Interview date: 02/28/2009
Run date: 03/04/2009
Campbell Scott is very much the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with. This is appropriate, as our first conversation took place when I was in a bar. We’d been trying to set up a time to discuss his latest film, “Phoebe in Wonderland,” and I’d left a message on his cell phone, but when he finally had the opportunity to call me back, it was 6:00 PM on a Friday night, and, frankly, I had clocked out for the day.
“You sound like you’re in a bar,” said Scott. “Which is completely fine, since I have no business calling you this late on a Friday afternoon. But how does your tomorrow look?”
We quickly made arrangement to speak the following morning, and I got back to business. The next morning, however, our designated conversation time came and went. I left another voicemail. A few minutes later, he called me back, and we proceeded to discuss not only “Phoebe in Wonderland” but, indeed, as many of his previous projects as time allowed, including “Six Degrees,” “Singles,” “The Spanish Prisoner,” “Big Night,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” and more. Funny thing, though, is that he handled the lateness of his call in such a charming manner that I feel like I should share it with you.
Campbell Scott: Well, of course, I completely spaced out, and now you’re playing with your daughter, or something else is going besides talking to me on that’s actually important. I’m awfully sorry.
BE: No, no, it’s no problem.
CS: I was lying in bed, and I just suddenly went, “Oh, fuck!”
BE: It’s completely fine. I’m just sitting here watching TV with my wife and daughter.
CS: Sorry about that. Do you want me to call back at another time?
BE: Absolutely not. They can watch TV without me for a bit, and I’ve been looking forward to talking to you, anyway.
CS: Last night when I talked to you, it sounded like you were at the frigging Meadowlands or something.
BE: (Laughing) Sorry, no, just a neighborhood bar.
CS: So, now, Will, you write for Bullz-Eye…? What’s that?
BE: It’s a web magazine. In our time, we have been known as “The Guys’ Portal to the Web.”
CS: And we’re talking about “Phoebe in Wonderland.” You know, I’m not sure that’s the biggest guys’ film out there, is it? (Laughs)
BE: Maybe not. (Laughs) But, obviously, I’ve got a daughter, so I certainly loved it.
CS: You did?
BE: I did. I thought it was great.
CS: And how old is your daughter?
BE: She’s three and a half, and as I’m watching the movie, I’m thinking, “Oh, man, is it possible that this could be my daughter in a few years?” Because you never know. And she’s very creative and intelligent for her age, so I could imagine her following a path like Phoebe’s.
CS: Either one of those little girls. Those two little girls, man, to me, that’s the movie. Even the little sister. She’s hysterical.
BE: Actually, you’re right. I was so focused on talking about Elle Fanning that I wasn’t even thinking about Bailee Madison. But, yeah, she’s great, particularly when she dresses up in her Halloween costume, as…um, I’m blanking here.
CS: Who is she? Oh, she’s Karl Marx!
BE: Exactly. I can’t believe I couldn’t come up with that; I just finished watching it. And, man, you get to be the guy that everybody loves to hate in the film. You get to play the villain by way of the clueless authority figure.
CS: I know! Isn’t that weird? That’s the perfect way to put it, though. I think that’s why it’s attractive, too, because I’m always, like, “Well, I don’t want to play the villain villain, because everybody knows what he’s doing from moment one.” But, yeah, that guy takes passive aggressiveness to the Nth level, doesn’t he?
BE: I was going to ask you if that kind of a role was fun to play.
CS: Well, anything that’s different from you…not that I’m not a passive-aggressive in some ways, I’m sure, but anything that’s very different from you outwardly is always the thing you want to play. I have no interest in playing myself. And I don’t think…I was a very retiring young person in school and stuff like that. I kept to myself, and principals and persons of authority were always sort of people I either avoided or behaved well in front of, so the idea of playing somebody like that was very attractive for some reason.
BE: Now, how did the film play for you when you first read the script? I’m just wondering how it read, because it’s such a visual film and a film that derives a lot from its performances rather than its dialogue.
