Monday, June 16, 2008

Aidan Quinn Explores Academia, Science and Tragedy in "Dark Matter"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

The feature film debut of renowned Chinese opera and theater director Chen Shi-Zheng, and winner of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival's Alfred P. Sloan Prize, "Dark Matter" garnered critical praise, had a mini-theatrical release, and has a DVD out shortly. Inspired by a real tragedy, "Dark Matter" delves into the life of Xing Liu, a Chinese graduate student pursuing a science Ph.D. in the U.S. in the early 1990s.

Driven by ambition, yet unable to navigate academic politics and life in American academia, Liu is inexorably pushed to the edge until he totally loses his way. The forlorn and angry Liu responds violently when his chances for a Nobel Prize are dashed by his professor and advisor Reiser.

Liu's antagonist, Professor Reiser, is played by Irish-American actor Aidan Quinn who has handled a remarkable range of characters and roles as either the lead or support in dozens of films, plays and television shows. Born in Rockford, Illinois to devoutly Catholic Irish parents (his father was a professor), Quinn was raised in both the midwest and in Ireland. No doubt, that gave him the fiercely independent streak he has shown in his work over the years. His older brother, Declan, is a noted cinematographer, so being in the visual arts runs in the family. Since Aidan was 19, he has been acting; the Madonna-starrer "Desperately Seeking Susan" offered him a breakout role.

During the '90s, Quinn's career grew immensely as he worked alongside such Hollywood stars as Brad Pitt in "Legends of the Fall," Johnny Depp in "Benny & Joon" and Robert Duvall in "The Handmaid's Tale." One cache for him was to star in films that employed his Irish roots, such as "Michael Collins" and "Evelyn." Eschewing conventional stardom, Quinn has done such fine indie films such as Sundance Film Festival award winner "Songcatcher" and quality television in such as the mini-series "Empire Falls."

Though "Dark Matter" stars established veteran actors such as Quinn, Oscar-winner Meryl Streep, Blair Brown and Bill Irwin, it also expands the career of 30-year-old Chinese-language star Ye Liu (previously in such acclaimed films as Yimou Zhang's "Curse of the Golden Flower" and Kaige Chen's "The Promise") as the brilliant but hapless Liu.

Q: Though you've worked some of the best directors throughout your career, you've worked with a lot of first-timers as well. What is the appeal and how was it working with first-time film director Chen?

AQ: They're the only ones who will hire me. They don't care what the studio execs say [laughs]. I'm joking, but there is an element of truth to [these comments].

All kidding aside, working with Chen was wonderful. He had a very strong visual sense from his work in the opera, and a beautiful sense of drama. I haven't yet seen this film with a significant Chinese audience but I understand there's a lot more humor than we know about in it within the Chinese characters. He was lovely, he has a great personality. He's very supportive and tense in the right ways.

Q: Director Chen applies a lot of beautiful, theatrical touches to "Dark Matter," done in a short amount of time; so many elements were very operatic. Were you aware of that?

AQ: I did see it while he was creating it and he had a great relationship with his cinematographer. He was always thinking in those terms and they were working very quickly to get a lot of work done in such a short time.

Q: How long were you on set?

AQ: I was only on set for a couple of weeks.

Q: So what got you involved with this film?

AQ: Meryl Streep [laughs]. I got a call on a Wednesday. My manager said there's a film that's already filming in Salt Lake City. One of the supporting actors is doing another movie and it ran over so he can't do it, they're desperate. You would get on a plane tomorrow and you would be shooting on Friday. There's no money. It's low budget at scale for no money.

I told them to take a fucking flying leap at themselves [laughs]. My manager then gave me one more detail and she says "The star is Meryl Streep and she asked for you." I said, "When is the next plane?"

I didn't even know what it was about or anything. They were e-mailing me the script that afternoon, so then I read the script and of course I liked it. I got on that plane the next day.

Q: Why did Meryl specifically ask for you?

