Barry Pepper may play a greedy scam artist in Casino Jack, about the fall of corrupt D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff, but in reality, he couldn’t be more different.Speaking from his home last month in his native Canada, the actor best known as the devout sniper in Saving Private Ryan was readying gift baskets at his farm, which includes a garden and orchard. “We’re very traditional so there’s not a lot of shopping that happens,” says the married father of a 10-year-old daughter. “We sort of have gone back to the origin of Christmas. All year we’re harvesting. We can and jar and dry fruits and vegetables.” Pepper, 40, sees the irony of playing Abramoff sidekick Mike Scanlon, a former communications director for Rep. Tom DeLay, lobbyist and PR executive who plead guilty to corruption charges in 2005. “I couldn’t be more opposite,” says Pepper, who also costars in True Grit, adding, “Though I personally don’t know Mike Scanlon.” The actor thinks they are similar in one respect — they both have a dual life. “I sort of have one foot in Hollywood and one foot in Canada,” says Pepper, who became a dual citizen in 2006. “After 15 years of paying taxes I figured I should be able to vote.” Pepper enjoyed playing the free-spending playboy, a refreshing change from some of his previous straight-up roles: a prison guard in The Green Mile, baseball great Roger Maris in HBO’s 61* and journalist-in-combat Joseph L. Galloway in We Were Soldiers. “It was fun but much more of a challenge than I expected,” Pepper admits. “You don’t have a mask to hide behind, and you’re not covered in dirt or wearing woolly chaps or carrying a machine gun. “With Mike, you’re pretty bare bones so you have to kind of use as many of the tools that present themselves like calling his friends and coworkers and digging through this mountain of paper on this scandal and trying to figure out who he was.” Did he struggle playing someone so morally ambiguous in the film, which opens Friday? “I don’t judge my characters,” says Pepper. “It’s just my job to try to humanize them.” Though he and Spacey had fun chewing up the scenery, the cast was blown away by the sudden death of the film’s director George Hickenlooper in October at age 47. “We got together shortly after and toasted him with a nice evening,” Pepper recounts. “We were all able to tell our favorite George story.” — MADELEINE MARR
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