Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Interview: Vincent D'Onofrio Don't Go In the Woods

Suicide Girls, 1.11.12
By Fred Topel
Vincent D’Onofrio has been a memorable character actor for 25 years. The first role most people remember was Pvt. Pyle, the marine cadet driven insane by a drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket. From other dark roles like a serial killer in The Cell and a meth dealer in The Salton Sea to high comedy as a farmer possessed by an alien in Men in Black, D’Onofrio may be unrecognizable between roles, but always distinct.

D’Onofrio moves behind the scenes as director with the horror musical Don’t Go In the Woods. That’s right, horror musical. The conventional slasher movie gets a twist when a band goes on a forest retreat to write songs, and breaks into song as they’re being chased by a killer.

Sam Bisbee and Bo Boddie wrote the music for the film and most of the actors are first timers, so if you like them you can’t see any of their previous work. I sort of fell in love with Kate O’Malley so it’s a bummer she hasn’t done anything else. D’Onofrio had previously directed a 30 minute short, but Woods is his feature debut.

On the phone from New York, D’Onofrio sounded as intense as I expected, and hoped he would be. Not intimidating, mind you. It was a friendly conversation, going into depth about his process on both sides of the camera, and touching on some of the filmography I love. Don’t Go In the Woods is now available for download on VOD, it opens in New York theaters Jan. 13 and comes to L.A. in February.

SuicideGirls: When you directed the feature, did you direct actors the way you like to be directed yourself?
Vincent D’Onofrio: I guess, yeah, in a very practical way. That’s the way I like to be directed. I don’t like to hear a bunch of metaphors and things like that. I just like them to guide me in a very practical sense, story, very practical story way. That’s my natural thing. I by no means feel like a director or anything. I just feel like I do this thing and here it is. The one thing, because they’re young, I had their trust very easily and I respected the trust that they gave me.
SG:
Would you share any of your own acting technique with them?
VD:
Yes, Nick [Thorp] who played the blind bass player, I taught him a little trick or two.
SG:
Anything you could share with us?
VD:
No. No, no, not that it’s a secret, it’s just boring acting stuff. He was very good. He did it really well.
SG:
When you have been directed by Stanley Kubrick, do you try to keep anything from that experience or would you try to avoid anything that could be measured unfavorably against that?
VD:
I think that any influence that any director has given me or will give me in the past is a good thing. I don’t make a conscious decision to do, but I’ve always been a sponge, since I was a kid, where I absorb everything. Especially if it has to do with the arts, I think it’s there. I remember so many different scene constructions and so many different shots from so many movies in my life that I’m sure it’s bound to come up.
SG:
What are some of the memorable scenes and shots in your memory?
VD:
Well, I remember the use of the crane that Kubrick used to use, and the use of baby jibs that Altman used to use. He would take a baby jib and put it on a track and have six or seven cablers just keeping the cable out of the shot. The shot could just go anywhere you wanted. Just stuff like that. It could make a scene like the world is completely open to you in the film, when in fact you’re still having to perform in a certain area but there’s ways they can create the feeling of the world just being completely open and the shot is not locked to a certain direction.
SG:
Did the music come first?
VD:
Some of the music was already written by Sam and some of it was written for the film.
SG:
Were you casting for singers who could act or actors you could teach to sing?
VD:
No, no, nonactors. I didn’t want any actors.
SG:
Yeah, they were mostly first time actors.
VD:
Yeah, because I wanted this kind of flat delivery, a mix between that kind of early Smith and Linklater films to Bewitched from ‘70s television. I wanted a mix of that.
SG:
Have you been frustrated that horror movies have been casting well known actors, when it used to be a genre for up and comers?
VD:
Well, well known doesn’t mean they’re good. I think the greatest thing about the horror genre is that it’s rarely critiqued unless it’s some kind of huge horror website that critiques bad horror films. It’s different. The horror genre I think is different than sci-fi, drama or comedy. When you go to see a horror film, you expect to take a huge leap of faith and you just go to be purely entertained in the most purely raw way. You don’t expect to see any credible performances and in most of them, I’m talking about the slasher genre, you don’t see incredible cinematography. You don’t see incredible writing, you don’t see incredible performance. You just go for the entertainment, for the scare factor, for something new that you haven’t seen in a horror film before, just to be blown away by something you weren’t expecting. It’s not really judged in any other way than that or at least I don’t anyway. There’s a different style of acting around these days in general, not just in horror films which is a kind of flat acting, like I said a mixture of slacker acting and ‘70s television acting that doesn’t require a lot of technique. It’s not Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady or Gary Oldman. You watch actors like them and they’re technically so good that they bring you with them into this world. You know it’s them, you know it’s acting, you know they have incredible technique but they still take you. There’s this other style that’s around that’s in a lot of films, especially young films with young people and a lot of television. Most of television I think where it’s this mixture of non acting, flat performances, people just talking kind of stuff which I find great to watch. I love to watch it. It’s very different from my generation of acting but I find it thoroughly entertaining and that’s what I went for in Don’t Go In the Woods.
SG:
Are you trying to incorporate that style into your own repertoire?
VD:
No, I can’t. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I’m more of a character actor where I put many, many layers on top of myself and then perform. I juggle, if you were to consider choices balls that you juggle, I juggle many balls while I’m performing. That’s because I’m that kind of an actor, that’s what I do.
SG:
Do you find you’re able to transform into any character you want?
VD:
I think the only thing that limits me is my height.
SG:
So do casting directors ever say, “You’re too this or too that” and they can’t see you in a role?
VD:
Well, yes, of course. You asked if I see, not if casting directors see.
SG:
I know, that’s my follow up, the other side of the equation.
VD:
Of course, yeah. Otherwise I’d have a much more substantial career than I have.
SG:
Because I imagine you as someone who can play everything.
VD:
Well, I try but as a director, when you’re writing a script or if you’re involved in developing a film, or even when you just read a film, you start to see the characters right away. For a comfort zone and for you to be so locked into your movie so that you get in some kind of zone, you want the kind of actor that you saw when you read it or when you were developing it. You want somebody that fits that. So for me to just jump into somebody’s comfort zone, if I’m nothing like what they saw the character as, it’s a difficult thing to do. No matter how good an actor you are, that can be difficult.
SG:
Is your process as intense as it may seem?
VD:
It can be. Sometimes it’s lighter than others. It depends on the part.
SG:
Do you ever hear from marines about the impact Pvt. Pyle has had?
VD:
Aaaall the time. Marines, federal agents, anybody that’s ever been involved in the shit before.
SG:
Is it heartbreaking or gratifying?
VD:
It’s always done in a really respectful way so I always feel really proud, even though I’m not pro-war in any way or anything. But just the soldiers themselves, the soldiers that I’ve met and the agents and law enforcement people that I’ve met in my life, they just have so much integrity. They just feel so good when they talk to you about things you’ve done because they’re the kind of people that run into buildings when something bad’s happening. I’m the kind that runs out. When they think that you’re something special, it makes you feel so cool. It’s such a legitimate thing when it comes from them, is what I’m trying to say.
SG:
What was your experience of playing real life characters Robert E. Howard and Abbie Hoffman?
VD:
They’re great experiences because you meet the people that were involved in their lives and they end up seeing the film. The Abbie Hoffman thing, anybody that was still around was still there, Chicago 7 was there while we were shooting. You know you’re doing a good job when they’re happy. When they’re not happy, you know you’re not doing such a good job.
SG:
Technically you did play Thor before he was a blockbuster star.
VD:
That’s right.
SG:
How did it feel to see that character become well known, when it was an inside joke in Adventures in Babysitting?
VD:
It’s cool. I always liked the character of Thor when I was a kid so it was cool to see the movie. I like all those hero movies. I think it’s silly that people give them such a hard time. I don't think those movies should be judged either. I think they’re just for pure entertainment.
SG:
As a character actor, did the visibility of Law & Order make you more recognizable?
VD:
I’m definitely more recognizable. It made me a better actor I think than I was before, a less lazy actor than I was previously. I was just a film actor that would do a couple films a year. Films would take a long time to make back before the show. Now that the digital world is here, and I had this 10 year experience on television, my acting chops are much more honed. I’m a quicker learner. A 13 hour day is nothing compared to what you do on television.
SG:
Was directing always part of your plan?
VD:
No. I just have these ideas that come up and if they can be put into script form, then I’m going to make them. If I can’t put them into script form, then I’m just going to leave them behind. I just started a few years ago, 5-6 years ago, to have these ideas that I see as movies. As long as that keeps happening, I’ll keep trying to make them.
SG:
When can we get the soundtrack to Don't Go In The Woods?
VD:
I don't know. I hope soon. We’ll see if the movie makes anybody any money, then maybe we’ll come out with a soundtrack.
SG:
Wouldn’t that be part of the profits if you can release it on itunes?
VD:
Well, you would think, but everything is not that black and white.
SG:
Of the acting roles you have coming up, what are the roles you’re excited about?
VD:
I really enjoyed doing this Jennifer Lynch film that I did. I loved working with her. We did a very intense, disturbing movie together. I liked doing that a lot and that has a distributor already so it should be coming out at the end of winter or something like that.
SG:
What kind of character do you get to play in Chained?
VD:
I think Chained is going to be called The Human Puzzle now, I think. It’s a very disturbing character. It’s an examination of the human psyche which is told by the relationship between the killer and a kid. It’s just a very disturbing examination of these two people.




