Matthew Avery MODINE (Born March 22, 1959) is an American film actor. His best-known film roles include Private Joker in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, the title character in Alan Parker's Birdy opposite Nicolas Cage, high school wrestler Louden Swain in Vision Quest and oversexed Sullivan Groff on Weeds.
Photo Credits: Matthew Modine / Adam Rackoff (Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket Diary) and Alan Parker (Birdy)
FLORIAN DAVID: Hello Matthew Modine. Thank you for engaging with us and accepting this interview. And thank you to your producing partner Adam Rackoff at Cinco Dedos Peliculas.
MATTHEW MODINE: You’re welcome.
DAVID: I am moved and humbled, not just because your body of work is one of the most impressive in Hollywood, but because you are a formidable and inspiring Human Being. An Actor, A Husband, A Producer, A Film-Maker, A Father, A Storyteller, A Peace-Activist, An Environmental Activist. A Free Man in an unfree world. Because of the roles you have hold, I can say that you are a part of my childhood, a part of my Memory. Millions of people around the world have seen your movies and have been touched by them.
MODINE: Thank you. You are very generous.
DAVID: You have been nominated for three Golden Globes and received one for Robert Altman’s ‘Short Cuts’. You have also been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award (Equinox) and twice nominated for Emmy Awards (‘And the Band Played On’ and ‘What the Deaf Man Heard’). You have worked with some of the most acclaimed Directors of all times, from Alan Parker and Alan Pakula to Robert Altman, Jonathan Demme, John Schlesinger, James Ivory, Spike Lee, Abel Ferrara, Oliver Stone, the list goes on and on and counts over 60 long-feature films. You starred in two plays by legendary dramatist Arthur Miller. You most recently were Police Commissioner Foley in Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN, the DARK KNIGHT RISES, which grossed over $1 Billion at the box office. You will be former Apple’s CEO John Scully in the upcoming ‘JOBS’ biopic opposite Ashton Kutcher. And forever, you will be remembered as ‘Billy’ in Robert Altman’s Streamers, as ‘Birdy’, the young Vietnam war veteran who wanted to be a bird in Alan Parker’s eponym movie (Cannes Grand Prix Award), and as ‘Private Joker’ in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’, widely acknowledged as the greatest war movie ever made about the Vietnam war. In 2005 you released 20,000 copies of a limited-edition Collector’s diary documenting the behind the scenes of the making of Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’. It was quickly sold-out. I spent some time lately discovering the subsequent IPAD Application that you released titled ‘Full Metal Jacket Diary’, and I was just blown away. Because it is multimedia, with sound, music, your voice-over and some gorgeous high definition photographs which you took on the film set. In the photos I feel Stanley Kubrick breathing down your neck! I believe that producer Adam Rackoff was working at Apple at the time, and proved instrumental in the making of this application?
MODINE: At the time of the book’s release, Adam Rackoff was working for Apple Computer. He did many things for Apple. One of them was to arrange “Made on a Mac” presentations with creative professionals that used Apple technology to bring their work to life. My book was designed on a Mac so I was invited to speak at several of the Apple Retail Stores about the process, and of course, the content of the book.
DAVID: How long did the whole process take to assemble this truly immersive experience?
MODINE: It was Adam’s idea to make the book into an app. As you mentioned, there are only 20,000 copies of the metal-bound hard copy. They each have a serial number on the back of the cover. Like yourself, Adam loved the diary and felt that it was very much alive. After reading the book several times, he envisioned the diary as an interactive app with all the features you mentioned. When he told me he wanted to make something that Stanley Kubrick would be proud of I was convinced he was the right person to produce the app. The whole process took almost two years.
DAVID: How did you feel re-living all those emotions?
MODINE: I feel quite separate from the experience. I am a man now and I was very much a young adult while making the film. Of course, the experience of making the film is one of the contributing factors of my becoming a man. They are not separate.
DAVID: The first adjective that springs to mind to qualify this IPAD APP is ‘Thorough’. The second is ‘Generous’. You are literally sharing with potentially millions of people some very intimate moments of your very own life, like the birth of your son Boman, which I must say is a very intense episode of this diary. You are a very private person, why did you decide to share those ‘moments’?