CS: Well, it read very well, and…also, you’re always a little selfish as an actor, I think, honestly. I am. When you read something and someone’s asked you about something, you go through the script and you’re just looking at your part. And, in fact, they didn’t even…I can’t remember who they saw me as, but I don’t think they saw me as the principal at all. But when I read it, I said, “That’s who I want to play: the principal!” And they were surprised, but to their credit, I hope, they said, “All right, let’s do that.” But, yeah, I think you’re just looking for yourself and you’re hoping, especially when it’s a first time director like Daniel Barnz, you’re hoping that they’ve got some ideas. And, yeah, I think the trap…I’m glad you liked the movie, so I can say this…I think the trap is that, y’know, when you read it, you think, “Is this sort of a condition-of-the-week kind of movie?” And, obviously, it’s not. It’s surreal and kind of hallucinatory, and that little actress is so…well, it’s the actresses’ movie. It’s Patricia (Clarkson) and Felicity (Huffman) and Elle, and then me and Bill (Pullman) and Peter (Gerety) and a couple of others bringing up the flanks. But, yeah, I was very, very impressed when I finally saw it. Plus, it’s Bobby Buchowski, who I’ve worked with before, who was the DP and who shot “The Dying Gaul,” a very different kind of movie. But he’s one of those ten DPs out there who…he’ll do low-budget, he’ll do high-budget, it doesn’t really matter to him as long as he’s interested in it, so you know he’s going to do an amazing job. And he and Daniel had…well, it seemed like they had a great relationship. And you’re right: part of it is so visual that, even for a low-budget movie, you’re hoping that they come through with that.
BE: I think it’s the cinematography of the film that’s going to sell it to people. Otherwise, to pitch it based solely on the description of the plot, non-parents might not be as readily swept up in it.
CS: Right, that’s what I mean. That’s exactly what I mean. And, yet, when you go and watch it, it becomes this…even if you’re thinking about being a parent or if you have a little sister, anything like that, it becomes this little journey. And people either go for it or not. It ain’t “Die Hard,” let’s face it! But it’s very, very provocative, I think. Plus, the few screenings that I’ve gone to just recently, including a couple given by Marshall Fine, who’s a friend and a critic, the audiences are sometimes parent age, sometimes older, grandparent age, and not only do they eat it up, but afterwards there are some psychologists or psychiatrists in the audience, and that’s what I’m always interested in, too. And they find it very, very accurate. Not only is it not a disease-of-the-week type of movie, but it’s very mysterious, and once you find out what the family and the girl are dealing with, it puts a real human face on it.
BE: And you’re never entirely sure who you’re supposed to root for, and I think that makes it a very intriguing film.
CS: I totally agree with you. Yeah, ‘cause sometimes, with her parents, you’re, like, “Shut up!” And sometimes, you’re, like, “Omigod, I totally identify with that.” You know what I mean? And with Phoebe, too. The girl can be a real pain. And even Patty (Clarkson’s) character is very mysterious. Sometimes, you think, “What is she? How is she influencing Phoebe?” Not so with me. (Laughs) Or, actually, no, I mean, in a way, there’s a little bit of a…without hitting it over the head, which is also good writing, and that’s Daniel, too…but here’s a little bit of, “Who are the children here?” And god knows, between Peter, who plays the psychiatrist and Humpty Dumpty, and me, the authority figures are…well, they seem limited in their capacities to accept or understand.
BE: I would think that Patricia’s character is someone who, just by getting a person’s reaction to her, you could tell a lot about them. I mean, I see her on the screen, and I think, “I wish I had had her as a teacher!”
CS: Exactly! And then other people are, like, “What’s that all about? She’s weird!” I think you’re absolutely right. And that’s a testament to her performance, too, and the way she and Daniel talked about it. I mean, it doesn’t seem like that character is an accepted member of society, either, and yet, y’know, the little space – for lack of a better phrase – that she creates there for the kids is a safe haven.
BE: I guess the intent was to make it seem as though perhaps she had gone through the same kind of things that Elle had gone through.
CS: That’s what I got out of it…and I didn’t even read that, really. But when I watched it, I was, like, “Oh, yeah, I get it.”
BE: Certainly, with her performance, that was the impression you got.
CS: I agree, I agree. And with Felicity and Bill, too, y’know. I know Felicity from way back, and I actually know Bill from way back as well. He was in “Singles” many years ago.
