Giovanni Ribisi Interviewed – PERFECT STRANGER

     April 6, 2007

The other day I did roundtables for Perfect Stranger and got to talk with Halle Berry, Giovanni Ribisi, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas (Producer) and James Foley (Director). While I’m posting the transcripts for Giovanni and Halle, the other two can only be heard as audio interviews as I have way too much to transcribe and post over the next few days.

So if you’d like to hear Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas (Producer) or James Foley (Director) click on either name (the files are MP3’s). I will warn you though… both interviews contain MAJOR spoilers and if you don’t want to know the secrets of this film I would not listen until you have seen the movie. But if you have the time and want to listen to a crazy interview listen to James Foley. Seriously I have never heard someone give an interview like this. It has to be heard to be believed.

But enough of the other people, you clicked on this article to read about Giovanni. In person Giovanni has some of that same energy that you see on the screen, especially if you’ve seen him on My Name is Earl. While I had heard in the past he was less animated and more on the quiet side… if you listen to the interview you’ll see that isn’t the case anymore. He talks about all the usual stuff and if you’re a fan you’ll dig it.

Again the interviews were done in roundtable form which explains the wide variety of questions. If you’re not familiar with the term roundtable, that’s when the studio gets anywhere between 4 and 15 journalists around a table taking turns asking questions. Obviously each person is writing a story and has an agenda and that explains why certain questions were asked. While I might be interested in the craft of acting…when you are at a table with US Weekly you know what they’re going to ask about…

If you’d like to listen to the audio of the interview – click here – it’s an MP3 and easily played on any portable player. Otherwise you can read it below.

And here is a link to the trailer in case you haven’t seen it and the studio provided synopsis:

Perfect Stranger asks the question: How far would you go to keep a secret? When investigative reporter Rowena Price (Halle Berry) learns that her friend’s murder might be connected to powerful ad executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), she goes undercover with the help of her associate, Miles Haley (Giovanni Ribisi). Posing as Katherine, a temp at Hill’s agency, and Veronica, a girl Hill flirts with online, Rowena surrounds her prey from all sides, only to discover that she isn’t the only one changing identities. The closer we get to learning the truth, the more we understand how far people will go to protect it.

Perfect Stranger opens on Friday the 13th

Have you ever eaten eggs with chopsticks before?

Giovanni: No. [laughs] hey, that was one of those things. The character was written as being this guy who was sort of frumpy and introverted and overweight and the classic computer geek. I wanted to go the complete opposite direction and try to make him witty and charming and really winning over Halle’s character or just thinking that he can. That was just part of that. I didn’t know it was going to be that obvious at the time. I guess this is one of those times when people use the word ‘quirky’ and Giovanni Ribisi in the same sentence.

Are you a computer geek?

There was a point after I did Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, I saw movies being made more in that way and I have aspirations of making movies myself one day so yeah, I went to school for it for a little while but then, no. In this way, the computer hacker thing, that’s just on another level. I had three or four weeks to get ready for the film so it was just about concentrating on the character and all the different masks the characters have and the relationships they have with each other.

What made you fall in love with the character of Miles?

I don’t know. It was just this conversation I had with James Foley. This guy is like a character actor but he wants to be a leading man and he wants to get the girl and he fails and it’s just tragic. I think anybody, to a greater or lesser degree has felt that infatuation or that obsession with somebody. And, the story, generally, as a whole isn’t good versus evil or black and white. Everybody is a human being and it’s about how far people will go to get what they want or to cover something up and I think that that’s interesting.

Could you relate to the obsessive nature of this character?

Yeah. Maybe this is really narcissistic, but if you can’t then you’re really not living life. I think it’s also about power and who she is. Who is she? She’s famous, she’s got money and a really nice apartment.

Did you have any say in designing his secret room?

No. I made suggestions. They asked questions but ultimately, that guy, whose name is escaping me, is great. He did the H2A office. He’s incredible.

What was your reaction when you saw it? Especially the Halle shrine?