MODINE: Yes, many things I share are quite personal. But they are also universal. Many of us are trying to understand the who and how and why of life. And some of us want to understand what it is to be an actor playing a role. For them the diary is beneficial. But it is also a journal about a young person struggling with the idea(s) of what it is to be, or how to become, a human being. This is very important to me. Much more vital than being an actor. In fact, understanding what it is to be a human being is necessary to be an actor. The actor must learn, to understand what it is to be inside another person’s skin and walk around in it. This requires self examination and deep awareness of the world we share with others. The diary is an account of my journey. But it is in the past now. The diary and my memory of working with Kubrick is no more than picking up an old high school year book. When I read things that people said about me in their comments scribbled inside it’s a memory. I am no longer that high school boy and I am no longer that young adult that kept the diary.
'BUT IT IS ALSO A JOURNAL ABOUT A YOUNG PERSON STRUGGGLING WITH THE IDEA(S) OF WHAT IT IS TO BE, OR TO BECOME, A HUMAN BEING.
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT TO ME. MUCH MORE VITAL THAN BEING AN ACTOR.'
DAVID: The Application is not just a fantastic glimpse into the mind of Stanley KUBRICK, but into his way of behaving and working with his actors. You spent nearly two years with Kubrick shooting Full Metal Jacket in London, moving from house to house with your wife Cari. Two years! As the diary so clearly shows, Kubrick pushed you and the cast to your limits, both mentally and physically. At some point you had hallucinations. What did you learn about yourself during this incredible human experience?
MODINE: My grandmother was a great spiritual teacher. She often spoke of life, the physical, spiritual and mental aspects, being quite separate plains. We often think we are our minds. Or thinking brain. But we are not. Our DNA contains more information than we could ever hope to learn. I believe it is the thinking behind, or under, our thoughts. If we can be silent, turn off the noise of our thinking brain, that is our ego, if we try and hear that silent voice of our DNA or soul, we can discover the secrets of our existence. I believe the out of body experiences I had on and off the set of FMJ, the voices I heard, were from the depths of my primordial soul. Brief glimpses into a realm beyond the physical form. The world keeps getting noisier and noisier, making it almost impossible to hear our inner voice.
'THE WORLD KEEPS GETTING NOISIER AND NOISIER, MAKING IT ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO HEAR OUR INNER VOICE.
DAVID: For what I know, the only other person that was ever authorized or asked to document live the making of a Kubrick Movie was his daughter Vivian. I read somewhere that you have no idea as per why Kubrick asked you to keep a Diary and take pictures on the set of Full Metal Jacket.
MODINE: Yes, it is true. I don’t know why. Maybe he never imagined anything coming of it. I never imagined it being published when I kept it. The photos I took where a pleasurable pass time on the set. I gave prints to most of the subjects during the filming and put them away in a box. The funny thing I discovered about film negatives is that they continue to develop in the storage box. Images continue to convey a message. And sometimes, the message develops into something amazing.
DAVID: Vivian Kubrick, Stanley’s daughter, was also shooting a documentary about the making of Full Metal Jacket. Do you know why it was never completed, and if there is any hope to see this work one day?
MODINE: I don’t believe the film Vivian shot will ever be seen.
DAVID: You stayed then in touch with Stanley Kubrick untill his death. What were you discussing in your long phone conversations? Did he want to ‘remain in control’ or were his emotions more freely expressed than on Set?
MODINE: For me, Stanley was the same on the phone as he was on the set. He may have been a different man to different people. He may have been different from filmset to filmset. The man I knew and worked with was quite consistent. Curious. Humorous. Intelligent. We didn’t speak once he began his work on Eyes Wide Shut. There was no room in his busy schedule for conversation outside of his work. I understood this and didn’t attempt to interrupt him.
DAVID: Is there something you would have loved to ask him, that you never dared to?
DAVID: As we mentioned at the beginning of this interview, you are also a Director and a Producer, especially active on the short films front. On June 4 you just released six short films of yours via Itunes which makes them available in 54 countries. Those are: ‘When I Was a Boy’ (1993), ‘Smoking’ (1995), ‘Ecce Pirate’ (1996), ‘To Kill An American’ (2005), ‘I Think I Thought’ (2007), and, we will come back to it ‘Jesus Was a Commie’ (2011). When did you start making shorts?
