Cuck star Zachary Ray Sherman knows there's no reason you should like his character in that movie. A disturbed loner prone to far-right video screeds, Ronnie aggressively ticks all of the profile boxes typically shared by hateful young men who commit mass violence.
Outright empathy may even be too much to expect, the Portland-bred Sherman realizes. Now, climbing out on the other side of this acting challenge—the toughest in his career to date—for which he gained 45 pounds and attended a Trump rally in character, he's ready to hand over the intimately observed ugliness of Cuck to audiences, come what may.
What's come so far are a lot of Joker comparisons and polarized reactions after the film premiered earlier this month, all of which the La Salle Prep School thespian-turned-Method actor discusses below.
WW: You've made a movie that's confusing even to Google—typing the title into a search bar will send you into a world of reactionary culture. At what point did you start thinking about how Cuck would come across to viewers?
Zachary Ray Sherman: Now it's hitting me in the face. Getting into the rabbit hole of Ronnie kind of blinded me from results and expectations and how it would be received. It's been a hard film to be accepted because it's such a wild ride. I think we were slivers away from being accepted by the big festivals—Sundance, South by Southwest, Tribeca—but they just…well, it's a pretty hot and ugly film!
What do you make of so many reviewers comparing Cuck to Joker?
I think Joaquin Phoenix is a pretty terrific actor, so that's high praise putting my character next to whatever he did. But I think it's interesting the way they frame it. Ronnie is an actual version of the terror we're facing here in the States every fucking week.
I heard Phoenix talk about the strange power he felt losing weight for Joker. You went the opposite way, but does that idea of intense control over body transformation resonate?
"Power" is a funny way to phrase it, but I understand the idea. It changes everything. That's why I thought [the weight gain] would work. From rolling out of bed to sitting in the car, it does change you and your brain entirely. That really helps once you're on set.
Ronnie's body language is so persistently clenched. How did you think about his physicality?
We found this thing we called "the silent scream." It was an expression of rage, from all the traumas deep inside Ronnie he hasn't understood or dealt with. The water is fine, but then it's boiling. There's a confused and hateful guy on the page, but what's underneath it? My first instinct in reading the script was that this is going to be a really hard movie to watch unless this guy is palatable. But he's not palatable. I have heard from a lot of people who empathized or understood him, but then I've heard from other people who can barely watch it. I knew it was my job to make him whole.
Do you, as the lead actor, agree with how everything in the movie is handled? Is it OK to disagree?
I hope it's OK not to agree. When you're an actor, you show up and do your work and they build it. I see it as a complete team effort, but we've gotta give each other the room to have our own opinions about each other's choices. That said, I'm proud of the film. Completely.
Do you feel there is a social value in laying bare someone like Ronnie?
If we're lucky, I'd like it to begin another conversation about moving toward more sensible laws. By looking at a full portrait of a person, you're getting a different experience than what's in the news. I want to be a part of art that reflects humanity and opens conversations.
There's a far-right rally depicted in the movie. Was that real?
It was actually a Trump rally in Beverly Hills, Calif. It was so strange for me. You don't have to go further than my Twitter feed to see where I land on the political spectrum. It was harder than the rest of the movie, honestly. I felt so much like myself and not Ronnie.
SEE IT: Cuck streams on Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.