a little cast about a little person. But it’s winning some big awards.

First-time writer and director Tom McCarthy spent three years bringing his labor of love to the screen. In “The Station Agent,” Fin (Peter Dinklage) inherits an abandoned train depot in rural New Jersey.

A stiflingly private man, Fin decides to pack his bags and live a solitary life by the rail. However, upon arriving at his newfound home, he finds that his hopes for a quiet existence are squashed. Talkative Cuban coffee vendor Joe (Bobby Cannavale) has set up shop right outside the depot. Eventually, the two form an unlikely bond that pushes them both to realize the importance of companionship.

Born in New Jersey, Cannavale has never formally studied acting. He’s made a name for himself over the past few years with numerous television and film appearances. In a recent interview with The Hatchet, however, he didn’t hesitate to reveal that “The Station Agent” is by far the project of which he is most proud.

Hatchet: How similar are you and your character Joe?

Bobby Cannavale: We’re not the same person. I’d say that I’m a talkative person and an inquisitive person, but I think that’s probably where the comparison ends.

H: How much influence did you have on the script for “The Station Agent”?

BC: Quite a bit. Tom wrote the parts for us and it took us three years to make the film. At the same time, the three years were really instrumental in economizing the script because we’d all get together, and do readings and workshops and try different things and the script was a lot longer, actually. I think in the end the script is really economical and short and not much is said that doesn’t need to be said. But it wasn’t always like that.

H: What was your favorite experience working on this film?

BC: Me and Pete (Dinklage) were sitting out on the terrace at my hotel and I was like, “Man, was there ever a bad time?” It was literally the most fun I’ve ever had. But I would say the most fun was the train chasing scene for me. Because that was our big budget scene in the movie. That little tiny truck is tiny. It’s just a metal box. And I though Pete was going to go out the side. We had no door. He was in this little plastic lawn chair with a bungee cord. It wasn’t like a $60 million movie with stunt people and stuff.

H: Obviously your role carries the most humor. Did you draw on any comedic idols that you may have had for inspiration?

BC: I don’t think consciously while doing it I did. We made this film after three years of having it and doing it over and over. It wasn’t like a Jim Carrey movie where they show the bloopers after and no one can seem to get through a take because he’s so funny. That wasn’t like that. Nobody was laughing. I worked with an incredible actor who I think is the funniest person I’ve ever worked with. His name is Mark Linn-Baker. He was on that show “Perfect Strangers.”

H: Oh yeah, Balki.

BC: No, he wasn’t Balki, he was the other guy.

H: Yeah, Cousin Larry.

BC: The guy is the best straight-man ever. I did a play with him and he killed me. So I asked him, “Man, what is it?” And he said, “I never think of it as funny, I always think of it as really serious.” Usually people laugh at comedy because it’s at somebody’s expense, because somebody has a problem. But when you’re the person with the problem, you never think you have a problem. So I took that from him and it was the smartest thing anyone’s ever told me. I didn’t think of Mark consciously so much as that whatever Joe said he was completely serious, he wasn’t kidding.

H: Were the castmembers as tight off-screen as they are in the film?

BC: Yeah, we were friends for years already. I’ve known Tommy for about eight or nine years, Peter about five or six and Patty (Clarkson) for four. So we did know each other very well. All Peter and I did was hang out. We all stayed at the Howard Johnson’s in Falmouth. We hung out and drank very, very large quantities of beer. And smoked cigarettes. You ever see so much smoking in an American movie?

H: What’s your favorite beer?

BC: Bud.

H: Train chasing – is that an actual hobby with a large following?

BC: Yeah, it is. If you go on Google and do “Rail Fans” it’ll come up bigtime. Those people in that scene where they’re watching that boring-ass train movie? All the old people, especially that old man who

looks like he’s 10 but he’s actually like 90, they were so into that movie.

H: It’s kind of a big thing for American actors to go over to Japan and advertise products over there. If you were to get a call, what kind of Japanese product would you want to advertise?

BC: Oh, man. I’d want to advertise … uhhh … shit.

H: Canned coffee? Hello Kitty?

BC: Maybe something like Japanese baseball or some shit where it would make no sense. Put me in a Japanese baseball uniform the whole time, have me speaking English to the Japanese players and they understand me perfectly. And I seem to understand them and we all get along. Probably something like that.

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