MODINE: I made my first short film, When I Was a Boy in ‘93. I was eager to expand my ability as an artist. I was already a painter and a photographer. I had learned so much from the wonderful directors I had worked with. It seemed like a natural progression to me. Each of the shorts have been a good experience and I enjoy the entire process.
DAVID: Your latest short is a beautiful, emotional, provocative, and thought-provoking piece entitled ‘Jesus Was a Commie’ written by you, co-directed with your friend Terence Ziegler and produced by Adam Rackoff again at Cinco Dedos Peliculas. I will call this an ambitious effort, as in only 15 minutes you have managed to pack thoughts and existential themes that could be debated endlessly. In this short you say: ‘We are not really selfless by nature; Like other animals we all want the lion’s share’. You also say ‘Civilization’ and the laws of the jungle are only a few meals apart’: So do you - or do you not - believe like Rousseau, that humans are born good and that it is Society that corrupts them?
MODINE: The external forces of life are very powerful. There is no question that our society is sick. Cruel. How many hundreds of millions of people have been murdered in the past century? I believe we are all suffering with a mass present and post traumatic stress condition. PTSD is the anticipation of another attack. This condition is actually being used by the government to control the people. Fear is a great manipulator and society is being greatly manipulated. Humankind is trying, I think it’s doing its best, to evolve and live up to certain ideals, like the idea that we are all created equal. We are striving for what we call a civilized society. But, sadly, we are surrounded by an ever growing population of people that are stuck in our caveman past. Fearful individuals that see violence as the solution to disagreement. These types of souls always demand to be right. They’re unwilling to hear the voices and ideas of others. Ironically, many of these unforgiving souls are also devout followers of religions they attest to believe in. Jesus Was a Commie was my attempt to remove the blinders these people wear and open their hearts, ears, and eyes to the actual loving teachings of Jesus. A highly evolved man who spoke of love and forgiveness. He didn’t fight for the things he taught and believed in, he died for them.
DAVID: Any particular Writers/Philosophers inspired your thinking for this film? How about Jean-Paul Sartre? Or Emmanuel Levinas? (Who defined Philosophy as ‘The wisdom of Love’ vs ‘The love of wisdom’…) How about your acting teacher Stella Adler?
MODINE: Probably each of them. My wife. My grandmother. My aunt. Carl Sagan. Jacques Cousteau. David Suzuki.
DAVID: I do love your concept of ‘engaging with your enemies’, as one does not make Peace with ‘Friends’ indeed. Yet isn’t a genuine dialogue only possible when your enemy thinks rationally? How do you engage with irrational Beliefs? Fanatic belligerents for instance, who, precisely, want to kill you, no matter what, in the name of their ‘God’ or because of your own Faith, Color or Beliefs? Can those people hear your Message of peace? How do you ‘get to them’?
MODINE: There are people that are simply mad. Sick individuals that influence other lost souls who see violence and pain as the only solution. What you mustn’t do is try and be judgmental when you yourself are causing pain and suffering. The catholic church has a long history of torture and pain and blood stained cloth. The United States has a long history of it as well. So before we go and judge others, we have to look at the sins of our own past, really acknowledge the crimes and injustice, and apologize for the crimes and then, forgive ourselves. Forgiving yourself implies, through acknowledgment, that you will not repeat the mistake. As Michael Jackson so beautifully said, “if you want to make the world a better place, start with the man in the mirror.”
'AS MICHAEL JACKSON SO BEAUTIFULLY SAID, 'IF YOU WANT TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE, START WITH THE MAN IN THE MIRROR'
DAVID: Are you calling for the abolition of Religions as we know them?