AQ: I had worked with her before, that's why she asked for me. We had done a movie called "Music of The Heart." You are always surprised working with Meryl because she is so fresh and surprising in all her choices, so it's always good working with her in that way. Liu Ye, what a joy to work with him, he was phenomenal. My first scenes after I got off the plane were with Liu Ye and he's a phenomenal actor.

Q: How did you read your character Reiser?

AQ: I read him as a human being who was in a position of power, a man who liked having his ego stroked. My father was an academic, I've been around academics, but without a doubt, Liu Ye publishing a paper and criticizing my character's great theory, not a smart move. I think he took in a way I think of "The door's not open, you're not welcome here," and he took it to mean father than what I meant. There is a protocol here.

There's no question that a lot of people tend to do better that follow the rules of praising and buttering up the people of power in whatever business you're in. Look at some of the actors who are big movie stars now, how could they get to be that? Certainly not on talent [laughs]. I'm not going to name names but you know who they are.

Q: Did you read much about physics to prepare for this role?

AQ: I read as much as I could in two days. I went on the internet, read articles, went to the library, I crammed it all. I read a lot on the plane. I was an expert in two days, that's all I needed [laughs].

Q: Since you were around the academic community, do you think it's endemic that this kind of jealousy happens among the ranks so to speak?

AQ: I don't think it's endemic; it's just very human. I think that jealousy is in all fields but I do think that there is something in the academic world because there is that little bit of sense where you're not quite doing full time what you dream of doing. However there are teachers that I met through my father in that is what they dream to do, that is what they were born to do, and that is what they should be doing. God bless them as they are obviously one of the most undervalued professions in the world.

Q: Liu's character published a paper behind Reiser's back and defies academic rules; instead Reiser embraced the character of Laurence, a more by-the-book student [Lloyd Suh]. Putting yourself in Liu's position, how would you have handled it—be more rebellious like Liu or more like Laurence, ingratiating of your mentor?

AQ: Well obviously if you look at my career, it's not on the Laurence side; it's more like Liu's side. I've always taken those paths, maybe to a fault.

Q: The Virginia Tech tragedy [which took place April 16th last year] delayed this film's release for almost a year ago; were you afraid of any backlash?

AQ: Unfortunately there's a plethora of violence to choose from, not just in universities but in high schools. I think it's a perfect time to show this film because you have the Olympics. You have China and Tibet. You have Chinese culture. I think it's perfect to show Chinese students trying to find its way in America.

Q: Was there any culture clashes on set?

AQ: Since Liu Ye's English was not the best and my Chinese was a little bit worse, I didn't understand what he was saying so that helped. If they were laughing at me, I didn't know it so that was good. Liu Ye has a tremendous talent. His ability to go from one emotion of wide eyed innocence and devotion to being completely devastating in seconds flat is astonishing and wonderful to work with.

Even though we didn't understand each other's language and were just gesturing to each other, we both were laughing and had a good time. I don't know what we thought was funny but we knew what we wanted the scenes to be about non-verbally so we had a good time working together.

Q: Did the distance of the language help in expressing the difference in attitude the characters had with each other?

AQ: Maybe, but I don't think it was that. I think that came with the script and the director and also with our two personalities and how they melded.

Q: This film deals with Liu's cultural displacement and his clash with American ways of behaving; it's a relevant theme—adapting to a new environment through immigration. Has this been a theme in other films you've done?

AQ: I think that was a theme in "Avalon," a great film I was involved in, about a Jewish family coming to America. It has happened with my family; we have moved back and forth to Ireland. I understand parents who feel not quite at home so in some ways we're not quite at home. But it is our home and it is who we are.

I definitely understand that. It's probably the reason I'm an actor because I was moving back and forth and having to change your voice because you want to fit in. As a kid you do that automatically within weeks because your heart, your ear, and your mind are more tuned to adaptability.

Q: Being that it is a hot topic, will Hollywood recycle this theme of culture clash and immigration?

