Matthew Modine: Directed by the Best

Matthew Modine has had a substantial film career.  He’s best known for his outstanding performance as Private Joker in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket”, but he’s also had great roles in “Birdy”, “Any Given Sunday”, “Memphis Belle”, “Vision Quest” and other films.  He stopped by the SiriusXM studios recently to talk with about his new film, Girl In Progress.  Excerpts of the interview appear below.

Ron Bennington: You’re a big sports fan, right?

Matthew Modine: I love sports.

Ron Bennington: I remember though, you played a jock when you were younger. You played the wrestler, right? Very early on.

Matthew Modine: Yeah. Vision Quest.

Ron Bennington: Did you have to train for that kind of stuff?

Matthew Modine: For 3 months before we started filming. Because I had never wrestled. I think I went out for the wrestling team and I said you gotta be crazy. You’d have to pay me to do this. Wrestling, it’s you and the guy you’re wrestling. And there’s nobody to help you. And you discover a lot about yourself when you start doing it. I’ve never boxed, but I think it must be similar in that sense, so you against your opponent. And you can’t pass the ball to somebody, it’s you and him.

Ron Bennington: One of the things about your career, you’ve worked with so many of the great directors.

Matthew Modine: I’ve been really lucky that way, yeah.

Ron Bennington: John Sayles early in your career. Alan Parker…

Matthew Modine: Alan Pakula.

Ron Bennington: Yeah. What was that Orphans?

Matthew Modine: Orphans, yeah. Stanley Kubrick. John Schlesinger in Pacific Heights. Alan Parker in Birdy. Stanley Kubrick with Full Metal Jacket and now with Christopher Nolan in The Dark Knight Rises.

Ron Bennington: Unbelievable. Now did you get that when you were younger? Or is that something that started to, you’re like later on, hey that was really lucky to be able to work with these kind of people?

Matthew Modine: No, I always knew. And film is a director’s medium, so that you want to try to work with the best filmmakers that you can find. That’s not to say that don’t take chances with young filmmakers that are coming up because somebody gave me an opportunity to work in a film and I really appreciated that so when nobody knew who I was. So I did that this year on movie called Family Weekend that I co-star with Kristen Chenoweth. It was a first time director. The producer on the film, Ed Zwick. I mean he’s a really famous director. So he was helping this kid that was coming out of film school by helping to produce Family Weekend. And it’s a really lovely film. I’m really happy I did it.

Ron Bennington: Well, so many people too, when it comes to directing, they can come out of the gates with a classic, you know what I mean? I guess it’s so physical to be a director too because there’s so many different things that you have to pay attention to. I’m sure there’s just like no sleeping throughout the entire process.

Matthew Modine: It’s funny that you say, Stanley Kubrick said that the person that gets the most sleep wins. He said that really early on. He was always encouraging me to go home and get rest. But Stanley never seemed to sleep. Because he was looking at dailies when we finished the day. He was there early in the morning on the set. Christopher Nolan doesn’t have any chairs on his set. A lot of the directors today when they’re making a film, they have a video village, they call it, where the cameras are all hooked up to video monitors and the director sits inside kind of a controlled environment. If it’s too cold, there’s heaters, a tent and monitors and chairs where they sit down and watch the movie. It’s like sitting in a living room. And sometimes air conditioned when it’s really hot. But Christopher Nolan stands by the camera and watches the movie being made. He listens. He pays attention. He’s curious what the actors are saying. He’s curious about how his director of photography is imagining the shot. And he’s involved. And a lot of the young directors, I wish they could see him working because he’s fully fully engaged in the process of making a movie.

Ron Bennington: And he’s another guy that they compare with Kubrick, right? Where they’re like that kind of mad genius off on his own. Kubrick, a lot of people loved working for and then other people said it was just the worst experience of their life.

Matthew Modine: Yeah. I can’t compare Stanley Kubrick to anybody I’ve worked with because it was for so long. I mean we were together for 2 years. And generally when you’re working on a film…

Ron Bennington: Two years.

Matthew Modine: Yeah. It’s 8 weeks. It’s 3 months. Sometimes 6 months. But to work with a man for a couple years and then maintain a friendship with him until he started Eyes Wide Shut because he didn’t have time for extracurricular conversation, he had to make his movie. So that friendship was quite extraordinary and like with any friendship that’s worth it’s salt, there was good times and there was bad times. He called me a miserable cunt for 3 months because I…he kept asking me about the end of the film. “What do you think about the end of the film?” And I said I love the end of the film. Private Joker died in the original ending of the film. And he said “Okay listen, I have a rule. There’s no bad ideas, so if you don’t like my idea, don’t say that’s stupid or would never work. Just say ‘or we could try this or let me think about it’, but don’t say something’s dumb.” And I said that’s a great rule. He’s says “Okay good. What do you think about the end of the film?” I said I love it. I don’t know why you’d question it. I mean it shows the sadness, the waste. This young guy who we get to know throughout the film and he gets killed. And he goes “Well okay, keep thinking about it.” And this evolved into kind of an amazing story which you can read about in, I kept a diary while I was making the film called Full Metal Jacket Diary and it’s going to come out as an app this summer for iPads. But I mean the kind of relationship that you have with someone when you work with a man like Stanley Kubrick for a couple of years, you can imagine the things that you would go through.

