For years, Matthew Modine acted out stories crafted by other individuals. Now he is standing behind the camera to make his mark on the film industry.
On Monday, Modine, an Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actor, spoke to group of about 26 students at a Master’s Tea about his career, the nature of celebrity culture and his own political viewpoints. Unfortunately for fans of the
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“Batman” franchise, he remained tight-lipped about his role as a corrupt politician named “Nixon” in the upcoming “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third film in Christopher Nolan’s reimagining of the comic book series.
“I can’t talk to you about ‘Batman,’” Modine said jokingly. “‘Batman’ [is] like ‘Fight Club.’”
Throughout the tea, Modine rarely sat down, instead choosing to perch on his chair’s armrest or stand up to gesture emphatically and move back and forth across the front of the room.
Modine said he developed a love of film at an early age, growing up as the youngest of seven children in Utah, where his father managed a drive-in movie theater. A former student of acting coach Stella Adler, who taught Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro and Sidney Pollack, Modine has made a name for himself in films such as “Full Metal Jacket” and ”Birdy,” and more recently on the television show “Weeds.” Since making his feature film debut in John Sayles’ 1983 movie “Baby, It’s You,” Modine has worked with renowned directors Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman and Spike Lee.
“I had worked with incredible storytellers,” Modine said.
But with a recent deficit of story lines that appealed to him, Modine said he felt the need to start producing the work he wanted to see by taking on a new role: director.
After the tea, Modine presented a screening at the Whitney Humanities Center of six short films he directed this year, featuring the headlining “Jesus Was a Commie.” The film, Modine said, expresses his curiosity about the origins of anti-communist sentiment in America.
Modine said he is aware of how his personal celebrity can negatively impact popular opinion in politics. Actors becoming publicly affiliated with certain movements can turn the causes into red-carpet events, Modine said.
“I hate the word ‘celebrity,’” he said. “It’s turned into something that’s really ugly. I think that [Occupy Wall Street] is a really interesting, important showing, but if I went, the news media would turn it into, ‘Oh, look who’s down there.’ I’d prefer to help in other ways.”
Once offered a part in the 1986 film “Top Gun,” Modine said he turned down the role because he felt that the movie perpetuated misconceptions about Russians as America’s faceless enemy. Before reading the script for the movie, Modine said he had traveled to East Berlin, an experience he said was like walking into “a black-and-white movie.” While there, he met a group of Russian soldiers and realized that contrary to what he had been taught, the Russians supported the American cause.
Modine’s direct approach to discussing his beliefs stood out to some of the talk’s attendees.
“It was refreshing for a film person to express political views,” said Ann Horton-Line, the manager of Yale’s Film Study Center. “It shows he’s interested in what’s going on around us.”
President of the Yale Film Society Adriana Teran ’13 agreed, adding that she was surprised but pleased to hear Modine express his political opinions.
The talk was sponsored by Pierson College, the Summer Film Institute and Films at the Whitney, a program at the Whitney Humanities Center.