Joseph Quinn Has Been Thinking About the Roman Empire a Lot

JOSEPH QUINN’S HEAD is shaved. He’s wearing a gray Nike sweatshirt, and it doesn’t take long to realize he’s in a damn good mood. “Hello!” he says, a massive smile on his face as he sits down at the Zoom screen that’s been set up for him. Is his head shaved for his upcoming role as Johnny Storm in Marvel’s The Fantasic Four? Or from in-between takes of Alex Garland‘s upcoming Warfare? It’s hard to come to any definitive conclusions, outside of the fact that, still beaming, he kind of just looks like a nice guy.

And after talking with him for just a few minutes, it becomes abundantly clear that he more than just looks the part. He also happens to have gotten quite famous over the last few years, breaking through as big-hearted outcast king Eddie Munson in Stranger Things season 3 before landing a series of major blockbuster roles in movies like Ridley Scott’s Gladiator II and Bret Easton Ellis’s directorial debut, Relapse (in addition to The Fantastic Four and Warfare).

But before any of us get to see any of those, this nice guy gets to show us what he’s got as a blockbuster lead in A Quiet Place: Day One, a prequel to the first two John Krasinski-directed films in Paramount’s hit horror series. And while the movie finds Quinn surrounded by aliens who will angrily maul the life out of anyone who makes even the slightest sound, he also manages to play it in a decisively human, emotional manner. It’s different from the macho performances you typically see leading these types of movies, and I decided to ask him how he made it all feel so natural.

“I don’t know if it was natural!” he humbly offers up, hesitating a bit and making it clear that he’s not just throwing flowers to bide for time. He continues, explaining the goal in creating such a unique lead male character. “[Writer/director Michael Sarnoski] and I were interested in trying to portray this very unconventionally masculine protagonist in Eric,” he says. “He had to be afraid, vulnerable, and not conventionally heroic—whatever heroism might mean to someone.”

a quiet place day one joseph quinn


But Quinn doesn’t limit his performance to that; in A Quiet Place: Day One, he shows that blockbuster heroes can just like the rest of us: uneasy, anxiety-ridden, and filled with confusion when faced with major trouble.

Of course, this is a movie with major character arcs, and Quinn matches up with both a powerhouse of a lead (in Lupita N’yongo) and a delightful kitty (played by a pair of born star cat actors named Nico and Schnitzel) to not only show those vulnerable moments, but also the charm we saw in Stranger Things (and will certainly see again in Fantastic Four).

Quinn spoke with Men’s Health about bringing his unique A Quiet Place: Day One character to life, matching up with Paul Mescal on Gladiator II, and beginning his training for The Fantastic Four.

MEN’S HEALTH: For as great as Lupita and yourself both were in A Quiet Place: Day One, I think it ultimately might go down as one of history’s great Cat Movies.

JOSEPH QUINN: Yeah, we didn’t stand a chance with those two. They were amazing.

MH: Were those your first feline co-stars?

JQ: It was. I’ve never acted with a cat before. That was my first time, and I learned a lot. They were brilliant.

MH: This movie was so much fun, and it was not what I was expecting at all. I knew Michael was a great writer and director—I really enjoyed Pig—but I didn’t realize how deep this film was going to dive into the lead characters. Is that something that drew you to this film?

JQ: It was absolutely what drew me to this film. With Michael Sarnowski at the helm of this franchise—because Pig, as you mentioned, was such a human and deeply-felt, grief-struck kind of narrative—I thought it would lend itself very well to this universe. The aim was to create characters that people could really invest in, even though it’s a very large-scale film. On the backdrop of this apocalyptic epic film, you’d have two very peculiar and unconventional heroes. That was beautifully realized by Michael’s superb and very well-observed writing.

MH: You showed that you really know how to deliver a line in Stranger Things, but just by the sheer concept of A Quiet Place, you have to limit how much you talk. How do you go about expressing so much feeling and mental anguish using just your face?

JQ: I don’t know how one does it, really. It’s about listening to what’s happening in front of you, and in this case, especially, the challenge was to be present to what was happening. A lot of the stuff with Lupita was just watching her, and going off her. I don’t think you can often be in a situation where you’re trying to think about what face you’re going to pull. It’s about trying to react truthfully to what’s happening in front of you, rather than plan anything, because that would feel too contrived.

joseph quinn lupita n'yongo a quiet place day one


MH: Did you have to get into any special kind of headspace? Your character seems to have already had a pretty stressful life, and now the world is literally crumbling all around him.

JQ: It was a lot of work with Lu, really. We just would get into this frenzied headspace before ‘action,’ and then laugh about it after ‘cut’s. You can’t really be carrying that shit around with you too much—it’s very much a circumstance thing, and trying to tap into that becomes easier as the shoot goes on. You don’t want to lean into something that feels too declared, because otherwise it’ll feel a little mannered, and maybe unbelievable, which happens. It was about trying to find that sweet spot where it felt elevated, and the stakes felt high, but also it was sustainable for the entirety of the shoot.

MH: You also have Gladiator II coming out this year. I’ve heard through the grapevine that you’re playing one of the co-emperors, a villain. What more can you tell us about that role?

