Card Counter, The: Tye Sheridan–Interview with Actor

Tye Sheridan on Paul Schrader’s ‘The Card Counter’

Tye Sheridan was an 11-year-old kid from Texas when cast in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, an experience he compares to “summer camp.”

He wasn’t expected to learn lines or even give performance, but Malick’s set put him on a trajectory towards Jeff Nichols’ Mud and David Gordon Green’s Joe, which cemented his decision to become an actor.

Sheridan, now 24, has since played Scott Summers/Cyclops in the X-Men franchise and starred in Spielberg’s Ready Player One, but he credits it all to Malick, Nichols and Green.

“I was only 11-years-old when I worked on The Tree of Life. I was not an actor yet. I was just a kid from a small town in Texas who happened to be working in a movie,” Sheridan recalls. “So Malick, Nichols and Green really left an impression on me at a young age and they definitely inspired me. If I didn’t have my start with them, I don’t know if I would be doing what I’m doing now.”

Sheridan returned to the big screen in Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter, alongside Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish. Sheridan and Isaac already knew each other from 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, which was useful when Schrader caught them both offguard with unusual approach to their first scene together.

“I was a little nervous, I was trying to feel this character out and trying to feel Paul out,” Sheridan recalls. “So just before we started this big scene on the first day, Paul said, ‘Guys, I want you to start in the middle of the scene, from this line.’ So I was just thrown for a loop. I was thinking, ‘I don’t even know what this scene is and what it needs to be. So how am I going to just take it from the middle of the scene?’ that’s a perfect example of his style, his thought process and where he  spends his time, focus and energy in the scene. So that definitely keeps you on your toes, but I loved working with Paul.”

In November 2020, author Ernest Cline released Ready Player Two, the follow-up to Ready Player One, which Spielberg adapted in 2018. Sheridan read Cline’s new book with great interest, but he’s still unsure about the future of the property.

Ready Player One grossed nearly $600 million and received positive reviews.

“I read Ready Player Two,” Sheridan says. “I love Ernie. I love all the places that he’s able to go and the worlds that he’s able to imagine. So it’s always fun reading his books. And in regard to a sequel of the film, I have no idea where they’re at or what the talks are at the studio. It’s just not up to me.”

In The Card Counter, Cirk with c; Tye with an e 

People always ask me if it’s Tyler or just Tye. And when I say, “It’s just Tye,” they’re like, “Oh wow, it’s just Tye?” When I say my name over the phone or when somebody asks, I usually say, “It’s Tye. T-Y-E.”  I like to spell it out for people because sometimes people think it’s, like, Kyle. I guess my mom just wanted to make it difficult for everyone.

Urge to Gamble?

Not really.  I’m generally turned off by casinos just because of the cigarette smoke. If I had a role where I was actually counting cards, I would’ve been more interested in playing cards, but I’m not too much of a gambler. At least not in casinos anyway. I’ve got good self-control.  I do like to play poker.

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Tye Sheridan stars as Cirk and Oscar Isaac as William Tell in Paul Schrader’s THE CARD COUNTER. COURTESY OF FOCUS FEATURES

You and Isaac Oscar in X-Men: Apocalypse?

We didn’t have a lot of scenes together, but we were there for so long. So you have downtime, and everybody kind of hangs out together. We got to know each other pretty good in Montreal when we shot X-Men, and I’ve always really liked Oscar. He’s a great actor, and he’s a really great guy, too. So when this project came around and he was attached, I was immediately excited by that. We have very similar taste in music, and we’re always giving each other different music recommendations.

You both play guitar?

I don’t think there was too much time between takes, at least not for Oscar and for Paul. We shot the movie in either 20 days or a little over 20 days, so it was a super-fast shoot. We were very much on the move all day long and just pushing to make our days.

Pandemic interrupted those 20 days?

We shot this movie before Covid until we got delayed. We shot the movie in four weeks, but at the end of the third week, the producers decided to shut down the production because someone had tested positive on our crew. So that was at the beginning of March, and then we came back to Mississippi in July. And that was very much in the height of Covid, but we finished the last week of shooting. So it was pretty interesting. I had never experienced a production that was put on hold. I live in Texas, and I remember driving back to Texas from Mississippi on a Monday morning. We were supposed to be shooting, but they just told me to drive home. So as I drove home, I just remember thinking, “Man, I wonder if we’re ever going to finish this movie.” In the second week of shooting before the delay, I remember Paul saying, “I don’t think we’re going to finish the film.” And I was thinking, “I think he’s just paranoid. There’s no way.” That was right when we had the first cases in the U.S., and sure enough, it spread super-fast and even hit somebody on our crew. So we had to shut down the production, and it got very real, very fast. But we took all of the necessary protocols when we were back in July.

Schrader had more foresight than most 

He was obsessed with coronavirus. You asked the question about playing guitar between takes, but Paul was reading coronavirus updates between takes, between every setup. He was just constantly following the news and obsessed with it.

