AN IMPECCABLE CINEPHILE: MICHAEL WINCOTT
A translation from the Italian version printed in L'Uomo Vogue, with edits and amendments by Michael himself.
“Sorry I’m late. The dry cleaners [hadn’t finished] my suit.” The voice is unmistakable: rasping and deep. A cineaste recognizes it immediately anywhere. Likewise the face: angular, well-sculpted features that have distinguished roles as antagonists and the classic “bad guy”, favoured by the American auteurs Oliver Stone (Talk Radio, Born On The Fourth Of July, The Doors), Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man), Alex Proyas (The Crow) [He is Australian], Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days) and Julian Schnabel (Basquiat, Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly) to name but a few. Michael Anthony Claudio Wincott, class of 1958, is anything but complicated. He is cultured, sunny, jovial, multilingual (he also speaks Italian – ed.) and a great lover of [my brother, not I, was the martial arts aficionado] music (he plays a variety of instruments including guitar, piano, drums and harmonica).
I meet him at the bar of The Chateau Marmont, a redoubt of inspiration for many roles. His style is as impeccable as his opinions are unsparing of certain Californian tendencies. “It’s good to dress well. Elegance expresses [greater expectations] of life. The current culture of slovenliness conveys [a spiritual and] intellectual surrender. [An American comedian said,] “Americans won’t be happy until they can wander the mall in Crocs and diapers.” [I did not add, “ …not even the effort to go to the bathroom”.]
Wincott was raised in Canada, in the east end of Toronto, by an English father and a Piacentine mother. “[Naturally, their being European immigrants] had a great deal to do with my becoming the man I am. It’s not what’s underfoot but in your veins. My father was a working man. He did all manner of things to [house and feed his wife and three boys]: sold encyclopedias, insurance, was a steamfitter. One day, at thirty-four years of age, on a construction site in twenty below zero, he decided to change his life. He labored by day and, two or three nights a week, placed his safety helmet in a locker at a University. Two degrees later, he became a teacher. He taught me determination [and the value of literature and humour.] My mother spent Sundays making [ravioli not agnolotti] by hand. She taught me patience, refinement and the value of one’s passions. [I didn’t say these were important to my “craft as an actor”.] Of the three sons, I was the only one allowed into the kitchen. She wasn’t fond of people around her there. For her it was a sacred place, spending hours rolling the dough, mixing the filling, [making the circles of pasta with the open end of a cup]. [I didn’t use the words “a work of art”.] When we’d, at last, sit at the table, the first mouthful seemed like proof of the divine. Sundays were sublime.” Michael fell in love with films as a child. “For us, going to the cinema was an enormous event afforded rarely and always special. We’d wear our best clothes and take the subway into the city. I remember those old movie houses – the curtains, the red velvet seats, the organist who emerged from below to play in front of the screen [then descended again], the cartoon and, finally, the film. My parents, being European, preferred films or films shown on television that were largely peculiar to our neighbours. My father loved Dr. Strangelove. [I felt no need to mention the director.] [Another of his favourites was The Bridge On The River Kwai.] Occasionally we were allowed to stay up later and laugh with him at one of those brilliant English comedies. My mother would watch anything with Loren or Mastroianni, occasionally reciting their dialogue. Additional Italian lessons for me. [She too loved a film about a doctor. His name was Zhivago.]”
“My own cinematic education took place at The New Yorker, long closed, where they showed all manner of terrific films from [Hollywood classics to foreign gems]. I went [most] afternoons. [Sometimes] watched three in a row.” [Here, the interviewer confuses the chronicle of events. It was in high school, that the theater arts department sent me to The CBC on an audition with Mike Newell (after he’d insisted on his eighteen year old protagonist being that particular age and couldn’t find a suitable professional actor.) My career had commenced then. The “doors of Juilliard” were suggested by Des McAnuff at a chance meeting at The Public Theater in NYC.] Much knowledge; few real friends, one of whom was Julian Schnabel. “Julian was there for me. Especially when there was little work.” [He paid me to give acting lessons to his girlfriend at the time. Something I’d never done. Years later, during another dry spell, he would give me the role of the photographer in The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, a part any French actor could have played but he flew me to Paris instead.] [Though Julian and I share common interests, I would be hesitant to declare painting a “passion” we have “in common”, if, by those words, the interviewer implies “equally”. He is, after all, a painter. Music? Unreservedly.] An artist is [of necessity] an obsessive creature, given to all its attendant calamity and catharsis. [The enemy is always obedience.]”
Among Wincott’s forthcoming releases are Forsaken, a Western of the classic tradition – gunslingers, revenge and redemption- directed by Jon Cassar with Donald Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland, [Brian Cox] and Demi Moore; Terrence Malick’s Knight Of Cups “Working with Terrence was a dream of mine. A director, philosopher, scholar and guardian of his gift. A liberating experience. The camera was [more specter than spectator]. We (Christian Bale and I) were given a great deal of permission to abandon preceding circumscriptions of narrative and structure. Malick reveres the moment of communion, however complicated.” [; The Girl From Nagasaki, Michel Comte’s stunning directorial debut, based on Madame Butterfly, will have its American premiere in December.]