When it comes to quality and attention to detail in performance nobody comes to mind quicker then Vincent D’ Onofrio. Having crafted long lasting memorable character work for well over two decades including his arresting debut as Private Leonard 'Gomer Pyle' Lawrence in Stanley Kubrick’s "Full Metal Jacket" and playing an alien with sass in Barry Sonnenfeld’s "Men in Black," D’ Onofrio is showing no signs of stopping. His latest film is no different – a harrowing character study of a demented serial killer who chains one of his male victims and makes him a life long slave entitled "Chained." (On DVD/Blu-ray Oct. 2 from Anchor Bay Home Entertainment) The film is directed by "Surveillance" (a must see!) maestro and daughter of David Jennifer Lynch and is a film that certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. We got the amazing opportunity to chat one-on-one with the iconic D’ Onofrio not only about working with the skilled Lynch on "Chained," but also for a very long (sorry Vincent!) and detailed career interview that includes some of my personal favorites moments - from playing Thor in "Adventures in Babysitting" to his turn as Pooh-Bear in "The Salton Sea." All bow as a master thespian is in the house – welcome the legendary...
Having already played a seriously memorable serial killer in Tarsem Singh’s "The Cell" what made you want to take on the role of Bob in "Chained?"
Vincent D’ Onofrio: You’re right - it is a question. To play these types of characters and why I would do it. I guess the reason is that my first reaction is always not to do it and then you read a script and some are a repeat of what you’ve done already and others aren’t. So when Jennifer sent me this I definitely had never played a part like this or helped to tell a story like this before. That’s why and that makes the decision for you because of this challenge of how you get away with it, what you can bring to the character, what is that guy like - it convinces you to do it.
There’s some sinister stuff that happens to and around the titular chained child Rabbit – what were those scenes like to shoot?
VD: Really good – Jennifer is an amazing director. She’s very hands on and right there with you the whole time. And Eamon (Farren) is a great actor. He’s young and doesn't have a lot of experience, but you would never know it. He’s totally committed and totally there hitting the ball back like a tennis match. The whole art direction, the props, the whole crew was so involved – everyone was connected to it.
You’re very much known as a man who delves into all the details of the characters he plays, so I was curious did you have any input in terms of the look of the house Bob lived in?
VD: Only the bedroom – I had a couple of things about the bedroom and that was it. It was not just me either, Jennifer planned the whole house out and when I arrived it was already being built and was perfect. Then her and I took a walk into the bedroom and talked about the bedroom scenes and how things should be arranged, but nothing big. I didn't alter the set in any way - that’s all Jennifer.
You seemed to have developed a good working relationship with Jennifer Lynch – what about her as a director has been most engaging to you?
VD: She’s just a pleasure to be with and work with. There are a lot of good directors out there and they all have a different way of doing things and I liked her way of doing things. It’s not difficult to bring a character in, not difficult to execute the character in front of her, it’s just a pleasure. She has all the good ideas ring out on the set and whichever one rings the truest is the one we use. It’s an open atmosphere and I like that.
Past Work – "Full Metal Jacket" was a real emotional rollercoaster for your character. What was it like to work on that role and with the legendary Stanley Kubrick so early in your career?
VD: Yeah, it was my first feature. Basically all I can really remember is not wanting to get fired. Because there were people being fired and so I just wanted to do it right. I was still studying method acting at the time, so I was in touch with my teacher about it when I was in England. I would talk to her occasionally about what I was doing and she would just confirm things - that I was on the right track and stuff. It was basically for me just about hanging in there and not getting fired by one of the best directors that we’ve ever had or will ever have, one of the best. It was scary because of that and I hoped that if I just stuck with what I thought I knew best I would be okay...and it turned out alright.
You appeared twice on the New York based TV show "The Equalizer" in two very different roles – what are your memories of working on that show with the late great Edward Woodward?
VD: He was really sweet and I knew his son, not well but a little bit too. Edward was just awesome and really great and I think it’s because of him that I did that show a second time - he was very helpful. I was a full on young method actor at the time and I just finished "Full Metal Jacket" and that hadn’t come out yet and I still had the weight on. I didn’t want to do any films until I took the weight off, so it was during that period when I was losing the weight when I did those two shows. One was when I still had the weight on and one was when I had most of it off and right after that I started doing films again. "The Equalizer" helped me pay my rent and kept my ability to play characters vibrant and ready for when I took all the weight off and felt confident to start doing other parts in films. But it was a really good experience to be on those shows and work with Edward because I think of my show and the ten years I had and how long he did his show. I think of the young actors, and there are a lot of them, that are in movies now that came onto my show and did their characters. We gave them time and allowed them to do these characters unlike themselves. It just made me remember what Edward was like for me as this young actor coming in who was doing this full out character, something they probably weren’t used to doing on TV at the time. How patient he was and how lovely he was as a peer with such a positive attitude.
I loved that you played Dawson aka Thor in "Adventures in Babysitting." Was it cool playing an early version of the comic book character?
