Mathew Modine wants to retain the mystery at the heart of The Dark Knight Rises. In this interview with On Tap, the veteran actor discusses what attracted him to the Batman franchise, as well as the experience of working with some of film’s greatest directors.
On Tap: There is a lot of mystery surrounding the character you play in The Dark Knight Rises – what can you tell us about him? What attracted you to playing this role?
Matthew Modine: There is a lot of mystery surrounding the role because there isn’t anything I can tell you about the character. This should be a lesson taught in schools: Keep your mouth shut. My father used to say, “It’s better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Christopher Nolan and his team clearly understand the power of keeping your mouth shut. What attracted me to Dark Knight Rises was the team. Starting with the director, writers, producers and the extraordinary team of actors assembled. To be a part of [a team] of their caliber is its own reward.
OT: What was it like working with Christopher Nolan?
MM: Nolan is an old-school director. He is cut from the cloth of the best. A film set is very much like a ship at sea and a film director is like the captain of that ship. A successful captain understands, deeply, his dependence on his officers and crew and its necessary for the officers and crew to be led and take orders from their captain. He must assert confidence in his wishes and commands, be decisive in his decisions and in complete control of his ship. That’s Nolan.
OT: You’ve worked with many of the most highly regarded directors in the film industry including Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick and Robert Altman. How do you adjust to each director’s style?
MM: The best directors are great casting directors. They cast their films well. Musical conductors aren’t coaching their musicians on how to play. You don’t get into the orchestra if you’re still trying to master your instrument. They show up, knowing their notes, how to interpret the piece of music, and the conductor then, simply with a gesture of the hand, a look, encourages the musician to play a little softer, a little faster or slower. With subtle gestures and simple suggestions they encourage their performers. A great director is a master of manipulation, and so good at it, that it never feels like manipulation.
OT: How is today’s Batman different from the one you grew up with?
MM: I grew up with the TV series, which I loved. Even as “camp” as it was, there was something weirdly mysterious and dark about it. Bruce Wayne, as played by Adam West, was so odd and cool. West’s slow, stuttered speaking, his contemplation about problems and how to solve them made him very compelling. Nolan’s darker, more realistic telling of the story, is for me, the most compelling [of] all the films made by the various other filmmakers. It strikes the perfect balance of myth, drama, opera, humor, and compelling cinematic storytelling.
OT: What’s it like to get your own unofficial Dark Knight Rises poster?
MM: When I saw the poster, which was sent to my @matthewmodine Twitter account, I was flattered to the point of awkwardness. Whomever it was that decided they’d sit down and spend the day creating a poster of my character is a person who has, first, wonderful talent – the poster is just awesome – and second, they’re just crazy to have been so generous!
OT: Do you have any connections to DC? What do you like to do when visiting here?
MM: No, I don’t. I love our nation’s capital though. The monuments. The precious ideals of our democracy and that the “great experiment” that must constantly be examined and polished and lived up to. Our government is unique in that it is not stagnant.
OT: Can you talk about nonprofit Bicycle For A Day?
MM: Bicycle for a Day is a not-for-profit designed to get young children and adults back on bicycles. Obesity and early onset diabetes affect more than half our nation. Choosing to ride a bicycle for short trips can help create lifestyle changes. Not only do you become more active and engaged with the outdoors, but you are making a measurable, immediate, positive impact on the environment by not using a gas-powered motor vehicle.
See Matthew Modine in The Dark Knight Rises, in theatres July 20.