AQ: Yes, I think that's how the world changes. Everything is changing at any moment. I may do an upcoming film about immigration because it is so prevalent. It is a global community that it's in everyone's faces all the time, how we are so inter-related, how everything we touch is from somewhere else. Nothing is local anymore. I think it's supersaturated our senses and it's coming out from writers and directors, those themes.

Q: Have you been to China?

AQ: No but I'd love to go to China.

Q: Have there been plans to go to China for this film?

AQ: Not that I've heard. I know that when we were making this film that there was the hope that this film would get to China. I don't know where it stands right now.

Q: You've done movies, theater, and television—do you have a preference?

AQ: No, it's nice to do it all. Of course there's probably nothing more satisfying for an actor when doing stage when the planets line up but I like it all. You can do work in film that you can't do in theater.

Q: What has been the best lesson you've learned as an actor both in the art and in life and who has been your greatest teacher?

AQ: If you're looking for great teachers and lessons in acting, you need to go no further than Meryl Streep, there's a classic example right there. She is like a witch and I mean that in the best possible way of how she could conjure up just in a relaxed and improvisational way authentic life into whatever character she's playing or whatever project she's involved.

Do you know how quick she learned Tai Chi? That's amazing. One of my friends has been doing Tai Chi for 30 years and he doesn't look nearly as good as Meryl does in this film. She learned in six weeks I believe.

Meryl is a pretty extraordinary woman. She's a perfect example of balancing a family life with a career, balancing being an authentic person and not having to "cow tow" to allow the corporate needs that are in our business. The corporate needs are becoming more intense.

I just did an interview at a news channel which will remain nameless where it seemed the requirement was that every woman had to have sexy long legs and short skirts. I'm for women dressing as sexy as you want but it seemed to be the school uniform over there. We live in strange times so if you could find a balance within these strange times, it's a good thing.

Q: Talking about balance, Some careers don't necessarily have to go out of date because you've gotten older. Do you see that as a change where you've gotten opportunities to do new things?

AQ: There are certainly opportunities like that but they are few and far between.

Q: You've worked with three powerful female actors in Meryl Streep, Sissy Spacek, and Bonnie Hunt; what was it like working with them?

AQ: Sissy was phenomenal. I worked with Sissy twice and I've worked with Meryl twice. They're both great, fun to work with, just great ladies and great human beings. Bonnie Hunt is so funny. She literally will have you almost peeing in your pants, she's just so damn funny.

We had a lot of fun doing that first "Project Greenlight" which was a bunch of crap. HBO was so upset that we all liked each other because all they wanted was conflict. All they wanted was us not liking the director or each other.

This is an example of how bad corporate media could become even in something like "Project Greenlight" which is supposed to be this great independent project with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. By the way, they never came to the set, I never saw them, not even once. It was their company, so fair play for them.

Anyway, Kevin Pollak is playing the Rabbi. I play the anti-semitic Irish fireman. It's raining and they're asking if I want an umbrella. I'm from Chicago, I don't need an umbrella. Kevin says, "I'm a Jew, give me three umbrellas."

He's telling this story to the cameras, and I'm sitting right next to him laughing. You could actually see part of my shirt in the scene. I'm shaking up and down laughing. Kevin's going to the camera and he says, "Mr. Method Actor, Aidan Quinn, he loves the rain," and they edited it like he was being serious. They took out the sound of me laughing. They took out me putting my head in just to make a little bit of conflict where there was none. That's what I mean about those kinds of things.

Q: Speaking of women in power, what was it like working with Madonna on "Desparately Seeking Susan?"

AQ: That was the most asked question of my career until about 15 years ago and I thought it had gone away. The funny thing about that question is that I never worked with her. My scenes are with Rosanna Arquette. That's why it's funny to me that it's the most asked question of my career because it never happened.

Q: Is there anyone you haven't worked with that you'd like to?

AQ: Oh god, there's so many. I've been fortunate to work with so many actors in my career.

Q: What films do you consider a benchmark for you?