BE: Oh, right, I’d forgotten about that!
CS: Yeah, they’re both just fascinating actors to me. I can just watch them. Bill’s face, he’s very quiet, but I really believe him. It’s always hard to play a parent, especially when the kid really has all of our sympathy, and you come off as one thing or another, but it becomes their movie, too.
BE: When Bill makes his comment at the dinner table…
CS: I know!
BE: …it was, like, “You are the meanest man in the world!”
CS: That was cold, man! (Laughs) And, yet, immediately you could tell...and he didn’t overplay it or anything, which was good…but you could tell that he can’t believe what he just said, but he really meant it. All at the same time. And God knows those of us with kids understand that.
BE: And at the same time he’s saying it, you realize that, well, he’s his daughter’s father, because they clearly have the same tendencies.
CS: Exactly. God knows that’s true. I have an 11-year-old son, and it’s funny…well, yours is three, so you might not be there yet, but you get to a certain age where you can’t believe what you’re saying to them. (Laughs) Not only do you sound like your own parents, who you said you’d never sound like, but you go off into this sort of parent world, and then later, if you bring yourself back at all, you think, “I probably could’ve dealt with that a little better.” You know what I mean? Without being so…so limited in my scope. But then, by the same token, they will never understand until they are parents how much you love them and want to protect them. They don’t get any of that. They just get you yelling at them or seemingly being implacable. We’re constantly learning.
BE: Yes, and I’m learning how to bargain with a three-year-old right now. “You can have two.” “So I can have three?”
CS: (Laughs) “No, you can have two.”
BE: “How about three, Daddy?” “No, how about one?” Then she realizes the error of her ways and asks, “How about two, then?” And suddenly we’ve found our middle ground.
CS: And she’s worked it out…seven hours later. (Laughs)
BE: Exactly. So what are your hopes for “Phoebe in Wonderland”? I mean, it’s got a lot of buzz, certainly, but it’s such an odd market nowadays.
CS: Does it have buzz?
CS: I’m totally out of it.
BE: No, it definitely does. I was aware of the film before it was pitched to me to cover.
CS: Oh, really? Yeah, I mean, I know it was at Sundance, but I haven’t been traveling with it because, obviously, I’m just a supporting guy. But what are your hopes, ever? Your real hopes for a movie like this is that, suddenly, it catches on. I guess it’s going to be in eleven cities right off, which is good, and if they stick with it, then, obviously, like any movie, it can either go away or it can find…not even a niche, but a group of people that are going to keep going to see it. But as you say, you never know. But those are some powerhouses there, Felicity and Patty. It’s, as we said, obviously a certain kind of movie, but there’s a big audience for it, so we’ll see what happens.
BE: I’m keeping my fingers crossed, because I think it’s one that may take time, but I think it’s definitely got an audience out there.
CS: I think you may be right, and it’s always a matter nowadays of, “Will they keep it out there for long enough for people to catch on?” I don’t know. I haven’t seen any reviews, so I don’t know if the critics are embracing it or not.
BE: They seem to be mostly positive. That’s the impression I’m getting, anyway.
CS: Well, that’s good. And, plus, that girl…you know, we haven’t talked about Elle nearly enough, maybe because you take her for granted, she’s so damned good. But that’s hard, man! I don’t know how old she is. Maybe she was ten when we shot or something…?
BE: She conclusively proves here that Dakota is not the only one with the acting chops in the Fanning family.
CS: Oh, not only that, but she manages to be different from her sister, but she’s just as talented, just in a different way. And she’s also a real pro, you know? But without being one of those crazy automaton child actor types. Because it seems to me that that profession is kind of anathema to what being a child is all about. You fake your emotions and you fake what you’re going through, and kids are the opposite of that. Kids are, like, “This is what I am. I don’t fake it.” But on a set, you do need them to hit their marks and be there for a long time, and…it’s her movie, man, and she is fantastic. She’s not only good, which many younger actors can be, but she’s actually mysterious.
(A sudden burst of music comes through the line.)
CS: Sorry, that’s my phone. It’s so loud! But, yeah, I’m a fan of hers.
BE: She’s got that wise-beyond-her-years aura, but does she really seem like a kid when she’s not playing the part?
