With Matthew Modine
I’ve met Matthew Modine before. It was a long time ago; I remember introducing myself and having a brief conversational exchange with him. What we talked about, I don’t remember at all. I hope I was somewhat dignified. He was lovely and charming and approachable – not at all aloof or intimidating. Smiled easily. The kind of person you enjoy sitting down in comfy chairs over drinks and talking for hours about politics, activism, theatre, books, people…and before you know it, it’s midnight and you’re wondering where the time went. Those qualities haven’t changed, except maybe they’ve deepened.
He’s the kind of person who is interested in everything, and may sometimes find himself frustrated that there aren’t enough hours in the day to explore everything he wants to see. It’s a stretch to say you ‘know’ someone from interviewing them or conversing with them on Twitter, but the words and impressions I have of Matthew are:
He’s also very intense. Very goal-oriented, though he can also stop and take it all in. It’s a good quality to have as an actor or artist—particularly if you have as many projects on the hopper as he does.
A California native, Modine is the youngest of seven children; his father was a theatre manager. He moved to New York City after graduating high school and began studying with the legendary Stella Adler, landing gigs while he was still a student. And he has worked steadily ever since, appearing in some of the most critically acclaimed, influential, and sometimes controversial films of his generation, notably The Hotel New Hampshire, the cult classic Vision Quest, and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, a film that was as challenging to make as it is to watch – and HBO’s Emmy-winning, groundbreaking And the Band Played On (1993), playing an overwhelmed epidemiologist in the early, terrifying days of the HIV epidemic. Most recently he appeared as Sullivan Goff in ‘Weeds’ and as Foley in The Dark Knight Rises.
Like most creative souls, he channels his enormous energy towards other outlets that are equally fulfilling and dynamic: Modine was the 2013 recipient of the ShortsHD Visionary Director award for his six short films; six little pieces of his thoughts – some humorous, some offbeat, some controversial. His most recent short, Jesus Was a Commie, is a provoking, almost free-association narrative on the nature of communism, socialism, and religion, as well as modern society’s need to label and define.
ARD: I love the Punky Dunk Project! This is really an adorable idea; I want it for myself, and I’m 42 years old! It’s an obvious question, but how did you become involved in this project?
MM: My producing partner, Adam Rackoff, and I were looking for an animator for a feature film we were developing. Adam met Kat Llewellyn, a wonderful artist, who was working on the idea of creating the Punky Dunk app. We partnered and worked with her and Steven Landess to create what I believe is one of the best apps available for young, and as you say, playful, young-minded adults.
ARD: Were you actively involved in the App design and production/animation? What sort of input did you have? I imagine it was rather hard work; did it surprise you?
MM: The creative design of the book began with the original artwork of the century old children’s book. Kat and Steve worked closely with Glow Interactive to make the app fully functional and fun to play with. I was cast to read the story and find talent for the Spanish language version. We were able to get the very popular Mexican actress, Kate del Castillo to record this version included in the app. We continue to make plans to cast actors and actresses from many different countries and record them. Imagine Punky in Japanese, French, Italian! What a great way to hear and learn new languages!
ARD: The Full Metal Jacket Diary. I want it, gonna get it. But what I’m struck by is that this film and Pvt. Joker evidently affected you in some very close places that you still contemplate and touch today. While listening to a sample of the audio diary, I was struck by – I don’t know, the apprehension in this young Matthew – his trepidation, maybe his fear? Am I wrong? Am I right? And can you talk about your relationship to that film, not so much as an actor, but as a person who contemplates the experience he went through?
MM: I’m glad the book was published and now this amazing app. Both are there to explain, or give a personal insight, into the making of the film, and of course, working with Stanley Kubrick. I’m happy because now I don’t have to explain any longer. The film came out 26 years ago and you can imagine how many times I’ve been asked about the experience. What I am most pleased with about FMJ is that it is one of those very rare films that stand the test of time and continue to be relevant to modern audiences.
(Smiling) So, if you want to know more about my participation and the two years I spent in London with Kubrick, get the Full Metal Jacket Diary iPad app.
ARD: Okay…now I’m gonna ask about Kubrick. How did you perceive him then, and how do you perceive him now? Has your view of him changed in any way? Do you think you would relate to him and talk to him in the same way now as you did then, or, if not, how do you think that relationship would be different for both of you?
MM: Well, we would both be 25 years older, so of course we would relate to each other differently. I respected him very much, so that would not have changed. Because Stanley was always curious, I doubt our conversation would be about our shared past. I believe we would speak about the present and - no doubt - about projects we were both planning and hoping to make.
ARD: Jesus Was a Commie made me want to sit down over a pot of strong coffee with you and talk about the shades of gray between faith and politics, and faith of politics. Why do you think people misidentify/misinterpret what Communism truly is? Or Socialism or Marxism, for that matter?
