Carnegie Mellon grad is behind the mask of the Spirit
Gabriel Macht waves to photographers as his wife, actress Jacinda Barrett, poses on the red carpet at the premiere of "The Spirit" last week. Macht plays the title role in "The Spirit."
Gabriel Macht as "The Spirit."
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To inhabit the title character for the film "The Spirit," Gabriel Macht fell under the spell of two comic book legends, Frank Miller and Will Eisner.
Miller was his director; the late Eisner was the film's inspiration as the creator of the character and Miller's mentor. So if fanboys have problems with the look and the feel of the dark, highly stylized Spirit on screen as opposed to the colorful panels they might be used to, Macht asks that they allow the film to stand on its own.
"I think the real comic book aficionados, they want Will Eisner's Spirit the way it was," he said last week, the day after "The Spirit's" big Hollywood premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. It opens today countrywide. "But being that Eisner and Miller were friends for more than 25 years, and Eisner was Miller's mentor, there was not another person out there more able to take a fresh approach to it."
"If you know the Spirit," he added, "you can see he was absolutely highly influenced by it.
"The spirit of the Spirit is in the film."
Macht pointed out the romance, the '40s noir dialogue, the sense of humor that all channel Eisner. To do the interior monologues that serve as narration, Macht read novels by Raymond Chandler to try to capture the beat and feeling of the time. And the blond, brown-eyed actor dyed his hair black and is blue-eyed behind the mask of the Spirit.
Asked why he was chosen for the role, he ventured, "I have a hard time knowing exactly why, other than a square jaw and a wry sense of humor. Maybe some of my film experience and the fact that I'm still mostly unrecognizable behind the mask was a plus."
If he looks familiar, perhaps you recall Macht from the first-season "Sex and the City" episode "Models and Mortals" (he was Barkley, the "modelizer"). And he's been busy post-"Spirit," including the just-wrapped film "Middle Men," with a cast including his wife, Jacinda Barrett. Their 1-year-old daughter, Satine, could be heard over the phone as Macht tried to negotiate buying a cup of coffee, watching his daughter and answering questions about playing a superhero opposite Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendes.
But before we get to "The Spirit," there are Pittsburgh ties to be discussed.
Macht, the son of actor Stephen Macht (most recently Trevor Lansing on "General Hospital"), knew he wanted to be an actor as early as age 6. He watched while his Los Angeles high school friends signed with agents, but he was influenced by choices made by his father, who attended Dartmouth and earned two graduate degrees. Gabriel, while still in high school, was accepted into a summer program at Carnegie Mellon University. Inspired by the experience, he returned to attend CMU's School of Drama and graduated in 1994.
Macht speaks fondly of those days, even when it's about "starting the day at 8:30 a.m. and going until 11 at night."
"When I went to Carnegie, it was like my summer was expanded for four years. I had great relationships with friends who continue to be my best friends. The education was top notch and prepared me for different challenges and gave me different genre capabilities."
Those challenges include grueling days in front of a green screen, including a fight scene with bad guy Octopus (Jackson) that takes place in what looks like a gooey marsh. That one scene took a week to shoot, and Macht admitted though it was fun at times, "it was kind of painful getting hit in the groin with a branch."
Other challenges were getting inside the head of the Spirit, according to Frank Miller. In the film, the character begins life as police detective Denny Colt, who is killed on duty, then finds himself suddenly alive and indestructible. He fights his way out of his grave to become a crimefighter, one who is irresistible to women but whose first love is the city he protects.
When Macht knew he was going to read for Miller, he Googled Eisner and the Spirit, and what came up was a rough and gritty version of the character drawn by Miller and a Web page with the classic Eisner drawings.
"Frank actually told me he didn't like the color versions and he gave me his own best-of old black and white original panels [by Eisner]. I ended up plastering them all over my trailer -- you couldn't see anything else.
"He also gave me a bunch of story boards, so there was this combo platter of Frank and Will Eisner in my trailer, and I was living and breathing it."
In a year when well-known comic-book heroes made their way to the screen, Macht thinks the Spirit's appearance is just the right note to bring 2008 to a close.
He explained that in movies about Batman, Iron Man and the Hulk, "the approach is that of heightened realism." As in past Miller projects "Sin City" and "300," "The Spirit" takes a highly stylized approach using monochromatics, spot color and extreme close-ups, all with a tongue-in-cheek nod to the film's comic book origins.
The world could use a superhero with a sense of humor about now.
First Published December 25, 2008 12:00 am