One of the things that's great about Training Day (2001) is that you have two very distinct personalities, but it's true: it also has a great plot. If you can do both, it's incredibly exciting for the audience. Oftentimes, you have art films that have no narrative to speak of and instead offer characterization; then you have mainstream movies that are simple formulas, A-B-C-D. Training Day (2001) is a good combo.
(On working with Jude Law) I think Jude's the real thing. He is just electric, man. He is so beautiful. It's weird to be around someone that beautiful. I just couldn't believe he was straight.
I was friends with River Phoenix, you know, and I used to be painfully jealous of him, until a friend pointed out that him doing well doesn't mean that you're doing badly. And if he does badly, it doesn't mean you're doing better. It's like that great Gore Vidal line, 'Whenever a friend of mine succeeds, a small part of me dies'. Being an adult is really challenging. When you're young, you can rely for so long on being promising, and then you have to stop being promising. You want to say, 'Hey, can't I be promising any more?'.
People look at your life and see things as a big deal that aren't a big deal to you. What I mean is, the chapter breaks are different for me. I'll read about my divorce, and what people think about it, and, well, it's so inaccurate, usually, but the fact is, I wouldn't want it to be accurate. Because it's my truth. When I was younger, it was more important to me to come off well. Now, I just want to try to be good at what I do.
(On Dead Poets Society (1989)) The experience on that movie was, for lack of a better term, life-altering. Peter Weir has a unique talent for making movies that are intelligent but also mainstream. I've never been terribly successful at doing that.
I had a huge depression when my marriage split up. But Before Sunset (2004) and Hurlyburly (1998) ended up being these giant vents for me, to let it blow through. No matter how screwed up I was, I was never as screwed up as "Eddy" in Hurlyburly (1998), the woman-hater.
The person who's had the most impact on acting since Marlon Brando, the only person who's really changed acting, is Julia Roberts. I call it the Julia Roberts School of Acting. It's an excess of competence. She's got all these imitators, and they just basically get on screen and smile. The idea is, smile and say your line. And Julia Roberts herself - well, that's one thing. But she has a ton of pupils who get on screen and basically just smile. And their smile is so winning, and so wonderful, that you say, 'I like that person'. And it drives me crazy, because the point of performance is not to be liked. My grandfather's a politician, and he can never understand. He says, 'You've got to stop playing these people no one would ever like!' But my job is not to be liked. It's to make interesting things. I want to actually do something, rather than just be me on screen. Julia Roberts does something with it, but all her imitators. It's like the imitators of Raymond Carver, that generation of writers copying him, I guess: it looks simple to them and they copy it, but they're missing the thing that made it special.
(On being a father) "It's the greatest pleasure in my life. It's the only role that, if I fail, I will consider my life a failure."
A lot of these movies, they're really enjoyable to see. Really, it's like smoking crack or something--you walk out and you feel diminished by it. It's eye candy, just violence and sex. Definitely lots of sex, people making out or showing their tits, which is always fun, but it wasn't what I wanted to do with my life. I tried it - I tried doing this Angelina Jolie movie (Taking Lives (2004)), a popcorn movie, the first movie I did that's about nothing. And I didn't like it, because I do ultimately feel there's enough crap like this. It's so much more fun and harder and more challenging to try to make something that's entertaining but isn't wasting your time.
The devil is seductive, and so guns are glorious in the culture. I understand there's a case to be made. For instance, Spike Lee said something like this, that you can't have a scene with drugs in a film that doesn't secretly make you want to do drugs. In the same vein, it's hard to make a movie that's anti-violence because the very nature of photographing violence eroticises it. But I'm not so sold that that's true.
A lot of American actors when they do Shakespeare put on a phoney English accent and it drives me crazy. You're always fighting against the idea that only the British know how to do Shakespeare.
One of the things I learned on Training Day (2001) was it can be fun to work inside a genre. And I've also always felt that if you wanted to keep working, that if you're not a real chameleon of an actor and if you're not one of those guys who can really shape-change themselves all the time, one of the ways to keep pushing yourself and keep changing is to be in different kinds of movies. And this one had a good part, and often these kinds of movies don't even allow you to even try to give a nuanced performance.
Actors write movies all the time - but you try fiction and you're an asshole. Everyone wants to try new things, or almost everyone. Really great supporting actors want to play the lead, and lead actors secretly wish they could be character actors. Brad Pitt doesn't want to be pretty! You know what I mean? Everybody in the world wants to look like Brad Pitt, and Brad Pitt wants to look like a regular guy.
Acting was something that came very easily to me. It fell in my lap. But the people I admired the most were not really movie stars. I was full of Jack London and Jack Kerouac.
After Reality Bites (1994) came out, I had opportunities to be a different kind of actor, and rightly or wrongly, I grew up in a household where there was such anger and resentment towards anyone who had any money, that I never really had any desire to make any money. And I had the idea that a real artist wouldn't have any money. That's been problematic.
The kindest compliments I have ever heard are when cops tell me Training Day (2001) and Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) inspired them to become cops. The funniest compliments I have ever heard are when people tell me that 'I love your band Sugar Ray'.
(On writing his novel, The Hottest State) "Writing the book had to do with dropping out of college, and with being an actor. I didn't want my whole life to go by and not do anything but recite lines. I wanted to try making something else. It was definitely the scariest thing I ever did. And a huge learning experience about how not everybody's going to like you, or like what you do. And you have to ask yourself, is it worthwhile? Or am I just doing it to be liked? And it was just one of the best things I ever did. The second book was so much more fun because of that. The first was just a novelty act, like, 'The kid from Reality Bites wrote a book? Who does he think he is?' And I understand that."
But the truth is, I've never wanted to be a movie star - and I've been pretty clear about that.
I think most people are good at more things than the world gives them the opportunity to do.