What's in a Name

Given that Dermot Mulroney plays an aspiring country songwriter in Peter Bogdanovich's upcoming film The Thing Called Love, I attempt to score some points with the actor by offering to teach him the Achy Breaky dance, a diverting morsel of boot-scootin' footwork I picked up at a local country bar.

"Achy Breaky on the set of The Thing Called Love is not to be mentioned, referred to or discussed," proclaims the 29-year-old Mulroney, who, in jeans and flannel shirt, looks less like a Dermot than, say, a Clint, Garth or, dare I suggest, Billy Ray.

"Where did this dictum come from?" I ask.

"Me," the actor says proudly. "I've never heard the song and I want it to stay that way. It's prohibited. So is the word 'cute.' 'Swell' is what we're saying instead."

With the "you-know-what" dance out of the question, I decide to ask Mulroney, who numbers Young Guns, Longtime Companion and Bright Angel among his most "swell" screen offerings, how long he's been passionate about country music. "From my early childhood," he says. "My brother's an actor--his name is Kieran. To the rest of your kindergarten class, that sounds like 'Karen,' so my dad brought home a Johnny Cash album that had the song 'A Boy Named Sue' on it and our lives were changed at that moment."

It was around this time that Mulroney first picked up the cello, an instrument he continues to play, along with the mandolin and the guitar. His musical background came in handy on The Thing Called Love--Dermot, like his co-stars River Phoenix and Samantha Mathis, has to sing two songs in the film. "I've been working on how to sing one of the songs badly and one of the songs well," he explains, whipping out a demo tape. Seems his character can't get a handle on genuine country singing until he's dealt a good old-fashioned dose of heartbreak by Samantha Mathis's character. So the lousy song is pre-heartbreak, and the good one is post. The problem is, Dermot sounds just fine on the demo tape in both songs. If he didn't, I suggest, he could simply lie and say he's Dylan McDermott. "Is it just me," I ask, "or do other people get you two confused?"

"Yeah," laments the actor. "It's the 'Dermot.' It must be."

"If we scrambled the letters and bought a few vowels, you'd be him," I suggest.

"I'd have to buy an A, a C, a D and a T," figures Mulroney. "We've had a couple of laughs about it. I've used him at his expense time and time again, and I would hope that he's done the same with me. One day we'll work together, and then it'll be real havoc."