INT: Sideways, Pt. 1
I remember Thomas Haden Church best from the shortlived series “Ned and Stacey.” Some people remember him best as Lowell from “Wings” or from THE SPECIALS. There’s even the people out there that I’m sure recognize him from GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE 2 or his booming voice from the popular Icehouse beer commercials. The point is, despite not being Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise or just another Tom, Dick or Harry, Thomas Haden Church is remembered. I sat down with him recently to discuss his latest film, SIDEWAYS, and what he's been up to lately.I take it there wasn’t a lot of convincing needed to get you to do this movie. Oh no. I had met with Alexander (Payne) on ELECTION. It was between Dermot Mulroney and myself to play that role and it took Alexander quite a while to make up his mind between Dermot and I. After he cast Dermot, he got in touch with me a few months later and expressed to me how close I had come. I would never know how close I would’ve come to getting that part. And that we would probably meet again somewhere down the road. Look, I had to fight for this part just like the rest of the cast, well, with the exception of Sandra (Oh, who is Payne’s real-life wife). [Laughs] I had to audition and go through the process just like Virginia and Paul did. But Alexander is the one and (Producer) Michael London likes to tell me that when they had their first meeting about casting Alexander said, I want to meet with Thomas Haden Church for Jack. And Michael knew who I was but was not really that familiar with what I had been doing recently. And that was not really that much acting and more writing and directing. He was like, Wow, that’s an interesting idea, why? And Alexander said, Cause he’s perfect for the part. I know him and he’s perfect for this. And here I am. Why did you go from acting to writing/directing? Um, I did television for 11 consecutive years and I was alittle burned out. Kind of had done Lowell on “Wings” for six seasons and “Ned” for two seasons. In my first year in LA did a lot of guest star stuff and then got “Wings” and then the pilot got delayed a few months but I was already locked into it four months before we started shooting. Then after “Ned and Stacey” I had a deal for two years with ABC and Disney to create and star in a series. You know, I wrote two pilots and pitched two others, none of which got picked up, and it was just like… And I had already started writing with my partner screenplays. I was ready to put TV behind because if you don’t try to get away from it, you’ll suck on that teat forever. It’s a damn good living whether you’re on the living or not. I was like, this is a pact I’ve got to break. I’ve got to move on. I moved to LA in ’89 cause I wanted to make movies. My aspirations were always about writing and directing and acting just was an accident. But then it completely controlled my life for years and years and years. And I was just ready to return to what I thought were my routes. And then in the middle of last year that Alexander wanted to see me. I had been living in Texas for about three-and-a-half years exclusively and they called me up in Texas and said, he really wants to see you for this. I read the script and flew out and that was it.
Was going back to acting easy? Well I still have to go back to meet on movies to direct and write but SIDEWAYS was the only movie that I met on last year to act in. Then in 2002 all I did was post my movie (ROLLING KANSAS) that at Sundance last year and then I actually did a sequel to another movie that I was contractually obligated to do (GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE II). I acted in one movie in 2002 and I acted in one movie in 2003. It’s a sideline thing. It can be a very lucrative sideline but has definitely not been the focus of my professional life for a while. Years actually. I’d have to go back to 2000 to say I was really focused on it. Do you think that taking time off was even better for your acting? It could be. I’ll tell you something, Alexander was very proud of the fact that Paul and I, and he said this a number of times, that neither one of the lead actors live in California. He kinda dug that, that Paul lives in New York and I live in Texas. I think he kinda…I don’t know how to describe it but I think it’s kinda this poetic irony that these two guys are these almost singular southern California types. Particularly with Miles, who’s based upon Rex, the novelist who is a failed novelist, failed screenwriter, failed director. Rex is a very much Hollywood guy. Lived in LA and tried for years and years to break in and never made it. But they just decided that two Hollywood guys so they turned Miles into the 8th grade English teacher in San Diego, who’s a failed novelist. And Jack, the guy in the book, is also an actor. But in the book he’s gone from being a quasi-successful TV actor to being a very successful TV director who make a lot of money. It didn’t quite work. You needed two losers to give the story balance. Do you think you could ever be lured back to TV? I’m actually reading a script right now that a couple of my friends have at NBC that I do like. I know NBC wants me to do it. It’s… It’s just not a priority right now. I like doing movies. I like directing movies and I like acting in movies. But I will never say never about television. I won’t even say probably not. Hey man, if the right thing is there… Actors look for great characters. I don’t give a shit if it’s in TV or movies. Movies still have that lofty, critical laurel that TV tries to ascend to and sometimes does, especially what’s going on with HBO. I mean they’re nailing it. They’re doing stuff at HBO that’s better than most, shit, almost all movies. But a movie like SIDEWAYS isn’t gonna happen anywhere near television. Which makes it tough. It’s a tough thing to follow up… There’s a chance I’m gonna direct a movie for Fox prepping in the spring.
Big Fox or Searchlight Fox? No, big Fox. By the way, “big Fox” is a name that’s just starting to be bandied about recently. Nobody ever called it that but it’s because of Searchlight’s profile. Let me tell you what, Searchlight is absolutely the masthead. They are leading the industry…. Now they’re all trying to emulate what Searchlight is doing. I heard a rumor that Paramount is chasing Michael London to run their Searchlight division. He has a deal there and I heard they’re pursuing Michael to run that division. Now Warner Independent is emulating Searchlight. Peter Rice has got it going on. I’ll bet someone will lure him to run a big studio in the next few months. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him running Sony or Universal. He’s gonna run a big studio, I guarantee it. So what project was it you were thinking of directing? It’s a movie they found for me. I’d rather not say right now cause any number of things could go wrong and then I look like a jackass when it doesn’t get made. Or it gets made with Jay Roach directing. Did that directing gig come about as part of your Sundance gig? Oh for sure. They’re not gonna give me a directing gig cause they liked my performance in SIDEWAYS that’s for sure. How did you and Paul rehearse for the movie? Alexander called me at the beginning of July – we started shooting in September – to ask me to do the movie and in the inaugural conversation said, I would like to give your phone number to Paul and here is Paul’s phone number. I hope that you guys will start having dialogue. There was some coversation at some point that they kinda wanted Paul and I to road trip from Texas to California together. That didn’t work out for whatever reason. But we didn’t need it cause we talked a lot on the phone for a couple months and started reading through scenes on the phone. And when we got to Santa Inez we spent a couple of weeks rehearsing. You guys already met Paul, he’s the easiest guy to get along with. He’s such a sweetheart and he’s so generous. I can’t imagine Paul not having chemistry with anybody. Sadaam, Hitler, Paul can work with all of em.