InDepth InterView: Matthew Modine Talks Steve Jobs Biopic, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, Stage, Screen & More
Today we are talking to an actor who has appeared in over fifty feature films and starred in plays on Broadway and in the West End all about his career thus far, looking ahead to his new role as John Sculley in the forthcoming jOBS, co-starring Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs and Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak, directed by Joshua Michael Stewart - the one and only Matthew Modine. In this all-encompassing chat tracing the past to the present, Modine also manages to give us the scoop on his featured role in the final part of Christopher Nolan's BATMAN trilogy, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and shares his candid impressions of working with Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the rest of the starry cast of the sure-to-be blockbuster of the summer. Additionally, Modine illustrates his experiences working with director Robert Altman on screen and stage projects as diverse as SHORT CUTS and STREAMERS on film, in addition to Robert Falls with Arthur Miller's FINISHING THE PICTURE in Chicago and Altman again with RESURRECTION BLUES at the Old Vic in the West End. Over the course of the conversation, Modine expresses his overall general enthusiasm for acting and reveals deeply probing insight into many of his most memorable and famous roles to date - ranging from roles in Stanley Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET to Alan Parker's BIRDY to his work with Oliver Stone on ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, Tony Richardson on THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, John Sayles, Mike Figgis, John Schlesinger and others. All of that, a thorough discussion of his recent roles in the theatrical productions of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and THE MIRACLE WORKER, as well as recollections of working on many of his most beloved projects to date, such as AND THE BAND PLAYED ON, THE REAL BLONDE, ORPHANS, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, BYE BYE LOVE, TOO BIG TO FAIL, WEEDS - and much, much more!
Full Mettle Actor
PC: Janeane Garofalo spoke favorably about BYE BYE LOVE when she did this column. Do you have any memories of filming that?
MM: Of course I do! She's a very nice and a very smart lady.
PC: Why do you think that film struck a social chord like it did?
MM: Well, you know, it's a film for those Americans - there are so many of them - that grew up in a home with single parents. It's a very important movie - there are not a lot of movies about separation and the process of growing up in divided homes like that.
PC: There really are not. Did your parents divorce?
MM: Actually, my parents stayed married until they passed away.
PC: So, it was a generally good partnership?
MM: Well, you know, marriage is a funny thing - I think, sometimes, it might be better to come from a background of your parents being divorced; I mean, if there is hatred or animosity between the parents, it's better for the children to just not be in a home where parents are fighting with each other all the time. So, you know, sometimes divorce is a good thing.
PC: One of the great modern plays about disintegrating relationships is Arthur Miller's FINISHING THE PICTURE, his final play. You did the premiere production of that and then you did Miller's RESURRECTION BLUES with Robert Altman, correct?
MM: Yes. FINISHING THE PICTURE was at the Goodman and RESURRECTION BLUES was in England at the Old Vic - Kevin Spacey's theatre. Having the opportunity to work with Arthur Miller was just one of those experiences that you only dream of... [Pause.] you know, I don't have any words for him!
PC: An icon.
MM: He was just a bigger-than-life human being. Regardless of the fact that he was married to Marilyn Monroe, his ability to create characters and all of that stuff - his dramaturgy - is, in my opinion, unparalleled in American theatre.
PC: It is. The recent revival of A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE starring Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson was superb. Did you happen to see it?
MM: I didn't, unfortunately - I'm really sad that I missed it. I was at the Tony Awards, actually, when she won and he was nominated, though. Sadly, I missed the production - I was working.
PC: Have you explored bringing RESURRECTION BLUES to Broadway sometime soon?
MM: I don't think Rebecca Miller is that interested in the play being done on Broadway, actually. Frankly, what I'd love to do again most is a play that I did in Hartford, Connecticut, at the Hartford Stage - which was a new stage adaptation of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD; I played Atticus Finch.
PC: Fantastic casting, I must say.
MM: It was the most successful show in Hartford Stage history. What I would really like to do is to do TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and forgo Broadway and do it at the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C. - do it there.
PC: An enticing prospect.
MM: Yeah, I mean, I think that with this administration in office it would just be incredible to do TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD onstage, in the same city - it would just be historic.
PC: That was named the number one book by most Americans in a recent poll. Who did that stage adaptation you first did up in Hartford?
MM: Well, at that time, we worked with Horton Foote - who has since passed away. We dipped into his screenplay and we went back to the book, as well, because, you know, at the time the film was made, Alan Pakula was the producer - who I worked with later on in the film adaptation of another play, ORPHANS; with Albert Finney...
PC: Of course - a fine adaptation and a strong film, too.
