Quint interviews awesome character actor Joe Pantoliano about indie drama CANVAS!!!
Published at: Aug. 31, 2007, 8:10 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a little chat I had with one of my favorite character actors: Joe Pantoliano. Also known as Joey Pants. You’ll know him from MEMENTO or THE GOONIES or THE MATRIX… and some of you might even remember him as Guido The Killer Pimp from RISKY BUSINESS.
We had this chat in order to promote his newest flick, an indie drama called CANVAS in which he co-stars with Marcia Gay Harden, who plays his wife, a woman stricken with mental illness. The film is about how that illness affects the family and to what lengths they have to go in order to cope with it.
Quite a serious topic, but it makes for a decent interview. Be warned of some massive spoilers, though.
Hopefully I’ll get the chance to interview him again in the future where we can dip into lighter fare, like 50 minutes about just how awesome THE GOONIES is and what it was like to work with Booger in RISKY BUSINESS.
Joe Pantoliano: Hey.
Quint: Hey Joey, what’s up?
Joe Pantoliano: Thanks for calling.
Quint: No worries, sorry it was such an ordeal to find the time.
Joe Pantoliano: So, how are you?
Quint: I’m doing all right, though I’ve been hit with some really horrible allergies over the last two days. I don’t know what’s really been going down, but it’s been pretty disgusting.
Joe Pantoliano: It’s probably what you’re eating, you’re probably allergic to shit.
Quint: Could be.
Joe Pantoliano: That’s why they call it allergies. (laughs)
Quint: Texas has really bad molds and stuff too, so I don’t know.
Joe Pantoliano: You live in Texas?
Quint: Yeah, I live in Austin.
Joe Pantoliano: I love Austin.
Quint: Austin is such a great town and we had such a great summer, too. It was raining all of the time, so it was a very mild summer, but August has been nothing but clear skies and humidity and it’s been a little more of a hell than it has been this summer.
Joe Pantoliano: I’m in New Mexico and it’s really dry and really hot.
Quint: Do you live in New Mexico?
Joe Pantoliano: I’m making a movie here. We start shooting on Monday.
Quint: Cool, what movie?
Joe Pantoliano: It’s called ANGELMAKER. It’s a thriller and it has terrorists, a guy gloms onto a police swat guy who gets in the way, so this terrorist goes out of his way to ruin his day.
Joe Pantoliano: I play the terrorist.
Quint: What part of New Mexico are you in?
Joe Pantoliano: Albuquerque.
Quint: My grandparents live in Albuquerque. I’ve been there many times.
Joe Pantoliano: Really nice town, huh?
Quint: Yeah, yeah I really like it. I like going up to Santa Fe as well, it’s just a real short drive.
Joe Pantoliano: I was up there over the weekend and I’ve been in Albuquerque and there’s this greatest hat store ever. I’ve already bought like five cowboy hats.
Quint: Well the culture in Albuquerque is just so…
Joe Pantoliano: I fit right in.
Quint: So let’s talk a little bit about CANVAS. I saw the movie and I really liked it and I liked that it was a movie of complexity in that Marcia Gay Harden’s character, your character, the son… nobody is really black or white in the movie. Is that part of what drew you to the film?
Joe Pantoliano: You know, I decided to do that part for selfish reasons, because I wanted to play a caregiver and a victim of illness, so it dawned on me as I started how prevalent mental illness is and what I keyed in on was its affect, that it really is more about what a family goes through with an illness, rather than the illness. Marcia’s character in the beginning of the story is in denial, she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with her. What I liked about the idea and what Marcia Gay, Jo [Greco], and I worked on was that… now of course Greco’s life was different because he was born into a schizophrenic family, so he understood the isolation as a young man and he talked about that a lot. We said, “Why doesn’t Chris know his mother as a normal whole person,” so that he’s also victimized by the illness and we’re all confused and it’s like, how does this father and son deal with what’s going on? The frustration, the anger, and the rage that you then transfer to the caregiver, the doctor.
“Why can’t you make her better? You said these pills would make her better…” When you’re ignorant to mental illness, you think it’s something you can turn off or on. If you’re depressed and you are suffering from clinical depression, it’s not uncommon for someone to say “Didn’t you take your medicine today?” It’s like having an allergy, you take the medicine and sometimes it works better than others, right?