How did Schrader direct you and Oscar Isaac?

It was very much Oscar’s movie, and even the way the schedule laid out, I was kind of in and out. Some days, I wouldn’t even shoot the whole day. I would just come in after they’d already been shooting for a couple of hours. So I didn’t get to spend as much time with Paul on set.  When you’re working with a living legend like Schrader or Spielberg or someone of that caliber, you can look at it like, “Oh, that’s intimidating,” or, “Wow, this is really exciting because this guy has made so many great films and I can’t wait to learn and watch him in action.” For me, the feeling is always the latter. It’s always excitement rather than intimidation. But Paul, he’s a bit of a nutcracker, very transparent. He’ll tell you if he thinks a take wasn’t good or that you shouldn’t do something or that the choice you made was wrong. He’s very transparent in that sense, which is great. He’s straightforward, and he doesn’t do lots of takes. He’s very economical in style and that took a bit to get used to.

On the first day, we were doing this scene by the pool, and it’s where Oscar’s character and my character make this bet with each other.  I was a little nervous.  I was trying to feel this character out and trying to feel Paul out. So just before we started this big scene on the first day, Paul said, “Guys, I want you to start in the middle of the scene, from this line.” I was just thrown for a loop. I was thinking, “I don’t even know what this scene is and what it needs to be. So how am I going to just take it from the middle of the scene?” He told us, “I’m only going to be in this shot for the later half of the scene. I don’t need you for the beginning of the scene. Just start in the middle of the scene.” That’s perfect example of his style, his thought process. So that definitely keeps you on your toes, but it was fun. I loved working with Paul.

 

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Oscar Isaac as William Tell and Tye Sheridan as Cirk in THE CARD COUNTER. COURTESY OF FOCUS FEATURES

Cirk not your finest fashion hour

I don’t think there was explicit conversation about it, but I will say that Paul wanted me to cut my hair and be a bit more groomed. But when we started talking about it, I told him, “Maybe, he’s just kind of unkempt. I don’t think he’s a guy who cares much about his physical appearance.” That was just my perspective on the character. So initially, we talked about him being more groomed, and Paul mentioned a ’50s greaser, rock and roll-style at one point. And then, obviously, we strayed very far from that, but I’m sure it was something he thought about. You know, I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with the current fashion trends, but actually, flip flops and socks are cool these days.

Cirk and Tell both said, “You live like this?” when walking into each other’s hotel rooms

Paul was really excited about that as well. That’s interesting you bring that up because their past lives are kind of like a mirrored image of each other. They are connected through the events of their past, both indirectly and directly for Tell. So having them be polar opposite in so many ways and also having them share these similarities, even intricacies in how the narrative is woven like that, they mirror each other, I think. That was definitely something Paul was conscious of doing in the film, which I thought was really clever.

Climactic motel scene 

The best acting is when you are just feeling what you need to feel, and I think that there’s no question about that. Oscar is an incredible guy to be opposite of and an incredible actor to play against. And yeah, all you have to do is just watch what he’s doing, you know? It’s like you’re playing catch with a baseball and he’s throwing you something. You’re receiving it, you’re throwing it back and he’s receiving it. And when actors are doing that, you can see the chemistry with people on screen and how they’re tuned in to what each person is doing. Some of film’s best duos occur when the actors are doing that with each other, and you can see the same thing when people are in two different movies. You can see when somebody is doing this thing and when somebody is playing it completely different, and they can’t find that bridge. That’s something that I’m aware of when I’m working, maybe subconsciously, but it’s definitely evident with Oscar and how he works as well.

Tell offered Cirk fresh start?

At the end of the day, we’re all just alone in the world. We’re all just so alone with our feelings. This movie is largely about reckoning with past events, with past trauma, and how you move forward or don’t. It’s a very important topic because everybody has had events in the past that affect them now, whether that be who your family is or where you’re from or what’s occurred in your childhood. And that’s especially the case with Cirk; he just can’t shake it. He feels like he would get some satisfaction out of following through with this plan to get revenge and that it’s the only way to heal the pain that he suffers from, so to speak. And he’s obviously very stubborn. So maybe in the moment, that deal sounds really good, but once the adrenaline wears off and everything, you start falling back into an old cycle of thought. I think that’s probably what happened. He just rationalizes that, “All the money in the world won’t make me believe that this isn’t the justice that I should serve.” So that’s really what it’s about. It’s about serving justice.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player Two yet?

Yeah, I read it. It’s interesting. I love Ernie. I love all the places that he’s able to go and the worlds that he’s able to imagine. It’s always fun reading his books. And in regard to a sequel of the film, I have no idea where they’re at or what the talks are at the studio. It’s just not up to me.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Working with Spielberg, greatest director of all time? 

