Interview With Milt Bearden (CIA Consultant)
Interview With Matt Damon (Edward Wilson)
Interview With Robert De Niro (Bill Sullivan, Director, Producer)
Interview With Angelina Jolie (Clover Russell)
Interview With Eric Roth (Screenwriter)
Interview With John Turturro (Ray Brocco)
John Turturro is one of America’s most versatile actors, racking up a collection of brilliantly eclectic roles. He has become a staple in the films of Joel and Ethan Coen and has a great relationship with Spike Lee, who directed one of his most memorable early roles, Pino in Do The Right Thing. He shone as the betrayer in the Coen’s Miller’s Crossing and has become a cult favourite thanks to his scene-stealing turn in The Big Lebowski. A long-time admirer of Robert De Niro, he stars in The Good Shepherd as Ray, Edward Wilson’s aide.
Why this movie John? The character, the script?
John Turturro: It was Robert asking me to work with him. He’s someone who made a big impression on me as a young teenager, watching him in Bang The Drum Slowly, Mean Streets, Godfather and Taxi Driver, and later in Deer Hunter and Raging Bull. My first audition was for Raging Bull, I got one line. I’ve got to work with him twice as an actor, he’s asked me to be in a couple of movies, he’s seen me in a lot of plays. I worked on A Bronx Tale for him and he’s always kept me in mind for things. I thought The Good Shepherd was a fascinating subject matter.
If Bob was such a hero to you when you were young, did you ever wonder if he’d live up to your expectations?
Sure, he was studied and quiet. He doesn’t have an actor’s personality. I can understand why he made a movie about spies, because he’s an acute observer of human behaviour. We fooled around a lot and laughed, we joked around. He’s a good person although you can sometimes tell he is an only child, if he doesn’t get his way! But then he’s fine. A lot of people are scared to talk to him, but I’m not afraid of him. I have a lot of respect for him and there were times where I gave him a lot of extra time, and then had to go and do something. I said “Bob I gave you all this extra time.” He just didn’t want to think that I wouldn’t be there for him, you know…
Does he work at all like Martin Scorsese?
It was interesting as he does tons of takes, because Bob goes over and over and over, always refining it, maybe doing a variation. Maybe he’s used to doing it with Martin. He had to see things and respond to it rather than imagine it. He needed to see it. Sometimes people would get really tired, sometimes he’d have to act something out in order to talk to you, which was okay. A couple of times I’d say “get away that’s not my instinct.” He’d laugh and laugh about it. Eventually I just came to the conclusion that it was like working with a painter, you make a sketch and then he keeps refining it, refining it, refining it. Bob would sometimes come up with some great behavioural details that were very truthful and honest. He has that kind of emotional intelligence. Take Clooney for example – he is verbally intelligent whereas Bob is the one who is emotionally intelligent.
You’re hard to spot in Raging Bull. What was the scene you were in?
I’m sitting at the table and I say “Hi, Jake, you’ve seen me”. It’s when he sees Cathy Moriarty for the second time and goes to the dance hall.
Do you have any inherent interest in the CIA or Intelligence?
I’m not really that attracted to it but reading about it is fascinating. How they have to be so unemotional and cut off, how idealistic these guys were when they first began. How smart and patriotic they were. The cost of it. I knew someone who’s father was in the CIA. She said it was nuts because he would come in and then just disappear, he’d be there then he’d be gone. Imagine if you had kids and a family, imagine that. My friend used to tell me that she didn’t know who her dad was. He just couldn’t talk to her. If you can’t share or trust then can you really love somebody? I think my character, Ray, has a little more balance. He comes from a different sort of tradition, family-wise.
Your character’s more down to earth and blue-collar than his peers, right?
Yeah, he’s not a white Anglo-Saxon protestant; he’s not from that world. That was a really clear delineation in that time. They all got used to it. People in this country who were so unaware of it, people like the Irish and the Jews. They were so unaware unless they got close to it. My father was a builder, he really wasn’t aware of it, although he never went to college. I went to college and I was aware of the differences – of what’s right and when I’m saying the wrong thing, using the wrong tenses.