MM: Right - so, Horton Foote had done the adaptation for the screenplay and Alan was the producer of that version; the one that won the Academy Award. So, we dipped into Horton's screenplay and we also went back to the book and found some deeper, more painful truths that were not in the original adaptation - I forget what year it was exactly; I think 1962.
PC: Was Harper Lee involved at all?
MM: No - we didn't involve Harper directly. But, you know, what we did was really breaking the rules - you aren't really just supposed to adapt someone's book.
PC: Of course not.
MM: But, you know, the one that's out there doesn't have the teeth that the stage adaptation really deserves - that was the only stage version that was done, though, and we licensed it so that the author of that adaptation got the royalties, but we didn't use his adaptation; his play. We used Horton Foote's screenplay and then we brought in elements from the original novel that were not in his screenplay, nor in the theatrical adaptation that was licensed. There was something that I found in particular and I insisted that we include it, which is, very late in the book, just when Tom Robinson is about to go to trial, Atticus's daughter Scout gets into a fight with her cousin, a boy, and, Atticus's brother comes to him. Atticus had taught her to never say the N-word, and, so, Scout's cousin says to her, "Your dad is a n*ggerlover," and, then, Scout gets in a fight with him and beats him up. Then, Atticus's brother comes to him and says, "Look at what this is doing to our family - look at what it is doing to your daughter. Look at how dangerous this is for your practice."
MM: Yeah - and, then, Atticus says, in the book, "This is a case I hoped would never come my way," and, I think that is a very important thing; it showed that Atticus had ambivalence. It showed that Atticus had doubts - it showed that he was questioning his own rationality in taking on a case like this, in the South; a case of a black man being accused of raping a white woman. And, so, it was a very important line to me that I felt really needed to be added to give Atticus a fuller resonance - it needed to be brought up early in the story, in the scene when the judge comes to him and asks him to take on that case.
PC: It's what determines his true character.
MM: You know, otherwise, Atticus would say, "I've got my children and my practice to take care of - I'm too busy," and, then, the judge says to him, "I want you to take this case." And, in our production, then he said, "This is the kind of case I hoped would never come my way."
PC: A powerful addition.
MM: I mean, now you have a character with a moral dilemma - he's a character who is wondering if he has the strength and the ability to represent a black man in the South at that time; before the civil rights movement.
PC: You certainly make a really great argument for the addition. You really are Atticus, in the flesh, I guess!
MM: [Laughs.] Honestly, though, it was such an honor to portray the character that Harper Lee created along with Michael Wilson, the director, and Hallie and Horton Foote. You know, Horton Foote wouldn't let go of my hands after the opening night - he kept saying, "It's a triumph; it's a triumph."
MM: That is a memory I will carry with me my whole life.
PC: TENDER MERCIES is a masterful script, as well - Betty Buckley spoke so wonderfully about her experience with that Horton Foote film when she did this column.
MM: Yeah, that's another great one - a film filled with Horton's poetry.
PC: How fantastic THE ORPHANS' HOME CYCLE was finished and fully produced before his passing a few years ago, as well.
MM: Oh, absolutely - absolutely. That was so great.
PC: THE MIRACLE WORKER is your most recent stage venture, I believe. How did you get involved with the recent Lincoln Center special performances of it?
MM: Well, they asked me if I wanted to be a part of the production, and, like so many of us, I only knew the film - I didn't know the play - so I wasn't sure. If you've seen the film, you know that Captain Keller was kind of a caricature - he was a Foghorn Leghorn kind of caricature; you know, [Cartoon Accent.] "I say, boy!"
MM: You know, the big rooster and Chicken Little.
MM: Yeah. [Laughs.] So, anyway, if you read the play, you realize that the father role is actually quite extraordinary.
PC: It really is. Why did it grab you in particular?
MM: Well, as you know, it takes place after the Civil War and he was a captain in the Civil War. So, he's lost the war, and, with the abolition of slavery, the people who were his slaves are now his employees - and: he's broke; his sister has moved in with him; his wife died; he has a new wife, who is the mother of Helen Keller; and, the son from his previous marriage doesn't like the new wife. Then, on top of it all, this girl from the North - a Catholic - comes down and starts telling him - a Southern man - how to run his household. So, it's an incredibly frustrating role and it's much, much bigger and much, much more important in the stage play than it is in the film. I just had a blast doing it.
PC: Abigail Breslin played Helen Keller, did she not?
MM: Yes, she did - and I just loved working with her. It was an absolute treat.
PC: I read a quote from you where you cited Robert Altman as referring to himself as the conductor of the orchestra on a film set. Could you recount the story that led up to that line for us - I believe it was when you did your first film together, the screen adaptation of the David Rabe play STREAMERS?
MM: Yes, it was. What happened was that I kept asking him about the big monologue that my character, Billy, had in STREAMERS, and, every time I asked him, he would say, "Oh, we'll talk about it tomorrow," and, later, I realized that what he was doing was that he was forcing me to go and find the truth on my own - and that is such a great lesson to have been taught; not just as an actor, but as a scientist or as a painter or whatever. You know, the hardest discovery for an artist to find is their own personal truth - that's really the journey of an artist; to find your own way.
PC: What an insight!
MM: You know, it comes back to that old, classic quote, "Try being yourself - everyone else is taken."
PC: So true. Had you worked on the stage version at any point or was your first interaction with Altman and the property auditioning for the film?
MM: No. I did that film when I was fresh out of drama school - I had studied with Stella Adler at the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting and I had just come out of school. They were having auditions for a film and I must have auditioned for STREAMERS four or five times in all - every time, just hoping that I would get to play Billy.
PC: You really responded to the role, then.
MM: Yeah, but, you know, there were also times when he had me read for Richie. He had me read for another character, too - the one who slits his wrists at the beginning. So, you know, he had me audition a lot and he wasn't sure what he wanted me to play at first - whether it was going to be a small part or a medium part or what. So, then, I got the big part of Billy and I was so excited when I did.
PC: STREAMERS is an excellent film and Lily Rabe, David's daughter, spoke of their shared affection for it when she did this column.
MM: Oh, that's so great to hear. You know, since you mention it, I actually just did a reading of something of David's - I read two essays that David had written. It was at the Signature Theatre - I think they have a production of a David Rabe play being done soon or was just done, as well.
PC: Had you gotten to work with him again after STREAMERS, before then?
MM: I actually never saw David again after the read-through of STREAMERS - I remember Altman asked us all to come over, and, so, we read the roles and David said, "It sounds great." And that's the last time I ever saw him. But, I told David Rabe at the reading we did - Lily was there, too; she read something from THE BOOM BOOM ROOM - that this was the first time we had seen each other since STREAMERS - whether or not he remembered that - and I just thanked him because, really, it's because of STREAMERS that I have a career; that launched my career.
PC: Are you aware that a great HD print of it is available on Netflix Instant? Anyone can access the film at any time now - it was hard to find for many years, as you may know.
MM: Oh, I haven't seen that yet, but that's fantastic to know!
PC: Is SHORT CUTS the film that you are remembered for most, would you say, or is that mostly among film people like me?
MM: [Laughs.] I think that's mostly among film people like you!
PC: Which one is it then? You have done so very many.
MM: Well, I think that the film people remember me for most - or at least recognize me from - is probably FULL METAL JACKET. People remember STREAMERS, too, but more BIRDY than anything besides FULL METAL JACKET. I get a lot of VISION QUEST, too.
PC: I bet. THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE is such a bizarre and unique film - even for your resume. Do you have fond memories of filming that with Tony Richardson - was he sick at that point as far as you knew?
MM: No, I don't believe so - at least I don't think he was sick yet on that film. What I remember the most about that film was that I auditioned for that a lot, too - at least a couple of times. Tony wasn't sure whether he could get the film made with me in the lead part or not - I guess Rob Lowe had some credits and so the producers wanted him for the lead role. So, he couldn't convince them otherwise, so he cast me as Chipper Dove - and, he thought it was such a waste to have me play such a small part that he gave me, also, the role of Ernst, the pornographer.
PC: As film history would famously have it. Were you satisfied with that decision, all things considered?
MM: Oh, yeah. I mean, to be a young actor and play dual-roles like that in a film was very exciting - and, you know, it was such an exciting cast; Jodie Foster and Natasha Kinski and Beau Bridges and Wallace Shawn. I've become lifelong friends with Wallace, actually - who is a great playwright, as well.
PC: Needless to say. Were you familiar with the John Irving novel prior to filming that or were you new to the material?
MM: No, I hadn't read the novel - I hadn't even heard of John Irving or any of that; that was all new to me at that time.
PC: Wasn't the finished film considerably cut down from the shooting script and what was actually filmed? Did you see it?
MM: Yes - I did see the finished film. I remember that I was working in Toronto at the time - on a film called MRS. SOFFEL, with Diane Keaton - and my wife and I went to see it, and, you know, it was the first time I had played someone who was so hateful; I mean, he rapes Jodie Foster's character.
