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Interview: Actor Toby Huss on ‘City of Lies,’ ‘Dickinson,’ and His Favorite Roles

Toby Huss is an actor you probably recognize from a variety of projects. He starred in AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire and currently appears as Edward Dickinson, father of the poet Emily, in Apple TV Plus’ Dickinson. He also has a key role in City of Lies, the long-delayed story of Detective Russell Poole (Johnny Depp) and a journalist (Forest Whitaker) investigating the murders of Biggie and Tupac in the late 1990s and the police involvement in the cases. Awards Radar had the chance to speak to Huss about working on that film and his other roles he’s enjoyed or always wanted to try.

Q: What attracted you to the film City of Lies?

A: Oh well, come on. You know, Tupac and Biggie. I want to know who did it along with everyone else. But Brad Furman, too, is a really great director, and I wanted to work with him. He’s a really interesting man and he’s a really good director, so it was a nice fit.

Q: How familiar were you with any of the events related to Biggie and Tupac and also the Rampart scandal?

A: I lived in L.A. so I knew about the Rampart scandal. I read about that a bunch. But I didn’t know the Venn diagram, I didn’t know how they crossed each other like that. Then doing a deep dive into it and reading that book LAbyrinth, it was a great book, and I didn’t realize how interconnected everything was. It was kind of shocking.

Q: You play a real person, Detective Fred Miller. What kind of research did you do to make an authentic portrayal?

A: I hung around some cops. I have a couple cop friends out in Los Angeles and spoke with them. Didn’t do any ride-alongs or anything, but learned a little bit from them, and from dealings with other jobs I’ve had where I spoke with cops at the time. You pick up a lot of stuff. Sitting around a station room, you get that idea of what it’s about.

Q: It’s an interesting time for a movie about the police that doesn’t paint them in a very positive way. Do you think that influences how this film might be received by people?

A: I would hope the audience would be more receptive to it. There was a time right after we shot it – and from what I’ve heard, that was a bit of a problem with getting it out – there were not a lot of people who believed it and the conspiratorial aspect of it. It’s a conspiracy of silence.

Q: I assume you usually don’t have this long between when you shoot a film and when you’re still doing press for it?

A: No, it’s usually not this long. I’m just thankful it got released. I’m happy for Brad that it got released too, and all the guys in it, of course. He’s really sat with this a long time, Brad has. He’s worked at it, and worked at it, that dude. It’s largely because of his efforts and Johnny’s efforts that this thing finally came out.

Q: Do you have any memorable stories about working with Johnny Depp?

A: He was great. He’s a silly man. I had never met him before, and he’s a funny dude. He was really funny between takes. I don’t know if people see him like that, but I did. He was really generous, and he was open and he was really funny. It was great. It couldn’t have been better.

Q: Speaking of unexpected comedy, I’m a big fan of yours from a show that takes a more lighthearted approach to Emily Dickinson’s life. Can you talk about your role on that show, what drew you to it, and what you get most out of it?

A: Yeah, I’m in New York shooting it now. I was there this morning, out in Long Island. They had to get a lot of sheep in a shot. There’s some nice long-haired sheep they had to get in, so I had to get out there early. It was basically about the sheep. I know my place on the show. If they don’t get the sheep, that’s a problem. If they don’t get me in, they can move on and get something else, it’ll all work out. No, it’s fun. I’m doing it now. Mrs. Dickinson and I goof off a lot and have a pretty good time.

Q: Is there anything different we can expect from season three?

A: It takes place during the Civil War, so there’s a heavy tone over it. Part of it takes place in South Carolina as well. There’s a heavy tone over parts of it, but I think in opposition to that, there’s also a pretty goofy tone to a few episodes, which we’re exploiting as well, which is fun.

Q: Do you prefer doing comedy to drama?

A: I don’t know, it depends on the project. They started Reno 911! again, so I did a couple of those, and that’s the funnest thing in the world. It’s just pure stupidity. It’s just absurd. It’s so fun to hang out with those people and do that. It’s great. But then something like City of Lies is also great. It’s captivating and it’s compelling. I guess I’m drawn to the stories. But not just the stories, like the people telling them and what do they want to do. I liked Brad’s directing on this, and I liked him as a man.

Q: You’ve had a lot of great roles in your career. Any there any we haven’t discussed that really stick out as favorites?

A: Oh yeah, you know, there’s a bunch. They’re all over the place. There’s a movie called Blonde coming out with Ana de Armas playing Marilyn Monroe. I have a part in that. That’s going to be a great little picture. I was out in South Carolina a while ago doing Halloween with David Gordon Green and Jamie and all those guys, that was really great to do. I don’t know. I like most of them. I’ve been lucky, I like most of the characters I’ve played a lot.

Q: Are there any characters or genres you haven’t tried that you’d like to?

A: I don’t know. You know, one thing I’ve never been – and probably with good reason – I’ve never been the romantic guy in a thing. I’ve never been the love interest in a thing. I don’t know if I need to be. I’d probably be horrible about it. Or not. No, I probably wouldn’t be. I’d probably be good. But I don’t know if anybody needs to see me doing that shit. You know? That’s the thing. I’d be great at it. That’s not the question. Does anyone want to see me doing that? The answer’s probably no. I’m fine where I am.

City of Lies is available on digital and on demand. Seasons one and two of Dickinson can be streamed on Apple TV Plus.

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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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