CS: Totally. That’s part of what I was saying. That’s what you’re worried about: that they’ll lose their childishness both on and off camera when you’re there. But she didn’t. Between takes, she was totally like…this girl. Really funny, great sense of humor, which is totally important, especially when you’re doing a low-budget movie, and everybody’s running around and it’s really fast. I mean, I was only there for five days, and the rest of them were obviously there longer. But, plus, it’s also the way the director handles them. And if you have character parents, there’s the way those actors are treating you as well, but Felicity and Bill were great with those kids.
BE: I wanted to ask you about a couple of your other projects, if you don’t mind.
CS: I don’t have any other projects. (Laughs) It’s over for me.
BE: Well, still, you’ve got a nice back catalog…and when I updated my Facebook status to mention that I was going to be talking to you, several people replied, “Omigod, ‘Six Degrees’ was such an awesome show.”
BE: Yes. So there were fans out there.
CS: I know! There were fans, and occasionally I run into them, like on the subway or something. And they’re, like, “Where is that show?” And I always say the same thing: “I don’t know!”
BE: It’s a very strange fandom, because I’ve had people ask me that, too, and relatively recently. And I’m, like, “Well, it’s been off the air for almost two years now, so I’m pretty sure that, wherever it is, it’s not coming back.”
CS: Uh, yeah, it’s probably gone. (Laughs) But, yeah, man, we made something like seven of them, and then it was the weirdest thing. We had stopped because of all the formulas of whether they’re going to continue a show or not, and we ended rather abruptly, but then we were back! And they were, like, “Well, we have to finish the DVDs and foreign sale things,” so we did finish 13 of them…which was great, but they never even showed them.
BE: Yeah, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there’ll be a DVD one of these days.
CS: I think there must be. There certainly is in Europe, I know, because that’s what they were finishing the episodes for. They must’ve bought it in England or something. So that must exist, and I’d bet that if you or I would go to Netflix, they’d say, “Oh, it’s in the future,” or something. They got…the episodes were interesting. Some were better than others, I thought, and I had never done a series before, so it was all new to me, but it was a good job, man. Working in New York always makes me happy.
BE: Why do you think it didn’t take off? Was it just a case of America’s attention spans not being what they once were?
CS: You know what? You’re the person to ask. Seriously! Because I am so clueless about this kind of stuff. I don’t know why things last and why they don’t. I mean, I’m not playing possum. I know when I was there what I wanted to do and what I didn’t like, and you’re always challenged with something. The thing about that show is that I actually liked everybody involved as far as creatively, but in a way, it was almost like we were in such a high profile situation to begin with that they never left them alone, y’know? And, again, I really speak as someone…please write this…who does not know what he’s talking about as far as television is concerned. Obviously, most shows…it seems to me that most shows that last or continue are one of two things: they’re either mediocre in a way that’s easily sellable and palatable, or they’re driven by one or two or maybe three people at the most who will not let their vision die. David Kelley, David Milch, you can keep naming them. And in the beginning, most of those shows are loathed in some way… (Laughs) …or at least misunderstood, and for some reason, they hang in there. Some smart executive actually continues. And I’m not saying the people at ABC are not smart or are smart. I have no idea. But I know that we were in New York, and I think nobody knew exactly what the show was or what they wanted it to be, and the creators did, but they didn’t quite know how to get out from under that pressure to do it. So it was…I have to say it was pretty fascinating to watch it all. And that’s not to say, by the way, that the cast and crew didn’t all the time try to make it as good as we possibly could. Because we did.
BE: I’ve definitely learned over the years that the problem tends to be the people behind the scenes, the people who think they know best even though they’ve never really had anything to do with the creative side of things.
CS: Well, you know, you never know. My feeling always is that it’s really, really easy to always blame, to say, like, “Oh, the studios suck,” or, “Executives are stupid.” Well, obviously, that’s not true, because some are really smart and some are really good at what they do. I think it has to do with so many other things, like timing, who you’re with, and…look, a lot of us are stupid a lot of the time. A lot of creative people are stupid, too.
BE: You worked with Hope Davis on “Six Degrees,” and not for the first time.
CS: Good God, no. She got me that job, man!
BE: Did she, really?
