Spoiler note: this interview reveals crucial information about the plot and characters of “Memento,” which opens today.
Joe Pantoliano. A veteran character actor with more than 20 years in the business and 70 films to his credit. Born and raised in Hoboken, NJ. A member on the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild. Francis Fratelli in “Goonies.” Cypher in “The Matrix.” And he”s not fond of the Academy Awards.
“It”s all bullshit. It”s all politics. It”s like watching the fucking senate. And they”re not entertaining,” Pantoliano said. “You know what, come up, tell me the fucking guy who won, girl who won, have “em make their speech because that”s why I watch. I want to see what their reaction is. I don”t wanna see the fucking Rockettes doing a scene from “Godfather II.”
Laughing aside, Pantoliano”s latest film “Memento,” in which he plays the strange confidant Teddy, already has a large amount of buzz surrounding it (the film was a hit at this year”s Sundance Film Festival). “That”s when everyone started getting confidence again,” Pantoliano said. “Then the reviews started coming out and everybody just breathed a sigh of relief.”
Since the middle of March, “Memento” has played to sell out crowds in New York and Los Angeles. “This movie”s already been successful,” Pantoliano said, as “Memento” cost relatively little to make (it”s budget was about $5 million). “Everybody made sacrifices. The actors worked for less, producers didn”t take fees or took very little fee. We all worked for less.”
Working on a cheap budget, the entire production dealt with a quick shooting schedule. “25 days. 24 days and one pick-up day,” Pantoliano said. “I think we had like four days of rehearsal. We didn”t have a lot of time and we knew that if we didn”t get it, we wouldn”t get it. If we didn”t get our day, we weren”t coming back to get it tomorrow.”
In the end, the time constraints may have added to “Memento””s lively feel. “Filmmaking is really more of a pragmatic experience and I think sometimes when you have less, you get more done than when you have more,” Pantoliano said. “I think people get spoiled by money.”
The power of money is a concern for Pantoliano as an actor and an artist. “It”s so stupid. When commerce controls art, you”re in a lot of fucking trouble. I feel like we”re in a lot of trouble,” Pantoliano said. “I”m tired of all these action flicks and chick flicks, catering to the lowest denominator. For me, it”s encouraging when movies like “Traffic” and “Requiem for a Dream,” that these movies are breakout movies that get a large audience because then the morons financing these movies (action, chick flicks) start thinking, “Well, we should start making more movies like this.””
As cynical as he might sound toward many of the blockbuster films, Pantoliano still holds a positive view toward some of the Hollywood mainstream (though he won”t be coming back in “The Matrix” sequels. “They decided I was dead,” Pantoliano grinned.)
“There”s some really fantastic commercial films I like. I think there”s room out there for high concept movies, like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” like “The Matrix,” “The Fugitive,” “Air Force One,” Pantoliano said. “The movies I object to are these mindless “Exit Wounds,” “Lethal Weapon 4,” “American Pie 9,” anything with that what”s his name Freddie Prinze is in. If it”s a Freddie Prinze movie, you just tell your kid “No,” they can”t go.”
A film like “Memento, ” however, is a treat for Pantoliano. “”Memento” is the kind of movie I like to go see and the kind of movie I dream of being in,” Pantoliano said. Director Christopher Nolan cast Pantoliano on a recommendation from “Matrix” co-star Carrie Anne Moss.
“He said, “That”s an interesting idea, but I think the audience will think he”s the bad guy right away.” And then he met me and we liked each other and he told my agent that,” Pantoliano said. “He [Nolan] said, “I think the audience will think that, because of the kind of parts Joey”s played most of the time.” And then my agent said, “Well, that”s the reason why you need to hire him. Because he”s not the bad guy. You need them to think that he is.” And Chris realized he was right. Lucky for me.”