Random Anecdotes from Early Interviews (Part 1 of Several)
Stories from Seth Rogen, Joss Whedon, Harold Ramis, Michael Madsen, Andrew Dice Clay, Eric Bogosian, and more
To keep on this current pace of uploading something new every day, at least for the moment, I decided to venture into my back catalog of interviews for Bullz-Eye.com, where I freelanced for a year before five years as an assistant writer/editor. I talked to a veritable plethora of fascinating folks during the course of my time with the site, and my experiences there were invaluable, but I think it would be fair to say that the majority of the traffic that frequented Bullz-Eye was not coming specifically to read my stuff. As such, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you probably haven’t read the majority of the anecdotes I’m going to offer up from that era.
If you’re of a mind to check out any of these interviews in their entirety, you can do so by clicking on each person’s name. If you do so, though, just please be forgiving: I was still learning my craft. (Just ask my editors. I was an ellipses abuser of the highest order, and it will haunt me for the rest of my days.)
Freaks and Geeks was a stepping stone to appearing in Anchorman, but in between you were also in Donnie Darko.
SR: Yes, I was right in there.
What was that like? It’s certainly become a cult classic.
I know! It’s very weird that that happened. You know, honestly, I did that movie – I mean, my part in it is so minute – but I was kind of just around a lot, one of those things where I’m just caught in the background of a lot of shots, just, like, in the high school a lot. So I was there a lot. And I really had no idea what the movie was about! I didn’t get it at all!
I remember being at a party with the director [Richard Kelly] about halfway through shooting, and I was really drunk, and so was he, and I was just, like, “Dude, I don’t get it, man!” And he was, like, “I don’t think anyone’s gonna get it, man! I’m really scared!” It turned out great; I think it was just beyond me...and still is, to some degree! But it definitely makes sense on a much greater level now. It’s amazing. I knew it seemed good; I just didn’t understand why it was good. It just seemed like something interesting.
It’s really funny to me that that turned into this huge cult thing, and that people in England are grafitti-ing “Donnie Darko” on walls. It’s great. I couldn’t be happier for Jake (Gyllenhaal) and Richard Kelly; those guys are great guys. I’m glad I was there to watch it, even though I had no clue what I was watching at the time!
How different was the final version of Alien Resurrection when compared to your script? I mean, was it really dramatic?
JW: Uh...you know, it wasn’t a question of doing everything differently, although they changed the ending, it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines - mostly - but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong that they could possibly do. There’s actually a fascinating lesson in filmmaking, because everything that they did reflects back to the script or looks like something from the script, and people assume that, if I hated it, then they’d changed the script...but it wasn’t so much that they’d changed the script; it’s that they just executed it in such a ghastly fashion as to render it almost unwatchable. [Pauses.] Good times.
What do you think is your most underrated film? Because I have visions that Club Paradise is going to come to be appreciated as the lost classic of the ‘80s.
HR: [Bursts into laughter.] I think Club Paradise is appreciated depending on what people have smoked before watching it! Have you ever seen it?
HR: I think it’s very funny. I think there are some real good things in that movie. There are things I now know, structurally, I would’ve done differently, but I quite like it. I think Robin [Williams] jokes… I think Robin’s a little embarrassed that it wasn’t successful. And I forced him to do something that he doesn’t normally do: underplay. So he wasn’t entirely comfortable doing it. But it was a real good experience, and I really like some things in that film.
I checked out your website, and I applaud the section where you go through and rate each of your films as “good,” “bad,” or “unwatchable.”
MM: Well, you know, I was sitting around one day, and I figured, y’know, anybody who looks this thing up is gonna say, “Jesus jumping Christ, this guy made a lot of fucking movies!” And I think I owed it to my film-going… [Chuckles.] I think I owed an explanation to the universe for some of those pictures, so I decided to just be blatantly honest about it.
You know, you always go into a movie with the best of intentions, and it’s impossible…people will promise you the fucking world, they’ll promise you anything to get you in the movie. “This is gonna be this way, and this is gonna be that way…” And then, seven times out of ten, it’s not that way. And then you’re stuck in the middle of…ha, that’s stuck in the middle of a different kind…then you’re fucked. Because once you’re in the middle of a bad film, it’s not like you can just say, “Okay, forget it,” and walk out. You gotta finish the damned thing…and then it’s there forever. You can only really be as good as the talent you’re surrounded by.
