Vince Vaughn’s lanky, all-American good looks belie the creepy quality he imbues into all the characters he plays from the too-suave Trent in Swingers to the murdering Lester in Clay Pigeons to Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho. In his latest role in The Cell, Vaughn plays the good guy, FBI Agent Peter Novak, but even Vaughn’s good guy is unmistakably disturbed, a victim of child abuse turned relentless pursuer of abusers.
Vaughn, not so creepy in real life, recently chatted about his role in The Cell, what attracts him to a role and why he wasn’t disappointed he doesn’t have a love scene with Jennifer Lopez.
What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen?
The Exorcist, for sure, is a shocking horror film. When I was a little kid I remember I got brave and saw a horror movie called the Evil Dead, the first one. I was about twelve or fourteen maybe -- maybe I was younger. I went down in my basement, and I turned off all the lights because I was gonna really make the experience totally scary. I put the thing in, and I remember after twenty minutes something happened that scared me. I went to run to get the lights on and I smacked into a pillar I had in the basement and I was like, “Something’s going on here. Some karma’s happening. I’ve gotta get to the light.” But that movie probably scared me the most just because of my age and because I was by myself and I was like, “I’m gonna really try to scare myself tonight.”
Was there anything that was so horrific in The Cell that you were disturbed by it even during production?
It really wasn’t that disturbing to make. Only because you’re kind of involved in the process from the beginning. I wasn’t really involved with the stuff that happened with the little kid. I think that would have been disturbing. The girl in the cell was a bit disturbing, but see, on the day when you’re filming, she comes up for air and they bring her coke and stuff like that, so you kind of commit for the moment, but you know she’s fine. But what would have been hard for me would have been stuff with the little kid.
You know, it’s like when we were doing Swingers, we didn’t find that particularly funny while we were filming it or anything because you’re so involved in the process every step of the way that you’re not really analyzing it. You’re more focused. The process is like if you see a house before it’s built and you’re there everyday when the house is built, you don’t have the same impact I guess of seeing the whole thing put together at one time because you’re there from the beginning.
What attracted you to this role?
Really, Tarsem’s visuals. I’d never seen them before, I’m embarrassed to say. A lot of his stuff is kind of commercials that air in Europe that I never was privy to. So when I saw his reel, I thought his visuals were really cool.
Really, the acting in this film serves the visuals. You’re almost a part of a painting. There’s not a linear story to the film. Which I think is cool. The movie is told more through the visuals. It’s almost like a series of paintings. You feel a little bit like you walk through kind of a dark period during a painter’s life in seeing the film. These are kind of like individual paintings and compositions. I think it impacts you more because it’s something that you haven’t seen before. Whereas you can go numb to traditional effects.
Numb? How do you mean?
A lot of special effects films are sort of a building momentum of effects or grander explosions and that sort of thing. This movie is almost like an arthouse film. The cinematographer who just shot the movie me and Jon Favreau just did is Chris Doyle, who’s a Hong Kong DP. He does all Kar-wai Wong films like Fallen Angels and Chung King Express and those kind of films. Now this isn’t similar to that except that I think that the visuals carry you emotionally and almost storywise more so than the linear plot does. And I think effectively. At the end of the day, in watching the film, if you judge the film the way you would judge a normal action film, you would say, “Well, it makes no sense.” But I think if you check in with yourself and sort of drop that, you’re left with an impact and understanding.
Was there anything about the FBI agent character that you were drawn to?
Well, it’s a case-by-case thing. Sometimes it’s a script or a director or actors in a piece. For this, it wasn’t so much the character that fascinated me, truthfully. Even with Psycho, it wasn’t the character that fascinated me. (Director) Gus (Van Sant) fascinates me. I remember, I moved out to Hollywood when I was eighteen and Drugstore Cowboy came out that year, and I just was so taken by that film that Gus could say, “Let’s remake Spartacus,” and I’d probably remake Spartacus with Gus. It had more to do with that for me than anything else.
