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Things get intense for Jeremy Strong in ‘Armageddon Time’

For Jeremy Strong, who stars alongside Anne Hathaway and Anthony Hopkins in James Gray’s autobiographical look back at his family in 1980, intensity is essential to his acting.

The Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning “Succession” star has twice disabled himself with his exertions, injuring his foot in the HBO hit show’s first season and in its third by jumping off a 5-foot platform that subsequently required a leg brace.

When making “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” he asked — but was refused – that he actually be tear gassed.
“Succession” is Gray’s look at his volatile Jewish family from the perspective of Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), his 12-year-old self.  The younger brother, Paul is often in trouble at public school, often with his Black best friend (Jaylin Webb) who is consistently scorned and disciplined by teachers.

When Paul’s grandfather (Hopkins) helps financially, he’s transferred to a private Long Island school run by Donald Trump’s mother (Jessica Chastain).

Strong, 43, who grew up in Sudbury, came to “Armageddon” as Paul’s father when originally cast Oscar Isaac dropped out. “This one was terrifying. They came to me late because they had another actor,” Strong said in a post-performance discussion in Manhattan.  “I read it and the character is described as ‘A Jewish Stanley Kowalski’ [from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’]. He’s written with such specificity, clearly, the writer knows this person.

“I don’t know this person at all – and I had about three weeks to become an expert on this person. And you have no map. Every time it is like you’re building an instrument that’s never existed and you’re learning to play it – and then you have to walk on the set.

“Only,” he added, “in this case this instrument did exist,” meaning Gray. “You have to seek out who this man was, so I got on a plane.” The filmmaker and the actor visited Gray’s Flushing [NY] house and neighborhood sights.  “It became an odyssey for me, just to learn more about James and his dad. I tried to capture as much as I could of his essence, understand as much as I could. That was a real high dive.”

Although “Armageddon Time” is specifically set in 1980, Strong finds a wholly contemporary vibe watching it today. “This was both extremely particular in it being 1980 with this home, this family. But somehow it has this doubling effect of being entirely about the country we’re living in, in 2022.

“It’s about this fissure that began in 1980 and became the widening racial and social divisions of our time.”

“Armageddon Time” opens Nov. 4

Director of photography Darius Khondji, left, and director James Gray on the set of "Armageddon Time." (Courtesy of Anne Joyce / Focus Features)
Director of photography Darius Khondji, left, and director James Gray on the set of “Armageddon Time.” (Courtesy of Anne Joyce / Focus Features)

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