JQ: I can tell you quite little, to be honest. It was a remarkable experience. We had a wonderful gang on it—Paul Mescal, Fred Hechinger, Denzel Washington, Connie Nielsen returned from the previous film, and Pedro Pascal, among some other really wonderful people. We certainly we were aware of the legacy of the first film, so we wanted to pay homage to that, and understand that it’s one of those films that a lot of people get misty-eyed about, myself included.

Going back near that world felt a little daunting, but also utterly thrilling. Yes, I play one of the emperors in it, and it was a truly incredible experience. And that’s all I can say.

MH: I saw some videos of Paul training and working out for his role. Did you guys have any gym showdowns?

JQ: No showdowns! Certainly not. I wouldn’t stand a chance; the man’s a unit! He definitely committed a lot to the physicality of his character. You see it on screen—he’s a presence, truly.

MH: I’m a huge Ridley Scott fan—he’s well into his 80s, and still churning out high quality movies. What was your experience with him like?

JQ: He is a world builder. He creates these films that utterly transport you, and that is a very rare thing to be able to do. I, like you, was a massive fan of his films: I remember watching Blade Runner as a kind of rite-of-passage with my Dad when I was younger; Gladiator was a really seminal film for me; Thelma and Louise, American Gangster, Alien, obviously. There are so many, and there’s such a variety in that body of work that indicates the caliber of director that he is, and the kind of creativity that he’s able to harness and weaponize.

Watching him negotiate these brutal shoot days… as you said, he’s not 32 anymore. But he conducts himself with such a vigor, and thirst, for life and also filmmaking, still—he just loves it, and that is very infectious. Working with him… I was never expecting to do that, obviously, and so I was incredibly grateful. I just tried, like we all did, to be as present as we could, and to understand that this was a very rare thing. Outside of making the film itself, it was a very rare experience as a human being to bare witness to ancient Rome. He built ancient Rome! Not a lot of people can do that—Ridley Scott can.

MH: And you got to honestly tell people that you were spending a lot of time thinking about the Roman Empire, when that question was going around.

JQ: That was flying around! I’ve been thinking about the Roman Empire a fair little bit.

MH: You’re also getting started on The Fantastic Four soon. Have you started training? Obviously you’ve got to be flying around shirtless and on fire for that one.

JQ: I am. I’ve been training for a little while now. We’ve got another few weeks, and I’ve got a wonderful trainer named Tim who’s brilliant, and is making me do all the things I don’t want to do. We’re not going for anything too enormous, physically, he just needs to look the part, and slowly, slowly, we’re getting there.

MH: Obviously these are different movies, different eras, different universes, but you’re following in the footsteps of Chris Evans and Michael B. Jordan playing this character. Have you thought about how you’re going to follow them, or gotten in touch with them?

JQ: I haven’t gotten in touch with them—maybe I should. It’s important to claim these opportunities as your own. I think they both did incredible jobs, and I’m definitely aware of how much this role means to a lot of people, and how successful they were in portraying him. I think it’s important to come at this with reverence for the people that have played it before, but an intention to make it one’s own. We’ll see.

MH: I’ve heard you guys already have a group chat going, with yourself, Pedro Pascal, Vanessa Kirby and Ebon Moss-Bachrach. Has that been popping off? Are you guys getting excited with the shoot coming up?

JQ: Yeah, it’s been popping off. There’s some funny stuff going on in there. They’re good people, and I’m delighted at the prospect of working with them.

MH: In every iteration of Fantastic Four, I always love the relationship between Johnny and Ben. Have you been working on that with Ebon yet?

JQ: He’s an inherently funny man. We will have a period of rehearsals, and that will be an opportunity for us all to work on the specific dynamics between the four and beyond.

I’m very excited at the prospect of working with Ebon. I think he’s amazing, and will definitely bring something very unique to his role; the dynamic is the thing that is the most important aspect of these four characters. I couldn’t think of another three actors that could being as much vigor and life to these other characters, and I’ll do my best to do the same.

MH: How did it feel to see yourself in that old ‘60s-style drawing that announced the cast?

JQ: It was great! It was a really lovely way to announce it—it was very sweet, and people responded well to it. It’s a little surreal, obviously. I’d be remiss to not acknowledge the fact that this stuff is something that people feel very strongly about. People care about these characters, and what heroism means to people, and that it can provide some light in dark times, and examples as well of how to conduct oneself, without trying to get too lofty. It’s a responsibility that I’m taking very seriously, and we all are. And we’re also going to have a lot of fun with it.

MH: With all this stuff going on, following Stranger Things, what’s something you haven’t gotten to do yet that you want to carve some time out for?

JQ: I’d like a prolonged surfing holiday somewhere. That might rear it’s head, god-willing, at some point. Right now, it’s just focusing on what’s on the desk, and what’s in front of me, and that’s a great place to be.

MH: Is surfing your favorite sport?

JQ: No! I skateboarded a lot as a kid, and I snowboarded at the beginning of this year, and that was lovely. I just think it might be nice to give that a crack—I think I’d like it.

MH: Hey, surfing’s not too far off from flying through the air set on fire. They’re in the same world.

JQ: There you go! Similar gig.

This interview has been condensed for content and clarity.

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