AQ: I'm sure if I thought about it. That's one that's hard to answer without thinking about it. For me, it was when I did "All My Sons" which was an Arthur Miller play on PBS; "An Early Frost" which was the first movie ever done about AIDS—I was the first actor to play a person with AIDS, or in playing Hamlet, those are benchmarks for me.

Q: Do you see yourself doing more of your own productions?

AQ: I think that helps a lot. I know more and more actors that do that out of necessity. I always tell young actors when I have a chance to talk to them, "Do not think that you are going to have a satisfying career if you're just going to be a freelance actor.

"You're going to have to generate your own work by producing and writing with friends because if you're just waiting for the phone to ring from the corporate interest, more than likely they're not going to align with your own interest unless you're very lucky or you're in the top-10 box office stars where just about everything is offered to you and then you can pick and choose some good stuff. Other than that, it's going to be a struggle and a dance."

Q: Do you have your own production company?

AQ: I don't. When I grow up, I will [laughs].

Q: Are there under-the-radar productions that people should know about?

AQ: There are a tremendous amount of films being made that I have seen at film festivals around the world that are terrific, much better films that you are going to see at your local, neighborhood Cineplex. A lot of them aren't getting released. In the last 10 years we've seen this happen where the film world has become so corporate that there's a lot of great films dying on the [vine] where they may get a DVD release a year or two later or something like that.

I would just encourage people to try and support these kinds of films. I would encourage more women to be in positions of power so they can help these men decide what films to buy because a lot of them don't have a fucking clue. That's where I'm at.

Q: How important is it for you to choose projects that reflect your beliefs?

AQ: Too important for me unfortunately. I just can't see myself making a film going in that I know is going to make the world a worse place.

It's that simple, If you were to follow this story and be inspired by what it says, and if it's going to encourage more violence and more commercialism, I'm not interested. Now, if I am working less and less, I will become more interested.

Q: What do you feel needs to be changed in the film world?

AQ: I just did a film where three girls are the leads, and they're all 14 or 15 years old. They're three extraordinary, wonderful Irish actors, but they're unknown so when you go to sell that film, they are the leads. it's men that are buying the films 90% of the time even though women make up the choice of who goes to see the movies as a couple. They make the decision over the men 65% of the time .

Gender-wise, I don't think there's not enough balance in the film world. I think that's a major problem. Also it's become more corporate in the sense of what's wrong with making a little money where everybody gets paid and everybody has a job, but you have to make a $200 million dollar worldwide hit or else, why bother.

Q: And the name of this Irish film with the three girls?

AQ: "32A." It's a film that my sister [Marian] made. We shop it around and hear from executives "Oh we love it but it's not for us. Good luck with it." My sister wrote and directed it.

Q: This was a year where "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" were nominated for Oscars, and they weren't box office hits.

AQ: But who voted for them? The Academy members are not the corporations. They're not the studio heads. They're the actors, they're people like me. They're the guys that see good work and that's why those films are nominated because those are good films that need to be seen.

Q: Do you prefer doing independent films compared to bigger budgeted films?

AQ: Not necessarily. In general, the themes of a lot of independent films are a little more varied and interesting so, in that way, it's a preference. On the other hand, I've done plenty of big-budget movies that have great stories and, to be honest, it's a nice feeling to get paid.

Q: What's coming up for you?

AQ: I'm waiting for three independent films' financing to become real.

Q: With the digital technology where it's cheaper to make a feature now, do you see a rise of more independent films?

AQ: I hope so. I really, strongly hope so. The thing about that is that it just makes it more accessible but that also has a downside to it for actors like me that are used to getting a certain amount of pay because anyone can make a film and put it on Youtube, 60 million people see it and it's cheap so what do you need actors for?

That's why my union is battling the studio right now with the producers in trying to getting a piece of the new media because that new media, this new digital medium, is the future, there's no doubt about that.

Q: And you would do a film shoot in digital video or HD?

AQ: Oh yeah, I've already done it. Actors don't care where they work. They work in a pig sty. Just give them a good part, a little bit of food, and maybe a glass of wine at the end of the night, and they'll be fine (Laughter).

