Twenty-four-year-old Giovanni Ribisi is steadily becoming one of the most sought-after and respected young actors in Hollywood. Ribisi’s career began at the age of nine on the television series Highway to Heaven. He has worked ever since, building up healthy credits on television shows like The Wonder Years, My Two Dads and his starmaking role as Phoebe’s brother Frank, Jr. on Friends.
The Friends episodes jumpstarted Ribisi’s film career which includes a half dozen indie features (That Thing You Do!, SubUrbia, Lost Highway, Men, Scotch and Milk, and The Virgin Suicides) as well as Saving Private Ryan, The Mod Squad and, now, Gone in 60 Seconds, in which Ribisi plays Nic Cage’s brother.
A laid-back latte-drinking Ribisi and I sat down in the late morning to chat about Gone in 60 Seconds, stealing cars and stealing scenes.
What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?
I don’t know. I was in Europe in Germany. I wasn’t really looking at the speedometer, but I was going really fast. And it was an English car so I was sitting on the right side.
Are you a speed demon?
I used to be a maniac and all that. I would get into car wrecks and drive 130 miles per hour. I got a really bad speeding ticket where the judge just really condemned me to 30 days without the license. (laughs) I know. It’s terrible. I slowed down. I got a Suburban and decided to take my foot off the gas pedal.
Did you really build a car for this movie?
Yes, I built a 1969 Chevy Camaro with a 502 crate engine from Chevy. It initially started out as a week-long deal where they got a professor from the Pasadena City College auto mechanics to teach me about engines and the basic essentials of cars because I knew nothing. We were talking, and I was sort of getting inspired to build a 1969 Chevy Camaro. That turned from what was supposed to be a week into a five-month process. I now have the car. It’s at home.
What was your favorite car in the film?
My favorite car in the movie to drive was the Porsche. I really like the Porsche. It’s incredible what technology is doing for cars today.
In the scene where your character Kip is being crushed in the car, how real was that?
That was pretty real. They had the cruncher coming down. That can be scary. I remember at one point, I started to get claustrophobic and freaked out a little bit.
Was it a thrill working with an actor the likes of Robert Duvall?
That was such a privilege. He’s incredible. I mean it’s Robert Duvall, and he’s one of the all-time greats, so it’s like a dream come true. I think that was one of the things that helped me to decide to do the movie. He’s just so concentrated and very friendly. He would hang out with all of us. I remember when Vinnie Jones was there and we got a soccer ball and Robert’s slamming that thing against the wall. He would hang out. He celebrates life. He has these parties and he had these Argentinian dancers there. It was beautiful. On the set working, he’s very concentrated and a complete professional.
And how about Nic Cage?
I cannot speak highly enough about him because he is so committed, and I think this is where we both can relate to each other. There is no other actor like Nicolas Cage, and he’s so unique. You completely believe in it. I have so much respect for him. I have been a fan since Raising Arizona and Wild At Heart.
You and Cage were very believable as brothers. Did you watch him and try to ape mannerisms?
If there were any, it was very subtle for me. No, it was more like, “I don’t want to make him self-conscious” or anything like that, so you just sort of watch. I did sort of emulate him. That was sort of a choice. There are some things that are innate with life and with your brother. He’s become somebody completely different in the movie, my character. I had an image of him being some sort of promising athlete who just decided to go down this other path and became who you see in the movie. It’s kind of mentioned in the opening sequence with all the photographs and all that. But I think that we become some sort of different people. Nic’s trying to be a little more ethical and I’m just going all out.
Based on this experience, are you looking to do more action films?
It’s definitely a beat-by-beat type thing. And maybe I should have some sort of career agenda, but I don’t. It has been brought up a lot. I don’t know if I would be happy with that or with myself. I want to do what entices me at the moment. I want to go all out. I don’t want to have some sort of ego. I have a 2 ½ year old daughter. I have friends, and I know that I live like myself, and that’s that. I’m an actor. That’s my viewpoint. That was a conscious thought, like looking at the trailer and going “This is not me. I’m me.” If there’s something that I want to do, there’s nothing that is going to hold me back from doing everything that I can, and I will have a very polite manner to go after it. It’s kind of a moment-to-moment type thing.
Of all the roles you’ve played, which character is most like you?
I think they all come from me so it’s hard to answer this. It’s a combination of all. It’s hard for me to distinguish that. I have no idea because I really want to stretch every time. Each individual is so specifically unique.
Where do you want to go from here?
I just want to be committed as much as I can and throw myself into something as much as possible. I think that people before who have done this have really affected people. This is the ultimate thing: communication. And to have some sort of expression. There’s something that is a very common thing in movies and in television that is cliché and for me. I want to get away from that and explore new avenues and find new ways.
I look at movements in art and in cinema and paintings. I think, for me, the last movement that was important was in the ,70s with Scorsese and Coppola making these films, and I think that it is important. It’s inspiring. But this has been a while. I think there needs to be a new way. For me, right now, the movement is technology and the Computer Generated Imagert. That’s fine; that’s great, but I still think it makes it superficial. When people walked away from seeing Taxi Driver, they could not get it out of their minds for weeks. Nowadays, you go see a movie and 5 minutes later you’re wondering where you are going to get your pizza or your coffee.
Would you like to direct?
Eventually, yes. It will definitely be a different process. I was talking to a guy about doing a movie where it will be a blur between reality and fiction, sort of a documentary on the lives of the actors who are portraying these characters. You have the camera on the actors for virtually 10 hours a day, but they would be under the guise of certain characters. And, hopefully, they would have organic conversations or situations which occur in their lives. And you would set up a general theme, a general idea, but it would be the idea that you got so comfortable with the camera that you can start not checking yourself.
What’s directly on the horizon for you?
I have a movie that I just finished called The Gift. It is with one of my favorite directors, Sam Raimi. This is not a horror movie. It is sort of a thriller. It’s a Southern-mystical tale. And it’s beautiful. Cate Blanchett is in it, and I worship every step she takes.
It’s The Rage is a movie that I think has another wonderful ensemble cast. It is literally about rage. It’s sort of a black comedy. They have this system where you have the Bill Gates character, that Gary Sinese plays at the top, then you have my character, who’s at the bottom, this male prostitute/religious fanatic/murderer who has a relationship with his sister. He’s a great guy.
Did you get offered a million dollars an episode to come back to Friends?
They offered me more. (laughs) No, they haven’t and I don’t think they would. That show is really about those six people and they do a great job.
It was fun. The last time I did a Friends episode was about two years ago. I did this contract with them for four or five shows. At one point, I worked at 5:30 a.m. in the morning to shoot scenes for Saving Private Ryan, then I did a Friends episode, where I hadn’t rehearsed, at all! Because I didn’t have time really and they were having somebody else stand-in for me throughout the whole week for rehearsals, which was embarrassing. After the Friends episode ended at about midnight, I had to go to work on this other thing. I felt like I was doing an injustice to some of the people and I really wanted to fulfill something and know that I can give 100%. Otherwise, I just don’t want to do it. There’s a certain liberating quality over television that the mediums of film and theatre have. I like the theatre/cinema thing.
Finally, what are some of your favorite movies?
Last Tango In Paris, Apocalypse Now is a really good movie. I like movies that have good acting. Sometimes a movie can be horrible and I get completely blind to that fact if the acting in it is really good.