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‘Firestarter’: Michael Greyeyes Saw His Performance as Way to ‘Take the Role Back’

When the original "Firestarter" was released to theaters in 1984, the character of Rainbird was played by non-indigenous performer George C. Scott.

“Firestarter”

Universal

Actor Michael Greyeyes has long been a fan of Stephen King, so when he was offered the role of Rainbird, a tracker meant to find a young girl with the ability to spontaneously start fires, in the remake of “Firestarter” he was eager. But the character comes with a lot of baggage.

When the original “Firestarter” was released to theaters in 1984, the character was played by non-indigenous performer George C. Scott. But for Greyeyes, who has been working in Hollywood for going on 30 years now, it was an opportunity to give the character a deeper sense of history, and reclaim a problematic character.

Greyeyes talked to IndieWire via Zoom about the movie and creating a richer backstory for Rainbird, as well as whether he’d be open to joining the Marvel universe. Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

IndieWire: What drew you to Rainbird and this project?

Michael Greyeyes: I’m a big fan of Stephen King and, interestingly, this was the first novel I read. So I suppose you could say that I’ve had a longstanding interest in it. I also really liked the elements in his first novels that dealt with psychic ability, “Carrie” and “The Dead Zone,” and, of course, “The Shining.” So, to me, that was my entry point into his body of work.

When the project came to me, I was like, “I’d love the chance to play Rainbird.” At the time, I just finished my first season with “Rutherford Falls,” so there was this body of work where, all of a sudden, I was introduced to audiences for the first time as a person who can make them laugh and I thought it would be a great balance [to play a villain].

We only get snatches of Rainbird’s backstory. How did you start to unpack who you thought the character was?

It was a collaborative process. I’m always interested in finding out more about a character that I play. Certainly on the page Rainbird is a cipher. There’s not many scenes with him, but it’s impactful when he’s there. And playing a villain is always the best. They’re the most interesting characters. So when I approached the project, I took Scott Treems’ script [and] there w[ere] pockets of Rainbird throughout and I said, “Okay, how are these connected? What is the implied story?”

What really inspired me was Treems’ idea that Rainbird was also part of these experiments. That opened up all the possibilities. Then, after I came on board, [director] Keith Thomas and I talked over zoom for hours about what motivated him [Rainbird]? Why would he work for a government that had done this to him? Why would he work for the very agency responsible for coming into his community, taking people [and] probably killing them? Keith and I, we just kept building, kept building.

“Firestarter”

Universal

Of course, George C. Scott played the role in the first movie. How do you look at that past performance?

I was a fan of the first film. I didn’t watch it in preparation, but I did watch it before I screened the new version. It was really interesting to see an Anglo settler performer in the role of Rainbird. My reps had a really wonderful way of looking at it. We said, we’re not competing with George C. Scott because he’s a screen legend, Academy Award winner. We’re not competing with George C. Scott, but we are taking that role back. I was really inspired by that.

Keith and Blumhouse were wonderful partners in expanding [who] Rainbird was because, in the novel, he’s very disturbed person, like homicidal. Everyone’s scared of him. But what brought me to the Rainbird that we see on the screen now is this idea of a man motivated by retribution. A man motivated by action and consequences. How does the past write on a character in the present? Keith and I created this wonderful backstory about how Rainbird was the first success of Lot Six [the drug in the film]. He was the first applicant who didn’t die, and he was left with with latent abilities which are hinted at in the story.

It’s based on remote viewing which was a major CIA and KGB undertaking during the Cold War. So he was a remote viewer and he could see his targets and that’s why he [is] such an excellent hitman. And he was obsessed with drawing and writing these images. The image that galvanized me the most was that he saw—it’s not in the script, it’s just from Keith and I’s discussions—the White House in flames and that [is] his whole goal.

It’s been amazing to see you play such wonderful characters. With being in the industry so long is there a desire to keep going bigger, like Marvel movies one day?

I’m obviously very, very interested in working with other Indigenous creatives, but I’m also fascinated by changing the Hollywood that I’ve known. I’m working with a company right now, we’re entering into a production deal for me to direct a feature project for them. Already as the director, Executive Producer I’m shaping the way that story is being told, which is being written by a non-Indigenous writer. We live in an intercultural space.

When I leave my door, I interact with cultures from around the world and I think there’s great benefit in working within a sort of, quote, unquote, traditional intercultural workspace where Indigenous stories shape the people [who] tell them, and where indigenous creative leaders like myself can help change the way we tell stories. I would love to be part of the MCU, or whatever that next step is. [Indigenous] people love genre movies, horror films, sci-fi, we love these movies. They’re the kind of movies that I like to watch. That’s what I’d like to concentrate on the next few years, getting really great three-dimensional roles, working with other Indigenous creatives, but certainly expanding my body of work. There [are] films that I haven’t done that I would love to do. I’d love to be in a spy thriller. I love sci-fi. There’s lots of room.

“Firestarter” is now in theaters and streaming on Peacock now.

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