JAMES FRANCO: LIFE STORIES
When it comes to Hollywood multi-hyphenates, James Franco is hard to beat. While a minted box office draw (Spider-Man, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes), a high-credibility indie player (Howl), and an Oscar nominated (127 Hours) talent to be reckoned with, that’s not enough for the 33-year-old. Franco has also directed a selection of films, including near-experimental features (The Ape, Good Time Max, Fool’s Gold, The Broken Tower), shorts (Herbert White, The Feast Of Stephen, The Clerk’s Tale), documentaries (Saturday Night, which tracks the creation of one episode of the classic American sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live), and the breakout success, The Disaster Artist. It was while studying film and English at Yale (taking a special class on American poet, Walt Whitman), however, that Franco indulged in another passion…this time a non-cinematic one. In 2010, the notorious multi-tasker (he also did a run on the soap opera, General Hospital, to experience a “different kind of acting”) released a book of semi-autobiographical short fiction, entitled Palo Alto Stories, in honour of his California birthplace. “The book thing is all new to me,” Franco told FilmInk in 2010. “One of the big surprises was how long it takes. In many respects, it’s similar to making a film. It has to be edited and put together, and you collaborate with an editor. Then it’s put in its final form and, after that, you wait a long time,” sighs the actor-author. “Mixing it up keeps it interesting for me though.” The reviewers, meanwhile, were a little underwhelmed, though generally not unkind. “Franco’s literary execution hasn’t quite matched his other performances,” commented Joshua Mohr in The New York Times, “though I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t keep at it, trying to shake our comfort zones until his players stand onstage and bare their pillaged souls.” Franco has indeed kept at it, writing a number of books since, including Actors Anonymous and A California Childhood.
GEENA DAVIS: RIGHT ON TARGET
When the tall, curiously gorgeous Geena Davis first burst onto the acting scene (memorably swanning around in her underwear in the 1982 comedy classic, Tootsie), it was as a kooky comedienne, bringing truckloads of sass, an inventive sense of timing, and a warm screen presence to the likes of Beetlejuice, The Accidental Tourist (for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar), Quick Change, and Thelma & Louise. But it was when she was cast in A League Of Their Own – director Penny Marshall’s 1992 hit about the first female professional baseball league – that Davis realised that she had other abilities. “I’d been so un-athletic, and I was sure that I was uncoordinated,” the actress told Pop Entertainment. “But on A League Of Their Own, the coaches were like, ‘You’re picking this up fairly fast.’ I was like, ‘I have untapped athletic ability!’” After upping her stunt work quotient on action films like the disastrous 1995 pirate flick, Cutthroat Island, and the relentless hail of bullets that was 1996’s The Long Kiss Goodnight, Davis was driven to her other principal, non-cinematic, interest: archery. “I became a fanatic about that,” she told Pop Entertainment. “It changed my feelings about my body and my physical abilities. Competing in tournaments was so satisfying. It’s the exact opposite of having a movie review, which is utterly subjective. It doesn’t matter what you wore to the tournament. It’s just about the points – did you hit the bullseye or not – and that’s very satisfying. You can look at it and count instead of wondering.” Davis didn’t have to wonder about her abilities: she just missed out on the US Olympic archery team after competing in the semi-finals. “Yes, Geena Davis is one of the top 32,” National Archery Association spokeswoman Kathleen Frazier said in 2009. “She just wants to keep a low profile.”