VD: Yeah, it was really cool. It’s still one of the only films my kids, the young ones, can see that I’ve done. The others ones are just too either violent or weird for them to watch at a young age. Of course, my twenty year-old daughter she can see anything, but my twelve year-old I still won't let him see certain things that I’ve done. And I have a four year-old, so that’s the only ones that the little ones can see – but it was great.
I somewhat remember hearing a story about your audition for Mystic Pizza from the casting director Jane Jenkins...
VD: What did I do?
Something about how you had bowled her over, had made some interesting choices, something about getting down on one knee...?
VD: I have no idea what I did – I would love to know!
You created one of the most memorable aliens ever in "Men In Black" – how much of that was on the page and how much did you bring to the part?
VD: None of the postures and voice and look was on the page. The look was created by Rick Baker and we sat for hours and hours and hours and he would paint and re-paint and mold and re-mold. And his guys would sculpt and re-sculpt – I was involved in that whole process with Rick at his shop in Los Angeles for the look of the character. Then the posture, the way the character moved and the voices they really didn't know what I was going to do until I showed up. I think everybody was a bit nervous about what I was doing until they saw it in the dailies. But the great thing about Barry Sonnenfeld as a director is he gives his actors complete freedom and doesn’t get in the way of them. So although I think I made him a little nervous, I think in the end he was extremely happy with it. None of that was on the page – I had to be brave enough to bring it all in on my own.
You also played the iconic Orson Welles in Tim Burton’s "Ed Wood" – as an actor with a keen eye for attention to detail what kind of preparation did you do for that role?
VD: I didn't do enough. I think I didn't have enough time to do it and I was doing another part while I was doing that. So I made a short called "Five Minutes, Mr. Welles" and I’m happier with that version of Orson Welles then the one in Tim Burton’s film. Although Tim put a Welles voice in there and made my performance even better then I actually executed it, so I thanked him for that. But I’ve never been happy with my performance in that film and I made myself feel better about the whole Orson Welles trip by making a short on my own just to see that I could actually execute it correctly. To prove it to myself – and I did.
Can you talk about working with the previously mentioned Tarsem Singh on "The Cell" and some of the inspirations behinblackd that serial killer?
VD: There was a lot of talk we had about Carl Stargher. Tarsem and I talked about the characters evolution and all these self-images of him in his own head and we made sense of it all in our heads so that we could be committed to it. Whether it comes across in the film is another story, but so that we could be committed and know what direction we were going in we worked it out in our heads. So I was involved in all that stuff with Tarsem and he’s such an amazing artist. He steals a little from this, he steals a little from that and then creates his own thing. He’s so amazing that way, so what you see in the film as far as my character is a mix of both Tarsem and my visions of why the character would look a certain way and behave a certain way.
"The Salton Sea" - I have to know what inspired your crazed performance as Pooh-Bear?
VD: Just, you know, my head trying to think of things that could make the character more interesting. D.J. Caruso directed it, who is another one of those directors that allows his actors a lot of freedom. I talked to him beforehand and I told him my ideas and he loved them and he let me bring them in and do it. Again, I didn't know it was going to work - you never know. I guess I say this for younger actors out there, you have to be brave and you have to be ready to fail and that’s the only way you can be unqiue. So when a director is confident enough in what they’re doing and they allow their actors to be brave and bring in stuff the more likely it’s going to work out okay.
I think it took people by surprise that you decided to do a TV series like "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" bringing a great character to life so frequently. Was is at all difficult for you being an actor who is all about original work and characters to do a series with detailed work week after week?
VD: Yeah, but I think things are going to change in television. I think with cable and everybody doing a lot less episodes then what we had to do, eventually network television is gonna have to get on board with everybody else. Right now they’re still doing twenty-two, twenty-three episodes a season. That would be the only thing negative about that show because working Dick Wolf was awesome. Dick and Rene Balcer, the original showrunner on that show, the two of them gave me a lot of freedom to create this character and bring it in. All of that was completely positive and we made the show what it was in those first four years and then it kind of rode this wave of what we made it after that until it petered out. So the pro was Dick Wolf and working for him and the negative was the amount of episodes they expect you to do when you’re doing that kind of work is I think absurd. I know that there are actors that are doing television now that are asking for less episodes and that’s why you see a lot of the best actors on cable. It’s just too brutal to schedule – especially if you’re a family man or family woman. If you’re family is as important to you as your career, there’s no way you can do that many episodes a season. But having said that television is so great – it hones your chops as an actor. I’m so much better an actor because of that show then I was before it.
And finally what’s next that D’ Onofrio fans like myself can look forward to?
VD: A lot of the things I have coming up are gonna be pretty cool. "The Tomb" and "Fire With Fire" and of course "Chained." And I did this movie "The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman" with Shia LaBeouf and I really think that’s gonna be good. I had a really good time with him, he’s an awesome and really dedicated actor and I think it’s gonna be a really good movie. I think they’re all pretty interesting – you never know.