PC: In a very disturbing scene.
MM: I remember there were some girls sitting behind us in the theater and they said, "Oh, I hate that guy," and, I really couldn't separate myself from the character I was playing in that instant. I guess if they were hating me I had done a good job, but I just felt terrible because someone hated me - but they really hated the person I was playing. It was hard for me to separate the two at first.
PC: Have you found it a smooth transition back and forth from leading roles to character roles in the parts you have played ever since? You immediately appear to be more a leading man, but it seems you relish the idiosyncratic roles, too.
MM: I'll tell you - it's been a very interesting ride. In the last few years, though, it's really started to pick up, so, I guess you are right that it was a weird transition at first - what I like to use is a baseball metaphor for it; you know, you can't hit a home run unless you get to go to bat.
PC: How apropos - you need to be given a chance to shoot to score.
MM: Exactly. So, what I've found is that what you can't do is stop trying to get at-bats - there are a lot of actors who just give up and take it all personally; not getting those leading man roles all the time and not always being a sex symbol. So, because they can't transition, they give up - and, a lot of times, they resort to surgery. I think surgery is just a disaster for men - why would you take your face and go under the knife like that? I think it's a desperate and a futile attempt to maintain something - it's pure vanity.
PC: Indeed. Another great playwright you have worked with is Terence Rattigan - what are your memories of the 1994 version of THE BROWNING VERSION, starring Albert Finney?
MM: You know, going through these, I never realized how many films I've done that have been adapted from plays. With THE BROWNING VERSION, I'll admit that I did that film one-hundred percent to have the opportunity to work with Albert Finney again. I just had had such a great time working with him on ORPHANS - he is such a gentleman and such a great actor.
PC: One of the best.
MM: He is. So, yeah, honestly, I did that film purely to work with Albert again - and I wish I had even more scenes in it with him.
PC: What do you think of the current trend of obvious Oscar-bait films and the general awarding of buzz over artistry that is so prevalent in many critical circles these days?
MM: What I think about that is what Stanley Kubrick once said to me, "The longest line is never in front of the best restaurant."
PC: What a line! Speaking of Kubrick, your FULL METAL JACKET DIARY is absolutely phenomenal - so insightful and revealing. How did you come to write and publish that?
MM: Well, I do keep a diary…
PC: You really do?
MM: Yes. I still do. It's something my grandmother urged me to do. So, as a journal writer already, I thought, "OK. Let's take some notes about what it is like to be on a film set," and, as you know from reading the diary, there were a lot of things happening in my life, also, at the time - such as, my wife had just become pregnant.
PC: A big event for sure.
MM: And BIRDY had just been such a success - it had just won at Cannes when I started FULL METAL JACKET. So, with everything that was happening at that time, the journal was helping me keep in contact with who I really was - what I was feeling; what was happening to me in my life so far. So, then, the baby was coming and I was working with this incredible filmmaker making this film at the same time - and I was playing a writer in the film; a combat journalist - and the diary became something I starTed Keeping on the film set. The most amazing thing was that Stanley convinced me to use his old camera - his old Rolleiflex - and allowed me to take pictures onset.
PC: What a privelege.
MM: I don't think that is something that was ever allowed on a Kubrick set - allowing one of his actors to take pictures and document the experience of making the movie with him.
PC: Definitely not.
MM: So, yeah - the diary is quite special and unique if only for that reason. Also, I don't know if you have seen this, but if you flip the book over you can see that there is a serial number on the back of the book - that's your individual number; there are only 20,000 copies of the book total.
PC: I didn't know they were numbered - how cool is that?!
MM: Yeah - yeah. There will never be any more of those metal books - I'm not making any more of them and I am definitely not making a paperback. [Laughs.]
PC: How could you? They are so special as they are.
MM: But, because of that, actually, there was a young man from Apple Computers that approached me and asked if I would like to make the book into an app. So, I said, "What does that mean - make the book into an app?" And, he said, "Well, I would record you reading the book - doing the voices for all the different characters in the book - and then I would do music for it all and sound effects. Then, I would take all the images from the book and do hi-res scans of all of the images and reproduce them in hi-resolution. I'd take the personal letters that Stanley Kubrick wrote you and I would scan those and include those in the app, too."
PC: How could you say no to that offer?
MM: Yeah - they did such a great job; they've created this really impressive, deep, immersive experience that was a lot like what the actual experience of working with Stanley Kubrick, on arguably one of the greatest war moves ever made.
PC: I don't think there's much argument about that fact!
MM: Yeah, right?! I mean, I felt just like Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger in that movie [JERRY MAGUIRE], "You had me at hello." [Laughs.]
