Lincoln Lawyer - Ryan Phillippe
Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) © 2011 Lakeshore & Lionsgate

Ryan Phillippe began his career in Ridley Scott’s White Squall, and has gone on to star is such popular and diverse movies as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Cruel Intentions, Gosford Park, Anti-Trust, Flags of Our Fathers, Crash and Stop Loss.

In his new movie The Lincoln Lawyer, Phillippe stars as Louis Roulet, a rich playboy who is accused of attempted murder. He requests that Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey), a slick Los Angeles defense attorney, represent him, and the lawyer takes the assignment not realizing that Roulet has an ulterior motive in asking for his services. What ensues is a game of cat and mouse between lawyer and client, with an innocent man’s freedom at stake.

I read that when you heard about this project you had your agent call to say that you wanted to audition. I can’t imagine that you audition for roles very often.

Lincoln Lawyer - Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe
Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) and Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) © 2011 Lakeshore & Lionsgate

I don’t audition often. But I think the function of this character is so important to the movie that the filmmakers and the producers needed to see what the actor intended to do with the part, because if this character doesn’t work it would have a negative effect on the whole film.

So I’m always willing to put pride aside, especially if I want something bad enough and I feel like it’s worth my while. [The movie’s director] Brad Furman told me 200 guys auditioned for this part. I just wanted it, so I didn’t care what it took, and I was pretty confident that I had an idea of how to play this guy.

Did you have an opportunity to speak with the author, Michael Connelly, about this?

Not prior to filming. He came to the set a few times, but I think he wanted to respect the process. He obviously had some say and approval over the script. I also think it’s got to be an interesting process for him with all the omissions, and when scenes are condensed and passages from the book are kind of placed in different areas.

But the thing that I feel like we’re all proud of is the fact that he loves the movie. I think that means so much and it says so much about the film. It’s his baby; [Mick Haller] is a character that he’s writing multiple books about, and the fact that he loves the way that this one started I think is pretty good.

In Anti-Trust you were a victim and in this film you are the victimizer, how did you like playing him?

Lincoln Lawyer - Bob Gunton, Ryan Phillippe, Matthew McConaughey and William H Macy
Cecil Dobbs (Bob Gunton), Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) and Frank Levin (William H Macy) © 2011 Lakeshore & Lionsgate

I don’t know what this says about me, but it’s so much fun to play the villain. It’s so much fun to be bad. When you’re the protagonist, or the hero of a movie, there are rules, you need to keep the audience on your side; you have to be conscious of the way that character will be perceived. With a bad guy all that goes out the window. Your aim is to not be liked really. It’s a lot of fun.

How did you prepare for this role? Did you visit any prisons or inmates?

Nope, I stayed far way. My goal in life is to stay as far away from prison as possible!

Matthew told me that the both of you didn’t get to know each other, but played the scenes in the moment. What was that experience like for you?

Lincoln Lawyer - Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe
Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) and Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) © 2011 Lakeshore & Lionsgate

It made sense because of the dynamic between the two characters, the fact that there’s this psychological chess match, that they are opposed. I think it’s really unique and interesting to me that in a film the client and lawyer hate each other and they’re both trying to screw each other over in a way.

There is something really interesting about that, and we didn’t rehearse much, because we wanted to keep that vitality and the freshness. We wanted to be able to surprise each other and catch each other off guard, the way the characters are attempting to do.

But then, at the same time, we could tell underneath that we’re kind of similar. Just regular guys who had a lot of things in common, we both are really into football, being parents and health, and so we couldn’t resist each other eventually. But that wasn’t until after we had established who these guys were and how we were going to work. Matthew is a hard dude not to like.

Aside from screenplays, which I’m sure you have a stack to look at, do you get a chance to read books, or do you use a Kindle?

Lincoln Lawyer - Ryan Phillippe
Ryan Phillippe at the premiere © 2011 Lakeshore & Lionsgate

I’ve got on my IPad a bunch of books. I love that because it used to be when you traveled or went on location, half the weight of your bag was taking books with you. But I tend to read more non-fiction or autobiographical stuff, but after reading Lincoln Lawyer I became a big fan of Michael Connelly’s. He’s got one book in particular called The Poet about a serial killer that I would love to do.

Have you expressed that desire to anybody yet?

I’ve talked to one of the producers on this movie, but I’m going to tell Michael Connelly tonight at the premiere. He’s this serial killer who uses poetry as his calling card, it’s really interesting.

What’s next for you?

I have a movie coming out in limited release called The Bang Bang Club that I shot in South Africa, based on a true story about combat photographers at the end of apartheid. It’s got some really powerful moments, it’s premiering at Tribeca and then will do the art house circuit after that.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.