PAUL NEWMAN: A FANTASTIC DRESSER
Paul Newman was one of Hollywood’s all-time good guys. Despite brilliantly playing bad boys (both cheekily charming and otherwise) in classics such as Hud, Cool Hand Luke, and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Newman – prior to his sad passing in 2008 – always carried himself as a gentleman off-screen. While the renowned actor, producer and director was famed for his extra-curricular love and passion for motor racing, the enthusiastic amateur cook (“I like racing, but food and movies are more thrilling”) made his greatest mark off screen with the charitable sale of foodstuffs. Along with writer A.E. Hotchner, Newman founded Newman’s Own in 1982, which famously started with salad dressing, and subsequently expanded to include pasta sauce, lemonade, popcorn, salsa, and wine. “When I realised that I was going to have to be a whore, to put my face on the label, I decided that the only way I could do it was to give away all the money that we make,” Newman has said of the endeavour. “Over the years, that ethical stance has given us a 30% boost. One in three customers buys my products because all the profits go to good causes, and the rest buy the stuff because it’s good. The embarrassing thing is that my salad dressing is out-grossing my films!” Newman established a policy that all proceeds, after taxes, would be donated to charity, and as of 2010, the franchise had donated in excess of $300 million to various worthy causes. “Newman’s Own was supposed to be a tiny boutique operation – parchment labels on elegant wine bottles of antique glass,” the Hollywood legend says on the company’s website. “We expected train wrecks along the way and got, instead, one astonishment followed by another. How to account for this massive success? Pure luck? Transcendental meditation? Machiavellian manipulation? Aerodynamics? High colonics? We haven’t the slightest idea.”
BRAD PITT: GRAND DESIGNS
Ever since he sizzled his way onto the screen in the 1999 smash hit, Thelma & Louise, the media has reductively tried to paint Brad Pitt into a corner, marking him as a pretty boy running on limited reserves of talent and intelligence. Over and over, however, Pitt has proven them wrong, rising above his intended status as tabloid fodder with a firestorm of daring film roles. Eschewing romantic comedies and standard action fare in favour of bold works such as Se7en, Twelve Monkeys, Snatch, Babel, Inglourious Basterds, and Moneyball, Pitt has now firmly established himself as a major Hollywood player. While he studied journalism at college, however, Pitt has publicly registered a surprising off-screen interest: architecture. “I’m an architectural nut,” the actor told FilmInk in 2007. “It’s always been a love of mine.” In 2005, Pitt took it one step further by undergoing an “informal apprenticeship” with famed architect Frank Gehry, the subject of Sydney Pollack’s 2005 film, The Sketches Of Frank Gehry, and the designer of the famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Pitt was a member of the design team for the Canadian architect’s controversial redevelopment of the Hove seafront in England. “Frank Gehry really blew the lid off the box, and opened the door for the future,” the actor enthuses. Pitt also worked with Gehry to transform part of downtown LA. “There are thirteen acres around Disney Hall [which Gehry designed], and there’s a chance to build on what was started there,” Pitt told FilmInk in 2007. “But without our intervention, it could mean that the project would be hijacked by developers; Frank invited me to sit in on the inner circle, but I’m more on the periphery.” On further inspiration from Frank Gehry, Pitt also established Make It Right, a design-based initiative to rebuild 150 homes in a Hurricane Katrina-ruined New Orleans neighbourhood.
STEVEN SEAGAL: YOU’RE BUSTED!
On screen, Steven Seagal has made his name by kicking the shit out of people, bringing his grim, taciturn, good-guy-who-looks-like-a-bad-guy personage to action juggernauts like Nico: Above The Law, Out For Justice, and Under Siege. While crunching heads on screen, the 7th-dan black belt in Aikido has indulged in far less violent activity off it, working publicly as an environmentalist, an animal rights activist, and a vocal supporter of the Tibetan independence movement. A guitarist and songwriter, Seagal has also recorded two albums (Songs From The Crystal Cave and Mojo Priest), and tours regularly. This noted multi-tasker, however, has another extra-curricular interest a little closer to his screen image: law enforcement. When not making straight-to-DVD bone-crunchers, dabbling in New Age philosophy, or cutting loose on his axe, Seagal actually briefly worked as a deputy at the Sherriff’s Office in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Though he’d been slapping on a badge for over seventeen years, Seagal’s second job eventually caught the eyes of television producers, who summarily made him the star of the reality TV series, Steven Seagal: Lawman, which was kind of like Cops, but starring, well, Steven Seagal. “I have always been a private person, but being a police officer is something that I love to do, and I wanted everyone to know about it,” Officer Seagal said in an interview with Crime & Investigation UK. “It was never about publicity – it was always about showing people what being a cop involves. I wanted viewers to see that it’s very satisfying to help people in need and to get predators off the streets. It can be very dangerous, but nothing’s more important than protecting the people in the parish. That’s why I’m willing to put myself in harm’s way and be a good cop.” Well, maybe not that good – Seagal resigned from the Sheriff’s Office rather than face an internal affairs investigation into allegations of sex trafficking and sexual assault raised in a 2010 lawsuit by an ex-employee!
