The star of such classics as Full Metal Jacket, Married To The Mob, Birdy, Streamers, Short Cuts, Orphans, The Dark Knight Rises and TV’s Stranger Things, Matthew Modine is one of the greats, and FilmInk was very chuffed indeed when we got to chat with the actor via Zoom about his latest movie, Wrong Turn. A major departure for Modine, this blood-drenched backwoods horror flick is a reboot of the popular Wrong Turn franchise, which ran to six gore-packed entries. 2021’s Wrong Turn creates an entirely new continuity, as a group of friends hiking The Appalachian Trail are menaced and terrorised by The Foundation, a warped, demented community of killers who have lived in the mountains for hundreds of years, completely divorced from modern society. Modine takes on the role of Scott, the father of one of the youngsters that takes the titular wrong turn…
Hi, how are you?
“I’m doing well. Thank you. I’m having a cup of tea and a biscuit. I just got home from work and I’ve just jumped on the call with you.”
Thanks for doing this, we really appreciate it. Have you ever been to Australia, by the way?
“Yeah. I made a film there called Wind…yeah, all the Australians went, ‘What an unfortunate title.’ We were in Fremantle, and it was about The America’s Cup.”
You didn’t head to the east coast?
“That’s right. You know what they told me in Perth? They said that Australia is on a slant, and all the loose nuts and bolts end up on the east coast.”
Congratulations on Wrong Turn. Full disclosure: I haven’t watched the previous Wrong Turn movies…
“Me too. I don’t watch those kinds of movies. My daughter and my son came over for lunch and said, ‘What are you reading?’ I said, ‘It’s a horror movie called The Foundation. It’s part of this franchise called Wrong Turn.’ And both my son and daughter were like, ‘Oh my God, those are so much fun!’ They like zombie movies…that whole generation of people like zombies, because I think in this moment with the environment, and certainly with Donald Trump, it felt like the world was being overrun with zombies and the living dead. So they got really excited when I told them about the movies. So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it, it sounds fun.’ I’ve never done that kind of genre film before.”
There is subtext in the film…or did most of your excitement come from shooting guns and beating people up?
“There is certainly subtext, in the sense that The Foundation is a group of people from before the American Civil War who saw that the war was coming and moved up into the mountains of Appalachia. They removed themselves from society for over 200 years, and they’ve just been living up there. They keep people off the mountain, and they set traps so that people can’t find them. That’s what my daughter in the film and this group of her friends fall into. They get too close to these people who have left society and created their own culture in the mountains.”
It reminded me of the recent storming of the US Capitol… What world are those people living in, and what world would they like to live in?
“No, they don’t want to live in this world that we’re living in. They don’t understand that society, in order to survive, has to evolve. We learned that from Charles Darwin; that a species can’t be successful if it doesn’t evolve and adapt to the changing world. And America’s culture, it’s a multicultural country, always has been evolving. But we know now that We The People was a certain group of people…it was a group of white Protestant men. It didn’t include women, and it certainly didn’t include people of colour or Asian people, or Mexicans…all the colours of the rainbow. But our culture has grown to be more inclusive. The abolition of slavery, the amendments that gave women the right to vote…those are the steps of evolution in the evolving character of the United States. And there are certain people that just don’t want that to happen. They don’t want to see the country change. They don’t want to compete for work with people of another colour because they feel that they have a privilege that other people don’t deserve. It’s absurd, this white privilege.”
You’ve obviously worked with some amazing directors…how was your experience with Mike P. Nelson on Wrong Turn?
“It was a very good relationship. He certainly understood the genre. He’s a young director who takes one of those credits, a ‘Film By’… that always annoys me, especially when you’ve never heard of Mike P. Nelson before. I never had. That doesn’t mean that he’s not capable or that he’s not a nice man or a good director, but it’s just silly to me when there’s 300 people working on a film, and one person takes possession of the film and says, ‘It’s a film by me.’ Come on, man. Who do you think you are?”
You would have worked with plenty of directors who believed in that way of crediting the film…
“Stanley Kubrick. I’m trying to remember, I’m not sure. ‘A Film By’…it makes you believe that they’ve done everything…they edited, they wrote, they directed, they did the costumes, they did the hair and makeup, they did the lighting….”
