All I got is my heart on my sleeve. I’m just giving it my all. I’m doing the best I can.
Polish filmmaker Filip Jan Rymsza boldly grafts Cronenbergian body horror onto the 2007 global financial crisis with Mosquito State, an oft-mesmeric and slow-burning tale that forges the fragile connection between psychic and societal meltdowns. Beau Knapp is Richard Boca, a prized Wall Street analyst who is also cripplingly socially inept. The “golden goose” prefers the spartan comforts of his sprawling granite-lined penthouse overlooking Central Park to the office, where he’s only tolerated for developing the so-called “Honeybee” algorithm that’s keeping the entire investment firm ahead. But these days, Richard is getting extra twitchy and starting to spiral due to bizarre market fluctuations, which none of his broker colleagues seem to want to stop making tons of money long enough to help him figure out. Luckily, he won’t need any help from them.
Back home, an infestation is taking hold. Unbeknownst to Richard, a mosquito has hitched a ride under his collar following a company gala and retreated into a glass of water to lay her eggs, setting in motion a teeming insect colonization. Richard is a doomspeaker who is now doomed himself. Or is he? Initially disturbed by them, he begins to foster their presence—bearing witness to their breeding that’s now mirroring the volatility of the market. Offering his naked limbs for the home invaders to feast upon, he becomes a willing host and transforms into the Elephant Man via grotesque swellings. Where other kinship is concerned, a beguiling twenty-something wine bar manager, Lena (Charlotte Vega), enters Richard’s orbit and plays another pivotal role in his final transformation: This one the interior manifestation of a lyrical epiphany towards self-discovery.
Knapp—whose previous credits include Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer—cuts a Quasimodo-like quality, delivering a stylized performance of surpassing strangeness. Hot on the heels of Mosquito State for the actor are two distinctly different projects: The Lost Symbol, the series adaptation of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, in which he portrays Mal’akh, a menacing, tatted-up antagonist. Also on the docket is Antoine Fuqua’s The Guilty, the American remake of Gustav Möller’s high-concept, one-location Danish thriller.
Mosquito State is now available to view exclusively on Shudder. The Lost Symbol is set to premiere on Peacock on September 16, with new episodes releasing weekly. The Guilty will open in select theaters on September 24, before heading to Netflix for streaming on October 1.
Some critics have labeled Mosquito State as “financial-crisis body horror,” which is quite specific. I also know that Filip [Jan Rymsza] never saw the movie in any particular terms where genre is concerned. What did you find on the page? Did it skew in the way of horror?
It’s funny because I didn’t know it was horror until I was talking to one critic and they told me it was a horror film. I’m serious! When I first read it—and I think Filip would say this, too—I didn’t think I was right for it at all. Because I was coming off of doing Destroyer with Nicole Kidman, I was really heavy. I was at 185 pounds or something like that. I saw Richard as this meek, vulnerable, and strange man who’s just trying to find his place in the world. The thought of taking on a role like this scared the shit out of me, for sure. I didn’t know if I could do it. Before Filip even gave me the role, I started losing weight. I think a few actors fell out so I was lucky enough to fly to Warsaw and be there and shoot this for a few months. It was daunting. I didn’t want to just come off as a caricature of something—it would be so easy to fall into one of those holes. I wanted to make him interesting, but still human. That was really important to me.
Clearly, no one else would’ve played him the way you did. Your embodiment feels singular.
I loved growing up watching these character roles, whether it was from John Cazale, Dustin Hoffman, or Sean Penn. It’s the little mannerisms that make Richard specific. It was cool that there was no source material on who this guy was. Filip was like, “We gotta create this character together and figure out who he is.” So we started with a blank slate to create this monster of a human being, and his decent into clarity. I’m sure other actors would’ve gone a very different way.
How did you arrive at those details? I wondered if you might have a movement background.
Well, I’ve boxed a lot. I wrestled in high school. I’m also like a caveman—my posture is terrible. [laughs] In terms of mannerisms, that’s the fun stuff you get to do in the early days of acting class, whether it’s animal exercises or sensory kind of work. The little quirks that I had with Richard were really there to ground me in the character. If I ever forgot who I was, I could do these little things, whether it’s tugging at my pants, messing with my hands, or brushing my hair to the side. That would bring me back down to Richard’s level, which was interesting.
Did you connect with him on an interior level? Where do you throw the anchor with that?