CS: Well, she called me and said, “You should really think about this. Do this. Call the people up.” And I was, like, “I can’t do a series, I’ve got my son.” And she said, “No, they’ll never work you!” (Laughs) No, she was great. I’ve done, like, seven movies with her. And a couple of plays.
BE: Speaking of a couple of those movies, I know you did “The Secret Lives of Dentists,” but you also directed her in “Final.” Which of those came first, though? Because she’s not the only shared actor; Denis Leary is in both, too.
CS: “Final” was first. And I directed that, and I didn’t know Denis, but I knew Hope. I knew Hope from “The Daytrippers” and “The Impostors,” and we’d done some plays. We did “The Dead End,” etcetera. We were like old friends. We did “Duma” together, too. We’d try to get each other jobs. And as I said, I directed her in “Final,” and then “Secret Lives” was like a year or two later, and by then, I was friends with Denis, and he came back into it. We had a blast making that movie. Talk about a movie that hits home. You’re a guy with a daughter; that should be something you hope never happens.
BE: I’ve also got a nephew who’s hitting high school, so I’m going to try to keep him away from…
CS: …from “Roger Dodger.”
CS: That was a good segueway, dude. (Laughs) Yeah, please do keep him away from that. Although, listen, Jesse (Eisenberg’s) character, the character that is your nephew in that movie, is…let’s face it, he’s the adult in that movie and the smartest one there. That’s why that movie still stays intriguing. Everybody always says to me, “I love that movie,” or, “I love hating that character you play,” and they don’t talk too much about Jesse. And I always say, “You know, that movie doesn’t work without that kid.” I mean, Roger’s great to watch, but you’re not going to watch him for two hours unless there are some stakes involved.
BE: You’ve got to have the nice guy to counter the reprehensible one.
CS: Well, yeah, or at least the one who you can really get into. You can’t get into Roger. You can watch him like a car accident, and it’s entertaining, but…well, and ultimately, hopefully you do get into him a little. But it’s that kid who’s the heart of the movie. And Jenny Beals and Elizabeth (Berkley) and all the people around him.
BE: When you were working on “The Spanish Prisoner,” was it strange to work with Steve Martin as he played it straight? Were you waiting for the other shoe to drop?
CS: (Laughs) Did I keep waiting for him to tell me that he was a wild and crazy guy? No, in fact, Steve is fascinating. I really like that guy. He’s really smart. You know, the thing I always think about Steve is that, like most really, really brilliant comedians, he’s a very serious dude. (Laughs) You know what I mean? Like, people who are funny in a profound way…I think of Eddie Murphy, I think of Richard Pryor, I think of Steve, and you can keep naming them…when you meet them, they are totally serious. And I don’t mean they’re severe or boring or unfunny to be with. They’re hysterical. But they are definitive in their work habits, it seems to me. And Steve did that movie, I would say…I can’t speak for him, but I think partially why he did that movie was because he’s a writer himself, and he loves David Mamet, and he thinks David’s a great writer. And he was onboard more than I was! When I got there, he was, like, talking about the scenes and being really, really dedicated to them. He was a pleasure to be with. Plus, he’s hysterical, too. Like, when he decides that he’s relaxed, then he’s a wonderful guy to be around. But in many ways, Steve is brilliant. By that, I mean that he’s an intellect. And so is David, and I think they got along because of that. But he also knows how to relax in front of the camera. He was a pleasure to work with. And that movie was where I knew Felicity from. And Rebecca Pidgeon and Ricky Jay…that’s an interesting crowd.
BE: In “Singles,” you…
CS: You’re hitting all of ‘em, man.
BE: It’s my job, dude. And, you know, I love that movie, but it seems like, on the Cameron Crowe filmography, it just doesn’t get the same kind...
(Suddenly, there’s an audible click, and I find myself alone on the line. I hang up, and a few minutes later, Mr. Scott calls back.)
CS: Every time someone mentions “Singles,” the phone just…explodes. (Laughs) No, I have a weird…oh, man, this is impossible to describe, but…I’m a Luddite. I have a weird, like, dial phone that pulls out of the wall every once in awhile. So…sorry.
