Campbell Scott: Great Scott

Campbell Scott is finally emerging from the shadows of his illustrious Hollywood heritage. James Mottram meets him
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Such an exit in the line of duty would be appropriate, given he is presenting one of his latest works, The Dying Gaul, at the Galway Film Festival, when we meet. But then to Scott, acting isn't a matter of life and death. Disarmingly modest, as director Alan Rudolph notes, "It's no big deal to him. Probably, if he could build candelabras as well, he would do that for a living!"

As he's the son of the actors George C Scott and Colleen Dewhurst, there's no doubt that the urge to perform is "in his DNA", as Rudolph adds - although for many, Scott's finest achievement of the 1990s was co-directing the comedy Big Night. It's only now that the 44-year-old is emerging from the shadows of his Hollywood heritage - notably his father, star of Patton and Dr Strangelove. "Now I meet young people, and they don't really know who my parents were, which is kind of refreshing," he says. "Twenty years ago, when I started, I couldn't get away from them, and as a young fiery actor I didn't want to hear about it."

Despite featuring opposite his mother in 1991's Dying Young, Scott refused to talk about his family. With both parents dead, Scott has mellowed towards the topic. Confident and witty, he recounts their feelings when he announced he wanted to join the family business. "I can't imagine they thought it was a good idea," he says. "My mother was supportive. But my dad was observant. He'd not say one word either way."

More handsome and distinguished than his father, Scott speaks about him with some detachment. "He was a great, great man sober and different otherwise," he says. "As far as acting went, he was probably confused about the profession himself." If so, Scott seems more at ease with his place in Hollywood's pecking order, laughing when I ask if his name is enough to get movies made. "My name is worse because directors are intrigued by me," he argues, "but by the time you get to the money people, they're like 'Well, he doesn't mean anything to us! He's a good actor and he's been in some good roles - but he doesn't make us any money in Sri Lanka.'"

Yet Scott's career is in rude health. Forthcoming, he has a cameo in Loverboy as well as a role as the prosecuting attorney in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Then there's the twisted love-triangle The Dying Gaul, written and directed by Craig Lucas, which casts him as a bisexual Hollywood executive and his real-life companion, Patricia Clarkson, as his wife; Peter Sarsgaard plays a gay screenwriter who enters their lives. Comparing it to a Greek tragedy, Scott describes it as wild, brutal and volatile.

The same cannot be said of The Secret Lives of Dentists. A subtle drama of marital jealousy that deals with what's left unsaid, Scott plays an orthodontist who shares his practice with his wife. His character retreats into his shell, afraid that if he broaches the subject of infidelity with his wife their marriage will collapse. "Not only is he passive-aggressive and non-confrontational, but he makes it almost like a mantra!" enthuses Scott.

Father to a son, Malcolm, seven, Scott is now divorced from his first wife. Has making these adult dramas turned him against the idea of remarrying? "I don't think so," he says. "If I smashingly fell in love... But it's not what I used to think it was. Relationships change so much. I'm with Patti now and it's a totally different thing. Her and Malcolm get along great, so I'm not going to question it. I'm going to continue and see what happens."

This very much sounds like Scott's philosophy on life.

'The Secret Lives of Dentists' is on general release from tomorrow. 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' opens in November