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[CURRENT PROJECTS]

List of films in production.

"In Dubious Battle" [2016]

"In Dubious Battle" [2016]
An activist gets caught up in the labor movement for farm workers in California during the 1930s. Vincent....Al Anderson

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Vincent D'Onofrio, Jacob Loeb

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In a rural town in Southern Idaho, the Suzukis, a Japanese American family, run a small motel. One night they get a strange visitor who sports ‘city’ clothes who turns out to be the first African-American man that Toru Suzuki’s children have ever seen. Yoshiko takes it upon herself to solve the mystery about this man, especially when 2 police officers come knocking on their door.

Short film produced by Erika Hampson.
Vincent D'Onofrio as Detective Foster.

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'Purgatory' [TBA]
Tagline: In the Wild West a lot of blood was spilled... but it didn't go to waste. Vincent....Dallas Stoudenmire

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Director: Jennifer Lynch
Producer/Writer ...Eric Wilkinson

Vincent D'Onofrio ....George Lawson (GRACE's father)
Tim Roth.......Detective Tabb

Filming in St Louis - TBA

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A man campaigns to become the leader of the Buffalo lodge.

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Ron Livingston as Steve
Marcia Gay Harden as Nancy

"The Monster Next Door" [TBA]

"The Monster Next Door" - Comedy Horror

Executive Produced by Dennis Johnson, Melanie Mohlman Produced by Eric Wilkinson, David Michaels
Written by Jim Robbins
Directed by Jennifer Lynch

Cast: Vincent D'Onofrio, Bill Pullman, French Stewart, Bill Moseley

'Down & Dirty Pictures' - [in Production - Filming TBA]

'Down & Dirty Pictures' - [in Production - Filming TBA]
Vincent......Harvey Weinstein

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