BE: (Laughs) No problem. Well, anyway, what I was saying was that I love “Singles,” and I know a lot of people who saw it when it was originally released still swear by it, but when you look at the Cameron Crowe filmography, it’s one that doesn’t seem to get the same kind of love as, say, “Say Anything” or “Jerry Maguire.” Do you think people mistakenly think that it’s dated because it’s a love story that takes place during grunge-era Seattle?
CS: Is it dated? I haven’t seen it in years.
BE: I don’t think it is. I just didn’t know if you thought that might be why it hasn’t achieved the same level of immortality.
(The sound of the “Doctor Who” theme suddenly becomes painfully audible.)
CS: Uh, is that your phone?
BE: Sorry, yeah, It is…and it’s my wife’s mother, so I’m passing it to her right now. Sorry about that.
CS: (Laughs) It’s the in-laws!
(I won’t bore you with a transcription for the following 60 seconds, but I’ll describe it to further emphasize the coolness of Campbell Scott. As I handed my wife the cell phone, my daughter’s voice became audible as well, and as soon as he heard it, he said in the voice of a man who clearly adores children, “Who is that?” He then asked her name. In a bold move designed to keep my daughter from getting grumpy when I departed, I said to my interview subject, “Hold on, this will take ten seconds and it will totally pacify her so that we can finish talking.” And, indeed, for right around ten seconds, Allyson Harris had a very lovely conversation with Campbell Scott.)
CS: She’s adorable.
BE: She’s something else.
CS: I hate them when they’re adorable.
BE: Because it’s harder to reprimand them.
CS: Exactly. (Laughs) Um…so is “Singles” dated? I don’t know.
BE: And, again, I’m not necessarily saying that it is. I’m just wondering if the comparative acclaim for it might be because people associate it so strongly with its soundtrack.
CS: Right, with Pearl Jam and everyone. I think…man, you know, I should go watch that movie again, because here’s the funny thing: I’m 47, I have gray hair, and yet people still come up to me on the street who are in their twenties, who weren’t even born when “Singles” was made…well, they were pretty tiny, anyway…and they say, “Oh, I love that movie ‘Singles.’” And I always say, “How old are you?” (Laughs) And they say, “Twenty-one.” So I think that’s the answer to your question. For some reason, generationally, even if people care about grunge or they don’t, they like the way it happens between those young people in the movie, so I think that it’s a testament to it. But, also, in my mind, I can’t separate it from Eddie Vedder and 1990 and that Seattle. To me…I was much younger then, and that was a scene, one I hadn’t been in. I’m not from Seattle; I’m from New York. That was very particular to that movie for me. But as a movie, I think people still seem to be catching on. You’re right, though: it’s not as remembered as Cameron’s other movies. Nice cast, though!
BE: What’s your favorite version of “Hamlet” besides your own?
CS: (Long pause) Filmed? I guess it would have to be.
BE: Well, not necessarily. I mean, if you’ve seen a production that was particularly impressive…
CS: (Another long pause) Dude, nobody who’s played “Hamlet” likes anybody else’s. Let’s just be real. (Laughs) You know what I mean?
BE: You’re always partial to your own?
CS: No, it’s more like if you went to Tibet, then someone took you back there, you’d be, like, “It was much better when I was here before…” No, that’s not true, actually. Hopefully we’re not like that. Hopefully that story and those characters are amazing enough that every time you get to revisit it, it’s kind of fun. You know what? Mel (Gibson’s) is the funniest. And for me, “Hamlet” is funny. And I say “Mel” like I know Mel Gibson, when I don’t know him from Adam. But he’s funny, and I like that. He has a great sense of humor, and I think that’s what he uses in his “Hamlet.” That’s one of my favorites, as far as one that’s just a performance. Visually, it’s probably one of those crazy Russian ones, where it just looks so amazing. But they all have something to offer. Olivier. Nicol Williamson’s is great in some places. Those plays are like smorgasbords. Everybody can definitely go fill their play with something so that it’s not the same damned thing. Ethan (Hawke’s) is good, very weird and hallucinogenic and modern. Ken Branagh’s is obviously huge and kind of amazing. So my answer, I guess, is both of those answers, y’know what I mean?
BE: I think so. So “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”…
BE: I thought it was a really interesting concept to do a horror film as if it was an episode of “Law & Order.”
