It was not exactly the best head space for the biggest audition of his career.
In May, 2011, Vancouver-based actor Mackenzie Gray was up for a villain role in the new Superman film. But he had another audition first that day, and immediately after, had to catch a flight to a memorial service for his brother. He needed to change in-between auditions and asked the taxi driver to wait outside his home. When Mr. Gray, who admittedly took some time transforming himself for the Superman villain audition, came back outside, the cab was gone – with Mr. Gray's bag and wallet inside. Once Mr. Gray tracked the cab down, the driver was, shall we say, animated (according to Mr. Gray, a club of sorts was produced).
"He had a total meltdown, so I was completely traumatized when I got to the audition," says Mr. Gray, 55. "So I guess when I went in I was kind of low-key. It's a funny thing when you're trying to suppress all this hyper energy, and maybe that worked."
Mr. Gray got the call back, and ultimately won the role in Man of Steel, Zack Snyder's contribution to the Superman franchise (shot mostly in B.C., beginning in the summer of 2011). But Mr. Gray had to stay quiet about what that role was until the highly anticipated film was released this week. It wasn't always easy.
Mr. Gray plays Jax-Ur, who, in the comics, was an evil scientist and mastermind who destroyed Krypton's moon and helped General Zod with the attempted overthrow of Krypton before being sent away to the Phantom Zone.
While Mr. Gray's role is relatively minor, Jax-Ur is important in the Man of Steel plot. Full of scientific knowledge and radiating evil, he teams up with Zod (Michael Shannon) on a mission to find the codex that will allow the villains to repopulate Earth with a Kryptonian population. And so, they go after Kal-El (Henry Cavill), who they believe was sent to Earth with the codex.
While the film focuses mostly on the coming of age of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman, the action is generated by the conflict with General Zod and his gang.
"Zack runs a wonderful set," Mr. Gray says. "The pressure is way, way higher when you've got a film of that magnitude. For one, every take is expensive. It's very hard to shake. You don't want to mess up and you want it to be good."
Mr. Gray, who was born in Toronto and moved to Vancouver for a role in the USA Network series The Net, is familiar with playing the villain. He currently has a recurring role as Mr. Spiney – "the town librarian who is interested in bones" – on the kids' series Spookville, headed for CTV.
When word leaked out that Mr. Gray had a role in Man of Steel, the "geeks and fanboys," as Mr. Gray puts it, were all over the story, trying to figure out what role he played. Someone's realization that Mr. Gray had played Lex Luthor's clone on Smallville sparked a rumour that he would be playing Luthor in Man of Steel. Not true, but Mr. Gray was instructed by the studio to neither confirm nor deny.
"I'm a Scorpio," he says. "I can keep secrets."
Now he can talk all he wants, and he's already starting to see some traction from the biggest movie of his career. You wouldn't believe the kind of doors that being a Superman villain can open. Mr. Gray was at Cannes last month with his short film Under the Bridge of Fear, which he's trying to turn into a feature. When Hollywood powerhouse (and Superman fan) Harvey Weinstein heard that Mr. Gray was in Man of Steel, they got to talking, and Mr. Gray was brought over to Mr. Weinstein's table. There, Mr. Gray brought out a poster for his little film, and says the Hollywood producer loved the poster.
By the end of the conversation, Mr. Weinstein was asking to see Mr. Gray's short. "He said to his assistant: 'Get this film; I want to see it.'"