CLINT EASTWOOD: SMALL TOWN POLITICS
While most entertainment industry figures who have gone into politics (think California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, US President Ronald Reagan, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, and well, President Donald J. Trump) have done so in a big, blazing fashion, the famously reserved Clint Eastwood characteristically went in the opposite direction, choosing to keep his political activity on a small, decidedly local level. Though the star of Dirty Harry was once absurdly branded a “fascist” for his on-screen cop character’s perceived brutality, Eastwood has always leaned slightly to the left politically, referring to himself as a “libertarian” and publicly supporting various civil rights causes. In April 1986, the actor, producer and director kicked his political interests up a notch when he was elected mayor for one term in his chosen home town of Carmel By The Sea, a small, wealthy village on the Monterey Peninsula in California. “Winning the election is a good-news, bad-news thing,” Eastwood told Esquire. “Okay, now you’re the mayor. The bad news is, now you’re the mayor.” Unsurprisingly, Eastwood’s inspirations in slipping on the mayoral robes were hardly of the world-power-and-domination variety. “I had an issue before the council,” he explained to Esquire. “I remember getting up, and there was a lady who sat and knitted the whole time…she never looked up. ‘No, no, no,’ she said. And I thought, ‘This can’t be. When you’re elected, you have to at least pretend like you’re interested in what people are there for.’ How do you have the chutzpah to just sit there, not pay attention, and not interact at all? It needed to be corrected.” When FilmInk asked Eastwood in 2006 if he would ever get back into politics, the actor laughed. “Running for office? No chance! Knowing how people scrutinise your life, I’d be committing gaffe after gaffe,” he smiled.
KAREN ALLEN: NATURAL WARMTH
When the charming Karen Allen reprised her role of Marion Ravenwood – the tough gal who went to toe to toe with whip cracking adventurer Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark – in 2004’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, many of the original film’s fans wondered where she had been. Well, aside from appearing in the odd indie release here and there (World Traveler, Poster Boy, In The Bedroom), the talented actress (who had also famously featured in the cult flicks, Animal House, Starman and The Wanderers) was busy with her company, Karen Allen Fiber Arts, which specialises in working creatively with wool on products such as scarves, jumpers, shawls, hats and gloves. “I’m in my studio right now,” Allen told FilmInk upon the DVD release of Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull in 2005 “The studio has become a major, exciting, stimulating and very creative part of my life. I went to school about five or six years ago, and learned how to work on these Japanese knitting machines. I’m staring at about eight of them right now. I have this line of very unusual and quite beautiful cashmere sweaters and scarves that I hand-make here in the studio. I have a store that not only sells my line, but also 100 different designers. The studio’s really set up so I can just lock the door and go off and do other things. That’s why I’ve resisted making it a bigger company. I really want the freedom to be able to close it down if I want to do things like travel or work on films, so I’ve been looking at different projects.” For Allen, that’s meant roles in films like White Irish Drinkers, The Tin Star, Bad Hurt, and Year By The Sea.