Quint: Yeah, yeah.
Joe Pantoliano: I liked that Christopher, Devon Gearhart’s character, actually becomes the parent. I love that scene at the boat when he says, “Stop it” when John looses his top finally and says “What do you want from me? What about me? I miss her too.” I can’t be your mother, is basically what he is saying.
And then he says “Hey, listen I’m sorry. I apologize, maybe she’ll get better” and the kid goes “Don’t ever say that, she’s never going to get better.” That’s something that everyone needs, when someone has a mental illness, you need to come to grips with “Mom’s a diabetic. Mom is in remission… or breast cancer or if you cut off your toe, your toe is cut off…” You may be able to walk without a limp and you may be able to hide it, at better times than others.
I thought that the spirit in which we made the movie is so compelling. It shows mental illness in a form where it’s not demonized or romanticized. In the end they don’t “find the right pill,” but what I love about Marcia Gay’s character and the brilliance in which Marcia Gay played it, because I think that’s the toughest part in the movie. It would be so easy to cross the line and go overboard, but she makes it so such that it’s subtle and doing the part with Marcia, I had to come to grips with my own understanding of mental illness, because I thought it was a minority illness. You know, “How many people can get this?” I thought they all looked like people in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST.
Quint: (laughs) Yeah. What’s interesting about it is it’s not so much just who is stricken with this illness, but like you were saying, it’s not just an affect. It’s almost as if in some way that illness breeds…
Joe Pantoliano: Isolation and stigmatization. The boy ends up being embarrassed about his own mother. He sells his own mother out and denies that she is ill. When the little girl goes “Is it true that your mom is in a mental hospital?” “No.” He feels responsible for her illness. He isolates himself even further because of that and then when his father starts to build the boat, you know since everybody is building something in this movie. Canvas is the thread that connects the creative arts that heal these people in a sense.
When Mary says “painting helps the voices to go away” and John starts to build the boat, which isn’t very logical that the guy who is broke says “Yeah, well you’re not going to give me the raise that you promised. My insurance company has dropped me since my wife has elevated from bi-polar disorder, which you cover, to schizophrenia which you don’t and I’ve got sixty days of sick leave that I have not taken,” so in a passive aggressive nature he says to his boss “Fuck you, I’m going to take my money and I’m going to this, I’m going to build this ark and this ark is going to save us from the storm which is Mary.”
Quint: It also seems to represent a time before everybody was torn apart.
Joe Pantoliano: It’s like he keeps telling her that this is the “real Florida,” but he really wants to build this sailboat to take them all back to what was real, what was the old Florida. They all want the same thing, Mary wants it the way it was, Chris wants it the way it was… He keeps pining… Mary actually says this “I want to go back to the real Florida.”
Chris is having reoccurring dreams about mommy on the beach, which was the real Florida, and then John builds a sailboat to take them back to the real Florida. John feels like “If I can build this boat and get it on the water, then I can save her.”
What I love about the ending is that it’s so un-Hollywood. It’s like, “OK Honey we’re ready, so let’s go. I’m picking you up.” “No, I don’t want to ruin it” and that wonderful little moment when he pretends he is still on the phone and then they actually take the mountain to Mohammed. They actually take her for the ride that she needs and it’s around the driveway at he mental hospital. I just love that scene.
Quint: Yeah, that played very well.
Joe Pantoliano: Also what I think is important, because if you like the movie is that people need to know that this is not a scary movie. They go “Oh, mental illness… It’s going to be depressing or it’s going to be scary…” It’s none of those things, it’s uplifting and life fulfilling and what I’ve learned about the mental health community and advocating mental health and the de-stigmatization of mental illness in all forms…
It doesn’t matter if you have Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia or clinical depression or autism, is that there is a stigma attached to it. People make fun of it and people make fun of Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, who is an alcoholic or drug addict, when in fact it’s cooler to be an alcoholic or drug addict than it would be to be bi-polar or schizophrenic or suffering from clinical depression and these kids are acting out, so what the studios do or what the parents do or public do is get them… you know, car accidents… go into rehab. If you’re a congressman and you hit on one of your interns, you go into rehab. Maybe it’s not the alcohol that’s causing the problem, maybe it’s what you’re going through.