So I, uh, just got a copy of UKM: The Ultimate Killing Machine to check out…
[Bursts into laughter] Oh, God! Yeah, well, see, there’s a good example. Something that was described to me as being this military story, with these young actors, these up-and-coming actors, and this young, independent film company who really had this high regard for me and were going to structure this film around me, and it was this great challenging role, and it was somewhat of a heroic character. And I’ve been trying to get away from playing the villain for awhile, and I’ve been wanting to play the leading guy…the one who rides into the sunset, y’know? I wanted to make a change.
So I get attracted to these projects, and these people are saying that they’re going to do this or do that in a certain way, and “Ultimate Killing Machine” is a perfect example of being involved in a situation that you look back on and you go, “Oh. My. God. Oh. My. GOD! How am I ever going to explain that one?” But, I mean, my check cleared, so it put food on the table, fed my children, and kept a roof on their heads, and ultimately, at the end of the day, that’s what it means.
I was going to ask you about that, because you look at your resume, and you’ve obviously done a lot of films that have ended up going straight to video, so are you one of those guys who just feels like, “Hey, work’s work, as long as I keep busy”?
I believe in longevity. And I believe in doing this for as long as I can. And I believe in taking care of my family…and, y’know, that’s an ongoing job; I’ve got six children. You can’t sit around and wait for your dream role to come. There’s a rumor that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have purchased every script ever written…and not only that, but they’re gonna be in ‘em! So that’s bad news for me, ‘cause I can’t get either one of them on the phone! And that’s a joke, but it’s not a joke. I mean, I gotta take a job where I can get it. No studio is chasing me down the block. It’s a very aggressive, very competitive industry, and you gotta make it happen on your own or it’s not gonna happen. I learned my lesson, believe me, the hard way.
I did a couple of pictures this year that I think are a lot more in the area that I should be. I’ve been producing my own stuff. I did a picture with Daryl Hannah called Vice that’s gonna be introduced at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s kind of like King of New York or Bad Lieutenant. It’s a very dark police drama, and…it’s disturbing. It’s a disturbing film, but it’s one of those pictures that I should’ve made ten years ago, and I’m real happy with the way it’s turned out. And I played a fighter, a prize fighter, in Ireland. I played an Irish boxer in a picture called Strength and Honor that’s also coming out in the south of France in May. But, y’know, with two films like that, I think I’ve moved a long way from Ultimate Killing Machine. Believe me, nobody’s gonna be thinking about Ultimate Killing Machine when Strength and Honor comes out.
So no U.K.M. 2, then?
[Laughs long and loud.] If there is, then they’d better call Tom Sizemore, ‘cause I’m not available!
Since IMDb has steered me wrong on occasion, I wanted to ask about the fact that they have you listed as First Assistant Director on a 1978 film called The Great Bank Hoax.
AC: [Hesitates] That’s correct…which is kind of astounding. But, yeah, that was an early job for me. I was… Well, I wasn’t the first A.D; I was an additional assistant director. I’m surprised that they discovered; that’s not something I would ordinarily reveal to the public.
You know, it was one of those early jobs you do when you don’t know anything.
It looks like an interesting cast: Richard Basehart, Burgess Meredith, Ned Beatty…
The best thing about that film… Oh, well, yes, it was an interesting cast. And Arthur Godfrey was in it as well, by the way. Basehart was very… [Pauses.] Sadly, my memory of Basehart was seeing him drive into the hotel where we were all staying at five in the morning, exhausted, because he’d been with two people who gotten drunk and left him as their driver in Atlanta…and he didn’t know Atlanta. So he’d spent all night trying to find the hotel. And that’s my memory of Richard Basehart, unfortunately.
What was Arthur Godfrey like?
[Instantly] He was a curmudgeon.
You don’t say.
He was the last person that any child would want to sit in the lap of. But, you know, he was Arthur Godfrey, so that, in and of itself, was unique.
It now occurs to me that I’ve asked about Arthur Godfrey, and virtually everyone who reads this site is going to go, “Who the hell’s Arthur Godfrey?”
Well, they’re just gonna have to go Google him, then. Because you’re right, they’re not gonna have a clue!