What are your own experiences of that WASPish elite?
When I went to drama school at Yale I saw that the whole history of Yale is isolated. They didn’t have a relationship with the community, which was mainly Italian. They had a huge Italian community there and when they expanded Yale they wanted that old architecture to look exactly the same as they’d built 100 years earlier. So they had all these great stone masons brought over from Italy. My father was mesmerized by the stone work at Yale. I’d say “They never really paid these guys a decent salary, Dad”. He’d say “Ah, who cares? Look at the workmanship.” But, back to the point, the relationship with the community was not good. Skull & Bones was next door to the old school and for three years I never saw anyone come in or go out of that place. You’d hear partying at night. At one time I had a part-time job alongside my acting scholarship and I was a dishwasher. I was unloading garbage one night up against their fence with a great actor called Charles Dutton. We had all this debris dropped on our heads from the Skull & Bones building, so we started throwing rocks at the thing and pieces of pavement. But we couldn’t see who it was.
You didn’t know who the guys that attacked you were?
Just that they were Skull & Bones. That’s what they did – they dumped us. I’ve seen what it’s like class-wise, what people think is funny. You know everyone has different senses of humour depending what your background is. Another time I was doing a show with all these guys from that sort of background. They actually said to me “That’s not funny.” I’d say, “There’s all kinds of funny. Just what you think is funny is not the only thing that’s funny.” That was a thing that interested me because I know it, I know it better than a lot of the guys, as I used to date only WASP girls.
Did that inform your character at all?
I don’t think the guy would be that aware of it but he’d be somewhat aware if he was surrounded by people from a different social background. I did think it was interesting as we progressed that I actually am more of Matt Damon’s wife than his wife is. He’s like Ray’s wife. And because I had such a good relationship with Matt as a person, it was easy to have that sort of affection. He had a line like “When are you going to learn to trust me.” That’s like a married couple, much more so than in life, even maybe than in my life. These are guys who are believers in what they are doing, they came out of a patriotic time and then the world changed. They didn’t know that they were installing dictators and all these things. Or maybe they did but it was for the greater good of the country. We don’t want to have that at our back doors. It was interesting that way.
You’re often described as one of America’s great character actors. How do you see it, surely you’re just one America’s great actors?
I guess in England they don’t say that as often, because in England you come from the theatre and you’re just an actor. For example Michael Gambon is a great actor, Albert Finney is a great actor, Anthony Hopkins is a great actor but they play a lot of different kinds of characters, not always the same. It’s rare for an English actor to have a persona. Like John Wayne, he didn’t change his exterior that much. He played the same kind of part because that’s the tradition.
Do you think that’s because in England there is a smaller pool of actors and people are required to be more diverse?
Actors that I’ve liked over the years, not all of them would play a lot of diverse roles. But they’d have diverse interests in the roles that they played and liked literate things. Like Burt Lancaster wasn’t really a chameleon, but he played serious movies, comedies, acrobatic movies. I loved him as a performer. But if you look at Brando he really was a character actor because he played all different kinds of parts and he was a real actor. To me I’ve played leads, done cameos and supporting roles. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m happy; I wouldn’t want to be a lead in everything. It’s not the most creative way to live to always have to carry something. For years Bob just did little parts, he was always doing supporting roles. What’s the big deal I don’t get it. To me it’s kind of fun, like The Big Lebowski… I don’t understand what that word [character] means, it’s strange to me. The actors I’ve always liked play many different characters. Sometimes it gets boring watching the same guy do the same lead role.
Any more news on the sequel to The Big Lebowski?