Q: Would you like to direct?

AQ: I would love to, when I grow up.

Q: What's it like being in a two-actor family?

AQ: My wife [Elizabeth Bracco], god bless her, has sacrificed her career for our family and our daughters, in particular my eldest daughter who is autistic. She took a few jobs, the last one being "The Sopranos" for the last season and a half in which she had a great part in and was wonderful for her to do. Our daughters are getting older so I'm hoping she'll do more roles.

Q: Is it easier for you to have someone who knows what you're going through as an actor?

AQ: I think so. She knows how it works and how you could run over time and all that stuff.

Q: Is there more awareness on autism with some films dealing on the subject?

AQ: Definitely. I mean we've gone from one in 10,000 children being autistic to one in a hundred. How did that happen? Think about it. There's only one thing that has changed radically and that is the amount of toxins being injected into our children by vaccines. To me, that's what it is.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Actor Michael Madsen at "The Boarding Gate"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

Since the early 1980s, actor Michael Madsen has defined the notion of "gritty," quietly stealing scenes in films from some of the most dependable leading men in some of the most heralded films of recent times such as "Reservoir Dogs."

With a sympathetic performance in "Thelma & Louise", Madsen began to establish his presence as something more than gorgeous actress Virgina Madsen's brother. Once he broke through as the memorable "Mr. Blonde" in Quentin Tarantino's seminal classic "Reservoir Dogs"—just replay that incredible ear-cutting scene in this modern Los Angelean noir classic—Madsen has appeared in over 100 films becoming an in-demand character actor.

Since then, he's become a cult film favorite, landing parts in movies that are on every genre geek's best-of list from "Kill Bill" to "Sin City." Though he's done nearly every kind of genre, he's been in a raft of crime and horror films from a creature flick like "Species" to the noir-ish "Mulholland Falls" to "Scary Movie 4" to a TV version of "Frankenstein."

In Madsen's recent theatrically film, "Boarding Gate"—now on DVD as part of the genre arm of Magnolia Pictures Magnet (—he stars as a hard-boiled corporate executive with a dark past and taste for S&M which he shares with the always-provocative Italian actress Asia Argento (who seems to be in a new release every other month such as the erotic "The Last Mistress").

Madsen likes to give it and get it and Asia, of course, provides it to him in spades. He's ultimately knocked-off, and the story then spins along the oblique spirals that director Olivier Assayas is known for—especially in his earlier film, the sci-fi-like "Demonlover." Assayas likes to use genres to make post-modernist commentary on the film medium itself and though "Boarding Gate" is the French auteurist most straightforward story, he still reflects on the genre through this film. Madsen offered his own spin on his career, this film and its director to a quartet of interviewers earlier this year.

Q: You're usually playing a tough guy; did take on the role of Miles Rennberg in "Boarding Gate" because of the challenge of playing against type?

MM: Olivier is a great guy. He gave me a chance to play somebody that I don't usually play. I didn't have any guns and I didn't do any harm to anyone.

Q: Was this character one of the most vulnerable you've played?

MM: It's the most vulnerable character I've ever played that actually made it into the theaters. I played an Irish-American prizefighter in a movie called "Strength And Honor," shot in Ireland, that I was extremely vulnerable in. I think it was one of the best roles I've ever had in my life but the picture kind of got lost and swallowed up by the whole publicity-driven money machine of Hollywood.

It got drummed out of a chance to make it out there. It doesn't have foreign distribution yet, so it's still out there. I'd say that "Boarding Gate" is probably one of the few times where I've been able to be asked to play somebody who is essentially non-threatening and gets to kiss a girl.

Q: How was it working with Olivier and collaborating with a director from another country?

MM: Well to be an American actor and to go to Paris and shoot a movie is pretty good. The whole mentality of somebody like Olivier is so artistically balanced. He's a quiet man. He's a collaborative man. Underneath it all you see that he knows what he's doing. A lot of American directors are just up their own asses and they're so formulaic about things.