That was actually a thing that came out of the rehearsal process, talking about that room. It’s so thematic to the movie as far as the hidden aspects of people’s lives. Nowadays, it’s really predominant. There’s that expression, you find one out point and keep pulling the string on it and, sooner or later, you’ll find a Sherman tank. It’s like how deep can you go? People are living their lives sometimes, on their computer screen, carrying on relationships with other people and that’s one of the themes of the film.

Do you visit chatrooms under an alias or as yourself?

No. I don’t type fast enough. It’s kind of embarrassing. I’m not up to date. I’m old-fashioned.. with a cell phone. I think, that’s one of the things. I like that human contact and I think that’s important.

Did you at least get a free laptop?

No. I asked about that but they were stingy.

Have you seen the business grow since you started acting as a kid? Did you think the business would be like this?

No. I had no idea. I was a different person back then. I was into acting earlier on and I begged my mother to do it and she finally acquiesced and I started doing TV. Then, I quit for a little while and someone said ‘oh, you don’t know who Marlon Brando is? You’ve gotta go see Streetcar Named Desire’ and I was blown away by that and that’s when I started studying. I feel like that’s when I became an actor. It’s completely different. I don’t know if it’s just be and my own subjective viewpoint but I don’t feel like actors are as committed as they were when I was coming up in the ‘90’s or in the ‘70’s. You hear about people bleeding for these characters and really seeing that it’s possible to be effective with a performance, to affect somebody. I think that probably speaks to what our process is and conversations we had in rehearsals about music industry and movie industry as being somewhat parochial nowadays. How can that be because anything’s possible and nobody’s shocked anymore but really listen to the way they mixed a Jimi Hendrix record for instance. It’s massive, or a Beatles record and the amount of experimentation that was going on back then. Some of the shit that was going on back in the ‘50’s or the ‘70’s, nobody had ever seen. it was mind-blowing. They were taking chances. One of the things that Bruce Willis said to me in the rehearsal process was ‘this should be a four million dollar movie’. He was really passionate. Meaning we have to be in the trenches on this and really push the envelope. I think we at least made the attempt.

So you think the industry has become too formulaic?

Yeah, that, to me is an argument I’ve been hearing all my life and I think they were probably saying that in the ’50’s and even in Chaplin’s era. That’s why UA was founded. But, I’m talking about generally. Maybe, it’s a disenchantment with things. I’m just seeing movies less and less…. However, I say that and I saw this one thing, T.V. Junkie, fucking hell! That movie is unbelievable. Talk about something you’ve never seen. Maybe that’s the way things are going because we are in such a reality TV world. Talk about being fearless and wanting to expose yourself. I think it’s more or less about that.

What do you look for in a project now?

I think dimension. Also what rings my bell at that moment. Also, something that’s mainly going to be a challenge at this point. I think you have to do things that you’re scared to death of. There’s definitely something I’m looking at right now that I shouldn’t talk about but I can’t fucking sleep about it and I haven’t really signed on. So, I think that is what keeps you awake as far as being an artist and creative and pushes you.

Do you think all the secrets in this movie were exposed?

I have thousands of secrets that nobody knows [laughs diabolically wha, ha, ha, ha]. I don’t know. That’s part of what this genre is. Part of it is who done it. My character’s definitely suspect. Really, I don’t know if anybody is necessarily guilty in this movie. If you look at the context of their lives and what they’re really trying to do. They’re trying to survive and get on. It’s through the medium of the internet and secrets. Everybody has secrets.

Do you think some actors today get too carried away trying to be method?

No. I’ll fucking take that any day of the week over somebody who doesn’t give a shit. Somebody who is earnest and cares about it, I think that shines through, even if their accent isn’t that accurate or whatever. I saw Blood Diamond and I think he’s mind-blowing in that movie. The accent was perfect. I’m not from there but I think seeing how alive that performance is, I love that. I think that’s great. There’s balance and maybe sometimes people can get too garish or whatever.

What’s coming up for you now?

I have a movie that is the exact opposite of this film, it’s a romantic comedy called The Dog Problem with Don Cheadle and Scott Caan and Lynn Collins. It’s going to be coming out in May or something like that. I play the guy with the dog problem.