Well, we might do a sequel to it, with Jesus. They’re putting it together and I have a good scenario which they like. The Big Lebowski’s become such a cult film, and people do remember me from it but there are all kinds of different roles that people like. The Coen Brothers films, Spike’s films, Quiz Show. A lot of kids love The Big Lebowski. It didn’t do great here when it came out but there’s since been a revival. People are obsessed by it. It was a movie they didn’t know what to do with. It did better in England and in Europe. Now it’s played in every college, it’s crazy.
What have you been working on most recently?
I just did a film with Robert De Niro written by Anthony Hopkins that he is also starring in and directing, Slipstream. It’s going to premier this Sunday and I have a really fun role. I worked less than two weeks on it but loved it. Anthony is from the theatre and we just hit it off, big time. The guy is just in a great time of his life, we laughed so much. It was really outrageous and I just wanted to give him everything he wanted and he just kept adding and adding. De Niro and Hopkins are guys I really admire, these are real actors. Nowadays I don’t see that many young actors that make me go “That guy’s unbelievable.”
You’ve been in this industry for some time, is that something that’s specifically changed during that time?
Kids are just becoming so famous so early and they’ve got no body of work behind them. They haven’t developed enough to sustain it. They do one role, maybe two and that’s it.
Talking about the Coen Brothers and Spike Lee, what is it that makes your relationship with them special?
I just hit it off with Spike early on. We have a lot of similar interests. He works in a more improvisational way and I did a lot of writing on some of his movies. A lot of people did, not just me. Jungle Fever, I wrote a huge portion of that. Like a third of that movie. I got no writing credit! People say that to Mike Leigh, too. Now there’s a great director I’d like to work with him sometime. I really, really like his movies. With the Coen Brothers we just hit it off as friends. It’s nice to have a bit of continuity. There are a few directors I’ve worked with, Redford, Peter Weir that I’d work with again. It’s nice to have that familiarity. It helps.
You’ve just worked with Michael Bay on Transformers. He doesn’t seem a natural fit with your CV?
I basically played him. It’s a kids’ movie and my kids really wanted me to do it. I came in with lots of ideas and he was very appreciative of them and he’s got personality. He’s like a big kid, he yells at his crew and stuff. I got along fine with him, I actually had a lot of fun with him. I would do things and he’d say “I love that” and it was because I was doing him. You’ve got to make each situation mean something to you and figure it out. I don’t walk around thinking I’m this serious artist. I always wanted to be in the arts but I see myself more like an English actor does, which is to be a terrific craftsman. Then let somebody else say I’m an artist. I’m not going to say that, I’m not going to walk around with that mantle on my back, that target on my back of being fucking pretentious. You know, something broad and funny is hard to do too. Tragic comedy, that’s hard to do. Serious, that’s hard to do. Everything is its own challenge. You don’t look down on stuff unless someone makes you look down on it. That film would be like doing larger than life shit, and I went for it.
Are you tempted to do that sort of thing more often?
Depends if they ask me to do it, it depends. Doing pure comedy is really hard. I like things that are funny and have content. I’ve done Beckett and I actually like that a lot.
Do you prefer the theatre?
I like both. I don’t like doing long runs of anything but I like going back to the theatre because I feel like it’s so much of the medium, it’s where you can practice.
Your last directorial outing, Romance & Cigarettes, did it have the reception you hoped for?
People really love that film and it’s shortly coming out here in the US. I’m very proud of that film. To me that movie is a good representation of me. Joel and Ethan Coen love the movie too, they’ve been great supporters of it. It did okay in London. Let me tell you it’s a film that young people like a lot. They really dig it. We got some great reviews. I certainly hung myself out. Hung my ass out for the whole world to see.
Tell me about directing your wife in a film?
I’m directing her right now in a play. Directing your wife personally is hard because they don’t listen to you! “But I’m the director and you’re the actress, I respect you and you respect me!” She’s a terrific actress and it’s fun to work with her. We’ve learned but we’ve worked together as actors and we get along pretty well.
You get to wear the pants for once?
Oh yeah but I have to be careful. You have to be careful with actresses in general. They’re temperamental creatures.