You know all of us fucking actors—we’re all insecure. [laughs] Most of us, you know? So it’s really easy to tap into that. I spent a lot of time alone on the soundstage in my underwear just trying to figure out who Richard was. It’s like looking in the mirror and the stuff you do when you’re by yourself. It’s the funny faces you make when you think you’re not being watched. That’s how I wanted Richard to be all the time in public. He’s an introvert, he’s eccentric, and he’s erratic to say the least. But I think he slowly finds his way towards the light.
He finds himself, for sure. It just so happens the physical manifestation of that is kind of grotesque. Do you feel transformed with each character that you play? Is there something tangible you can touch that you feel has added to your life experience or toolbox?
I don’t know if it adds something to your personal life. I think you more leave a part of yourself with each role. It takes a piece of your soul. After Richard, it was really easy to understand what it means to live in the moment, to finding the silver lining in your life, and taking in these beautiful moments of quiet as he did. To take on a role like that, to cut the weight, and get through it all made me feel like I had accomplished something. I felt fulfilled. It was funny, too, because I got married like a month after that. My wife wanted me back to normal, you know? [laughs] I put on some weight, grew out some facial hair, and got married. It was a very interesting year for me.
You’ve said you wouldn’t want to play him again. Was Richard really unpleasant to inhabit?
Absolutely. I felt so unattractive as Richard. It was a very hard thing—at least in the way that I went through it—to accept and to feel so insecure in a character and embody that. It was hard to get off work and get out of that so you kind of walk around with it a little bit for a few months. It was definitely a process to shake him. That’s why I wouldn’t want to go back.
Richard is a data analyst who works in algorithms to find trends and predict the future. He sees patterns in mosquito swarms, which also allows him to unlock the key to his own development. In your experience, have you discerned any kind of formula for success where acting and filmmaking are concerned? Simply, is there a sure thing in what you do?
Right—to be in a business where certainty is the last thing. It’s been an interesting journey for me. I have four kids and I’ve been working for ten years. I’ve had to take a lot of roles that I didn’t want to take just to move this family forward. I’ve also been lucky enough to get a lot of amazing roles. This business is really hard. All I got is my heart on my sleeve. I’m a kid from the San Fernando Valley. I’m just giving it my all. I’m doing the best I can. If I could do better, I would. I’ve always had this saying: It’s okay to be something you’ve never seen before. That’s what’s kept me going, and of course my family. So there’s no real formula. You just keep moving forward.
Your father is a producer and you’ve previously spoken about your experience being on his set of Rescue Dawn, which seemingly left a big impression on you. How old were you then?
I was probably 16. I wasn’t really acting til I was 18, where I took it seriously and I wanted to do it for a living. I found an amazing acting coach in Venice Beach named Sharon Chatten, and I just shed layers and started educating myself on the world. And I did learn a lot on that set seeing these three different kind of actors. Jeremy Davies was very method. He played Charles Manson [in Helter Skelter]. Steve Zahn was a comedian. I love Steve. I just worked with him on The Good Lord Bird and he’s so fantastic. Then you have Christian Bale, a legend. And [Werner] Herzog directing! Seeing all this stuff, I was like, “This is some wild filmmaking.” It kind of pushed me towards it, like maybe I should try it out, take a class, or read a book on it.
What did your father make of your decision to act? Because the barrier to success is so incredibly low in this business, especially to reach the levels you’ve been able to notch.
This business has been brutal to him in ways. He never really discouraged me, but he told me when I was younger that this business is unforgiving so I better be ready. I’m stubborn enough.
I know you can’t talk in too much detail about The Lost Symbol since it’s yet to air. The pilot was great fun. Is Mal’akh the most villainous character you’ve played? You’ve played your share of antagonistic roles before in Death Wish, The Nice Guys, and Measure of a Man.
Right—I’ve been pretty bad dudes. I think it’s the most daunting villain I’ve had to take on. Physically, I put on a bunch of muscle. I have a great trainer out here [in Montreal]. And with Dan Brown’s writing, he’s so sophisticated. What’s so great about Mal’akh is that I get to play all these different characters in one show. We’re coming up with different ways to play him in every episode with wigs and make-up and all this kind of stuff. It’s like, “How can we change him? How can we use his dialect and do things differently to disguise himself?” Honestly, it’s by far the most fun I’ve had as a villain. He’s a monster of a man, literally. I’ve never had more fun playing a baddie.
Having seen these two projects back to back, you’re completely unrecognizable from one to the next. I always thought that’s a badge of honor for actors. That’s how you disappear.