MM: The communism we are taught is through the biased lens of capitalism. First, I want to make sure you don’t think that I, or the film, is advocating communism as a solution to our current environmental, economic, and religious problems. It’s not. The film is a tool for dialogue and discussion. We are taught in school that communism caused the suffering and murder of millions of people. Stalin was a tyrant and a dictator and a paranoid murderer. Ditto Chairman Mao. Stalin instituted a campaign against alleged enemies of his regime called the Great Purge, in which hundreds of thousands were executed. Major figures in the Communist Party, such as the old Bolsheviks, Leon Trotsky, and several Red Army leaders were killed after being convicted of plotting to overthrow the government and Stalin – who was detested by the communists because they recognized him for what he was, a murderer.
We were taught and grew up believing that murder and mind control were two of the goals of communism. This was neither Karl Marx’s vision or goal. *Marx's theories about society, economics and politics—collectively known as Marxism—hold that human societies progress through class struggle.
What is happening today is, perhaps because of the growing human population, is individuals are losing the ability to negotiate fair salaries and working conditions. Capitalists do not like communism, or socialism, because it desires to protect the rights of workers. Capitalism wants low salaries and high profits. Capitalists aren’t much concerned with environmental protection, unless they can sell their products for more profit because they are “environmentally correct”. Simply put, socialism and communism cut into the profits of capitalists. Social Security is a successful example of Marxism. Medicare is another. Neither programs murder people or seek to control our minds.
ARD: So, are humans capable of love and forgiveness without greed? Does altruism only come from dissociation from ‘things’? Anarchy = breaking cycles?
MM: Yes. We are capable of love and forgiveness. First, we don’t have to seek love and forgiveness because they exist inside of us. But in order to feel it, to experience them, it requires us to let go of materialism. Once again, materialism is a goal of capitalism. The sale and purchase of things. This is the greatest threat to modern humanity. The compulsion to own things. To define our lives by the things we own. Not understanding that the things we own, really own us. Not fully comprehending that the world cannot support a consumer economy. There is a finite amount of earthly resources and we are consuming what the planet can offer at a unsustainable rate. It is only a matter of time, and a very short amount of time, before complete environmental collapse. Our collective goal should be to do whatever necessary to avoid environmental collapse. If this happens, it will not only be the end of the very complex symbiotic relationship of millions of species we share the planet with, it will mean the end of life as we know it.
ARD: Do you think we tend to use faith and/or religion as a method of rationalizing our own lack of altruism? (I’m not even sure if that makes sense, but I really wanted to ask this question)
MM: I think religion had its place in history. In the past it was a good and necessary organization used to bring people together. In the case of Christianity, (because I am not versed well enough in other religions) they took the simple teachings, the parables of Jesus and used them to enlightened generations of people ready to hear and practice his teachings. People today have grown confused by the teachings, disillusioned by religion because the teachings have been so misused. So often used to justify horrors never intended by the author. Killing in God’s name, justifying the murder of another human being in God’s name is the height of absurdity. The enlightened teachings of Jesus and Buddha contain the seeds of altruism. Loving forgiveness. Not seeking God from without, but from within.
ARD: This film has some very stark, visceral imagery in it – photos that can’t really be viewed without a measure of shock. As you were developing and editing the film, what was your reaction to these images that made you choose them?
MM: Terence Ziegler and I had to find many ways to transport the viewer in a story driven by narration. Thankfully, Terence is a great artist and editor. Each time I watch the film I am more and more aware of his genius.
ARD: You told me that there are often discussion sessions after screenings of this film. Can you tell me about your experience with some of them? What kind of reactions people have had, and are they candid with you about those reactions?
MM: The most wonderful thing that happens is when there is someone enraged by the title of the film and then, after having seen the film, they are reawakened to the ideas of love and forgiveness. Of cooperation and responsibility to others. It’s as if they’d been wearing blinders (like on a horse) that has restricted their full view of life, and the film has pulled them off. Allowing them to replace their anger with joy. The film is, for some, like a small torch that helps them to see in the present darkness. That’s pretty amazing.
ARD: Twenty years ago, “...And the Band Played On” shook some complacency out of the general public perspective. We knew so little about HIV and AIDS then, but it did feel like an inexorable slide to those paying attention. What was your outlook on the future battle at the time, and looking back, do you think you were too cynical, or too optimistic?
MM: At the time, the bulk of the population felt there was a disease that had a sexual preference. The Gay Plague. Thankfully there were reasonable scientists and doctors that understood the foolishness, the ignorance of this. There is a very good line in the film, “When a house is on fire, you don’t wait for scientific proof. You grab the first hose and you start putting it out.” HIV/AIDS was perceived as a disease only effecting one portion of the community, a community that the President of the United States (Ronald Reagan) didn’t think mattered or chose to ignore. This ignorance, or as you say, complacency, costs thousands of people their lives. Because it greatly effected the artistic community, you had people familiar with speaking to people rationally and effectively. Artists, actors, directors, producers, screenwriters, dancers, the Broadway and Hollywood community all raised their voices to save the lives of their friends and families. I was honored to be a participant of such an important film.
You can learn more about the iPad app at The Full Metal Jacket Diary
Watch Jesus Was a Commie HERE
The Punky Dunk Project
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