MODINE: The religious institutions are no longer necessary. What is important are the teaching of the prophets or teachings of the individuals that the religions were founded upon. The teachings of Jesus, his parables, if actually practiced, would transform the world overnight. You can imagine his horror that someone would go to war and kill in his name. He didn’t amass an army to fight the powers that be. He existed among the Roman’s and spoke of love and forgiveness, Two words that had the power to crumble and transform the Empire. In 2006, I was profoundly impacted by the actions of a small Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Ten girls between 6 and 13 were shot in their small, one room school house. Five of the girls were killed. The Amish community did not put their energy toward hatred and retribution but toward forgiveness and reconciliation. I’ve never seen an act that more profoundly reflects the heart of Christ. This is the kind of spiritual evolution necessary for humankind to reach - before we end up annihilating one another.
DAVID: Don’t you think that even in a Religions-free world, human beings would still find ways to wage wars? That violence, territoriality and fear of our neighbors are deeply embedded in our genes?
MODINE: Yes. But I don’t think it is in our genes. It’s in our minds and in our attachment to what is physical. Our egos are attached to everything that is physical. Once we accept that everything is impermanent, the fighting will abate. Can that happen is the question.
DAVID: 32 People are killed in America every single day due to Gun violence. Firearm homicide is the second-leading cause of death (after car accidents) for young people aged 1-19 in the U.S. Isn’t the role of Government to protect its Citizens? What went horribly wrong and is there a way out of this National tragedy?
MODINE: This is a problem of money in politics. The will of the people, the majority of citizens, all wanted background checks and revised gun laws. The politicians did not represent the will of the people. They did not because the gun lobby provides money for their campaigns. The only way to stop this corruption is through campaign reform. Lobbyists, special interest groups, and corporations have destroyed democracy. We now have a corporatocracy.
DAVID: It is clear to me that you are dreaming of a world where Humans would stand tall enough to be individually Responsible for their Actions without the need for any other ‘higher authority’. This is a high calling for Mankind, yet I can totally relate to this desire. Can you trace that desire back to your Education? To your Childhood?
MODINE: It is a utopian ideal. Not to be led but to lead. Individual responsibility: I suppose I want this because the world is changing so quickly. I know there is no one coming to save us from the mess we are creating. That it is up to each of us to face the problems that have been created in the past, and not repeat them. We have to solve the environmental issues immediately. We can no longer continue to consume the earth’s resources at the rate at which we are. The resources are finite. The good news is that the Internet has connected the citizens of the world in a way never before imagined. It is possible now for us to see our similarities and to discover ways to solve our collective problems in new creative ways - and the Internet is leveling the playing field. The new intellectual leaders no longer have to be from an ivy league school or a member of some club. The new leaders are coming from Central America, India, South America, China, and maybe soon from North Korea, Iraq, or Afghanistan. This confuses the people that feel they have a birth rite to privilege and education. What it exposes is laziness and complacency. If America wants to keep up with this new world it will have to get up off its butt and get in the game. Education is the key to our nations future.
DAVID: 'I think I thought' and 'To Kill an American' are two other great shorts that should make people 'THINK' precisely. You seem to think that the confusion in our world actually stems from a lack of 'Active Thinking', 'Active Listening', and 'Active Democracy' am I correct?
MODINE: Yes. We mustn’t be passive. We are not sheep. Democracy requires the participation of its citizens. Voting is a privilege. African Americans fought hard for the right to vote. As did woman. Today most of the nation does not participate in the government and its activities. Remember, politicians are no more than elected officials. When we do not hold them accountable, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
DAVID: 'America' defined, in three words?
MODINE: Work in Progress
DAVID: 'Matthew Modine' in three words?
MODINE: Learning to be.
DAVID: What things make you Happy?
MODINE: The sounds of children laughing.
DAVID: The last time you cried?
MODINE: This morning.
DAVID: The last time you laughed?
MODINE: This morning, after I finished crying.
DAVID: THANK YOU for this moment of human exchange and brotherhood. #Peace : )
Matthew Modine’s Short Films are available on itune on:https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/short-films-matthew-modine/id641114717
The Full Metal Jacket Diary Ipad App is available on itunes on:https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/full-metal-jacket-diary/id527085659?mt=8
For more on Matthew Modine you may visit his website on:http://www.matthewmodine.com
Florian David is the Editor-In-Chief of Zefyr Life Magazine and the CEO of Zefyr Management, a multi-disciplinary creative agency based in London.