Oh that’s awesome to hear.
From what I can gather on your Instagram, you’re still really going at it with the training.
Oh yeah. I’m going to do it til the very end. I have five more weeks of shooting left. We have some really badass stuff going down in the end so I gotta keep it up. It was a whole thing because we actually went to do the pilot with [director] Dan Trachtenberg and everybody in March 2020. When we got here, I was maybe 20 pounds thinner and not close to what the character should be. Then production stopped [due to the pandemic]. We all flew back home for six months. In those six months, I started lifting weights in my garage and just going after it—eating, eating, eating. By the time I got to shooting the pilot, I was in good shape. It’s a pretty well known book so I don’t think I’m really spoiling anything to say that he gains a lot of power throughout the story. I’m lucky enough to keep getting bigger, more shredded, or whatever. I enjoy it. I was so used to drinking coffee, the cigarettes, and wine with Richard. I went from being an introvert who’s figuring stuff out to this totally explosive monster. It’s been a huge shift. My wife doesn’t mind it. [laughs]
That kind of yo-yoing demands incredible discipline. Where does that come from for you?
It started when I had my first kid at 21. Like I said, I was a kid from the valley. I was just trying to fucking be somebody. When I had my first child, it was the same year I did my first film—Super 8 with J.J. Abrams. I said, “I gotta run with this. I’m not good at anything else so I gotta go for it.” There were struggles in-between, but luckily, I’ve been successful so far.
That’s quite a launchpad, starting with Super 8.
I know, right?
I found this amazing article that your actor friend Noah Mills wrote for At Large magazine in 2015 called “Letter to a young actor,” which was addressed to you. Do you remember this?
Oh man. Absolutely. Noah is still one of my great friends. We did Wracked, a short film, together.
The things he wrote are naked and kind of confronting. I felt emotional reading something that felt personal and such a private exchange from him to you.
I love Noah. When we did Wracked, we got close and all that stuff. He’s doing really well right now. He’s doing NCIS: Hawaiʻi. I’m super proud of him. And I didn’t even see that article until like two months after it came out. When I read it, it definitely got emotional. It was personal. We have that relationship where we can tell each other’s flaws and know when one of us needs a talking to. I’ve learned a lot of lessons in my life and been through a lot of shit. I’m grateful for every day. I’m still grateful to be an actor because I get the opportunity every day to ask myself these questions: Who am I? Who do I want to be? Where do I want to go? It’s a beautiful thing.
I’d like to ask you his same questions now, six years later, if you’re so willing to go there.
“Why do you act, Beau? Do you want to escape your life? Is it a form of therapy?”
Absolutely. A hundred percent. It’s the only therapy I’ve ever known. I’ve always taken on fucking tough guy roles or whatever it is and the toughest guys in the room are the most insecure that I’ve known. It’s that fear, that anxiety, and that sensitivity that drives you to be who you are and to be successful. Stepping onto the stage or stepping onto set or in front of the camera—it’s the scariest place, but it’s also the most free you’ll ever feel. At least for me.
“Are you scared? Scared that you won’t be able to deliver a performance?”
Every day. I’ve caught myself phoning shit in, phoning roles in. And I’ve watched it and gone, “Yeah. Phoned that in.” Because I wasn’t passionate about the project or I wasn’t right for it, but I still did it to support the fam. Absolutely. I mean, you need confidence as an actor. You need something. You need to know you can do it, but there’s never a day where I think, “I’m going to crush this. I’m going to be great today.” That’s also what’s so fun about it. Every day is a gamble.
Noah prefaced this next question with: “Without a moment of hesitation, you go there, diving into the darkest and brightest corners of our psyche. It seems that is something our culture is shying away from: Feeling things, the loneliness, the heartbreak, the anger, the onslaught of emotions. You work with them, find them in yourself and express them to the camera, reveal them with context.” And so, “What made you so free to do that, Beau?”
I don’t know—it may be a fucking curse, you know? [laughs] This could come on cheesy or whatever, but I always felt like I was deeper than everybody else. I’m just sensitive. It’s the only outlet for me. It’s the only outlet. If there was another outlet, maybe I would try that. But for me, acting, trying on characters, and being able to express my emotions on camera is the only place where I am free. I am able to express myself and it’s okay. It’s the ultimate high. It’s the ultimate release. It’s the ultimate form of expression I have to let people know how I’m doing in my life.