Aidan Quinn: The Mighty Quinn

Aidan Quinn is in demand, well paid, and respected by his peers. Yet he's not a big star, and he likes it that way. Here he talks about everything from doing nude scenes and kissing men to working for "insane" directors and the importance of saying "I love you."

Aidan Quinn and I are tramping through Central Park. We are, you could say, at play in the fields of Manhattan. It's an unpleasant summer day: the humidity is intrusive and the temperature's hotter than the sex in 1984's Reckless, Quinn's first film. Even this heat, though, seems no excuse for Quinn's unfabulous outfit: a white T-shirt, black jeans and brown Birkenstock sandals. Maybe, though, it's actually perfect that Quinn has opted for this sensible attire. Maybe he gave it some thought: the weather, the drive into the city from New Jersey, the anonymity he'd need among the midtown rabble.

With this in mind, I ask him if he ever plans anything before being interviewed. "Not really," he says, as we scramble down a slope and into a glade rife with raucous children. "I don't care. I mean, I've been stupid in the past, and I've learned from that. Some actors actually think about what they're going to talk about during the interview--they read up and meditate and plan quotes and get all inspired. It's very smart, but it's so planned. I never think to do that."

Because, if you ask me, he's too busy rummaging through his closet, searching for some getup guaranteed to make absolutely no impact. And, if you're still asking, I think he picks his roles the way he selects his wardrobe. Over the past decade, Quinn has amassed an impressive body of work in movies, television and theater, and he's performed with consistent excellence. He's won hearts and he's won nominations. Yet his name still elicits puzzled expressions from most people. He's the most famous actor who's not quite famous. Why? Perhaps because he's always done what he thought was the right thing: he's made illogical choices, taken up causes, fought with directors, rewritten scripts and selected substance over celebrity. In effect, he's worn Birkenstocks throughout his career.

Quinn, his wife and their young daughter live in New Jersey and upstate New York, so the landscape of Central Park must feel familiar to him. We're dodging cars to get to the park's grassy places: Central Park may be bucolic, but it has its share of roads. Like Los Angeles. "I like to visit L.A.," he says, "and I love L.A. when someone puts me up in a hotel and pays for my per diem. And I love all the tropical smells..."

Wait a minute. I remind him that, in 1984, he told a magazine he was "essentially a socialist," that it was "sick the way people spend money in Hollywood," that he "can't see staying in expensive hotels and riding in limousines." Has that attitude changed?

"God, yes!" he admits, laughing. "Well, that was before I made a home... I still don't like limousines, or get a kick out of being singled out as something special, that status thing. That doesn't do anything but embarrass me.

"Money is just something to be circulated," he says a minute later. "When you have a family and a couple of mortgages and you work in a business that is more a business than it is an art, then money is important." A limo passes, and he adds, "I still feel very conflicted about it."

I remind him that back in 1984, he also said, "Money makes you crazy." He said he believed "multimillion-dollar contracts for one movie are ridiculous. And immoral."

"Well, they are," he states now. "Not that I've ever made a million dollars for a part in a movie! So I don't have to worry about that obscenity, yet. I make very good money, but people really have no idea that if you have an agent, a manager, a business manager, an accountant, and a press agent you literally get thirty cents out of a dollar. I don't believe anymore that money is inherently evil. That's a really bullshit philosophy."

And speaking of bullshit philosophies: when he tells me he enjoys only a few cigarettes a day--"in the morning, after eating, and with tea at night"--I realize that enjoy must be the operative word, because he's lighting one after the other as we walk.

We finally arrive at the outdoor cafe by the zoo, and after we've settled at a wrought-iron table under the shade of a large tree, I tell him I want to go over his movies one by one, and hear some anecdotes.

"Oh God, I'm horrible at that," he says. "I wish I'd known..."

"Reckless," I begin. "You were publicly negative about it when it came out."

"Okay," he says, with a shrug. "First of all, I loved making it, contrary to what you've picked up. I had a great time. You know, I'm grateful to that film: one, it put me on the map; two, it gave me great reviews, even when the critics hated the film; three, it started my career. What disturbed me was that Jamie [Foley] was a first-time director. He was 29. I was 22. I have a collaborative mentality: you work on something and make it better. There's rarely a script you don't have to change. Even when you're working on something that's brilliantly written, like Avalon. So, I was disappointed in the outcome of Reckless, and I was naive enough to be somewhat public about it. On the one hand, insecure; on the other hand, arrogant--they go hand-in-hand. I mean, I'd asked, warned MGM not to send me out for publicity because I wasn't crazy about the movie, and I didn't know how to lie. I really didn't--now I do!"

Quinn laughs. "Now, to this day, my wife can't stand that I have a negative reaction to Reckless. She, like, thinks it's, you know, like, a good movie for what it is."

He can't even come right out and say that someone else likes it. I ask him if he has softened his opinion about it lately.

"I... I haven't watched it."

"Do you have it on video?"

"I have 'em all on video," he says. "But I never watch them. Never."

Wasn't there some trouble involving the sex scene with Daryl Hannah in the high-school boiler room?

"No. My problem with it was that Daryl had a problem with it. Daryl had a tremendously hard time with those sex scenes, and I felt bad for her. She'd say that those scenes weren't in her script, and I'd say, 'What?!' Jamie would say that was bullshit, and they'd start fighting. So it was extremely uncomfortable. I thought we could just do some kissing or something she'd be comfortable with."

Here's what I really want to know: "Was there anything between you and Daryl Hannah, the future Mrs. Kennedy? It sure looks like there was."

"We had a really interesting, hot-and-cold relationship," Aidan says, training those ice-blue eyes directly on me. "Like, we really, really liked each other and were supportive of each other, and then we really, like, got under each other's skin and couldn't stand each other. There was a real cat-and-mouse thing."

"Did you have sex with her?"

Aidan looks away from me and smiles. "I'm not gonna tell you," he says. "I wouldn't answer that."

"You showed your dick in that movie," I say, unloading the other barrel.

"You know, my wife says I did that," he says, unfazed, "but I don't remember doing that. In what scene?"

In the shower, I tell him. "You're washing, in profile, and you've got your dick hanging there."

"You see my dick? That's unbelievable."

What's unbelievable is that he doesn't remember.

"I'm of two minds about that," Quinn remarks. "On the one hand, I never wanna be naked in a movie in the American system; on the other hand, it's ridiculous that there's so much attention put on it. People should be naked all the time, because that's part of life."

And now with video there's pause, slow motion, single-frame, and you can print a still and fax it to your friends.

"Exactly," he says. "Exactly. My thing about looking good is that it should be the character. If I'm playing a character who's concerned about his body--an athlete, say--I'll get in shape. If I'm playing a character who doesn't or wouldn't, I don't. I almost never get in shape for a movie, even though I know it would be a good career move. I hate seeing movies where a poor fuckin' sharecropper in the '30s takes his shirt off and he's fuckin' cut, with a washboard stomach and perfectly chiseled muscles that no farmer would ever have, that you can only get from intensive workouts with a trainer, isolating muscles. It drives me crazy! On the other hand, if you're a leading man and you're good-looking, it's definitely a good career thing to do."

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