Do you build your character’s backstory in your head when you do something like this role?

Yeah, sometimes you do. That’s important because you are seated in something and, when you say something you are coming from a place. Even if it’s that little extra tinge of confidence, I’ll do it for that. It’s also fun. It’s fun to imagine. Part of the whole game of it is evolving and fleshing out and consummating the character as much as you can.

Were you curious about the mechanics of what your character was doing?

At that time, no. There’s also like triage in the sense of given the amount of time you have, it’s important to prioritize and, yeah, there was a little bit of that but what excited me and what I concentrated on more was the behavioral attributes and the way he related to Halle’s character.

How do you get yourself out of a role like this and start over?

Sometimes it’s crazy. No matter who you are or what your approach to acting is, ultimately, it’s an itinerant life. You travel around for work. At some points in my life, with a family, I’ve been gone for ten months out of a year. You are in such an intense situation. You have an agenda every day and then you come home and the slate is clean and it’s like rocking back and forth in the corner with drool for a week, a post-partum thing. I think you’ve got to have something else. I always want to have a plan when I’m done with a movie to work on my own personal things or spend time with my daughter, whatever.

Do you have a gameplan for directing at some point?

I’m looking at some books that I want to adapt. It’s on the subject of the guy’s life Egon who was a 20th century Viennese painter and it’s about what was going on socio-politically back then with the Austrian-Hungarian empire and World War One and him and the women in his life.

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Would you act in this as well?

I wouldn’t want to because I think that directing is just a whole other thing. It might be presumptuous if I did want to. It’s a massive undertaking and it would be, probably at that point, a singular job for me.

That great scene where Halle comes out in a dynamite dress and Miles goes “Wow!”. Was that your reaction or your character’s reaction?

Yeah, I think that was both. You try to blur that line. Yeah, that was just something that was out of rehearsals. I think I did it as a joke in the rehearsals and they’re like ‘yeah, you should… where’s the thing’?

Are you hard on yourself as an actor? Can you watch yourself on screen?

It depends on what I’ve had for breakfast but, I don’t know. Sometimes, then with this, I felt at ease. I felt like I was watching a movie and that’s a nod towards the director as well. But, other times, for instance, Saving Private Ryan, I saw the movie more or less at the premiere because I was nervous about it and I don’t even remember it because there was all the lights and so much going on at that moment that you can’t really concentrate. It was ten years ago that that movie was made and then I saw it like last week on TV, I was like ‘oh, yeah. I was in that’ and it’s a great movie. I’m really proud of that. It brought back all the memories so I think I need a little bit of time.

Was it tough shooting the lovemaking stills for that subplot with your character?

That was just a closed-down thing, just me and her and the photographer. It was like ‘wooooooo’, the process. I was nervous. So many times with sex scenes and sexuality in movies you already have your family back at home and it’s like ‘hi, I’m Giovanni’ and [starts mock unbuttoning his shirt], ‘okay, here we go’.[acts out a tongue kiss]. On The Dead Girl, that was like a four day shoot and it was really intimate. I don’t know.

What do you think you took away from this movie that will help you when you’re going to direct?

I love to stand next to the monitors and listen to the director’s thoughts in a way and she what they’re doing and why and I feel privileged. I think it’s the best education, especially with somebody like James Foley and other directors I’ve worked with are so good at what they do and you read the script and sort of envision it yourself and then you see somebody’s take on it. There was a director I talked to who directed The Alamo, and he was fortunate enough to just sit on a movie set, having read the scripts and direct the movie by himself with a shot list and then go to the set every day and see how the actual director was doing it. I think that’s great. Specifics, I don’t know.

What was it like working with Halle Berry?

For me what blew me away about her is how fearless she is. She’s so fucking committed to what she does. This is a movie where we were shying away from being parochial and she was just so willing to try things and just there. It created this environment to make you… because I do things that some people might get offended by in the movie and she was just right there with it. It’s not like acting with somebody who is just naturalistic and dead, it’s somebody who wants to go to the movies. That’s inspiring.

What is the worst acting job you’ve ever had?

Right now, sweetheart.

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