I’ve heard reports that [Bless This House] was something you didn’t entirely want to do, that you were kind of shoved into it by your management, but I thought you did pretty well as a traditional sitcom actor.
ADC: Well, I didn’t mind trying a sitcom, and one of the reasons was because you don’t have to be on the road, and I could be home with my family. But, y’know, the producer of the show and the director were real asshole kind of people that really held me back, not letting me say things that were already allowed by Standards and Practices, like the word “ass,” when they were actually showing ass on other shows already!
So I got bored with that real quick, and it got to the point where the scripts were, in my mind, so bad that I couldn’t even memorize the language. I was just bored to tears showing up, just disgusted by watching writers laugh at things they wrote that I just knew, as a true performer, were just unfunny in the real world. So when [CBS president] Les Moonves cancelled that show and he called me - ‘cause, y’know, they call all the people on the show to let ‘em down lightly - at that time, I actually told Les, “Y’know, it’s the best decision you’ve made since you took over CBS.” And I go, “One day, we’ll do something else that might be better for us.” ‘Cause, at that time, he’d just taken over CBS. So I thanked him for giving me that opportunity, but, y’know, the sitcom thing just wasn’t for me.
I did another one a couple of years later, called Hitz, which I enjoyed more. The producers were looser on the show, it was a cooler show about the music industry, and I did enjoy showing up to do that…so, of course, it got cancelled quick.
Is there any film in your back catalog that has never been issued on DVD that you would like to see reissued?
RV: Well, I guess most of the ones that were successful have been reissued. So I can’t think of anything right off hand.
Well, when I was looking at your IMDb listing, there was one that I had never heard of which sounded interesting, one called The Mind of Mr. Soames.
I was just going to say that!
Well, there you go!
After I finished talking, just this moment, I thought of The Mind of Mr. Soames, which was Terence Stamp, and it was kind of a fascinating premise about a boy who grew to the age of 30 and was still in bumpers and still in the crib because he had not matured intelligently, intellectually. So two different doctors, a liberal doctor, which is what I played, and a conservative doctor, Nigel Davenport, are bucking the theories of how to raise him and make him normal at the age of 30. Although I met Terence Stamp, Terence was in a period of not talking, and he didn’t really say anything except “good morning” and “good-bye.” Now, I later found out he was doing that for purposes of trying to engage his mind in being a child who couldn’t speak at the age of 30. But I didn’t know that until later, so I just thought he was a rude asshole. (laughs) But I have met him since then, and I love him personally. He is a terrific guy. We had a few laughs about what I just told you.
Okay, and to keep you on schedule, I’ll close with this one: has there ever been a TV project that you worked on that didn’t really take off that you thought should have?
Well I did one…and in a way, I’m going to answer the question. I did one which I won the Emmy for called Washington: Behind Closed Doors; Jason Robards played Nixon, I played Haldeman, Andy Griffith played Lyndon Johnson, Cliff Robertson played the head of the C.I.A; that was a 12-and-a-half hour miniseries.*
The bible for the second half - after the Watergate break-in, which is what the story in the first half was about, had already been written, and they had signed Jason Robards and myself and given us our salary for the second series. But when the show aired and because it didn’t get ratings as high as Roots, which was at that time the barometer of a really successful mini-series, we didn’t do it. So the whole show was 50 percent of what it could have been.
The second half of it - so it would’ve ultimately been a 24-hour miniseries! - was a wonderful bible; it was a wonderful script, and it was never done, and I feel very sorry about that. [A beat.] But I got paid anyway!
*Although he was almost certainly doing so unintentionally, Vaughn was misrepresenting this miniseries: it was merely inspired by the Nixon administration, with Robards playing a Nixon-esque figure, Griffith’s character serving as a stand-in for Johnson, and so on.
How did you find yourself on Criminal Intent in the first place? Did somebody have a long enough memory to remember you having played on the original show?
Well, I had done the original show, and being a New Yorker, I am pretty familiar with just the Law & Order franchise. I mean, just sort of aware of it as a place where all of us actors go to stretch our wings. I don't watch a lot of TV, but it's kind of hard to miss Law & Order, and when I would see it come on -- any of the shows -- I would think, "Man, I would love to have that as a regular gig," because I like what those guys are doing on the show, even some of the...not necessarily the main lead guys, like the stuff that Epatha [Merkerson] does, or that Steven Hill used to do. I mean, I just love watching...it's very, very interesting acting-wise. And Vincent [D'Onofrio] does some very tricky stuff.
