Hometown actor Dermot Mulroney: Playing the sensitive roughneck

Hometown actor Dermot Mulroney: Playing the sensitive roughneck
Dermot Mulroney, second from left, acts alongside Liam Neeson in the action thriller, “The Grey,” opening Friday. Mulroney, a T.C. Williams graduate, also is known for his roles in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Zodiac.” (Kimberley French)

Hometown Hollywood actor Dermot Mulroney’s character in “The Grey” spends most of the film being hunted by vicious, territorial wolves alongside Liam Neeson in the Alaskan arctic. He may have encountered some ornery neighborhood dogs as a teenager while biking his Rosemont paper route for the Alexandria Gazette, but it’s safe to say growing up here was less death defying.

Mulroney, a T.C. Williams graduate, has a supporting role in “The Grey,” out Friday. He plays a sensitive roughneck — one of seven survivors after a plane carrying him and his fellow oil riggers crashes into the deep wilderness. The crew is unwelcome in wolf country, where civilization is nonexistent and snow is omnipresent. The movie makes viewers want to put on a sweater on a 90-degree day.

Mulroney spoke to the Times last week about growing up in Alexandria and his role in “The Grey.”

Dermot Mulroney

Alexandria Times: Assuming you’re old enough to call your hometown hangouts ‘haunts,’ what were your haunts growing up in Alexandria?
Dermot Mulroney: At the [T.C. Williams High] school, at Chinquapin. We were always just looking for places where other people were. We used to just mess around on the sports field and all that, taking out the poll vaulting mat and launching ourselves into it. We were just looking for trouble wherever we could find it. I know it’s not the safest, but we’d jump off the piers into the Potomac.

Were you a drama kid at T.C.?
Yeah. The drama teacher at the time was Jerry Gibbs. I did a few plays, I had done some already at G.W. [Middle School] because they were still finishing the reorganization leftover from desegregating.

You were in the movie, “J. Edgar,” with Leonardo DiCaprio, which used the stairs at the Masonic temple for a scene last year. We know because our reporter was kicked off the premises. Did you get to see friends or family while you were here?
Oh man! Did Leo have like a personal bodyguard escort him away? I don’t have family there anymore, but I have some of the best friends of my lifetime there. I was there for just one night and got to spend it with [current T.C. Williams English teacher] Taki Sidley at his house. I’ve known him since first grade — a great family that has created this kind of spawn of hippies.

About the film: What’s the backstory of your character, this kind of sensitive roughneck?
I agree with you. That’s one of the things that appealed to me — this tough guy who’s used to tough conditions, working outside at oil rigs. But he’s got this other side that begins to come out as his resistance wears down. The movie delivers on its promise of a hell ride through the frozen north, but it does what others don’t do in that it has a heart, a deeper meaning.

What’s up with the ‘WY’ hat you wear throughout the film? Is that ‘Wyoming’?
Yeah. I designed that hat. I wanted my character to be from Wyoming, so I had that hat made. For me it unintentionally added more of a metaphysical element — if you want to get deep. It was kind of intended accidentally.

So you had a lot of free rein with your character?
Joe Carnahan wrote the screenplay and gave actors a lot of room to flesh out the character, what his life might be outside of this story. I explored that deeply. We made up a bunch of stuff as actors because we were given free reign creatively … how each of us tailor the character to what happens to them in the movie.

I have to go back to something. Taki Sidley had a ponytail when I attended T.C. Does he still have it?
Oh yeah, and it’s going strong.

“The Grey” opens Friday at movie theaters across the country.