Actor Vincent D’Onofrio is truly one of the hardest working men in show business. In this decade alone, he has appeared in nearly forty films--more than any other actor--in roles as diverse as a gay porn star, the creator of Conan the Barbarian and wunderkind Orson Welles. In fact, D’Onofrio is the most chameleon-like of actors, sometimes unrecognizable in roles. For his first major part, Private Pyle in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, D’Onofrio gained over sixty pounds.
Most recently, D’Onofrio has teamed with writer/director Brad Anderson (Next Stop Wonderland) and Academy Award-winning actress, Marisa Tomei for Happy Accidents, a time-travel romantic comedy premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.
I sat down with D’Onofrio at the Café Terigo in Park City, Utah to discuss the film, his role and not being liked.
So how did you find Happy Accidents or how did Happy Accidents find you?
I got sent the script and then I called Brad, and I told him to hook me up. I loved it. Every once in awhile you laugh when you read something. I thought, “This guy better be really cool, you know? This director better be really cool. Because if he’s not, this is a sh*tty movie. Because if this really isn’t what I think it is, than this guy is just some, you know, jerkoff.”
So when were you sure he wasn’t a jerkoff?
When I talked to him on the phone. He was making sure I wasn’t one, too.
So it was a jerkoff size-up?
(laughs) Everything is Brad. The film is good because of Brad. He wrote the thing. We didn’t change a word. He directed this thing. He edited it. I love to work with him. It’s all Brad.
You’re obviously fond of Brad. Did you and Brad and Marisa immediately mesh?
We were well acquainted by the time we started to shoot. Because the story is so complicated, what we did is we sat down for a week at Brad’s house and read it over and over and over again, together the three of us, and realized the structure of the script together, so we were all making the right choices. Realized the content of each scene, realized the way. Because he cuts in his head while he’s directing. He writes with the cut in mind, you know? So, it was vital that we understood because he was the direct line to the structure of the story.
So, how did you keep the structure of the story in mind?
If I’m to know exactly where I’m at in each scene, that means I need to juggle about three different, what you might call, inflections of what’s going on. Like, is this the truth? Is that a lie? Is this not a lie? Am I saying this like a lie for a reason? Am I saying this not like a lie for a reason? Am I just riffing and making things up as I go along? Am I crazy? Am I not crazy? Certain major scenes in that film have to be played like that or the film does not work. You have to not know whether this guy is making it up or not. Because he is lying to her through a lot of the film! But he’s lying to her for a reason and he’s committed to that reason. Just like you would be committed to any reason for a lie. So he could just be a f*cking pr*ck who lies.
As complex as this film is, at its heart, it’s a romantic comedy. Do you consider this a break-out role for you?
I don’t think it’s a break-out film. It’s funny, anytime that I’ve been in a different film that looks good or makes decent money or whatever, everybody says, “break-out.” No, I just do the job. I mean, break out to what? You know what I mean? I make really good money; I work whenever I want; that ‘s breaking far enough. Break out to what? A constant on all-the-time, you know? You know, you got to deal with all that bullsh*t. No f*cking way. That’s not a break-out. It’s like, you know, ten million dollars I don’t need.
And you work all the time, anyway.
I gotta stop. I gotta stop. I break too many promises. I do. Because I like to work. I break so many promises. It’s not good.
Are you still doing theatre?
Well, yes. I mean you make a lot less money in the theatre. I do a play every two years. You can enjoy them both, but you can make better money in film. You can finally buy a house. You know, you’re forty years old and you can finally buy a house. And support your wife and children and stuff. It’s important. So, you know when you do a play it better what you really want to do, because you’re gonna have to do it a lot. Yeah. And you’re gonna get like $600 a week? And so by the end of this thing it’s gonna have cost you money, so it better be something that you know is gonna at least keep your interest for half of it. It’s more difficult to choose a play than it is to choose a film. Yeah. Yeah. It’s always hard. They all suck. You know? Sometimes it seems like they all suck.
