The gender bender

I'm not an actress, Mathew Modine tells Geoffrey Macnab

For reasons best known to himself, Mathew Modine decides that he would like to be interviewed lying down. The tall, boyish, thirtysomething actor (whose new film, The Blackout, opens in the UK this week) manoeuvres a single bed into the middle of his Rotterdam hotel room, falls back on it and stares happily at the ceiling. His interviewer, who has reluctantly agreed to play the part of amateur analyst, pulls up a chair beside him, notebook in hand. "I haven't been in therapy since I was 10 years old," Modine confesses conspiratorially. "The teacher said I was crazy."

The first question, something along the lines of Why Did You Make Your Last Movie, elicits a long, rambling response in which Modine ponders the meaning of the word "real" in American culture. In Tom DiCillo's The Real Blonde, he plays a struggling New York actor sickened by the inanities of the New York media and fashion world. The role is a stark contrast to the boozed-up movie star he plays for Abel Ferrara in The Blackout. Modine understands just how the character in The Real Blonde feels. "In America," he frowns, "real has become a concept for selling... it's something you should be deeply suspicious of."

In the course of the movie, he shares several awkward, emotional moments with his co-star Catherine Keener (who plays his long-term girlfriend.) They are one of those movie couples who love each other but can't communicate. Modine has tackled this kind of part before, most famously in Robert Altman's Short Cuts in which his character (an uptight doctor) bickers with his wife (Julianne Moore) as she wanders around the apartment naked below the waist. "But that wasn't a problem because Altman was a director who understands and appreciates the intimacies of a relationship. And Julianne is an actor. Catherine Keener is an actor too."

Catherine Keener an actor? Noticing his interviewer is doing a double take, Modine elaborates. The term "actor," he explains, is not gender- specific. "A lot of women say that being described as an actress is demeaning. At the same time, there are some male actors who are actresses. You know what I mean?" The interviewer shakes his head, so Modine patiently clarifies his point yet further. "If you erase the gender, you'll see some people are actors and some are actresses. An actor is someone who is very serious about the craft. For instance, Jack Nicholson is an actor who has sometimes been in movies where he was an actress. Brad Pitt is an actress who wants to be an actor."

Has Modine himself ever been an actress? He thinks hard. "There have been a couple of times when I have been an actress," he confesses, as if it is tantamount to admitting he used to wet his bed as a child. "In Cutthroat Island, I was a bit of an actress."

Is Modine sometime an actress so that he can subsidise being an actor? "Well, in Cutthroat Island, I wasn't paid that much, so that probably wasn't the reason." Michael Douglas was originally pencilled in to play the buccaneer, but dropped out when it became clear that Renny Harlin was making a film about his then wife, Geena Davis. "They were careful to conceal that from me. I thought I was going to be in a different movie." Once he arrived in Malta, Modine realised he had blundered into a project he wanted nothing to do with. "So I made a short film while I was out there. It was called Ecce Pirate - all about a young man who is kidnapped and taken aboard a pirate ship. I'm sure you can see the metaphor. In Cutthroat Island, I was basically just a stuntman who had some silly lines to say."

If he is scornful about Cutthroat Island, Modine is downright contemptuous about James Cameron's Titanic. "I'm astonished at the reviews that film got. Yes, it's fantastic technically, but the stories and performances are ludicrous. For Janet Maslin to compare it to Gone With The Wind in The New York Times... someone must have slipped her some money, bought her a house out in the Hamptons or something!"

Clearly exasperated at the lack of meaty roles which come his way, Modine has moved behind the camera. He recently finished shooting his first film as director, If... Dog... Rabbit. "I'm editing it at the present time; it's on my dining room table in New York." The title may sound oblique, but Modine claims it is common usage in the States. "It's an expression that means if doesn't count. If the dog didn't stop to have a shit, it would have caught the rabbit."

No, the film does not have anything to do with incontinent alsatians in pursuit of floppy-eared bunnies. "It's a story about family deception and robbing a bullring in Tijuana, Mexico... it's very good, if I say so myself."

Modine shot the film, which stars John Hurt and Bruce Dern, on the cheap to ensure that he would retain final cut. Directing, he says, wasn't a matter of imposing his artistic vision on actors and technicians. "Most of the time, it was simply solving problems." He wrote the script himself, apparently with the encouragement of Stanley Kubrick.

Of all the filmmakers in whose movies Modine has appeared (a list encompassing everybody from Alan Parker and Alan Rudolph to Robert Altman and Abel Ferrara) Kubrick seems to be his favourite. Modine worked with Kubrick on Full Metal Jacket in the mid-1980s and has stayed in touch with him ever since. The picture he draws of the reclusive American director isn't the conventional one of the eccentric misanthrope, holed up in Home Counties seclusion. "Those ideas that people have of him lead you to expect you're going to meet a deeply strange human being. All that's weird about Stanley is that he's an artist. He doesn't feel it is necessary to go out flogging his wares... like me."

The implication is clear - one thing that Kubrick never has to do is lie on his back and be interviewed by strange journalists. Modine describes him as the "king of the independents, the man who defines the term", and speaks in awe of his single-minded dedication to his craft. "He is a contradiction. People have this idea of him as this strange guy who lives out in the middle of nowhere. But he's very warm. He loves his wife, his children and his animals. He's not hermit-like or eccentric at all. He is just deeply passionate about what he does."

A few moments earlier, Modine has been railing against Tom Cruise movies in which the hero always conquers every obstacle by the final reel. He seems to regard Cruise as the embodiment of everything he dislikes about the American star system, surely an irony considering that Cruise is appearing in Kubrick's new film, Eyes Wide Shut. "But I guess Tom wanted to mature as an actor and have a movie where he fails. And what better actor to have fail than the biggest winner in pop culture?"

Blackout opens this week

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

    Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

    Day In a Page

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin