Interview Date: 11/10/2010
Run Date: 12/06/2010
Aidan Quinn has been around the block plenty of times as an actor, sometimes as the leading man, sometimes just as part of an ensemble. In his latest film, “Across the Line: The Exodus of Charlie Wright,” he’s in the former camp, starring as the title character, a Madoff-like fellow who, by virtue of Quinn’s performances, turns out to be way more sympathetic than he ought to be. Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Quinn about this film, along with a few items on his resume, including the short-lived series “The Book of Daniel,” his quick appearance in “Jonah Hex,” and a couple of TV movies, one of which led him to meet Paul McCartney.
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Aidan, how are you?
Aidan Quinn: Hey, Will, how are you? Good to talk to you.
BE: I just finished watching the movie a few minutes ago, actually…
AQ: Oh, yeah?
BE: …and, obviously, the Bernie Madoff comparisons are right at the forefront. I presume you were aware of that pretty quickly into reading the script.
AQ: Oh, sure. Absolutely.
BE: Did you have any hesitations about that, given that it was touching on reality, or did it make it more intriguing?
AQ: It definitely made it more intriguing because the thought of…I, like most people, had probably zero compassion for Bernie Madoff, but then this guy, he’s facing a death sentence, anyway, so he decides that maybe he can try to do something redemptive in his life. And I think it’s kind of a theme. It’s not just my character, but a lot of the men in the movie.
BE: Well, you make it very easy to sympathize with Charlie Wright’s search for his daughter.
AQ: Yeah, well, you know, can you imagine? Oh, my God. Just trying to find one good thing to do, and then… (Laughs, then offers a spoiler, which will not be printed here)
BE: Yeah, I know. You kind of have to pick your jaw up from the floor when you hear that.
AQ: Oh, God, yeah.
BE: Like I was saying, you came across as sympathetic, but I don’t know if that would’ve been quite so much the case if we’d gotten more of a look at the people who were hurt by Charlie’s actions. Was that a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers?
AQ: Exactly. I think that’s why…it was really important in that one scene that I do say, “You don’t understand, you have no idea, there is nothing good about me,” and I talk about the lives I’ve destroyed and stuff.
BE: How was Mario Van Peebles to work with? Or had you worked with him before?
AQ: No, I’d never worked with him before, but he was great. He’s…very present. He’s all together. He’s a director himself, and he’s a very confident guy. Very fun to be around. Just easy-peasy.
BE: And he’s just part of a really impressive ensemble.
AQ: Yeah, it is. It really is. I mean, you know, I’m a huge fan of Andy Garcia, so to get to do a couple of scenes with him was a thrill for me.
BE: So how did you come onto the film in the first place? Was it just pitched to you?
AQ: Yeah, they came to me, and they said they had Andy, which, of course, really piqued my interest. And then I read it, and, you know, it was a challenge of a role. Charlie Wright hardly says anything in the movie, and to try and find a way to make that work… (Trails off) And the whole seeking and trying to find redemption thing I liked. Plus, I mean, it was a lead role! Or lead-ish, anyway. (Laughs) So it was all good.
BE: You’ve been working pretty steadily, but you’ve been doing a lot of smaller films recently. Is that by design, to give yourself a chance to branch out with the types of stuff you’re doing?
AQ: It’s both. It’s necessity needing to be the mother of invention… (Laughs) …and it’s also because the kind of roles I get offered in studio films just are not that interesting to me, unfortunately, although I think I would do a lot of the roles better than the people who are cast in the lead parts. But I have to find a way to persuade the powers that be in those big movies otherwise.
BE: Well, on the up side, you may be the only person who got out of “Jonah Hex” unscathed, thanks to wearing a beard for your role (as Ulysses S. Grant).
AQ: (Bursts out laughing) Listen, I had a great time, man! I worked one day. I’d just come off vacation, I had a big beard, and…I’d read stuff about Grant before and I really liked the character. And they asked me to come in, and…I loved working with Mr. (Josh) Brolin. He’s a lovely guy to work with. And, listen, I went out there for a day, and I had fun doing it. And they paid me. (Laughs)
BE: My full-time gig is as the site’s TV critic, and I was a big fan of “The Book of Daniel.” I actually have the complete series, such as it is, on my shelf right now.
AQ: Oh, wow! So you’ve got, what, five or six episodes, huh?
BE: Eight episodes, I think. What was that experience like? Given the subject matter, did you have your suspicions from the get-go that it might not go over well with mainstream audiences?
AQ: You know what? I think we were one or two years too early. I thought we were right on time. I thought the country was ready, and I thought that things were already loosening up in the TV world on the network side, but when we became the number one target by all of the Christian organizations to get off the air, we were dead. I mean, I went on talk shows with them, and they would call in, and…you just couldn’t even have a conversation, because none of them had seen the material. They would just call in because their pastor or their bishop was telling them how disgusting it was. So you can’t even argue with them. You can say, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” but you can’t really have a discussion, let alone an argument. All you can say is, “You haven’t seen it! You haven’t seen any of it!” I underestimated their power. I thought that controversy might even help us. But, quickly, there were no advertisers who would go anywhere near it. Even the bottom feeders, the advertisers who pay way less, wouldn’t go near us. And then we were dead.
