‘Catch-22’ – Christopher Abbott on being Yossarian
A talented cast and the fresh perspective of George Clooney and Grant Heslov give new life to a classic Joseph Heller novel in a military dramedy that begins streaming this week on Hulu.
In “Catch-22,” a six-episode series premiering Friday, May 17, Christopher Abbott (“It Comes at Night,” “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”) stars in the iconic role of Yossarian, a World War II bombardier who requests to be removed from active duty by reason of insanity. The trouble is, the act of doing so is evidence of a sane mind, at least in the U.S. Army’s eyes, and thus disqualifies him from the designation. Ergo, the titular phrase, which describes a paradoxical situation from which one cannot escape because of contradictory rules.
The large cast also includes Clooney (who is also an executive producer with Heslov and others), Kyle Chandler (“Friday Night Lights”), Hugh Laurie (“House”), Giancarlo Giannini (“Quantum of Solace”), Pico Alexander (“The Portuguese Kid”), Rafi Gavron (“A Star Is Born”) and Graham Patrick Martin (“Major Crimes”).
In Yossarian, Abbott takes on a character that not only looms large in the literary world but was also brought to life with great skill by Alan Arkin in Mike Nichols’ acclaimed 1970 theatrical movie, a performance that the young actor says he didn’t allow to color his.
“I tried to find things that were very relatable to me … and kind of go from there,” he explains. “And a lot of the kind of existential questions that Yossarian has I can often share that with him. You know, he’s someone who thinks about the big picture and he’s someone that asks ‘Why?’ a lot. And yet he’s surrounded by his friends and these other guys who don’t seem that they’re asking ‘Why?’ They’re just kind of going head-on.”
That perspective becomes apparent in the opening episode, in which Yossarian explains why he volunteered for the extremely dangerous job of bombardier, reasoning that by the time he completed the lengthy training and was ready for active duty, the war would be over – which, to his horror, turns out not to be true.
“In a way there’s a naivete there,” Abbott says, “that he’s thrown into a situation that quickly switches that around and goes from naivete to kind of insanity almost by the end. It’s a very fast arc of a journey.”
“In a way, he’s a person that is afraid to die because of his lust for life,” he continues. “And it’s not that he’s afraid to die as a whole as more how he’s going to die, and he doesn’t want it at the hands of this bureaucratic system and he doesn’t want it at the hands of an inane mission. You have to remember, too, that in this situation in ‘Catch-22’ that the war is almost over but yet they’re still flying these missions and it kind of seems that no one knows what for, for what purpose and to what end.”