Ron Bennington: Well he was a legend and then all you guys came in, I remember he even went for like years of every young actor was sending videotapes to him and they would put it up, I think Rolling Stone, “Hey it doesn’t matter if you never acted before. Just send your tape.” Because I don’t think D’Onofrio had done anything before, right?

Matthew Modine: No. Vincent D’Onofrio and I actually met in an audition for a movie that I ended up getting cast in called Private School. After the audition, Vince and I walked through Central Park and we were talking about acting. I was studying with Stella Adler and he was studying with a teacher from Lee Strasberg’s school. And there was this kind of famous animosity between Stella and Lee Strasberg. And I said you know what we should do is I’ll go to some of your classes, you come to some of my classes and we’ll figure out for ourselves who’s the better teacher. And I went to some of his classes, he never came to any of mine, but I got to experience that other side of the coin. Because Stella encouraged the actors to work from their imagination and Lee Strasberg, it was something more personal and emotional where he encouraged his actors to work from. Long story short, I ran into Vince, he was a bouncer at the Hard Rock Cafe on 57th Street in Manhattan and I said I haven’t forgotten you. I think you’re a terrific actor. If ever an opportunity comes up, be ready because I’m going to put your name in the hat. And he goes “Oh thanks man, thanks.” And I got to London, I’m working with Stanley Kubrick, he goes “You know, I’m really pleased with everybody I’ve cast in the film. I can’t find someone to play Gomer Pyle. And I said I got him. I got him. He’s not heavy. He’s not Southern. He was supposed to be a Southern boy, Gomer Pyle. But I think he could play the part. He goes “Yeah, tell him to audition.” And so I called Vince up and I said I want you to…”No way! No way!” I said no, you don’t got the part. You still have to audition. And so he put himself on tape. He sent it to Stanley. Stanley, he told me, he said “This guy’s really good. Do you think he could gain the weight for the part?” I said absolutely. And so Vince had to keep auditioning. This was the painful part. He didn’t have the role for another 2 months while he was gaining weight, gaining weight, gaining weight. And then Stanley cast him. And the rest is history.

Ron Bennington: So many great people though, Abel Ferrara…

Matthew Modine: Abel Ferrara. I worked with Abel 3 times.

Ron Bennington: Schlesinger, Oliver Stone, it’s just insane. Now this film that you’ve got coming out, you play far from the nice guy in this film.

Matthew Modine: “Girl In Progress”?

Ron Bennington: Yeah. “Girl In Progress”…

Matthew Modine: You’re judging me.

Ron Bennington: Yes I am. (Modine laughs) I’m judging you, no I’m going to judge you the way women will judge you from watching this. But yeah, the character does flesh himself out as the film goes on. But this is the part that immediately that girlfriends will hate.

Matthew Modine: Yeah. Well he’s married and he’s got children, but his wife is the one that hired the cleaning lady. (laughs) She hired a cleaning lady in the form of Eva Mendes.

Ron Bennington: That’s a mistake.

Matthew Modine: It’s a huge mistake. Yeah. (laughs)

Ron Bennington: But it’s funny though that you won’t play it as the bad guy I assume. That’s why you’re saying “You’re judging me”, you have to figure out why this guy does what he does.

Matthew Modine: Yeah. That’s what actors do. Okay, now I have to justify why am I cheating on my wife and my children? I have to find a way to make…yeah because bad guys don’t think they’re bad.

Ron Bennington: I imagine though, how many scripts do you read for every one that you would say yeah, here’s something I want to be involved in?

Matthew Modine: Probably more than 2 dozen. Yeah, 2 dozen before something that’s really great. I went out to Los Angeles just to meet Alexander Payne who’s another terrific director and someone I loved to work with on a new movie he’s making called “Nebraska”. And that is a great movie about a father and son. A father who’s starting to get Alzheimer’s and he’s an alcoholic and they’re just struggling to find that actor to play that part. I know like their first choice was Gene Hackman, but Gene is fully retired.

Ron Bennington: He won’t do it anymore.

Matthew Modine: He’s done. He’s done, yeah. And I mean he’s met some terrific actors, maybe I shouldn’t say who those actors are.

Ron Bennington: Go ahead and say who they are. I want to hear. (Modine laughs)

Matthew Modine: But hopefully, they’ll cast a guy who’s appropriate age and I look like and I’ll have another great director that I’ll have the opportunity to work with because Alexander Payne is a terrific director.

Ron Bennington: Alright, then let’s call Peter Fonda. I think Peter Fonda could play your dad.

Matthew Modine: You know what? That’s a really good choice. That’s a really good choice. I’m going to call Alexander now and say Peter could play my dad and Bob’s your uncle.

Ron Bennington: Make sure we get me a special thanks at the end of that. Thanks so much for stopping by and best of luck with everything. The new film…Girl In Progress,”  you can check that out Friday, May 11th in select theaters. Thanks. Good to see you again man.

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