Busted: Anthony Michael Hall
A conversation on faith and his career -- from the Brat Pack movies to The Dead Zone
BH: The character in The Dead Zone can see people’s futures and some of the plots revolve around you stopping something, but, in a way, the character is something of a healer-messiah character?
AMH: Yeah, I’m sort of hesitant to call it a Christ metaphor, but in some ways, apparently, Michael Piller — who was the gentleman who created the show — that was one of his takes on the show. And, again, I didn’t really see it that way, but it was a very interesting take on that. I mean the fact that he goes into a coma and wakes up, there are some parallels there. But I think what it taught me is that I learned over the six years of shooting to do less as an actor. I’d go to my trailer and be studying guys that were my heroes like McQueen and Newman and all the way up to Denzel, and watching leading men you realize that when you pursue a career in acting, the more you do it’s actually better to do less, so it was a very interesting role. At the same time it kind of reminded me — due to the nature of the character — to be kind of be in the moment, literally. It had a very interesting look and feel to the show, so all that lended itself to a nice exploration as an actor. I kind of discovered certain things and had a lot of fun. It was a very creative show.
BH: Well, in terms of learning from actors you worked with, Johnny Depp; he certainly has a quite a process. He has a real method and gets into it.
AMH: Yeah, I just read an article about Johnny in Vanity Fair the other day and he was a very humble guy, a very nice guy. Yeah, some actors have their own take on it.
BH: I remember when I saw that movie, Edward Scissorhands, you were playing the bully, and I thought to myself, Wow! You used to be the skinny, geeky guy and now look at him, you’re pushing Johnny Depp around.
AMH: Which isn’t hard, he’s about 5’6”. But the truth is, it was a lot of fun. I think that every actor approaches it differently. Some roles you kind of adapt to with that mindset. Sometimes I’ve chosen to make choices like that, where you live and breathe the character a little more. At the end of the day, it’s a job. Keep it in perspective. You don’t want to start believing it.
BH: I saw an interview with you about The Dark Knight, the Batman movie, and with the second one that is this huge blockbuster — second only to Titanic in terms of raking in the cash — you said that one of the attractions for people is that perhaps it’s a story of redemption but also that it’s an imperfect hero, it’s a hero who’s struggling with his own role in helping to redeem people.
AMH: As we all are, that’s an excellent point. I’m actually preparing right now to produce and direct a film that I’ve written with a New York cop and my father and I, and a company called Manhattan Films, and we are going to be producing this film in New York and mostly in New Orleans. But you bring up a great theme, and in my discovery in doing my research on screenwriting and what makes a great film in preparing for this, redemption is a key concept in films, throughout the history of films. And I think that’s a very important angle you just mentioned which is we’re all flawed, that’s part of the acknowledgement of maintaining and keeping a faith, to realize what your weaknesses are. At the same time, there’s that transition to redemption and I think that’s a key theme in film, in art.
BH: And that’s kind of why we call this show the Busted Halo Show, because we acknowledge that. People can either fall into the category where you think you have to have all your ducks in a row in order to walk into church and I have to be part of a perfect crowd, or they think, “I’m just so sinful that the church would collapse if I ever walked into it,” and really everybody is just in between.
AMH: Let go and let God, in a way. Some people fear that if they walk into a church they’re going to catch afire or they’ll turn to flames because they haven’t been to church in a while. And I find great solace when I’m in the city — I always walk into St. Patty’s whenever I can, just to find that peace even if it’s for a moment. You don’t have to be in Mass per se to benefit from the Spirit of God — and letting that sink in, and reminding yourself that you have to let go and realize that He’s in control, not us.
BH: The thing that I remember about The Breakfast Club that I would imagine you’ve heard feedback about over the years about, is that watershed moment where your character, who’s got so much stress because of the academic pressure put on him by his parents — he just kind of breaks down. And I’ve seen and heard people say over the years that: “That’s me, and when I saw that, that gave me the freedom to say I don’t have to do this.”
AMH: You bring up a great point. I think that over the years I’ve had a lot of time to think about what that film represents, and I think that people do sort of find themselves in it. And I think that’s what art should create. In any film, any project, people should see something in it, it should reflect life in a way. Again, redemption there in that story, that everybody realizes, maybe we’re not all different; that’s really the moral of that film.
BH: But I would imagine people have said, “Thank you, thank you for that role, thank you for that scene.”
AMH: And at the same time, like anything, everything is done in community. No one is an island. You realize the longer you’re in the business that it takes a lot of people to make it happen. And that’s a project itself. The story itself fed into that idea that we can see each other in each other if we look.
BH: You mentioned that this whole career — that for many people may seem glamorous — well, you said, it’s a job, it’s my job, it’s what I do, it’s my work. We talk a lot on the Busted Halo show about vocation, it’s kind of Catholic jargon. A lot of times we think that just means becoming a priest or a nun, but what the word really means is that it’s a call from God, it’s what God kind of has in mind for you to do. Have you seen your career in a way that God has gifted you with certain things?
AMH: Absolutely, absolutely. I have often reflected upon this and thought, Wow, I didn’t ask for this and it has been a blessing, but I haven’t asked for this. And, like in any industry too, you have to keep perspective and keep humility and realize that it can all shift — and I’ve experienced that — and at the same time you go to God to get the strength to keep going.
BH: My experience working kind of in the industry (not exactly) was a director at MTV before I heard the call to the priesthood. And I remember, when I first announced to people — because I was still working there — and people were like coming up to me in the hall, behind the props, showing me that in their wallet they carry a like little prayer card or something. Do you find that in this industry it’s kind of like ‘not cool’ to have a faith or to go to church on a Sunday or say I can’t shoot today?
AMH: My father used to say that there were two basic emotions, fear and guilt. And I think a lot of people look at it that way. They look at it as if it’s not something to undertake when you should embrace it. Something comes to mind when you mention someone pulling a prayer card out of their wallet: I actually became friendly with John Edward who has Crossing Over fame, the psychic. And one of the things he said to me when I appeared on his show as a guest and he did a reading, was that he keeps a rosary card in his wallet and that that was a great source of strength for him. I was really impressed by that. Another actor that comes to mind is Jim Caviezel. I’ve seen him on EWTN, and he’s a great man of faith and he’s got a great mindset and he’s a great actor. I thought The Passion — despite what’s happened to Mel Gibson — I thought it was an amazing blessing how he was used to make that movie happen. And there’s also the supernatural stories associated with it too. Apparently he was struck by lightning a few times and apparently Mel had to invest his own money, apparently up to $30 million. It was a beautiful film.
BH: Can we look forward to more comedy from you?
AMH: I would hope so. I really wish I had a reason as to why I haven’t made more comedies; I would have loved to. I would love to direct and produce some in the future. I tip my hat to John Hughes. He really got me going in the industry and saw that potential in me. And I love those films and think they hold up for that reason that they have some meaning and some value and that people wind up slightly better at the end. I like movies that have that intrinsically, and I think that his films did that. I refer to the John Hughes films as the puberty-on-film trilogy. At least the braces paid for themselves.
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