Actors bring a lot to a film…
“Absolutely. When I think of film directors, I think of them as conductors. And all the best directors, whether it was Robert Altman or Alan Pakula or John Schlesinger or Alan Parker, Kubrick, Spielberg, I’ve heard them say that 90% of making a film is casting the right actors. But I would extend that to the crew, the art department, the hair and makeup, the costume designer, the production designer, and all of those elements. They’re like threads in a fabric. And it only takes one of the threads to snap to destroy the fabric, like a pair of ladies’ nylon stockings with a snag. It ruins the whole pair. Everybody has to work in concert.”
Do your kids get the significance of the films that you’ve made? Particularly your films from the 1980s?
“They can’t. They have to have an objectivity because I’m their father, you know? It’s funny, I was watching Turner Classic Movies, and Michael Douglas was on television talking about his father, Kirk Douglas, who did a couple of films with Stanley Kubrick, Spartacus and Paths Of Glory. He just was talking about how much he loved his father and how complicated the relationship was and how he looked forward to the time when he might do a film with his father. My son [Boman] is a director, and he would love to find a project that we could do together. I’ve worked with my daughter [Ruby Modine] on a couple of films. I’ve directed her in a short film called Super Sex, and some of her music videos because she’s a singer. I’ll give her a plug, The Infinity Mixtape. It’s on Apple, iTunes and Spotify and all those different kinds of platforms. It’s terrific. She does a cover of a Machine Gun Kelly song, ‘I Think I’m Okay’, and I just love it. She took a crazy rock and roll song and she turned it into a ballad. It’s beautiful. But the whole album is really terrific.”
You have had great longevity and humility with regards to your attitude to acting. How has the journey been, and why do you think you’re still there?
“I have no idea, but I’m really grateful. You can’t hit a home run unless you get in the box. You’ve got to stand in that batter’s box and take your swings, and there are some people who just get tired of getting in the box and striking out. Babe Ruth was one of the most successful baseball players in the history of the game, and he struck out six out of 10 times. If you’re batting 400, that’s pretty incredible. So sometimes you don’t hit a home run, but you get a base hit. Sometimes you get a double, triple. And sometimes you hit it out of the park. And sometimes you strike out. So the trick is just to keep getting in the box. And sometimes it’s scary…sometimes, you get hit in the face with the ball and it knocks you on your ass. But you brush yourself off and get back in the box and have the courage to face that pitch when it comes in. Because sometimes we work on a film and it’s a disaster and they point their fingers at the actors and say, ‘What a piece of junk this movie is!’ The actors are out in front. And here’s the thing. I’ve never gotten to work on a film that I didn’t do the best that I could. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. All the filmmakers are given the same equipment, and some people can create magic with that equipment. For other people, it just doesn’t work. It’s just one dimensional. It’s boring, it’s flat. I haven’t figured out why sometimes it works and why sometimes it doesn’t, except that sometimes you just get lucky.”
In the 1980s, you were the guy. Was it challenging for you to adjust from being a leading man to a supporting player?
“Yeah. It sucks to have been the guy, to be the guy with the guy, or the guy with the guy with the guy, you know? But I’m grateful to be in this profession at all. I moved to New York City out of high school and worked in a restaurant. I worked my way up to becoming the chef in the restaurant and saving my money so I could go to drama school. When I think of all the students that went to New York City to do what I’m doing, I’m so grateful that I got a job. And you know, not just one, but almost a hundred now. I’ve worked on the stage in London, and I’ve worked on the stage in Chicago and New York. I’ve been nominated for Golden Globes. I’ve won The Golden Lion at The Venice Film Festival, and we won the prize with Birdy at The Cannes Film Festival. I’ve been rewarded tremendously. So it always surprises me when I hear about actors being difficult or angry or mean to the crew members, because you’re getting to do what you wanted to do. You’re getting to do what hundreds of thousands of people want to do. So be grateful, man. Be grateful. I don’t say that lightly. I mean it from the bottom of my heart.”
Wrong Turn opens in cinemas on February 4, 2021