Matthew Modine: Keep Your Mouth Shut

On Tap July 2012 cover
On Tap July 2012 cover

Matthew Modine: Keep Your Mouth Shut
Interview by Joe Flood
On Tap, July 2012

Mathew Modine wants to retain the mystery at the heart of The Dark Knight Rises. In this interview with OnTap, the veteran actor discusses what attracted him to the Batman franchise, as well as the experience of working with some of film’s greatest directors.

There is a lot of mystery surrounding the character you play in The Dark Knight Rises – what can you tell us about him? What attracted you to playing this role?

There is a lot of mystery surrounding the role because there isn’t anything I can tell you about the character. This should be a lesson taught in schools. Keep your mouth shut. My father used to say, “It’s better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Christopher Nolan and his team clearly understand the power of keeping your mouth shut.

What attracted me to Dark Knight Rises was the team. Starting with the director, writers, producers and the extraordinary team of actors assembled. To be a part of that team, of their caliber is its own reward.

What was it like working with Christopher Nolan? What was the set like? Did you get a lot of direction from him?

Nolan is an old-school director. He is cut from the cloth of the best. A film set is very much like a ship at sea and a film director is like the Captain of that ship. A successful Captain understands, deeply, his dependence on his officers and crew and its necessary for the officers and crew to be led and take orders from their Captain, who must assert confidence in his wishes and commands, be decisive in his decisions and in complete control of his ship. That’s Nolan – from the time he gets out of the car to start the days work until he gets back in the car to go home.

You’ve worked with many of the most highly regarded directors in the film industry including Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick and Robert Altman. How do you adjust to each director’s style? Do you adapt to them or do they adapt to you?

The best directors are great casting directors. They cast their films well. Musical conductors aren’t coaching their musicians on how to play. You don’t get into the orchestra if you’re still trying to master your instrument. They show up, knowing their notes, how to interpret the piece of music, and the conductor then, simply with a gesture of the hand, a look, encourages the musician to play a little softer, a little faster or slower. This is what the best directors do. WIth subtle gestures and simple suggestions they encourage their performers. A great director is a master of manipulation, and so good at it, that it never feels like manipulation.

Were you a fan of the Batman comics as a kid? How is today’s Batman different from the one you grew up with?

Well, I grew up with the TV series. Which I loved. Even as “camp” as it was, there was something weirdly mysterious and dark about it. Never cared much for Robin. But Bruce Wayne, as played by Adam West, was so odd and cool. West’s slow, stuttered speaking, his contemplation about problems and how to solve them made him very compelling. Nolan’s darker, more realistic telling of the story, is for me, the most compelling from all the films made by the various other film makers. It strikes the perfect balance of myth, drama, opera, humor, and compelling cinematic storytelling.

What’s it like to get your own unofficial Dark Knight Rises poster? What do you think about fans creating art and other types of content around movies?

When I saw the poster, which was sent to my @matthewmodineTwitter account, I was flattered to the point of awkwardness. Whomever it was that decided they’d sit down and spend the day creating a poster of my character, is a person has, first, wonderful talent – the poster is just awesome – and second, they’re just crazy to have been so generous!

According to IMDB, Liam Neesen is teaching you to fly-fish. How intense of an experience is that?

You gotta love IMDB for random facts that get randomly posted and never vetted for truth or relevance. Liam is a dear friend. We did go fly fishing, a few times. But this posting on IMDB presents a scenario that expands with each viewing and telling. Imagine Liam, my fly fishing teacher and me, his wide-eyed student standing in rubber waders in a gently flowing river… Liam coaching me work the tied-fly to gently, lightly tickle the surface of the water… the whole picture just makes me giggle. Brokeback River.

Do you have any connections to Washington, DC? What do you like to do when visiting here?

No. I don’t. I love our Nations capital though. The monuments. The precious ideals of our democracy and that the “great experiment” that must constantly be examined and polished and lived up to. Our government is unique in that it is not stagnant. We are a progressive nation. Like that word or not. We are a liberal nation, like that word or not. We have amendments to back it up. The 13th amendment which ended slavery. The 15th amendment which gave African-Americans the right to vote. The 19th, which gave woman the right to vote. The next necessary amendment, which cannot come soon enough if we are to survive as a nation of citizens – and not a country controlled by banks and corporations, is an amendment for campaign reform. Campaign contributions may be one of the greatest threats to domestic liberty and our first amendment rights.

Can you talk about the Steve Jobs movie or your nonprofit Bicycle For A Day?

Bicycle for a Day is a not for profit designed to get young children and adults back on bicycles. Obesity and early onset diabetes affect more than half our nation. Choosing to ride a bicycle for short trips, to school, to friends homes, to the mall, can help create lifestyle changes. Not only do you become more active and engaged with the outdoors, but you are making a measurable, immediate, positive impact on the environment by not using a gas powered motor vehicle which contributes to climate change.

I leave for Los Angeles to start filming on jOBS the third week of June. I haven’t met with any of the other cast members but I am looking forward to it and getting started. I will have the opportunity to meet with John Sculley, the man who fired Steve Jobs from Apple, and whom I am portraying before I leave. I am really looking forward to this meeting and hearing the story from his perspective.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer and photographer from Washington, DC. He is the author of the mystery novel Murder on U Street, as well as articles, short stories and screenplays. In his spare time, he likes wandering about the city with a camera.

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