PC: I bet! The screenwriter of Oliver Stone's ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, John Logan, has done this column. How did you become involved with that project? It's a truly remarkable cast. I have heard the script was quite different before he came onboard, though. Is that true?
MM: Well, first, I will say that Oliver Stone is very smart in how he approached all those amazing actors in ANY GIVEN SUNDAY - he told all of us that we were starring in a movie that he was making about football. So, when I met him, he gave me a book called YOU'RE OK, IT'S JUST A BRUISE and said that this movie was going to be about a doctor who changed football. [Laughs.]
PC: That's hilarious!
MM: I don't think he did it maliciously, though - I think he really believes that each of the individual characters in all of his films is what the movie is about. So, I remember going to Los Angeles thinking I was going to be sitting down to read this amazing script about this amazing doctor, and, then, when I got there, I saw about twenty scripts on the table! [Big Laugh.]
PC: No way!
MM: Yeah - you know, one was for Pacino and one was for Cameron Diaz and one was for Dennis Quaid. We all quickly realized, "There's never going to be time to make a movie with a 200-page script;" it would be a four-hour movie! So, we realized we were all going to be the ensemble in an Oliver Stone extravaganza.
PC: John Logan said that there were many drafts of that script.
MM: Yeah - there were.
PC: How did the ANY GIVEN SUNDAY script compare to the original shooting script of FULL METAL JACKET?
MM: Well, FULL METAL JACKET was interesting because it was really not like any script I had read before.
PC: How so?
MM: It was more like an outline - it felt like an outline for a book; or, an outline from a book for a screenplay. You know, it was written like, "A person comes in the room. A person says this." And it just didn't look like a screenplay. The wonderful thing about it was that so much was left open to personal interpretation.
PC: You love giving your own input into a role, do you not?
MM: Oh, yeah - and, Stanley wasn't putting in parentheses, you know, "So-and-so starts to cry," or, putting in what the person is thinking or what the person is feeling; that's the personal journey that we all go on in finding the truth of the character and he knew that. Something Kubrick said to me sticks with me - I wrote about this in the diary; I was very upset and feeling as if I was not succeeding as an actor in the film because we weren't making forward progress as far as I could see. I realized later that that was just vanity - me thinking that I was responsible for the fact that the film wasn't moving forward, when, in fact, it was Stanley Kubrick going through his process insofar as what the film was about to him; it didn't have anything to do with me. But, because you are young and because you are starring in a Stanley Kubrick film, you feel a personal responsibility and mistakenly take on the burden that you shouldn't be. You know, the production schedule isn't in my control - it's beyond me; but you have to learn that. So, what this is the long way of saying is that I was wandering around out in the fields, trying to figure out and understand who Private Joker was and how I could do the part justice. It was like, "How am I going to bring this character;" the most complex character I had played to date, "How am I going to bring him to life?" So, right at that moment, Stanley Kubrick pulls up in his Jeep and he says, "Hey, jump in; I'll drive you to the set," and, I say, "No, it's OK. I'm just walking around; thinking." And he could tell I was confused and upset and he said, "What's wrong?!" And, I said, "You know, Stanley, I just don't know how to play this character," and, then, he turned his Jeep off and he looked at me, tugged on his beard, and, then, he said, "I don't want you to play anything; I just want you to be yourself."
MM: So, then, I said, "No, no - it's OK. I'll walk back to the set," and, I realized that, as he was driving away from me, that the most important part of the sentence was "to be" - it goes right back to what we were discussing earlier, it's the journey and the discovery of self and learning how to be yourself that is the most important.
PC: "To be or not to be?" as Shakespeare wrote in HAMLET.
MM: There you go - there you go.
PC: Speaking of which, have you ever done Shakespeare onstage?
MM: No - I have never done it. Not yet.
PC: Why is that?
MM: Well, I think that, like a lot of American actors, I am just frightened of the language.
PC: You can definitely handle it, I think.
MM: You might be right - I think it might be time to test the mettle.
PC: You are the entering the ideal age for most of the best male roles, as well. Incidentally, one of the greatest living Shakespeareans has done this column - Sir Ian McKellen - and you two did AND THE BAND PLAYED ON together, of course.
MM: Yes. Yes.
PC: How did you happen to become involved with that vital HBO film?
