You might recognize Adam David Thompson from his role as Albert, the creepy, lurking serial killer in Liam Neeson’s latest kicking-ass-and-taking-names flick, A Walk Among the Tombstones. It’s the kind of role the actor often finds himself playing. “I typically play these weird, bad kind of guys,” he says. “If I thought about why that is, I’d have a complex. It could be my height in relation to my body weight, maybe, or the awkwardly low voice, or how creepy I look with a goatee? But typecast is still cast, so I’m not really concerned about it.”
Thompson—who is actually very nice and not at all creepy in real life—was born and raised in Florida, where his family has lived for generations (they own an orange grove, and Thompson’s grandmother modeled oranges in trade magazines). He moved to New York City after he graduated from Florida State University in 2006, and he’s still getting used to some aspects of the city—namely, the weather. “The thing I’m most afraid of, being a Floridian, is winter,” he says. “I’m not good at winter yet, anyway.” We sat down with the actor—who's currently filming the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle alongside Gael García Bernal and Bernadette Peters—to find out what it’s like to fight with Liam Neeson, why Key West is awesome, and the one person he’s dying to have a crazy night out with.
Liam Neeson is such a badass. What was it like working with him?
I have two scenes with Liam, one of which is an all-out brawl. He’s one of the best actors of our time and he’s one of those guys who’s always present and with it. But on top of that, he’s a very light, jovial human being, making jokes when we needed it.
At one point, David Harbour [who plays the other serial killer, Ray] and I have these earpieces in for a scene so we can hear Liam’s phone conversation. David and I are the only ones who can hear Liam, and he’s out in a car outside. For awhile I just heard him breathing while we were getting ready, and then I heard somebody open the door and say, “Liam, do you need any water?” “No, I’m OK,” and then the door shut and I just heard breathing again. Then one of the production assistants asked if I needed a water—so then, Liam can hear our conversation, and he realizes that I can hear him. So he’s like, “Tell her no, tell her you don’t need any water.” So I’m cracking up, because no one can hear it but David and I! So the director comes over and Liam’s like, “Tell him you know what you’re doing!” I’m laughing, and everyone thinks I’m crazy.
So he’s just a really great guy, and when we were fighting, after cut was called, the first thing Liam would do would be to help me up, or ask me if I was OK.
Is it weird to watch yourself on screen?
Absolutely. I’ve seen it three times—once at Universal, and then at the screening, and then a bunch of my friends were going. And I was like, “I’m not going to go.” There’s only so much I can watch of myself before I start going, “Oh, why did I do that?”
We were shooting Tombstones for 14 weeks or something, and my character barely speaks, but he’s almost always there. When I went to see it with a real audience, being on set as much as I was, knowing every nook and cranny of it, I was going, “OK, is that moment scary?” Because I know it’s coming. So seeing the movie with an audience, there are moments at the end where people are talking to the screen. That was really cool, so I’m glad I saw it with an audience. You can’t really replicate that.
From looking at your IMDB page, it seems like you’ve done a wild range of films. What’s one genre you haven’t hit yet that you’re dying to do?
I want to do a nasty, chewing tobacco, six-shootin’ Western really badly. It’s just cool! Those movies are so iconic, and I just love the characters that are mainstays: the town drunk, and the sheriff that’s really stand up but he’s got a flaw. And the music, the camera movements, the long rides over the plains. It’s just something I really want to do. And plus, I’m tall and gangly. It’s such a good fit!
Florida is home to many colorful characters. Who’s your favorite Floridian?
Oh, this is a tough one. Is Pitbull from Miami? [laughs] Does it have to be someone famous? My great grandmother, Lois, was this really cool woman. My great grandfather was a fur trader, and after he died, she said OK, I can do that. She took the truck downtown and got what she needed and started doing it herself. She was a golfer. She started smoking when she was 80, because why not? She had what she called her snort everyday, which was Coca Cola and ... something. She would make me one, too, sans the something. [laughs] I knew her until I was 13, and I feel very lucky. She’s one of my idols in life because she was such a cool lady. I wish everybody could have met her.
What’s one place in Florida everyone should visit?
Key West is probably the greatest place on Earth. You have to go during the off times because that’s when the locals are there. They’re such happy people, because what do they have to be sad about? They live next to where Hemingway lived with all of his six-toed cats. If you ever get a chance to do that tour, and hear all the Papa Hemingway stories about how he and his wife were just fighting constantly there, and how she built the pool while he was away—it was one of the first salt water pools. He went down there and threw a penny in the wet cement and it’s still there! The bottom of the fountain is one of the urinals from a bar down the street. He said "I put enough money down this thing, I might as well own it!"
Now comes the part of the interview where I ask you a few kooky questions. So: You have to go into witness protection. What’s your new identity?
I would like to be the guy in the community who’s obviously made money somehow. He’s young and he’s retired, and all he does is water the lawn a lot. And have that kind of go around the community—”I heard he was in a dot com!”—and just mow the grass and water the lawn and grill out.
Who’s one person, living or dead, that you would love to have a conversation with?
If I were to not just have a conversation, but take that one more and have the biggest blowout night in the history of the world, I would say Johnny Cash. I feel like that would be one of those nights you’d remember forever. It would be really cool to pick Johnny Cash’s brain. There’s a million lifetimes in that man’s voice, and I would love to sit and listen to him talk.
If you have to be somebody’s body part, which part would it be, and on whose body?
I would be McCartney’s ears. To have heard what he heard in his day … and not just of the Beatles, but when they were hanging with Dylan. And: Do you want to start a band called McCartney’s Ears with me?
Yes! Do you play an instrument?
Well [laughs], I was in the marching band in Florida. I also fainted in the marching band, because for some reason, some genius decided to put us in wool marching uniforms. I played trumpet until I got braces. And then I played the baritone, and I played the bass guitar for a while. I did shoot a movie where they put me through drum lessons for a month. That’s one of the cool things about what we do—you get to learn new things all the time. Like on Tombstones, it was learning all of these cool stunts.
What’s the last book you read?
Dirty White Boys by Stephen Hunter. It’s about these three guys who escaped from prison and this very flawed, jaded police office who’s trying to find them and he almost gets killed by them a couple of times. They're very smart criminals. Scott Frank, who wrote and directed Tombstones, also wrote the screenplays for Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Minority Report, so I trust his judgment when it comes to books—Tombstones was based on a book, and he specializes in creating amazing films from these amazing books. His son and I have become very good friends. He was telling me that my dad was telling me about this book, and the guys who created Game of Thrones are going to make this book into a film.
I blew through it and then, when I was down to the last three chapters, I didn’t want to finish it! So I milked it for awhile, but I just finished that and emailed Scott to say “What do I read next?”