BE: Speaking of religious controversy, is it true that you actually got the role of Jesus in “The Last Temptation of Christ” but passed on it?
BE: In retrospect, given the controversy over that film, did you feel like you’d dodged a bullet? Or do you feel like it was a missed opportunity for you?
AQ: You know what? I honestly don’t. I honestly think…and maybe it’s a naïve, convenient belief that things happen for some kind of reason, and it certainly would’ve helped my career tremendously, without a doubt. I mean, there’s no doubt about that. My road is a much harder road. The path I took is…it’s not that limelight path.
BE: Well, I’ll tell you, as a Beatles fan, I really enjoyed “Two of Us,” with Jared Harris.
AQ: Yeah, that was great fun. And the crowning glory of my involvement with that was that Paul McCartney liked it. (Laughs)
BE: Yeah, I’d heard that you’d met him after the fact.
AQ: Yeah, it was quite an extraordinary occurrence. When I was on holiday, on vacation, not long after doing it, I had to go back to Florida into a satellite studio and do all of the press junket stuff for the film…and he was staying in the cottage right next door to us! (Laughs)
BE: Speaking of TV movies, I was also curious about “An Early Frost.” It’s a film which had to walk a fine line, trying to bring attention to the AIDS epidemic without freaking middle America out too much in the process.
AQ: That’d be something to ask the filmmakers and, uh, not me so much. (Laughs) I was just an actor trying to do the right thing by the character and by the subject matter. I didn’t really care about…I mean, that was a time when they still had Standards and Practices big time, the networks, and one day I kicked them off the set. I couldn’t work with them hovering over me. It was just too uncomfortable. I was pretty bold at that age. (Laughs)
BE: What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
AQ: Wow, there’s a lot of them. (Laughs) That’s a long list!
BE: (Laughs) It can be more than one.
AQ: Well, I did this film called “The Assignment.” It was done by a division of Sony that went belly up, so Sony kind of just dumped it. And that was…it was something like 12 years ago, and it was kind of “Bourne”-like, where I play 17 different roles and do accents and this and that. I got to work with Ben Kingsley and Donald Sutherland, and it had a lot of action stuff in it, but it still had great character stuff in it, great acting stuff. So that was a big disappointment that that was dumped, because all of the critics loved it better than “The Jackal” and other movies that came out at the same time. They said, “Forget the other films, go see this.” But it wasn’t in any of the other cinemas, except for one or two! I’ve had a lot of films like that, though. I mean, I did a film called “The Eclipse” that won Best Film and Best Screenplay, and I won Best Supporting Actor, at the Irish Academy Awards… (Starts to laugh) …but that film didn’t even get released in Ireland! But it was shown on television. The national TV station bought it and did a big thing with it. But, you know, those things go on all the time. You just cannot predict or invest in results. You can only invest in the moment of what you’re doing. So there’s constant lessons in learning how to not be attached to outcomes.
BE: I wanted to ask you about working on “Desperately Seeking Susan.” Given that Madonna hadn’t really acted prior to that film, what was your impression of her at the time?
AQ: Well, I didn’t really have any scenes with her.
BE: No, I know, but I presume you were both on the set at the same time.
AQ: Yeah, she was…I thought she was a lot of fun. She had a lot of energy, she had a great sense of humor, and I thought she was pretty darned good in the part, as far as that goes. If you look at the cast of that film, it was a collection of all the best New York actors, young theater and independent film actors, so it was fun to be around all of them.
BE: Given that I live about 15 minutes from the North Carolina border, I wanted to ask you about working on “Songcatcher.”
AQ: Oh, yeah, that was great. I actually just did a film with the same director, Maggie Greenwalt, along with Olympia Dukakis and Virginia Madsen. We just finished it. It’s tentatively called “The Art of Love,” but they’re going to change the title. But, yeah, I loved working on “Songcatcher.”
BE: Do you enjoy the challenge of period pieces?
AQ: Yeah, I love all that. Anything that involves history and having to look and walk and talk a different way…that’s why we got into this gig in the first place! (Laughs)
BE: So what do you have coming up?
AQ: Oh, loads of stuff. (Laughs) First, I think, there’s “Unknown White Male.” Oh, no, wait, they changed that title to just “Unknown,” I think. That’s with Liam Neeson, and it’s kind of a political thriller thing that we did in Berlin. A big Joel Silver picture, an action-y thriller with fun characters. Should be good. That’s in February. And then I believe the Weinsteins are going to put out a film I did called “Sarah’s Key,” with Kristin Scott Thomas, in March or April. It’s based on a best-seller, and it’s based in France, mostly. And then I don’t know when the other films are coming out.
BE: So, now, are you currently filming “The Big Valley”?
AQ: No, it was postponed, actually.
BE: Oh, was it?
AQ: Yeah, they lost some funding. They say they’re going to try and get it back together, but, y’know, who knows?
BE: All right, Aidan, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Good luck with the film!AQ: Thanks! Good talking to you, too!