CS: What did you think about that?
BE: I enjoyed it. It’s gotten a lot of mixed reviews from friends of mine…
CS: What were they?
BE: Well, you know, they thought it was a little bit too dry at times, that it needed more horror and less law. What did you think?
CS: I don’t know. I feel relatively detached from that because I went in, did my bit, and left. I knew, obviously, what the movie was, but when I saw it, I was, like you said, “Oh, they are trying to be a horror movie and a legal thriller.” I don’t know, I think it’s kind of an original idea, and I think you’re right: the best thing about it is the worst thing about it. Anyone who goes expecting one kind of movie is not going to be satisfied. But if you can let that go…? Plus, it’s a real frigging story, which is really fascinating. For me, personally and selfishly, when I went there, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I knew what I wanted to try, and that was to be very un-dramatic. (Laughs) You know what I mean? I knew I was going to be in some kind of movie that had these horror elements that we’re all so used to now. I mean, when “The Exorcist” came out, that set the tone for the next forty years of filmmaking as far as real horror’s concerned, so you can’t really just repeat those beats. And I thought this was an interesting idea, then, to see what’s going to happen. Plus, it’s all about Laura (Linney) and her character and how she might become haunted or not, and about Tom (Wilkinson). I had the easier task, it seems to me, of making one supporting character choice and running with it. And I love doing that. And I think some people think I’m kind of dull in that movie, but I liked it. I loved doing it. Plus, all that court speak, that’s very challenging in a different kind of way. Usually what I do, as an actor, is try and figure out a scene and figure out what’s going on underneath the scene, and in that movie, it’s all right out there. In a court, you’re trying to present everything as clearly as possible, including your emotions, in order to manipulate those of the jury and everybody else. Plus, all of those supporting people, Henry Czerny, Colm Feore…they were a blast. Mary Beth Hurt as the judge. But it’s crazy: you go in, and there’s a set like that. And that’s the other thing. I’d never done any kind of court thing. I’d never been in any kind of TV show or movie that was that world. We’re so used to it now, because of the various shows, but…I thought it was kind of cool! You go into that set, and you’re, like, “Shit, I’m gonna be in this courtroom al day…with my briefs!” That’s a wild turn of events.
BE: When you did “Big Night,” how odd or weird was it to be a co-director with Stanley Tucci?
CS: It wasn’t odd. I had gone to high school with Stanley Tucci, so we knew each other, and it wasn’t anything that was planned. In other words, he wrote that script with his cousin, Joe Tropiano, a very good writer, and the two of them had spent years writing it, and Stanley and I were old friends as actors and as high school mates, and we always just wanted to direct. So when I finally read the script, I was, like, “I’ll do anything, dude. What do you want me to do? I’ll be in it, I’ll do whatever. I just think it’s a great script.” And it was. It was one of the best scripts I’d ever read. And he said, and I think quite smartly, “I want to star in it with Tony (Shaloub) and some other people I’ve got in mind, and I don’t want to bite off too much, so I want another person behind the camera.” So I said, “Fine, I’ll co-direct it. I’ll co-produce it. Whatever the hell you want.” It was a no-lose situation for me, because A) it’s my first directing experience, B) I really wanted to be a director, but it doesn’t put all the pressure on me, and C) I’m not Italian, so it’s not my story. So it was really the best way to start. And we had no idea what we were doing! None! Except that we knew actors who knew acting, and we knew how to encourage them, and, you know, you put a group like that together…? Forget it! Ian (Holm) and Minnie (Driver) and Allison Janney? Forget it!
BE: So what’s your favorite project you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved? And you can go with one you’ve directed and one you’ve acted in, if you’d like.