Before I started this job, I actually thought that everybody looked like Sally Fields, that they had multiple personalities and they heard voices and doing the movie I came to the conclusion or the understanding that my mother, who has been dead for 25 years, suffered from some sort of bi-polar disorder and I just thought her behavior was more ethnically motivated than it was. I thought that she would just be mean when she wanted to be and chose to be like that. You know what I’m saying?
Quint: Yeah, definitely. It seems to me that there is a greater understanding of mental illness now and it seems like a lot of people. I hear the term bi-polar thrown around a lot more than I did 10 years ago.
Joe Pantoliano: Because 10 years ago they called it “Manic Depression” and the fact is that 2 in 5 Americans are suffering from some form of mental illness and anybody with mental illness… it affects at least 11 people in their lives. There was an article a couple of weeks ago where Corporations are losing upwards of 58 billion dollars a year in sick leaves of folk who have breakdowns or are suffering from bi-polar or suffering from advanced stages of schizophrenia, because insurance companies wont pay for auditory talk therapy or physical therapy or pharmaceutical-logical therapy until you get so sick that you need it.
They are saying that if you are working and you get a goldstone and they rush you to the hospital to take to take out your gallbladder, nobody at work is going to be whispering about it, but if you have a nervous breakdown, well you’re running down the street screaming “They’re coming to get me,” they look at you differently, they talk to you differently, and it’s really uncomfortable. With me be being in the movie, I go “Holy Mackerel” 70% of the people who worked on that movie had somebody in their lives that suffered from schizophrenia. That’s outrageous. That’s epidemic in proportions.
Quint: I’ve had friends with bi-polar family members and I’ve seen how they have had to deal with that… Constant fighting, constant stress…
Joe Pantoliano: And Christmas holidays and Thanksgiving and you know, they don’t want to bring his mom over there; she might bite the family dog or… I’ve got good friend whose wife’s brother suffers from bi-polar disorder and he wasn’t taking his meds and he said “I don’t want your brother at my house, around my kids, or around you unless I’m there.”
This movie can be such… it’s like I started an organization, a non-profit, to break the stigma and to educate people about the stigma and isolation and I’m calling it “No Kidding, Me Too Foundation.”
When we do screenings of it, the talk afterwards is “My mother…” or “I suffer…” and it’s staggering. Aside from it being incredibly entertaining, and kids love the movie… a lot of teenagers have been seeing the movie and they love it. They love the kid and they love the whole aspect of it, so I think we latched on to something and also, they don’t make movies like this. It’s so hard to get these kinds of movies into theaters, because the studios and the theater owners are all competing with… um… Give me a movie… whatever that Noah’s Ark movie…
Quint: EVAN ALMIGHTY.
Joe Pantoliano: EVAN ALMIGHTY or TRANSFORMERS… This is something that a family can go see, like BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE. I remember loving that movie so much, because I could go with the whole family to see it. In WINN-DIXIE, that dog healed everybody and brought everybody closer together and in this one it’s art that heals everybody.
Quint: That’s a good message too. I can’t pick up the paper without reading about some Austin or outer Austin school board cutting art out.
Joe Pantoliano: Music departments…
Quint: Art funding…
Joe Pantoliano: Art funding, “kill it.” Did you know that if you play a musical instrument, your math is going to be better?
Quint: I had heard that. It’s such a shame, because that’s the kind of stuff that I latched onto. The only thing that got me through high school was doing the arty stuff.
Joe Pantoliano: The good news is that this kind of movie can really advocate a cause and it’s not just about mental illness, it’s about a family. This is really a love story.
Quint: Obviously you are really proud of the film and of your character, do you really like this kind of quieter, more subtle, character or how do they compare to the more high strung bigger than life ones that you are kind of known for?