MM: Well, I was invited to come in and play Don Francis in the film and I immediately said yes. It was a great honor - because everybody in our world, theatre and film, was being incredibly affected by HIV at the time and we had an administration, the Reagan administration, who wouldn't say the word AIDS; they wouldn't even recognize the danger of it. How many thousands of lives could have been saved had the administration just gotten behind the cause of discovering the reason for the disease and why it was compromising people's health and taking people's lives? The government wasn't going to get behind it - and they even marginalized it and called it a disease with a sexual preference. Since the government wouldn't support research, everyone from the artistic community realized that there was something that needed to be done like AND THE BAND PLAYED ON to inform Americans and help them understand about the disease - a disease doesn't have a sexual preference and it is not just killing homosexuals, it is killing anybody. It is a disease that could potentially compromise millions of people's lives just in America alone - and, as Don Francis so poignantly points out at the Red Cross meeting when someone says, you know, "There haven't been enough complications from blood transfusions for us to be concerned with it," and, Don Francis stands up and screams at the top of his lungs, "How many people have to die before you start doing something about this? Give us a number, so we can stop wasting your time." I wish I could remember what the exact lines in the script were because they were Don Francis's own words.
PC: An unforgettably rendered scene in the film, in any event.
MM: It's such a great speech - I know you can find it online, too.
PC: It's a momentous film - and a time capsule.
MM: Yeah, it really is.
PC: Did you get involved with TOO BIG TO FAIL as a result of your involvement with HBO on AND THE BAND PLAYED ON or was it unrelated?
MM: No - it was unrelated. It was another offer - they asked if I wanted to play that guy and I think that the most fun thing playing someone like that is that, you know, obviously, those guys don't think they are bad guys.
PC: Definitely not.
MM: They think that everything that they are doing is legitimate and above-board and there is nothing dishonest about what they are doing at all. So, it was fun to get inside the skin of a guy like that.
PC: So corrupt. Do you think there will be justice or will the real-life counterparts of those men just get away with it all?
MM: Oh, no - they'll just get away with it. There will never be any justice - and that's because we don't live in a democracy anymore; we live in a corporatocracy.
PC: As is becoming more and more clear every day.
MM: Our government has been completely bought and sold by banks and corporations. I don't know how we change that without having a revolution - perhaps a peaceful revolution, but there needs to be a revolution for anything to change. Until there is some real campaign reform, it's a real mess.
PC: Sad, but true. Another participant in this column who you co-starred with was Kathleen Turner - how was your time together on THE REAL BLONDE? She's so smart and outrageous.
MM: I think that the most outrageous thing that she did was that she asked if I wanted to go behind the curtain with her, and, you know, get busy on the stage.
PC: Are you serious?
MM: It was absolutely said in a flirtatious way that only someone like Kathleen Turner can say… [Laughs.]
PC: Especially with that voice! I was also curious if you have any stories about working with Oliver Reed on CUTTHROAT ISLAND? He was such a tremendous performer.
MM: I don't, really. I didn't really get to work with him on that - as you might know, he was hired and fired the same day on that; on CUTTHROAT ISLAND.
PC: That's what I asked. What a shame.
MM: It was. It was a great experience for me, personally, working on CUTTHROAT ISLAND, though - I had a great time - but, in a microcosm, I think that's kind of representative of some of the mistakes that were being made on that film by the director; you know, not understanding the genius of someone like Oliver Reed and taking advantage of it. Hiring and firing him? I don't know.
PC: Will you be returning to WEEDS at any point for the final season this year, as far as you know? Does Jenji Kohan have anything special planned?
MM: I don't think so - actually, I don't think Jenji has been involved with the show for the last few seasons; I think she has moved on. But, I've always thought it would be fun to sort of find that character homeless on the street saying, you know, "Can you spare a dime for a fellow American?" [Laughs.] John Huston/Humphrey Bogart - TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE.
PC: Speaking of whom, Anjelica Huston recently did this column.
MM: Oh, I actually just worked with Anjelica on an animated film called THE CAT IN PARIS.
PC: Did you work one-on-one on it at all?
MM: No - you know, you never get to work in the booth together, unfortunately; it's just one of those things. But, I've known Anjelica for a long, long time and I consider her a great friend. She is just so beautiful and smart and passionate about our profession.
PC: Would you be interested in a role with her on SMASH someday? Do you sing?
MM: Yeah - why not?!
PC: Have you ever sung onscreen or onstage?
MM: Well, I actually sang a lot when I auditioned for the revival of THE MUSIC MAN for Susan Stroman. I auditioned to replace the original actor and I thought for sure I would get the role, but I didn't - and that was her mistake because I think I would have been really, really good in that.
PC: No question - perhaps in the future, then!
