Busted Halo
feature: entertainment & lifestyle
June 24th, 2009

Busted: Anthony Michael Hall

A conversation on faith and his career -- from the Brat Pack movies to The Dead Zone

bustedamh-insideAnthony Michael Hall got his big break as an actor when he was cast as Rusty in the family road trip movie Vacation, followed closely by three seminal films from the 80s: 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science. He was then the youngest cast member ever on Saturday Night Live. He also bullied Johnny Depp around in Edward Scissorhands and he was part of the Emmy-nominated made-for-TV movie where he played Bill Gates in The Pirates of Silicon Valley. More recently he starred in the sci-fi thriller TV show, The Dead Zone, which he also helped co-produce, and played TV reporter Mike Engel in last summer’s blockbuster The Dark Knight. The actor stopped by the Busted Halo show on Sirius XM Radio to talk about growing up Catholic, and where his faith life and his acting career meet.

Busted Halo: I bumped into you on the streets of New York right near the church where I currently work and, as a matter of fact, where you used to attend when you were growing up.

Anthony Michael Hall: That’s right, St. Malachy’s. My mother actually took me to the church when I was a kid. My mother just reminded me before I came up here that it was when she was pregnant with my sister.

BH: Well they call it the Actor’s Chapel; it does service the entertainment community, mostly the Broadway folks.

AMH: And there’s a lot of actors in need of prayers. And I’m one of them.

BH: Has that been a significant part of your life and career?

AMH: Yeah it has, I come from an Italian-Irish Catholic family. My mother was from a big family and I was born in Boston and raised here in New York. And I was raised Catholic. There were actually priests and nuns in my family. A very staunch Catholic family which I’m very proud of, so I was very happy to be asked by you to talk today.

BH: People imagine that growing up, particularly as a “child star” — and you started pretty young — that usually they end up on reality shows, etc. But for you it seems like your career has continued to ascend. What has been the anchor? What has been the rock?

AMH: I think the rock has obviously been the faith and what was instilled in me as a kid, and having the foundation of a good family. My mother had a great deal to do with it — making sure my butt was in church every week. And I think that is the foundation. I also think the East coast upbringing had a lot to do with it.

BH: Of course. Many people that were in big movies as teenagers stop working soon after but you have not stopped. The Dark Knight, that movie made a couple of bucks…

AMH: Yeah, apparently it’s doing well. I think that and the internet are actually going to work — I think they might take off. Yeah. I was proud to be in that film. I had a small role in it and it was actually a very humbling experience to be on that set. I had never been in such a big film, you know; it had like a $200 million budget. But as a kid I loved the old Batman series. I wasn’t really into video games but Batman was something I was always really fond of so I was really proud to be involved, it was a great experience. As an actor you’re sort of a traveling salesman in a way. We were very fortunate on that project; we got to shoot in London and also Chicago, so it was like a free vacation.

BH: Chicago is kind of the Gotham City, isn’t it?

AMH: Correct. Apparently the director, who is British, a guy named Chris Nolan, as a child lived in Chicago. So it was part of his planning that he thought it would be a great match to make it Gotham. It’s a great city and I hadn’t been there since the 80s when I did those movies.

BH: Oh yes, because all of those John Hughes movies were set in Chicago. It was a Chicago high school that you were in for The Breakfast Club?

AMH: Yeah and I didn’t remember the city so it was a nice new experience to live in the city and shoot there.

BH: Now for The Dead Zone, you weren’t just in front of the camera, there was a little behind the camera. At some point in your career did you decide you wanted to have something of a stake in this, in what happened behind the camera?

The show took off, and it was a real blessing to have it find an audience. Any artist can attest to that you want to sort of find the audience, and that’s where the value comes, knowing that you’re feeding people.

AMH: Absolutely, and it was sort of an earned position because the show took off, and it was a real blessing to have it find an audience. Any artist can attest to that you want to sort of find the audience, and that’s where the value comes, knowing that you’re feeding people. My take on being an actor over the years is that you’re a storyteller in a way. I’ve always been less impressed with celebrities and all the mechanisms of Hollywood. I think it’s important to do your job and have fun with it. I look at it as a sports fan — like, season by season — and you take the lumps and keep moving. You don’t get too ahead of yourself. But yeah, it was a great experience.

BH: The Dead Zone movie starred Christopher Walken. What’s it like embodying a character like Christopher Walken? Who can do Christopher Walken?

AMH: Yeah, that’s the whole thing: nobody. He’s so iconic, as we all know. It’s like somebody doing a Nicholson impression. It’s always followed by a De Niro or a Walken. And that was never the intent. I was honored by the opportunity to do this, by this guy named Michael Piller, who is no longer with us. He’s upstairs; a great guy. He created some of the Star Trek series, and created the show. He had seen me play Gates in this film I did around ten years ago. That was one of the first things I didn’t want to do — was to not do Walken in any way. I just took the pea coat and the cane and then, three seasons later, I was trying to figure out how to get rid of the cane. I was trying to figure out new ways to hold the cane in every episode.

BH: I think Hugh Laurie on House is now thinking of that.

AMH: Yeah, he nicked that, and if I’m not mistaken there’s about seven psychic shows. I must have done something right. You tell me, Father.

BH: In your experience, growing up Catholic and yet growing up in the industry — a lot of people today will call into the show and say, “What if I can’t get to church every single Sunday?” You must have lived the life of a vagabond — you’re talking about being a traveling salesman, and they didn’t have the website back then that they have now, masstimes.org, where you can find a Catholic Mass wherever you go.

One of my mother’s lines was, “God gave you everything. You can give him an hour a week.” Oh God, that’s enough guilt for me. I’ll find the church, thanks ma.

AMH: Good to know, my mother will be glad to know.

BH: Well I would imagine — you said she brought you to church every Sunday, wherever you were and said, “Let’s find the Church?”

AMH: Oh absolutely, and it’s also engrained. It becomes second nature — you want to just pursue that. One of my mother’s lines was, “God gave you everything. You can give him an hour a week.” Oh God, that’s enough guilt for me. I’ll find the church, thanks ma.

Click here to listen to the interview.

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The Author : Dave Dwyer, CSP
Fr. Dave Dwyer CSP is the Director of Paulist Young Adult Ministry and the host of the "Busted Halo Show" on Sirius satellite radio.
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  • Pat

    I have enjoyed his acting and knew there was something really special about him. he is proof that you can do any job in life and still remain true to your faith. he has not made concessions for a paycheck. Great interview.

  • Victoria

    My daughter and I are really enjoying watching the Dead Zone for the first time. . .the acting is superb. I really appreciate Michael’s comments on being Catholic. It’s a great pleasure to see a fellow Catholic come out and talk about his faith, and admit it’s an important part of his life and work.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Jennifer Perry

    Great interview. Next time ask him if he’s single or dating!!

  • samantha nagel=smith

    very good interview. I enjoyed it.
    Thanks for doing it.

  • Maureen Chicoine

    Delightful interview with Anthony Michael Hall. I was his 6th grade religion teacher at St. Gregory the Great parish in NYC and remember him as a wonderful kid who at that time was both an actor and an advid hockey player. Have followed his career with interest since.

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