I'm talking here from an acting point of view, so it may not necessarily be obvious, because I think when people watch people acting, they notice when you get very emotional, but a lot of the stuff that's the hardest stuff to do is not so emotional, and that's a real trademark of Law & Order, more low key. It took me a while to really get what it was I was looking at, why I was so attracted to this and it reminds me of the acting that was in the Ilia Kazan movies of the early 60s. Now it's seen as a little too broad for the naturalistic movie. This is an extremely long answer here.
You don’t hear me complaining.
Okay, so how? So A, I was being attracted to it, and B, they were being attracted towards me because the main guy putting together Law & Order, C.I. at this point is someone I have worked with and known for a long time, and he approached me and asked me, "Would you even consider doing this?" And I said, "I'd more than consider it, I would love to do it!" So I met with Dick [Wolf], and he said, "Your agents told me you don't want to do television." And it's like, well, that's what agents are there for, to make things more complicated. So I said, "No, I would love to do it," and it has turned out to be everything and more than I wished.
I mean, I have never worked on something continuously like this, even movies; the longest has been like a couple of months. So it allows me to really explore my character, look at him, think about him, be in an environment that is very conducive to trying things out. Like I said, I don't have the most emotional scenes. Occasionally I do. The writers know me pretty well and they know what they can write for me or not write for me. The most mundane, forgettable line is something that I will spend a lot of time on just trying to figure out, like, what exactly am I saying here, and how can I make it come to life? I don't know to what degree I succeed at doing that, but that's what I'm trying.
Do they offer you any freedom to tighten up your dialogue, as far as making it fit your voice, or do they have your voice down pretty well now?
They knew me pretty well to begin with. Certainly the head writer knows me as well as anybody could know me; Warren Leight and I have known each other for almost 30 years here in New York, working in various capacities. I was in a movie of his once, a long time ago; I actually ended up on the cutting room floor, so you won't see me in the movie. They know my voice. I will object to certain lines, or I'll say, "I don't want to say this," or, "This isn't something I would say." That's part of your job as an actor.
I don't come into it as a writer, I don't come in thinking, you know, "How do I redo this?" I think that's something that is a bad habit of a lot of actors, which is to look at what's on the page and say, "Oh, this doesn't work." The question is how do you make it work, how do you figure out how to make it work, how do you sell what you have to sell? A lot of times, because our show is so complex, I don't always completely understand what it is I'm saying, so it requires that I go back and reread the script.
Actually, I have to do that today on something I am shooting on Wednesday, and really remember all the aspects of what...it's funny, because it seems all kind of genre-y and up and up, but it's fascinating how complex genre can be. I was just watching Fargo the other day and what that company brought to that movie was just so amazing. You remember Fargo, the movie? The Coen Brothers' movie?
Just watching somebody like Steve Buscemi, who is kind of always Steve Buscemi in every character he plays, but what he brought to that specific character, that specific moment, line to line, beat to beat, it's the difference between just kind of giving people what they want in the kind of sort of meat and potatoes or really giving... (pauses) This metaphor has gotten out of control here, but, uh, making it so it's delicious meat and potatoes instead of cafeteria food.
Your character, Captain Ross, is a family man as well as a cop. I know you're married, but do you consider yourself to be a family man?
I'm a family man. It's fascinating to everyone in my household when...I was just looking at a blurb about...one of my plays is being done somewhere in the U.S., and I get these things that show up in my browser whenever something comes up, "Wild man Eric Bogosian's Humpty Dumpty,” or subUrbia, or something is happening somewhere. It's, like, "wild man?" I am the most unwild man.
Now, maybe I once was part of a crew of people who were doing things that were kind of fringe. I mean, that's for sure. I mean, I would be...there's some word for it, but whatever it is, I would be full of shit if I said that...if I pretended that I wasn't part of that once, because I was. Right in Boston, I opened for Mission of Burma, like, years ago, and a riot almost broke out. It was a couple of years ago -- more than 20 years ago -- and, you know, it was fun. People whipping bottles at the stage, and fist fights breaking out at my feet, and the whole thing was just wild. It was some old hotel they used to do punk concerts at, and I had this show I used to do, The Ricky Paul Show. So all that's true. But, now, I'm a family man, and I've been through all the family man stuff. My guys are getting on now: one's 16, one's 20. We're almost out of the woods with all that junk that is about child rearing. But, yeah, I mean, I've been married to Jo Bonney for 27 years. In a way, it's an attempt to have a very stable, stable core from which I can go exploring artistically, I hope, and be able to throw myself in to things.
