EXCLUSIVE: Matthew Modine on Kubrick & Nolan

Note: What originally began as an interview, became a great commentary by Matthew Modine on my investigation. So I’ve decided to publish this interview/investigation in it’s entirety to bring you a greater insight into the man and his experiences working with two cinematic titans.

Matthew Modine has the answer to a burning question: Is Nolan the new Kubrick?

MM: That’s  good question.

There’s a recurring question in modern film criticism and theory that asks: Is Chris Nolan the successor to the cinematic titan Stanley Kubrick? The assertion, which incidentally pops up in approximately 1.8 Million Google search results, is championed because of Nolan’s ability for bringing a philosophical edge to hugely entertaining and consumed Hollywood product; the fact that both film-makers work with a maverick independent sensibility within a major film studio (being Warner Bros.) and the larger studio system. On the opposing side there’s a huge chorus of Kubrick purists that vehemently refute that Nolan’s aesthetic matches the masterful eye of the former photographer or that Nolan’s work is as satirical and politically divisive as Kubrick’s oeuvre.

MM: I think i it’s wonderful that this discussion, about masterful filmmakers, be taking place between 1.8 million people. It’s good for the art of filmmaking. If you asked either Nolan or Kubrick how they felt about such a comparison, they would no doubt reply, with wry and knowing smiles, something Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” The genius of a genius is finding their own path. I don’t think Nolan is pursuing the legend of Kubrick, he’s busy creating his own.

In my mind there’s a specific and ultimately more scientific way that we can determine their similarity, and that’s to unpack each director’s approach with someone who’s had the pleasure of working with both men. I’m of course talking about the criminally under-rated Matthew Modine – who portrayed Private Joker in Full Metal Jacket (1987) and plays a character known only as Nixon in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises. As a protagonist in Kubrick’s wonderfully resonant Full Metal Jacket he would have an invaluable insight into the man and his approach – with his performance crafted to carry the weight of the entire film. And now, a full 22 years later, he’s been able to watch Nolan craft the finale of his Dark Knight series – one of the most highly anticipated films of all time.

MM: Thank you. I like that, the “criminally under-rated Matthew Modine”!

Mr Matthew Modine sir, thank you very much for your time.

MM: You’re welcome. I just realized the interview starts here…

Firstly, in your mind, can anyone come close to Kubrick?

 MM: That depends on the yardstick you use to measure Kubrick. He was an artist. Art is always subjective. There will never be anyone that can accomplish his personal artistry. Just like there will never be another Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, Beatles.

Your role as Private Joker in Full Metal Jacket is one of the most memorable performances and characters in War film history. How you were approached for the role?

MM: Stanley sent me the script. Yeah. To my house. In an envelope with a handwritten note asking me if I’d like to be in his movie.

Can you describe what it was like working with Kubrick, firstly fashioning your performance, and secondly observing how he crafted other performances?

MM: For an in depth understanding and day-to-day account of my experience of working on FMJ and with Kubrick I encourage you to read, Full Metal Jacket Diary. The book will be an interactive app and will come out this summer (2012) to correspond with Warner Brothers release of the new Blu-Ray DVD. The DVD has photos from my book and a new forward that I wrote about Kubrick’s life and his passing.

To you, what’s the ‘essence’ of a Kubrick film?

MM: Good question. Hard to sum it up though. SK’s films have been harshly criticized for being brutal and inhuman. I think that is true, and obviously SK’s intention. Rather than hold up a “Hollywood” mirror reflecting an idealized vision of humanity, with all our foibles and pimples, SK held up an honest mirror that showed our truer reflection. He didn’t do this because he was mean. He didn’t show this reflection because he thought humanity was beyond hope. On the contrary. I believe he felt that unless we could look at our collective ignorance, our fears, our cruelty, with absolute clarity, we would be destined to continually repeat our mistakes. The early man (the greatest edit in film history) to man in outer-space, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, illustrates the remarkable brevity of human existence. In this brief moment, we have accomplished remarkable deeds. But what we have stubbornly dragged along from our past, what SK points out, is that we are still using that bone. I feel that all of SK’s films address our need to employ intelligence to solve our conflicts. If we don’t, we’ll destroy everything.

From some of your recent tweets it’s clear that you’re a Batman fan – what’s been your favorite incarnation of the character?

MM: Nolan has created three films that I feel best capture the darkness of Bruce Wayne. His vulnerability. Wayne’s (and societies collective) post-traumatic stress. He and Christian Bale also understand and explore the problems of “doing good.” When does a fighter of crime cross the line and become a criminal? A vigilante? Foregoing the legal system and due process and becoming judge and jury. These complications make Nolan’s Batman rich in drama and remove it from being dismissed as just action-adventure filmmaking.

What drew you to The Dark Knight Rises? Or were you approached specifically for the role?

MM: When they began casting I had my representatives contact Nolan’s team to express my interest in working on the film. Thankfully there was mutual interest. I flew myself to Los Angeles to meet with Nolan and the rest is history.

How does working with Kubrick compare to working with Nolan? Do share any similar film making practices?

MM: I enjoy Nolan’s work ethic. He is there, on set, to make the best movie he can possibly make. He stands beside the camera and directs his cast and crew.

To you, what’s the ‘essence’ of a Nolan film?  And do you see any similarities?

MM: What SK and CN share is a passion for filmmaking. I’m not sure how I would define the essence of a Nolan film. Perhaps, purposefully vague. Like Jack Nicholson in Kubrick’s The Shining. The final close-up in the film. Jack was the caretaker. He’d always been the caretaker. Kubrick didn’t feel the need to explain his films. I think this may be the one thing Nolan and Kubrick share. They let their films, their art, speak for themselves. 

Graffiti With Punctuation would like to thank the criminally underrated Matthew Modine once again for his insight.

We can’t wait to see him in The Dark Knight Rises on July 19th 2012.

Conclusion:  According to Matthew Modine these great directors share a desire to let their art, speak for themselves,” but that’s all.

What do you think?