MM: I think I sang in MRS. SOFFEL, too, but I'm not sure if it made it into the movie or not. I sang a song in that, though. There have been some other things.
PC: SHORT CUTS is essentially a musical in many ways and the film's composer, Mark Isham, discussed that when he did this column - the story is punctuated by all of the songs Annie Ross sings. Did you discuss the musical aspect of the film with Altman at all?
MM: No, I don't think we did, but I do remember Annie was sort of the musical thread throughout the movie.
PC: That is the only non-Carver story in the film. Did you read any Raymond Carver to prepare for the part? There are thirty of them in the film, as I'm sure you are aware.
MM: Yeah - I read a lot of the short stories. At one point, Altman wanted me to play the part that Chris Penn plays. I kept saying to him, "Well, what would it take for me to kill somebody like that?" like Chris Penn does in the film. So, I kept giving him ideas - I would say, you know, "Well, you know what would really make me crazy? If I came home and found that my wife was having phone sex with someone while she was nursing our baby!" And, Bob said, "That's a great idea! That's great," you know, because it has such a great visual; your wife is nursing your child and it is suckling on her breast while she is having this filthy conversation. So, that ended up in the movie.
PC: One of the most memorable scenes, as well.
MM: There were a couple other things I suggested, too.
PC: How did you arrive at your eventual role in SHORT CUTS, then?
MM: Well, Bob said, "You know what? Forget it, I don't want you to play that part anymore - Chris Penn is going to play it. I want you to play this doctor married to Julianne Moore."
PC: That was Julianne Moore's breakthrough role. Did you know you were working with someone who had that certain special star power?
MM: Yeah - I knew she was really talented and she was going places.
PC: Your argument scene is so unforgettable. I have read that you devised the staging of that scene, or at least your placement in it - is that true; he wanted you following her?
MM: Yeah, she was running around the house and he wanted me chasing her and I said that I should be sitting still, doing what I usually do. It's like, "This is the day when you are going to tell me what happened. I am going to sit down and have my drink and you are going to confront me and tell me the truth about that night." [Pause.] It's a great scene - I love that scene.
PC: You can say that again - it's masterful.
MM: You know, a lot of actors do that scene now in their acting classes. I think that's a great reflection on the film.
PC: From a classic twenty years ago to a surefire smash next month: how did you become involved in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES? Did Christopher Nolan approach you?
MM: Actually, this time I contacted Chris myself and he said he was interested, so he said that I could put myself on tape if I wanted to and send it to him - and, of course, that was not about Christopher Nolan challenging my abilities as an actor, it was about me getting on an airplane and flying out to meet Christopher Nolan and look at what the opportunity was like to work with him on a film. You know, that's what is really necessary sometimes - is to go and tell somebody that you want to work with them; so, that's what I wanted and that's what I did and that resulted in me getting to work with arguably one of the greatest directors making movies today on what I think is one of the greatest franchises in the business today.
PC: Undoubtedly - the fantastic first two films have ramped up expectations to epic heights, no doubt, as well. Will it meet them?
MM: I think that this film is going to be dark and it is going to be really fantastic. The reason that we love Batman, I believe - in my opinion - is because he is a man; don't you think?
PC: No question.
MM: He is not a superhero and he doesn't come from another planet - he doesn't have magical powers. Batman is a broken man who discovered that, by putting on a mask one day, that he can erase his fear. We all have those fears and we can all relate to Batman and empathize with him, but, what we don't have is the Wayne Enterprises and all that money to develop all of those fantastic toys.
PC: If only!
MM: That aspect may make us all envious of him, but, we still can all relate to him because he is just a man at the end of the day - you know, when you are fighting crime, you run the risk of becoming a vigilante; and that's where this film gets really interesting.
PC: Can you elaborate?
MM: It gets really interesting because it becomes, really, a story about America - of us doing good, and, when we do good, when do we run the risk of doing bad; causing a kind of destruction?
PC: Do we bring our doom upon ourselves - maybe knowingly in some way?
MM: Yeah - yeah.
PC: Do you have scenes mostly with Gary Oldman in the film, I assume, judging from the trailers and your purported role?
MM: Yes. A lot of my scenes are with Gary and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
PC: He is one of the biggest rising stars. Was it enjoyable to work with him - is he the real deal? You would certainly know.
MM: He is - he really is. You know, Gary and I came up together and I have known him for a very long time and I have nothing but love and respect for him as an actor and as a man, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a real talent - he sings; he dances; he could be in a Bollywood movie! [Laughs.]
PC: And wouldn't that be sublime! A full-fledged movie musical star in her own right, Anne Hathaway also appears as Catwoman in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Have you seen her in the new trailer for LES MISERABLES yet?