I think it’s much simpler than that. It’s really about what your job at hand is, and that’s telling a story to the best of your ability. Everybody on set moves with that purpose, and every thought and move should be directed by that, whether it’s a $200,000 movie or a $200 million movie. You’re there to tell a story and to connect with people through that story. And really, after the first-day butterflies and pre-game jitters die off, it really just becomes about that. It’s just as simple as that. Did we get the right performance? Did we get the right take? Did we play it the right way? You’re a team with your director, and they are the singular vision that’s pushing the film forward. And you’re trying your best to give it your all and bring your perspective and experience to it in a collaborative way. It’s funny. When I first found out, I thought, “Oh wow, I’m going to be working with Steven Spielberg,” and there’s a bit of nervousness there, naturally. But it’s also the excitement that I talked about earlier. It’s pure excitement of having the opportunity. And how many people get to have that opportunity? Not many. I’m grateful for that and the people that I get to work with. I love what I do. I love that I’ve fallen into the film business, and it’s a beautiful way to connect with people. It’s cool that I’ve gotten to work with a few living legends along the way and see them in action and see how hard they work. It just further proves the point that if you want to be successful at anything, you have to fully dedicate yourself. You have to fully focus all of your energy and work hard. That’s mostly what I’ve learned by being surrounded by successful people from a pretty young age. They’re all very focused and they work very hard. And Steven’s no different. He’s up at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., sending the writer notes, which is probably not the most fun experience for the writer. But it just goes to show how much his brain is working and how much energy he’s actually putting into his projects. And I have to say that it’s pretty impressive that he’s doing it at his age.

 

 

Matthew McConaughey, with Jacob Lofland (middle) and Tye Sheridan in Jeff Nichols’ “Mud.”

Did Mud feel like yours second first movie, since Jeff Nichols’ set was different from Malick’s Tree of Life set?

I think that’s a good way to put it. I mean, Mud was similar in some ways, but definitely more structured. And I was only 11-years-old when I worked on The Tree of Life. I was not an actor yet, you know? I was just a kid from a small town in Texas who happened to be working in a movie, and I wasn’t expected to learn the lines or deliver a performance. Maybe they were hopeful that I would deliver a performance, but I don’t think there was any real pressure in the sense that there always is by learning your lines and crafting a character. It almost felt like summer camp on The Tree of Life, and I had no idea what the movie was about. I never read a script, which I think was all intentional. I think Malick’s whole approach was to just capture these moments as naturally as possible, which would also facilitate the narrative. And for Jeff, I think his main concern was that I wasn’t an actor. At this time, I was 14 or 15, and he wasn’t sure if I could learn lines. He had me come in and audition several times, and then he finally cast me. So it was a lot different. But there was still the freedom to really explore yourself through the character and through the nature of the film. The Mississippi River played a huge role in that movie, and just being there bled into the essence of all these characters. Plus, it was very similar to the world that I grew up in — a rural community that’s always spending time outdoors on the river and in the woods. So in that sense, it didn’t really feel too far from my reality. So it was a nice bridge to doing more structured work. And then with David Gordon Green on Joe, that was really where I started to decide that I wanted to do film for the rest of my life. I wanted to tell stories and be like these guys who inspired me: Terry, Jeff and David. And on Joe, it was just such a fun process because any idea you had was welcomed. Even if you wanted to fart in the middle of the scene, David would be like, “Alright, give it a shot if you have to.”  That’s silly, but it was just a lot of fun. So those three guys really left an impression on me at a young age and they definitely inspired me. If I didn’t have my start with them, I don’t know if I would be doing what I’m doing now.

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Courtesy of 20th Century Fox TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Which eyewear you prefer: Scott Summers/Cyclops’ visor in Dark Phoenix and his sunglasses in Apocalyps?

Both come with some frustrating moments. There’s always a lot of people in those scenes, and there’s a lot of scenes where everybody runs into the room and you’ve got to hit your mark. Everyone’s mark is usually a different color. You’ve either got a T mark that’s pink, blue or green, and you know which color is yours. But because of the red lenses on the visor or the glasses, I just saw seven that are white.  They’re all the same color through the red tint. There were so many times where I would run and stand on somebody else’s mark. And the first AD was like, “Alright, cut,” or, “We have to go again because Tye missed his mark again.”  Tthere’s that, and then there’s also the issue of peripheral vision. With the visor, you have peripheral vision, but it’s a bit like tunnel vision. You can’t see the immediate six feet in front of you, so I often had to ask them to put sandbags on the floor so I could actually feel it when I hit the mark. I was half-blind with the glasses and the visor. But it’s a fun challenge to perform because you don’t have your eyes. So much of acting is looking at somebody’s eyes. You can tell what they’re thinking or what they’re feeling a lot of the time, but you can’t do that with that character. There were a lot of challenges in a lot of different ways. So to answer your question, I don’t know if I really have  preference.