Joe Pantoliano: That’s the thing, you get typed into something and to be able to go and do this and be successful at it…
I love doing a multitude of things and when you are successful at something, they tend to… If you’re a lineman and you catch a football and you run it for 89 yards to a TD, it’s not like they are going to put you in the backfield, so for me to be able to produce this with my partners, I’m proud of that as a whole. As for my work, to be as compelling as I am in other form is great and I want the film to succeed, because I want people to see me and Devon… I think Devon is an incredibly bright young star and it’s great to have this little company, Screen Media, believe in the movie in the way that we are platforming it. I want it to bust out. I want it to bust out as much as MEMENTO busted out, you know the little movie that could and I just think it’s a great piece of storytelling. If CANVAS makes it, then that means that all of these little film companies are going to want to make movies like this, because this one succeeded.
Quint: What’s the release schedule? What’s the plan?
Joe Pantoliano: It’s opening in New York and Chicago on October 12th and then the following week in Florida, Arizona, you know what Lauren would know better than I.
Quint: Is there a website?
Joe Pantoliano: You can go to canvasthefilm.com and see that and then they can also go to nokiddingmetoo.com if they want to find out more about that. They can also put their email in there and they’ll get alerts with pop-ups that say “The movie is playing in your city” and then they can also correspond and what else is really interesting is that companies are coming to us and there’s a place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that contacted Screen Media that’s going to put up the money to bring the movie there.
Quint: That’s cool.
Joe Pantoliano: It’s very unusual that that is happening with this film, that people are digging into their pockets. We showed this movie in Sarasota and somebody gave Joe Greco a check for 25 hundred dollars to buy a print. We did the same in Sonoma, where another guy gave a 2,000 dollar check and said “Listen, this movie touched me in such a way and I don’t have a lot of money, but if this helps you get it out, buy an ad or whatever…”
Quint: That’s crazy. I’ve never really heard of something like that happening.
Joe Pantoliano: Me either and in Grand Rapids Pfizer has given us a bunch of money to do the party…
Quint: It really seems to be touching people to bring that kind of support out.
Joe Pantoliano: Listen, I’m an old fuck when it comes to this shit, all of my sensitivity has been burned out of me, but I am so impressed and hopeful about this film and Marcia and I and Joe and Devon, everybody is working their butts off to promote it so that it gets the notice that it deserves.
Quint: I have never spoken to her, but I spent about a week on the set of THE MIST and out of all of the actors there, it was really fascinating to watch Marcia work. I always knew she was a great actress from seeing her work, but it was kind of a revelation to watch how she…
Joe Pantoliano: How she puts it together. She’s a national treasure and I will forever be grateful for her saying yes to do this movie, because she was really busy and we squeezed it in and she did me the best favor. This movie couldn’t have been as good as it is… it would have been a whole different movie had Marcia not have played that part.
Quint: Definitely and you mentioned earlier that it’s kind of her character, if she had of played it too small or too big it would have gone from uninteresting to cartoony.
Joe Pantoliano: And now it’s heartbreaking. She’s also funny in it. There are many moments that are just lighthearted and funny.
Quint: She plays the complexities. That’s the difference that she is able to…
Joe Pantoliano: When she sees the tarp over the boat and she goes “What is that?” and he is going “what are you talking about?” She goes “Oh, just seeing things again,” and he goes “You’re crazy,” she says “You’re crazy,” and he goes “I’m crazy?” Crazy is such a bad word in the mental health community.
Quint: Well what else are you doing? You’re doing this movie in New Mexico, but do you have anything else lined up after it?
Joe Pantoliano: Yeah, I’ve got a bunch of stuff. I’m really busy now with CANVAS going to the Rome Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival… I’m going to Europe to do a movie it looks and I’m just trying to squeeze in as much time as I can to talk about the film, because you know, you get it. Tell your friends to go on the site and sign up and make sure your buddy sees the movie, you got the screener.
Quint: I think that’s all I’ve got, so thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me.
Joe Pantoliano: Thank you. I’m happy to talk to you. Take care of yourself.
Quint: Alright, later on man.
Joe Pantoliano: Bye.
There it is. Hope you guys enjoyed it and found out a little bit about the flick.
I’ve got two really great 40 minute plus interviews coming to you very, very soon. An actor and a director, both connected with great, if completely different, projects. Peep ‘em when they hit.