He was willing to let me make stuff up and go my own way on certain things much the way Quentin [Tarantino] would let me do certain things. There are not many directors who would allow you to come up with something at the spur of the moment and not think that you're just fooling around but to realize that you actually intend for them to be in it as your character. Olivier let me do that.

Q: Like your S&M scene with Asia. What did you think about that scene?

MM: Well, when you have to do stuff like that in a movie, there's nothing erotic about it because you're surrounded by a crew. You have a microphone sticking into your face. If you're making a porno it's one thing, but that whole pretend, making love thing is kind of complicated and it's really not easy. It all depends upon who your co-star is and you've got to have somebody that you can really trust and you've gotta trust each other.

Early on, the two of us got together and we said "We have to do this stuff and we might as well be comfortable about it," and obviously we were, but that's a big thing with Asia. She's such a cool chick. Like I say, it's not too often I get a chance to kiss a girl in a movie. She was just so tremendous to work with.

The thing I like about her is that she just doesn't take anything too seriously but at the same time she takes it very seriously. There's a duality of conscience there where she's like casually "Ah, ok," but underneath that there's dedication. I think me and her are the same in that way, and we met each other on a common ground and it was what it needed to be.

Someone should find a screenplay for us to be like a "Bonnie & Clyde" type of thing or some sort of a thing like "Casablanca" where we could really be romantic with each other but have some heartbreaking kind of an ending. I'd love to work with her, that's what I'm saying. I think we had such good chemistry on screen.

Q: Was that your idea to use the belt in bondage scene an example of being able to be creative?

MM: It was just one of those things I thought of. I was sitting on the set and we were laughing and fooling around. I just took my belt off and I was whipping Asia with it. We were just playing like kids and I was sitting there and for whatever reason I put it around my neck and was wearing it like a necktie. I was joking that I would hang myself.

Then we suddenly realized that it would be an interesting thing to do in the movie, a sexual moment to have her hold the thing. It was something that accidentally came up that turned into something we used in the scene.

Q: So it wasn't like you just said, "Hey I have this idea, let me tell
you about it."

MM: When I cut that ear off in "Reservoir Dogs" I didn't know what to do with it. I had no idea what I was going to do with it. We didn't rehearse that scene because I didn't want to rehearse it. I knew what the parameters of the set were. I knew where I could walk and not walk and that's what I wanted to know.

So Quentin, being Quentin, said, "OK, let's shoot it," and we did. The first time I had that thing in my hand I walked off to the side with it and I just was looking at it and I was thinking in my mind, "OK, what am I to do with this fucking thing," and I know that they're rolling so I can't say it. So after telling you this now if you watch the movie and you look at me you can tell that's exactly what I'm thinking at that time, going "What the fuck am I gonna do with this ear"

Meanwhile, Quentin's over at the side of the camera going "Toss it! Throw it Michael! Throw it away! Toss the ear!" I didn't want to toss it. I was trying to think of something else to do, so I went "Hey, can you hear me," and I just spoke into it because the cop was sitting right there and I knew it would make him go crazy if I did that. Then I threw it, then I tossed the ear.

Quentin obviously didn't appreciate it at the moment and he said, "What are you doing," but then the next day after he saw the dailies he said to me, "Oh my god Michael, I watched this fucking stuff and you were talking into the ear, so it's staying in the movie." I said "Well I hope so, that's why I did it."

At the time they thought that it was something that wasn't going to be in the film, they saw it as being silly. It was an accidental thing. Olivier is like that, he let me do a lot of stuff. Those are the kind of things that make movie moments.

Q: How were you approached to do "Boarding Gate"?

MM: I got a call. I don't have agents because the whole thing is just insanity but I have a manager. From what I remember they called him to offer me the part and then I talked to Olivier because I couldn't believe he wanted me for the part. Then it took a while though, from what I remember it was almost a year from when I first heard about it until we finally got together to make it.