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS: IF THE SHOE FITS…
The unquestionably brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis is also one of modern cinema’s most enigmatic and unusual performers. While most high profile actors pump out one or two films a year, this now-apparently-retired double Oscar winner (There Will Be Blood, My Left Foot) is far less prolific, usually appearing in one film every two years or so. Those long periods in between movies have led to much conjecture about the actor’s mysterious off-screen life, with rumours swirling about his other interests. “That’s one of the ways that I’ve been misrepresented in the past,” Day-Lewis told FilmInk in 2007. “It’s not with the negative intention of getting away from acting that I spend long periods of time doing something else; it’s with the positive intention of doing other things that I’m also interested in. Spending time in other ways allows me to come back and do the work that I need to do in the way that I need to do it. There’s no chasm between those two lives.” The most interesting reports had Day-Lewis working as a cobbler in a tiny Irish village before he signed on to star in 2002’s Gangs Of New York. When asked by The Guardian if he was actually making a living fixing people’s shoes, the actor scoffed. “I wasn’t making money,” he replied. “It’s an insane privilege to be able to take that period of time off without having to worry about the bills.” As well as working with leather and hobnails, Day-Lewis also has an interest in carpentry, and helped build the sets for the 2009 film, The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee, which was directed by his wife, Rebecca Miller. In fact, Day-Lewis revealed in an interview that before he starred in There Will Be Blood, his nine-year-old son actually thought that his father was not an actor, but worked on a building site.
ANGELINA JOLIE: HEART & SOUL
“My role as Goodwill Ambassador has made my work as a film star relatively dull,” Angelina Jolie told CNN in 2005. “I can’t find anything that interests me enough to go back to work. I’m simply not excited about anything. I’m not excited about going to a film set.” Though turned off movies when she began her work as a United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) Goodwill Ambassador in 2001, Angelina Jolie has since reconciled both sides of her public life, continuing to star in films while also doing her ambassadorial duties. Once notorious for her rumoured off-screen debauchery and list of high profile lovers, Jolie has slowly turned her image around, with many commentators now rather over-excitedly viewing her as some kind of modern saint. This began with her involvement with UNHCR, which started with a mission to the small, violence-ripped African nation of Sierra Leone, which has been ruptured by years of brutal civil war. “One of the first camps that I went to had 400,000 people,” Jolie has said. “It was a sea of human misery. In Sierra Leone, I saw tens of thousands with their arms and legs cut off…orphaned children. I felt completely overwhelmed. I cried constantly. I felt guilty for everything that I had. Then I realised that I wasn’t doing these people any favours by crying. I took a deep breath and focused on how I could help. I discovered that I was useful as a person. When I met suffering people, it put my life into perspective. It slammed me into a bigger picture of the world.” As a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Jolie has used her superstar status to generate media coverage about the tragic plight of the world’s refugees.
MICHAEL MADSEN: POETRY IN MOTION
When you think of actor Michael Madsen, you tend to think of his ear-slicing, ice cool malice in Reservoir Dogs; his laconic, hard-bitten villainy in Kill Bill: Vol. 2; and his tough guy mobster in Donnie Brasco. If you think a little harder, you sadly realise that he’s been squandering his talents in B-grade garbage like CobraGator, and that appearing on the UK’s Celebrity Big Brother was an absolute career low point. When you think of Michael Madsen, however, what you don’t usually think about is poetry. But that’s exactly what this 6”2 big screen bruiser does when he’s not acting, making unfortunate career decisions, or raising his five sons. For Madsen – who has had a number of volumes of poetry published, most of which were collected in the impressive tome, The Complete Poetic Works Of Michael Madsen, Vol. I: 1995-2005, with a second volume set to follow in 2019 – the written word took hold of him during the long plane trips, hotel stays, and between-set-ups downtime that he experienced as an actor. Inspired by writer, Loren Eiseley, the actor started jotting down his thoughts and feelings whenever the need seized him. “I started writing things on the backs of matchbooks or on a paper bag,” Madsen told The Malibu Times. “I actually wrote a poem on my leg in the back of a taxi cab one time in New York City because I didn’t have a piece of paper and I was afraid that I would forget.” Despite his tough guy exterior, Madsen often digs deep in his poetry, exposing the pain of his hardscrabble childhood, and revealing his own fears and insecurities. “There’s a lot of dark stuff, and material about my childhood, and about growing up,” he told The Malibu Times. “After people started reading some of it, they realised that what I’m really doing is creating a journal of my life.”