This show is relatively comfortable as that stuff goes. It isn't like I'm being parachuted into a jungle somewhere in Thailand in order to do a part. I'm going up the street and I'm getting changed in a dressing room and I'm going out. But there is...almost always, with everything I do, there is a factor of trying to keep everything else kind of quiet in my life, so when I'm doing the thing, I can do it all the way. I can really forget myself and throw myself into it. And we're shooting T.V., so we'll have days that go as long as 15 hours, and my scenes tend to be all shot at once, so they can be...it's grueling, you know, six of those squad room scenes in one day, however perfunctory they may seem.
Were you at all concerned when you heard the show was going to be shifting from NBC to USA, or did you just roll with it?
Well, I thought we were going to be able to swear and smoke cigarettes and stuff, but I guess that isn't the case. I had hoped that we would get a little attention that we felt we deserved that we weren't getting at NBC and it's turned out that's the case. USA has welcomed us with open arms and is really cheerleading the show, and it's almost like the show is new again and is starting over again, and, you know, for me, it is.
You know, for me, it's like this is the second season, this is the time when a lot of shows kind of hit their stride, and I feel that's what I'm doing with my part this year. There were a lot of things I had to learn coming in, and now I want to do that stuff. I mean, I want to let a lot more of my personality bleed through into the character, along with everything that that character has been. I mean, it took me very little time...like, almost like a month...before Danny was completely, like, so there that I just felt like I put on the gun, the badge, the jacket, and...I'm Danny. And I turn into this guy. He has a very particular way of talking and walking and looking at things and being kind of pretty uptight about everything.
Now that I've got that nailed down, I wanted to let some other things come through, and the writers are up for that, absolutely. More of a sense of humor, more of a sense of irony, which is probably sort of trade mark for me, anyways, so...bring all that into the game. Can you imagine I spend this much time thinking about this? You watch the show, and I come in and say six words. But, I mean, this is what has to be done, this is what you have to do with these roles and it's such a wonderful tradition at Law & Order. Steven Hill, he says, what, six words in every episode? But it was, like, boom, he just holds your total attention while he's doing it.
Now, given your experience as a monologist, performing your own material, do you ever find yourself adlibbing something new on the fly, or will that just throw off your entire rhythm?
In the show? Never. When I'm running it, I make sure that it sounds right to me...and it may be something really tiny, like grammatical, that even the script supervisor doesn't even know what I'm talking about, that I want to say the instead of a in a certain line. The thing is, I think that adlibbing off of a script like this, which has to be so tight it has to work like clockwork, sometimes is a way of not really reading and learning the script.
It's really important for me to really understand everything that is being said in the scene and that actually takes… It seems amazing but this is true: we will do a table read and then I will run a scene, I don't know, maybe 20 or 30 times to memorize it and learn it. And you're talking about just a few lines there, but I have to do it. And as I'm doing that, I'm learning, “Oh, this is what's happening here.” But even after all that, we go to set, and we start shooting it, and more information comes in. So it is really important to keep going back to the script and saying, "What is being said here?" and certainly in the case of anything where we are talking about procedural stuff, "What is the subtext to what is being said here?"
It’s too easy to just do the "just the facts, ma'am" kind of approach to this procedural junk. It's very dry, so you want to know. Not only are Chris and I exchanging information, but there's a little power struggle. Or Vincent and I. We had a scene like this just two days ago, Vincent and I, where, basically, I'm walking in and I'm giving him a little shove, and he's giving me a little shove back. First couple of reads of the scene, that was not clear at all that that was what was happening in that scene, but I was questioning his technique. And, you know, if we don't know it, no one watching it is ever going to know it, so we have to know it so that an audience...even if they don't consciously know it, they sense, oh, something is going on here which will then pay off in a later scene. Like, oh, it turns out he was right or it turns out he was wrong, and… [Trails off into laughter.] You know, I can't believe I analyze this so much!