MM: No, I haven't, but I will tell you that Joseph has a record label - hitrecord.org - and they had a big event in Los Angeles and he and Anne Hathaway sang and they did a duet together. She's really got the chops, too, you know, man? She can do it all.
PC: She looks to be an impressive Catwoman, as well. Did you get to see her in the costume onset? Do you have scenes together in the film?
MM: I can't tell you too much, but I can tell you that I did see her ride away from me on a motorcycle. [Laughs.]
PC: I can't wait! Have you seen the film in any form yet?
MM: No - it's all under wraps to everybody until July 20.
PC: Is it true the final cut will be nearly three hours?
MM: I've heard that, too - well, two hours and forty-five minutes; I don't know if that includes credits. There were a lot of people who worked on the film, so there might be ten minutes of credits, so you never know.
PC: How many shooting days did you have on the film?
MM: I was there five months.
PC: Wow - you must have a very major role, then! They have been keeping the details really wrapped. So, do you think THE DARK KNIGHT RISES will one-up even THE AVENGERS - will it be the hit of the Summer?
MM: I think it is going to be one of the greatest films of all time.
PC: High praise, indeed.
MM: I'm really excited to see it.
PC: You have a number of films coming out soon in addition to THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, as well. First up, what can you tell me about QUEEN FREAK with Kristin Chenoweth?
MM: That film was called FAMILY WEEKEND when we shot it, but at the Cannes film festival they were calling it QUEEN FREAK - although I don't like that title.
PC: What's it about?
MM: It's a family story basically, but, since you asked about Kristin I have to tell you about her: here is this woman who has a voice as big as ten people and a talent to match; as they say, fireworks come in small packages - explosive things come in small packages - and it's really true...
PC: That is the case with Kristin.
MM: It is. She's not just a really fun actress, she is a great comedienne and a wonderful singer - and a great person to be around. So, it really was a pleasure to work with her.
PC: The final film for us to discuss is the film you are shooting this month: jOBS, with Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs.
MM: Yes. Ashton is Steve Jobs and I play the man who fired Steve Jobs from Apple Computers - he was hired by Apple from Pepsi; his name is John Sculley. He started the Pepsi Challenge and then they brought him in to Apple and he actually fired Steve Jobs from Apple.
PC: An act almost unbelievable to even contemplate occurring.
MM: It's a lot like the story of Michael Jordan: I don't know if you know, but Michael Jordan was cut from the basketball team when he was in high school.
PC: Equally inconceivable.
MM: It was being cut from the team that made him want to go out and prove to everybody that he was one of the great basketball players and that he had no business being cut from the team in the first place. It was during that time that he got the anger and the drive and the focus to be able to work on who he was and what his game was. It's the same with the period of time that Steve Jobs was not working at Apple - he was starting Next Computers and I believe Pixar happened a little after that time. So, what happened was, that period of time was so important because, had Steve Jobs not been fired from Apple, he might not have become the Steve Jobs that everybody knows; the legend and the myth that is Steve Jobs.
PC: There has to be a low to have a high.
MM: Right - right.
PC: Where did this promotional picture of you seemingly in character come from since you hadn't even started filming yet? Is it a test shot or a costume shot of some sort?
MM: That was a photo of me that was taken the other day when I knew it was going to be announced soon that I was doing this role and one of my friends found an original Apple T-shirt.
PC: How serendipitous.
MM: Yeah, so I just threw it on and that's the picture.
PC: The film will trace 1971 until the new millennium, then?
MM: Yep - high school to the iPod.
PC: 1971-2001, roughly?
MM: Right. Right. I appear right around the second half of the film on, as far as I know.
PC: Is there a projected release date yet?
MM: Nothing firm that I know of yet - I think they are shooting for the Fall.
PC: Just in time for awards season! I wish you the best on it.
MM: Yeah, we'll see what happens. I mean, if Ashton does as well in the role like everybody hopes he will, he could get an Oscar nomination out of it. So, the plan is to shoot this Summer and release it later this Fall.
PC: You could be nominated for either this or DARK KNIGHT RISES, as well - wouldn't that be wonderful?!
MM: It would be wonderful, but, you know, you can't do this because you want to get nominations!
PC: What a career so far and so much to look forward to coming up! I can't thank you enough for this today, Matthew.
MM: Thank you very much, Pat. This was a lot of fun. Bye.
More On: Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad, Michael Stewart, Matthew Modine, Christopher Nolan, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Robert Altman, Robert Falls, Arthur Miller.