Exclusive In-Depth Chat with C. Thomas Howell Regarding MoniKa and More!
Commenting on his approach to the more complex individuals he’s been playing of late, and his affinity toward what some would deem ‘darker’ roles, “Part of the discovery for me is that people relate to flawed characters more than they do the hero,” he said. “For example, I play a reformed alcoholic on ‘Southland’, and he’s not necessarily politically correct. He doesn’t really know how to censor his thoughts so he says a lot of the wrong things, and I’ve had more people connect with that character on the street than any character I’ve ever done before, apart from Ponyboy (in The Outsiders). That role is the supreme opposite example, which was just pure goodness as a child, although I don’t think you can play that (latter) kind of role when you are forty-four years old. I mean, perhaps you can, but I haven’t found it yet, but playing the humanity and the struggle within ourselves, and sharing that with other people who can relate to that? When I started out in the first season, my character was a drunk, and now he’s gone through rehab and is on the other side but is struggling to stay sober, and I’ve had a lot of people from AA wrap their arms around me and say, ‘Thank you so much! I’ve been recovering, and I just want to tell you that you’ve done an amazing job, and I really enjoy watching you.’ They relate to that. They respond to it, more than watching the hero save the girl and kiss her at the end. That’s something that I’ve enjoyed more than anything else.”
Relating to Howell in this, this writer recalled his affinity at a young age for the Star Wars character of Han Solo, as opposed to the ‘gee golly’ nature of the wide-eyed Luke Skywalker.
“That’s right, man!” said Howell. “That’s a really good example. I’m the same way. I was a Han Solo fan myself, and those characters for me are a lot more fun to play. I’d rather play Han than Luke, but these days personally I’d rather play Darth and try to find some sense of goodness and humanity within that mask! Talk about a challenge. It’s an ever-changing and ever-growing, joyful effort, and I feel so blessed to be doing what I do, and like I said, that’s probably my biggest flaw, that I don’t like waiting between gigs.”
“One of the things that I admire about Jim Carrey is that he has evolved,” mused Howell of the actor, another man prone to taking artistic chances. “A lot of people who were his fans in the 80’s and 90’s when he was doing all of those silly movies might not be as attracted to what he does now, but he throws himself into the fire with every performance. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and I can appreciate that as an artist when I watch his work. I can appreciate that he tries something new. The other example is Matthew McConaughey, and he said in an article I read once, ‘You know, it takes me five months after I read a script to decide if I can do it or not,’ and I’m like, ‘Really? You need five fucking months to figure out whether or not you can play the surfer guy?’ I don’t get that. To me, within five months I’ll do five movies. I mean, I’m not necessarily playing the lead in an eighty-million-dollar movie. I’ll come in and I’ll play a smaller part, and I’ll play the bad guy – they just called me to play an assassin in a Bruce Willis film, and hopefully that’ll work out – but these are the types of gigs that I’m starting to get a lot of, and it’s kind of fun. I just keep on banging.”
As Howell’s prolific career has evolved, so has the world, particularly with the advent of the Internet and the focus on celebrity it re-ignited. I queried Howell the following hypothetical: If the ‘net and armchair bloggers were in existence during your youthful days of acting, would it have changed your outlook on the industry and the way you approached your craft?
“A lot of people take it too seriously,” Howell responded. “It’s only a movie. It’s only the movie business, and there are so many haters online, and everyone wants to weigh in with their two cents if they are a hater, but there’s a lot more lovers out there. It’s just that the lovers don’t post. So you just have to let it roll off of your back. You can’t please everyone.”
As for his outlook as a child actor, “I was too young,” said Howell. “I mean, I didn’t care. I was just a carefree dude just living in the moment. I was never really big on preparation as a kid because I didn’t know how to prepare. I just knew how to be in the moment and go for it and try my hardest. A lot of my work as a kid, you can see somebody trying a little too hard, and that’s because I didn’t have a director who was capable of teaching me or helping me. I had to learn the hard way, and I’m on the other side of it today, and when I watch young kids, I often see them working too hard on the set, and that’s just because they want to be good, and they want to be accepted and they are trying just a little bit too hard, instead of just realizing, ‘Hey man, just hit the fucking mark, and just hang out, and take a moment, and feel it and then just say the line.’ They don’t need to press it, but they are all so anxious. It’s like that Robert Duvall joke to Sean Penn in Colors, you know, ‘The Young Bull and the Old Bull?’ Where the young bull says, ‘Hey, let’s run down there and fuck us a cow,’ and the old bull says, ‘Hey, let’s walk down there and fuck them all,’ and there’s a lot of truth in that. I didn’t understand that until I was nearly forty. You just need to slow down a little bit and take a moment, and allow the process to take place, instead of trying to drive the process somewhere all of the time.”
“Sometimes you do get the occasional example of some genius kid like Dakota Fanning,” he continued, “who gets it at a young age, and I’m always amazed by that. I never find any false moments in her work, and how does she know that? And then you watch her sister (Elle Fanning) in Super 8, and she’s as equally amazing, if not even better, and I don’t understand where that comes from either. How is it that one family is so gifted? Those skills that she is working with are more along the lines of someone who has been doing the work for twenty years, and it’s a very difficult thing to teach a young kid, and a lot of actors struggle with it and will never get it. I struggled (with it) as a kid and became a much better actor as an adult, but most people don’t get that opportunity. Most often if you are a child actor, your career is done when you grow up, and for me I feel really blessed to have not crashed and burned, particularly in that I have some roles that I wish I could take back, but at the same time I have some roles I’m super proud of. You just have to take the good with the bad. You can’t take just one film and judge me for that. I mean, I’m a ‘lifer’, and when I die, you are going to see a body of work, and you are going to see where I’ve grown and where I was stunted, and to see where I have struggled and to see where I’ve grown. I feel really lucky, and you just keep on keeping on.”
The film is a violent, edgy ride focusing on the forlorn Reagan Tyler, a man who is troubled by visions and premonitions that ultimately lead him to Las Vegas. It's there that Reagan meets the beautiful and mysterious Monika, a young woman who turns out to have been killed the night before he even met her. Reagan is then forced to put the puzzle together of what happened, how she is still present, and help Monika with her revenge on the killers of her younger sister.
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