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INT: Giovanni Ribisi


Nobody can deny the ferocity with which Giovanni Ribisi owns the screen whenever he's on it, regardless of whether he's a co-star or simply a small returning character from a TV show. He makes bad movies look good, and good movies look even better. If his name doesn't ring a bell, then don't worry, because his face definitely should. You probably don't even realize how many times you've seen this dude. He played Scarlett Johansson's husband in LOST IN TRANSLATION, Phoebe's goofy brother Frank in TV's 'Friends', one of the main medics in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, Dex the geeky mechanic in SKY CAPTAIN, and even the insanely creepy Elliot in the FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX remake. He continues his scene-stealing legacy with PERFECT STRANGER, where he stars alongside Halle Berry as her best friend.

The people over at Sony were nice enough to provide with a one-on-one chat with the star over at the Four Seasons Hotel. I arrived there early, eager to grub out on the free and oh-so-tasty food while waiting, but instead found them already ready for me – apparently, his schedule cleared up early. Fine by me! This gave me some nice time to just kick back and relax with the dude in his hotel room, chatting away about his upcoming roles, finding out some of his experiences with scientology, and getting the scoop on certain directing projects of his own. And you know what, Hollywood actors are constantly surprising me. You expect them to be stuck-up and snobbish with big egos, but most of them really aren't like that at all. This was especially evident with Giovanni, who seemed to just be happy doing his own thing, working on whatever movies interested him (while not really caring about being the center of stardom). He was also a genuinely cool guy to just sit and chat with – read on and you'll see what I mean!

And don't forget to check out PERFECT STRANGER, which hits theaters April 13, 2007.

Giovanni Ribisi

You tend to play a lot of quirky characters with an evil side to them. Do you seek out those types of characters?

I dunno... I looked on IMDB recently and I was like, 'Wow, there's like 40 movies.' Maybe it's just a coincidence that people haven't seen the other films. I have another film coming out after this called 'The Dog Problem', and it's sort of a lighter romantic comedy. And yeah, I think that he's troubled to a greater or lesser degree. But I think that the problem exists in storytelling. You know, if you just saw a guy who was just happy the whole time, that wouldn't be a really interesting movie. But I think at the same time, a lot of people ask me – the word that I hate – 'Quirky.' You know, 'Why am I playing these quirky characters?' I don't look at them [like that]. It's not about that. It's more about being interested in the breadth of human emotion and doing something that's dynamic.

Having a personality.

Yeah, exactly. I think that anybody to a greater or lesser degree has a dark side.

But there's a part of me that's quite the opposite now, because so many people have been saying it. I'm not interested in that anymore. And it's got me thinking, because I get that question a lot – especially today – about, 'Why?' And I think it's because it's a challenge and there's something enticing about that.

Do you ever get a script where the character you're supposed to play is either too plain or boring, and you want to add your own touches to him?

Well yeah for me, one of the things about acting is, 'What are the possibilities?' And someone's imagination with that. And I think there are some actors who just want to execute or whatever, and just do that. But I think the people that I find really interesting are those who will take it the next level.

For instance, this character was written as being even darker. He was written as being a frumpy, overweight, introverted tech guy, which is a cliché to me. And I wanted him to be charismatic. That was the first conversation I had with James Foley, the director. Just about being witty and charming, and really trying to win over Halle's character. So in a way it's just that much more drastic when you do see his darker side.

In 'Perfect Stranger', your character is this computer savvy techie. How much of that is actually like you?

Not like me at all. There was a moment where I really got into computers, and I just felt like it was a vacuous void. There's so much information out there now, and sometimes I feel like it can be a bit of a distraction. And also, I think that with the MySpace and the online chatting and all that – for me, I [prefer] that personal connection, or to at least hear a voice.

Do you like to improvise at all during scenes?

Yeah, I think that's good. I think sometimes you can do that and it keeps it fresh, and sometimes some really smart writing comes out of improvising because it's more organic. But usually you'll improvise in rehearsals and lock it down. And then of course there's just ad-libbing, which is not necessarily improvising – it's just sort of making it more natural.

Did that happen between you and Halle a lot?

Yeah, a little bit. But I think that also the movie has so much complexity that it's difficult to sort of stray from that. Because sometimes you need something to be said at a specific moment, and then the next thing to be said as well. And so, it was mainly done in rehearsal, and then just locked down. It's nice that way because then when you do takes – and James [Foley] likes to do more takes than less – you can just sort of hone it in, and make it better.

Do you prefer working on big studio movies like 'Perfect Stranger', or smaller indie films, where there's more freedom?