What you do doesn’t typically suck. You seem to be able to bounce back and forth between mainstream pictures and indie films pretty handily…
I’m really lucky that way, I guess. Every once in awhile someone will approach me with something and I’ll think, “Now, why in the f*ck would they come to me when they could get, you know, so-and-so to come in and bring the box office. I know so-and-so would love to play this part.” When people think of my name, they think of an actor, you know? Right? When they think of Tom Cruise, they think of money. I know when I think of Tom Cruise, I think of money. Not that he’s not an actor, but money talks. The first thing that’s gonna come to your mind about certain actors like Tom Cruise--he’s a good actor, he can pull off good stories--is money.
You don’t do a lot of comedies? In fact, this film and Stuart Saves His Family are the only two I can think of off the top of my head. Are you just not offered comedic roles?
Yeah, but I just don’t do them. Because they’re not funny to me. They’re funny to other people. There are different kinds of comedy--obviously--like there’s different kinds of drama. The only way I can pull off the broad stuff is in the context like Men In Black where it’s totally absurd from the get-go. If I have to do straight-out comedy schtick, I can’t do it. There are a lot better people than me that do it. I’m too f*cking dumb to do that.
Is there a filmmaker you would trust to direct you in a comedy?
If you’re asking if a particular person came up to me and I respected him and I was confidant in him, truly confident in him, yeah, I would do it. Brad now, at this point. I’d love to work with Harold Ramis again. I know Harold, and we’re friends, and I like him a lot, and when it comes to comedy I trust him a lot. He’s from the real guys, back in the Seventies, when they were doing all that new sh*t. Harold, I’d do it for. I’d do anything for Harold. If he showed me a script and I didn’t even like it, I’d do the movie for him. If it was a waiter, I’d play the waiter.
But you know why I would do it? I would know that they were going to allow me to work on it and not just expect this kind of actor who can just go in and kind of do things. I don’t have that. I can’t do that. I’m dumb. I’ve gotta figure it. I gotta figure the whole f*cking thing out, the whole f*cking thing. That’s why I don’t do Letterman and stuff, I can’t do it. I watch the shows. I love the actors when they’re on the shows. I love to see actors in that predicament and stuff like that. But I appear to have a lobotomy. Yeah, some people are capable of doing that sh*t and some people are not, you know?
What about something like Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton?
You know, I don’t think they like me. I don’t think a lot of people like me, and he’s one of them.
How did Kubrick direct?
He never talked to anyone about acting or about performance. He would just say, “Do it better.” He would say, “You gotta do it better.” And he would get very insistent about it. “It’s got to be better than that.” “It’s got to be different. It’s got to be faster. It’s got to be slower. You’re not walking over there when you’re supposed to.” Those were his directions. And when Stanley Kubrick says it to you, you f*cking try to do it better. “Oh God, I suck, I suck, I suck.” doesn’t cut it. You just do it better.
Is that because he implicitly trusts his casting decisions?
Yeah, that’s the deal with him. That’s the deal with a lot of directors. The clever ones cast for the part and let the actors just do their job, because they know they fit the part.
That’s the way Scorsese works. As a matter of fact, you’re a natural for a Scorsese film. Why have you not been tapped by him?
I don’t think he likes me, either. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I talked to him a couple of times, and I actually did a workshop for Last Temptation. I don’t know if the guy gets my thing. I get his thing. And I wish he got my thing. He’s a great director.
It’s like Woody Allen. I don’t think I would ever work with Woody Allen. I don’t think I’m quite that kind of… I mean, I am a New Yorker, but I just don’t think… I don’t know. All I know is they never even asked me. They’re never even curious. I don’t even get those scripts. I don’t even get Woody Allen scripts or Martin Scorsese scripts. I don’t get them. What’s wrong with you, Mr. Allen?
Of all the things you could do in life, you chose to be an actor. Why?
It’s the only thing that I can do. It’s the only thing I can do that I don’t get pissed off about. You know?
What’s part of your job description as an actor of that the general public doesn’t know about?
There’s just questioning cinematographers sometimes. A lot of these guys are really great, but a lot of them don’t know how to light actors, so you gotta--I learned this from other actors and other cinematographers telling me to watch out for these guys. The good cinematographers teach you a lot. They keep you really aware of one of your jobs as an actor and they tell you, “watch out.” And they tell you what to watch out for.
Have you ever been f*cked by a cinematographer?
Ah, they f*ck you all the time. I could be getting f*cked right now and I wouldn’t even know it.
Well, I am the press.
I’m sure I’m getting f*cked, actually.