CS: Dude! How much time do you have? (Laughs) I don’t know. Love is…relative. I think I live in a world where…it’s funny, but people in your profession or in the audience might come up to me and say, “Oh, God, why didn’t I hear about that movie? Why didn’t I hear about ‘Off the Map’ when it was out?” Or whatever. And I always think, “Well, shit, I was in Kansas City with a big, huge group of people, and we saw it and loved it.” And I’m not being prickly about it at all. I really just think it’s a world that I live in. In fact, the times that I’ve appeared in films which are larger and have the machine behind them…which are rare…I always feel, frankly, a little less a part of it, you know, because it is such a machine. But, like, “Off the Map” and “Final” and “The Dying Gaul” and “Roger Dodger” and pretty much everything I’ve made in the last eight, nine, ten years…you travel with them, and you talk to people in staircases about them, and you talk to people like you, who are smart about them, or you read something about them on the internet. And I think, “That’s where I sit.” And I like it, dude, because I also ride the subway and nobody bothers me. Nobody knows who the hell I am, and it’s the way I prefer it, I have to say. But that’s not to say that I’m not itching for more all the time in some different kind of way. But it’s usually on my own terms and not what other people think of are “more.” For me, “more” is “different.” Or, y’know, I want to do a musical or whatever. Whatever comes up. It’s not through any planning on my part, because I’m not a planner, but I think I’m more satisfied in that kind of arena. So the answer to your question is two answers: I wish all of them got more love, almost everything I’ve ever done, but by the same token, I love what they are and the kinds of failures they are. And by that, I mean creatively, too. You do nothing but fail, dude, as far as I’m concerned. But you just have to do it interestingly. I’m sure someone said that at one point, and I agree with them. Success doesn’t make any sense to me, because it doesn’t exist. By that, I mean, if you’re perfect, what are you going to do? What’s next? That doesn’t interest me.
BE: And I was just curious: given your parentage (George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst), was there ever any real chance that you were going to do something outside of Hollywood as a career?
CS: There was a big chance. I mean, my parents were, first of all, not Hollywood at all. They were real New Yorkers and theater actors mostly, until my father made “Patton” and started getting famous. So when we were kids, the theater was the world we kind of knew as their profession, and it’s very warm. It’s very much not a “hey, you’re on the red carpet!” kind of thing. It’s a warm, familial kind of world, with a bunch of people backstage, and everybody drinks. And that can be good and bad, and it was, all of those things. But, no, my brother and I didn’t want to be actors. I didn’t start acting ‘til the end of high school, just a little, and then maybe in college. But I went to school to be a teacher, and I think they thought they had escaped or just gotten by without their kids following in their footsteps, but then, of course, both my brother and I started acting later, and by then, they had to be supportive. They had no choice. (Laughs) But that’s not to say... I’m not being coy…that’s not to say that you’re not learning shit all the time by osmosis. You’re paying attention to them, and thank God they were good. They were pros, both of them, and I’m grateful for that.
BE: Do you have a particular favorite of your father’s roles?
CS: It’s funny, someone asked that at one of the screenings the other night, and I think I always surprise people by saying, “Yeah, the ones you don’t know about…or, at least, the ones he’s not known for.” I like “The Flim Flam Man.” I like the comedies. Or the weird movies. He made a movie called “Rage” that he directed that’s kind of a flawed movie, but it’s crazy and interesting and a great story. And my mother, the same thing. There were plays, comedies that she did, that people didn’t see. My father did Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter,” and I just loved it. It was just really smart. A lot of people, from his outward persona, didn’t know how funny he was.
BE: Hey, one of his films was directly responsible for giving a very great band their name.
CS: And that is…?
BE: They Might Be Giants.
CS: Oh, of course! But…was that from the film, though?
BE: That’s always been my understanding.
CS: Oh, really? I always thought it was the name of another book or something. No shit! I like that! And that’s a good movie, too. Also a weird one. Joanne Woodward is in it, with a very good supporting cast.
BE: Well, I think I’ve kept you long enough…
CS: God, I hope so.
BE: (Laughs) You’ve made up for sleeping in.
CS: (Laughs) It’s been great talking to you.
BE: Thanks, man. And I will give you fair warning that your episode of “Family Ties” should be released on DVD later this year.
CS: (Shocked) Are you serious? How do you know that?
BE: Well, I don’t have it in writing, but I’m basing it on the fact that I just got Season 5 in the mail the other day. I saw on your IMDb page that you popped up in a Season 6 episode, and I was, like, “I can’t wait to tell him. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.”
CS: Oh, my God. Does that mean I get a check, dude?
BE: You know, I don’t think I’d hold my breath.CS: Aw, man…