I find the discrepancy between independent films and studio films to be a lie now. Because I think that, yeah, that was probably plausible in the early 90's and maybe in the 70's and the 50's. But now – you know, I did a movie recently that was a 2 million dollar movie that was a lot more censored then, say, this one. This one was all about not doing that, and pushing the envelope. There were definitely scenes in the film that we shot that were almost too much. So really, again, it comes to the script and the director and who's making it. It's an interesting discussion, I think, because what people used to complain about – what studio films used to suffer from – seeped into the independent world. You have independent people wanting to be studios.

Have you been getting any big offers for leading roles?

Yeah, that happens. But it's not necessarily about how big the role is or if your name's above the title. I dunno, maybe – I think that there's a certain viability in that, because you have more of an opportunity, more of a variety of movies. But I think that for me it's about the character and the director and the script, and not necessarily the size of the role. I'm not like counting lines.

So if you don't like the director, do you ever decide you don't want to do the movie?

Yeah, absolutely. There are definitely times where you meet with somebody and the script is interesting, but there's just something about it that doesn't click for you.

Have you ever found out too late that it doesn't work for you, when you're already working on the project?

Yeah, so many times. Because I think anything is a new experience, and you always have expectations even if you don't want to have them. There's definitely been times where you get into a conversation with the director and it's great, and it's really inspiring, and you really like where they're coming from – and then it turns out to be a completely different experience. And you know, that's unfortunate, but it's part of what we do. And I think you just need to make the best of what you have.

But 'Perfect Stranger' wasn't like that, was it?

No, not at all. A script will start out one way, and then of course it's going to be different in its final machination. And sometimes it isn't going to be as good as [the original] script. But I think this was definitely an elevation of that.

You played a returning character on 'My Name Is Earl'. Any plans to reprise the role?

I've known Jason Lee since I was 14 or 15 years old – part of the family – and Ethan Suplee, I think I've known him even longer. And it was really just about having fun and kicking around, but I think my schedule's picking up now.

So you're probably not gonna play Ralph again?


Both you and Jason Lee are scientologists, correct?


Do people give you a hard time about that, after the whole Tom Cruise thing?

People say 'the whole Tom Cruise thing', and when I was younger, people used to give me a hard time about it, and people used to yell at me – not often – for being a scientologist. It was on the level of bigotry. And there are so many people that are scientologists that aren't celebrities. And it's really just a simple thing that in the press, anybody's heard negative things about it. But from my experience, it simply is a pragmatic philosophy, in the way that it has an application and it's very much like going to a university. And that's the simplicity of it.

Do you have a preference between TV and film?

I really like doing movies, because there's a lot more time. With TV, if you're breaking it down in pages of the script, you can be doing anywhere from six to ten pages a day. Whereas with a movie, you're doing one and a half to three pages a day. And it's a lot more concentrated and there's a lot more time to do that. And there's not necessarily as much censorship as well, with films as there is with TV.

So the fact that you get more takes, do you think it allows you to bring more to the character?

Well, no, it's not just that. Because sometimes directors don't do as many takes. But there's definitely this thing where it's not as rushed. There's more time to work on it, in your trailer or in your dressing room to be able to think about things and be able to come up with ideas – that sort of thing. There's just more time.

So can you talk a little bit about your current and upcoming projects, like the one you mentioned earlier?

Oh yeah, I have a movie called 'The Dog Project' coming out that I did that with a friend of mine, Scott Caan, who wrote and directed it, and was in it with me. And Don Cheadle's in it... And Lynn Collins, who's great. And that's like the opposite of ['Perfect Stranger']. It's more or less a romantic comedy. But there are other movies that I'm going to be starting in July, for the rest of the year.

Can you talk a little bit more about those?

Well there's one that's in October called 'The Stanford Prison Experiment'. Which, in 1971, there was a professor at Stanford who conducted this experiment where he simulated a prison, and he got nine students to be prisoners and six students to be guards. And it was supposed to last for two weeks, and it was just basically like a real prison. And he had to pull the plug after six days, because it went completely insane.

Who do you play in that?

One of the students.

So you get to be in jail?

Yeah, I mean it's not – they actually built a prison in one of the study halls.

So have you thought about doing any work outside of acting, like writing or directing?

Yeah, I definitely wanna direct. Which is more or less around the corner, probably next year. It's a big thing to get a movie off the ground and have a movie find its legs, so to speak. It's all about the story for me, and the script. There are some projects I've been looking at – some books, I'm thinking about adapting. Namely there's this one character, Egon Schiele, who was this turn of the 20th century Viennese painter. Sort of a contemporary of [Gustav] Klimt, and he led a really interesting life – and just the socio-political scene going on.

Got questions? Got comments? Send me a line at: [email protected].




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