JEFF BRIDGES: STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART
The brilliant 2009 drama, Crazy Heart, didn’t just win master actor Jeff Bridges a long, long, long overdue Oscar; it also introduced the world to a soulful, passionate, and wholly credible singer. As drunk-to-the-bone country singer and monumental fuck-up Bad Blake, Bridges not only gave the performance of his career, but also did all his own singing, resulting in a fine soundtrack filled with songs of regret, longing and heartbreak. A longtime dabbler in music (he released his debut solo album, Be Here Soon, in 2000), Bridges seized the moment and reteamed with Crazy Heart’s soundtrack producer, T-Bone Burnett, to record a new solo album. “I’ve been itching to make some more music for a while,” Bridges told Music Radar. “But doing Crazy Heart primed the pump for me to record this album. It definitely made the ground fertile for me to plant those musical seeds. I kind of figured, if any time is right to do this, now’s the time.” Low key, emotive, and with a wonderfully burnt out feeling, the self-titled 2011 record boasts bravura playing and a fistful of rich, evocative songs, some courtesy of songwriter Bridges himself. Though he also has a keen interest in photography (gifting a beautiful hard-bound book of on-set photos to every crew member on every film in which he appears), this terrific album proves that music is definitely Bridges’ second best career choice. “People like to put you in this slot or that slot,” he told Music Radar. “Everybody likes to assume that you can only do one thing, and that you can’t possibly be good at two things. But since Crazy Heart was about a musician, and I kind of pulled that off alright, I thought, ‘Hey, maybe people will accept me now as a musician.’ My timing could be right.”
MICKEY ROURKE: GET IN THE RING
He nearly scored an Oscar for his heartbreaking performance as a busted-up professional wrestler in 2010’s The Wrestler, but Mickey Rourke has ironically been a longtime proponent of the considerably more noble sport of boxing. “I’ve always loved it,” he told FilmInk in 2005. “I started as an eleven-year-old in the amateurs, and boxed until I was eighteen.” While many actors have a sporting background (Burt Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson and many more), very few of them return to that sport in the middle of a successful movie career, which is exactly what Rourke did in 1991. Though not quite at the peak of his fame, the actor’s move back into boxing came hurtling like a surprise left hook, and quickly snatched media headlines. “It was for the love of boxing, believe it or not,” Rourke replied when FilmInk asked what motivated his return to the ring. “I thought that I was going to come back and fight for one year. It turned into five-and-a-half years [Rourke’s return to the ring panned out to eight wins, two draws, and no defeats], because I fell in love with it again, and I couldn’t turn it off. They had to finally say to me, ‘You’re going to lose your fucking mind! Your memory’s going! Mickey, we’re going to have to get someone to take you around the fucking corner to show you where your house is!’” Rourke’s once beautiful face was summarily battered (and then further minced after too much bad restorative plastic surgery) and his body was a wreck. “I can’t do intricate things with my hands, but I can live with that. I don’t need to knit,” he joked to FilmInk in 2010. “I have trouble putting on a toothpaste cap; for me, that’s a big event. That’s why I quit boxing – I went too far and things started to get irreparable.” Despite his apparent physical limitations, Rourke extraordinarily returned to the ring at age 62 (!!!) in 2014 to fight (and defeat!) 29-year-old American boxer Elliot Seymour in an exhibition bout in Moscow. “I’ve got some things going on in my life, so boxing has sort of saved me from myself,” Rourke told Russian TV. “And for a man like me, it’s better to live in fear than go on in shame.”