I love the guy. Seeing him again made me think again what a sweet man he is. I'd love to work with him again. It's better when you know each other, when you make another picture with somebody you've already worked with, things turn out well. It means you can do it again so much better because you already are over with all of the silly, get to know each other things that people go through. That shit's over with and we can just go on with it. That's why Ridley Scott probably uses Russell Crowe so many times because they know each other.

Q: Quentin and Robert Rodriguez use you a lot so does it get more familiar with each project?

MM: I just want some longevity, that's all I want. The trophies are not something that's come my way. Maybe that's not meant to be and that's fine with me.

Q: So what's the status of "Inglorious Bastards," Quentin's next film after The Grindhouse project?

MM: I was just at Sundance with "Hell Ride" and Quentin was there. We sat together at "Hell Ride" and I said to him in the dark, "What the fuck is going on with "Bastards?" He just said, "I'm writing it, I'm still working on it, don't worry about it." When it comes to him, it is Quentin's world, I'm just living in it so when he gets around to it, that's when it will happen. With him, you can't force anything to happen. He may never do it but then again he may start shooting it tomorrow, who knows with him [laughs].

Q: And what is happening with "Sin City 2?"

MM: That's up to Robert Rodriguez. I don't know what his status is right now. He had some troubles with some personal matters. I don't know. The only reason I did the first one was when he gave me the part at the premiere after party of "Kill Bill," he asked me to be in "Sin City." I told Robert, "I have only three scenes in the film, that's ridiculous, and I certainly don't need to get punched by Bruce Willis." Then Robert goes, "Yeah but you get to shoot him," and I go, "That's right, I can shoot Bruce" and he told me if I do it, I'd have a bigger role in the sequel. I said fine and that's why I did it.

I hope he follows through with that promise because I'd like to be in the next one but I told Frank Miller that I don't want Bob to get killed though. I drive Frank crazy. He came over my house and we drank a lot of tequila trying to convince me why Bob should not die in "Sin City 2." I think I talked him out of it. I hope so anyway.

Q: is being an actor something you've always planned on doing always been in your head?

MM: I wish I could say that I was some kind of genius and that I had a crystal ball, that I've always known it. All I can do is tell you the truth.

I wanted to be [legendary NASCAR driver] Richard Petty when I was growing up [laughs]. I did, I wanted to be a NASCAR driver. I don't think I've told anybody this before but I wanted to build race cars and me and my pals built a quarter mile drag cars with a road runner, we had a Super B with 440 Horse speed. We would do drags in that fucking thing. I was a gear head in high school. I dropped out of high school. I was an auto mechanic around 1976 and I worked at a Texaco station. Cars were everything to me, I lived it. I loved going to sleep with greasy hands, I could smell them on the pillow. I smelled of gasoline, it was heavenly to me. Then I wrecked a car, I had a really bad accident and one thing led to another.

I worked as an orderly as a hospital. I was a pipe fitter. I tried painting houses for a while. I tried to start my own house painting business. I worked for a landscaper. I worked construction. I drove a tow truck for two years in the snow in Chicago. I even shoveled snow off the roofs. I tended to run around with the wrong type of people and I got in trouble a few times, got locked up a couple of times. Sooner or later you had to come to your senses. I was really going nowhere fast. I even enlisted in the Marine Corps to get out of jail and they wouldn't even take me.

I had a history of asthma when I was a child. I also had recurring migraine headaches so bad that I couldn't see out of my left eye. I had a bleeding ulcer in my stomach. I tore cartilage in my knee from playing football, so I had all these health issues and the Marine Corps would not accept me. Then I figured there was nothing left but the hangman's noose for me, which I considered a few times.

I had this goofy idea in the back of my head because when I was a little kid I saw "Heaven Knows Mr. Allison" with Robert Mitchum. He's a Marine trapped on an island with Deborah Kerr. John Huston directed it. You know, that fucking movie just really did something to me. I don't know, I so related to Mitchum in that film. Then I had an idea that I could do that and I thought "What a job that would be."

