Recognizing the internality Schrader was asking him to portray, Isaac recruited one of his teachers from Juilliard, Moni Yakim, and did mask work. “I was like, well, my face is going to literally be a mask, so how can I tell the story just through the body and through energy,” Isaac said.
And then there’s the writing. Schrader asked each actor to copy out his character’s journal in his own hand. Isaac believed that William would write in cursive, so he took a penmanship course. For Edgerton the task was in line with his usual approach: “I always want my own handwriting to be my own handwriting” onscreen, he said, even before “Master Gardener.” All described the process as meditative, in a way.
“You know in Acting 101 they tell you to write your character’s biography, try to write a journal in character,” Hawke said. “Those are very challenging exercises to do that help find the voice of the character and help integrate yourself with the person. For me it was literally delivered to me in a box with an assignment of what to do, so I loved it.”
Isaac noted that Schrader, for all of his hard edges and tough themes, has a soft side as well. While “Master Gardener” ends in a different way, a number of Schrader’s films, including “The Card Counter” and “Light Sleeper,” conclude with the hero in prison reaching out to a woman he loves. “He believes in the truth and purity of what love is and what love can do,” Isaac said. “So no matter how dark and grueling things can get, he has that spark in him, too. He’s not a nihilist.”
Edgerton has not yet had the opportunity to discuss his time in Schraderland with Hawke or Isaac, but the latter two have swapped stories. Schrader pulled out his phone to show me a photo he received of them alongside another one of his actors, Dafoe, huddled together with middle fingers raised. He suggested it should accompany this article.
Hawke and Isaac worked together on a Marvel Cinematic Universe television show, “Moon Knight,” but Isaac, in conversation, thought of another potential franchise. “It’s an incredible badge of honor to be part of Paul Schrader’s extended universe, the PCU,” he said, laughing. “It’d be one hell of a convention of all those characters coming together. We could do a team movie. I’m going to pitch him on that.”