And then there’s times where, like in Return To Paradise, I was more interested in that character or in that specific story. I don’t have much of a game plan, but there’s just certain people that you feel interested to work with for different reasons, I guess. I definitely like Vincent D’Onofrio’s work a lot. Jennifer Lopez, I’ve thought she’s a terrific actress for a long time.
Did you know her prior to shooting The Cell?
I might have met her once before. I don’t remember. But this is the first time I worked with her and got to know her on any level more than saying, “Hi. How are you?” and shaking hands. I think she’s a hell of an actress. And I tell you, she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with, and I think that a lot of times it may sound cliché, but I think especially for women when they sort of know what they want or they’re ambitious or they directed a career, you hear these things said about them. Whereas other people out there -- and I’m not going to mention names -- but who have been very business minded or indulgent, just don’t get the same sort of backlash that a girl does when she is in that position.
Were you disappointed that you were playing opposite one of the most beautiful women on the planet and there was no romance?
I liked that. Part of the reason why I wanted to do it was I like that that wasn’t the focus of it. Especially because what they were trying to convey story-wise. It’s like you can only keep so many balls in the air at a certain time. To me, it seemed real and truthful. Especially for two people like these characters. Katherine is sort of into what her work is and Peter Novak kind of have his past. These people might not really be in a place where they are open to dating or feel comfortable with trusting someone or even feeling like they would be liked by someone else. So it just seemed like a natural thing to happen at the end of something like that. It made sense versus they would get together or they would, “Um, I really love you.” through this whole thing or whatever.
You brought up Gus Van Sant and Psycho, which did not fare well commercially or critically. Have you experienced any backlash in your career for doing it?
I don’t think so. I mean probably to some degree. You know, the remaking of Psycho is interesting because if you look how we all played our characters, most of us kind of did a campy twist on it. It was almost like an art experiment. It wasn’t a real true interpretation working from an absolute truthful place and that was sort of our intention of doing it. Whatever people’s perceptions of it are after that or however they feel is valid and true on their side. I don’t say that it’s not, but I did it because when I sat with Gus and what he explained his interest and why he was fascinated by doing it, I found it a cool thing to be apart of.
Swingers is probably one of the more liked projects that I’ve done, but there’s probably more repercussions [with that film], just because of the catch phrases in that. We sort of took expressions that existed from hip hop as well as sports, sayings like “money,” “player” and that sort of stuff, and old swing lingo and kind of incorporated it and meshed it altogether to make kind of a new wave of expressions. But they were all sort of original in that it wasn’t like people were going around saying it. There really wasn’t a swing scene when we made Swingers, either. There was a couple of bars in LA that one night a week would have a big band play. But Big Bad Voodoo Daddy played on our album and was in our movie and then, after that, sold their records and became popular, but they were just a local band.
We were just trying to give an overemphasis to dating and to geeky guys giving that sort of importance to it. The thing with the characters in Swingers was not that they were cool, but that they were pathetic. What was so strange for us afterwards is that they were embraced as sort of these cool guys. I always thought Trent was really pretty geeky. I mean, anyone who sort of would dress like that and make it like he’s so on top of it is always kind of a pathetic person, I think. That was something that we made for 250 thousand dollars we thought no one would see. As far as we were concerned, we were just trying to get tape on ourselves so we could get an agent so we could get really work. But those expressions were probably the most commercially used things of anything that I’ve done so far. You never know what will be the perception or what happens afterwards.
What happened after Swingers is that you became a celebrity. How do you deal with the pressures of that lifestyle?
I’ve never dealt with it on that level, honestly. I’ve been fortunate I guess because I’ve never had bad experiences. I mean one or two very rare things. Like, if you go to a bar and you have a bunch of drunk guys who want to pat you on the back and they want to give you a shot. I think they mean it in a nice way, but you can only do so many shots in a night. Even me.