My sister Virginia, she just got nominated for God's sakes a couple of years ago, she was taking acting classes. She was studying acting. She had Marilyn Monroe posters up on her wall in her room. She was fully into it. She was doing high school theater and everything.

I started remembering how much I liked Humphrey Bogart in "The Petrified Forest" and watched him play all these killers for Warner Bros, then all of a sudden he did "The Maltese Falcon" and he quickly turned it around. All of a sudden he wasn't the bad guy anymore. He made that switch from a heavy to the leading man.

I thought that was pretty cool. He got to kill Edward G. Robinson in "Key Largo," and you can tell how happy he was about it too. Jimmy Cagney of course, my God, remember when Rocky Sullivan goes to the electric chair at the end of "Angels with Dirty Faces" and Pat O'Brien tells him to turn yellow so the boys don't glorify him as a gangster? He just lets out that wail, "Don't kill me! Please don't kill me, no, no!"

Then you see the shadow on the wall and the lever going down. Oh my god, it would make the hair on my neck stand up. It is even now talking about it. The thing of it is did he chicken out for the boys so they wouldn't think he was a big shot or was he really fucking scared to die? That's the whole thing in that movie and it would make me crazy.

I went to the library and I got a biography of his. I read every book I could find about Jimmy Cagney and I finally found a book where somebody asked him about Rocky Sullivan and they went "OK, what's the truth when you played that scene? Were you doing it for the boys or were you really scared?" And he wouldn't answer it. He said, "I can't answer that question because if I ever did, it would defeat the purpose." I thought "My god, I can certainly make movies," but actually getting the opportunity to do that coming from my background was probably like a million to one.

My father reminded me of that back in the first days I told him when I first told him I was going to be an actor. It just kind of happened accidentally and I feel very fortunate to have found something to do with myself but I never had any formal training whatsoever.

I did go to Steppenwolf Theater for maybe two months. A lot has been made out of that but the truth is I didn't stay there long. I moved to California and was working at a gas station. I didn't realize I was working in Beverly Hills until I saw Jack Lemmon driving in for gas and Cicely Tyson and Warren Beatty. I met a girl who knew an agent and they took a chance on me. I auditioned for a television show and I got the part.

Q: What was the television show?

MM: It was "St. Elsewhere." I was the bad brother. It was a racial episode. I don't want the hospital to know that it's my father who was beating up my little brother so I say it was the black guys, they beat up my brother. Denzel finds out and catches me when I was about to say this bad thing. I say "He was beat up by the…" and Denzel walks in to cue the music. It was the big moment and I was caught in having to give up my father. Denzel was so cool, he couldn't have been nicer to me. David Morse was also cool.

These guys were veterans and who was I? I was a punk from Chicago. I was a fool kid. What the hell was I doing on this television show? I didn't know what the fuck I was doing. I didn't know what a mark was. They were just so nice to me and accepting of my circumstance. I was lucky to be working with guys like that from the very beginning.

Q: You have such a distinctive voice, literally…

MM: Yeah, I've been trying to figure that one out for years [laughs]. I sound a lot like my father. My dad has the same kind of voice but my mother claims that they accidentally cut one of my vocal cords when I got my tonsils out when I was a kid. I don't know what the hell it's from honestly. I smoked for twenty years. Maybe that did something.

Q: When did you start to develop that voice?

MM: I think it started when I was ten. I remember people coming to me when I was 10 asking me, "Jesus are you sick? What's wrong with you?" I thought I was fine.

Q: Have you ever thought about directing?

MM: I executive produced a cop movie called "Vice" that's came out in April, 2008 directed by Raul Sanchez Inglis. I got Andrzej Sekula [who did "Reservoir Dogs"] to shoot it for me. Andrzej is the man, I mean Jesus, what did I have to worry about when he was on set, absolutely nothing.

I want to direct. I've been directing myself for years. It doesn't seem to be a very difficult job. If the right
project comes along and the right situation, then yeah I would do it. I'll say it on the record.