NONE OF THIS was supposed to happen to Corey Stoll. It’s early September and the 38-year-old actor is in Toronto to promote two movies at the Toronto International Film Festival: This Is Where I Leave You, a family dramedy with an all-star cast headlined by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda; and The Good Life, a Reese Witherspoon-led drama about Sudanese refugees adapting to life in America. But sauntering down red carpets surrounded by A-list costars was never what he envisioned for himself.
“The actors I knew growing up were stage actors with day jobs,” Stoll says. “That’s what I expected my career to be: to work in the theater and occasionally get a Law & Order gig or a commercial or something to pay the bills.”
For most of the ’00s, that’s exactly what he did. Alongside regular off-Broadway stints and bit parts in movies like Lucky Number Slevin and Salt, a fresh-out-of-grad-school Stoll popped up on just about every procedural on network television— NYPD Blue, CSI, Numb3rs, NCIS—before landing a leading role on Law & Order: LA.
And that’s when things started to change—fast. Law & Order: LA gave way to a scene-stealing turn as Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which led to a Golden Globe-nominated performance on the first season of House of Cards as substance-abusing congressman Pete Russo. Just like that, Stoll became a known—and hotly in-demand—quantity in Hollywood, a reality he’s still getting used to.
“It exercises a different muscle,” Stoll says of his transition to starring roles. “A lot of being a leading man is about relaxation—projecting an image of ease and comfort the way Cary Grant used to—opposed to the more active creation in a role that’s flashier or more character-driven. I love doing both, and that’s what I really get off on: variety.”
He’s got plenty of variety in his immediate future: in addition to his films at TIFF, The Strain—the Guillermo Del Toro-created horror show Stoll stars in (while wearing a much-derided, heavily-blogged-about hairpiece)—was recently renewed for a second season on FX. And in September, production officially began on Ant-Man, the Marvel superhero flick for which Stoll is suiting up as the villain.
“I never had the audacity to think I’d be able to work in film and television at this level,” Stoll says, “but it’s a really lucky place to be.”
For all that endearing humility, though, one glance at Stoll on-screen and you know that luck had nothing to do with it.