Matthew Modine


“Do you think I did more drugs than Harvey Keitel ?” the star of the new Abel Ferrara film asks excitedly. 

It says quite a lot about Abel Ferrara and the world he inhabits that the question comes, not from the more obvious candidates from his new movie, Dennis Hopper or Beatrice Dalle, but Hopper’s co-star in The Blackout, Matthew Modine.

In fact, in most of Hopper’s recent interviews to promote it, he has been grumbling about Ferrara while the altogether more clean-cut Modine and his missus in the movie, Claudia Schiffer, have both been fulsomely singing the maverick director’s praises. 

Ferrara fans are used to him inflicting his themes of raw guilt and damaged, depraved, self-destruction on his actors (fellow tortured souls such as Keitel, Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, and Benicio del Toro).

Modine however is an A-list star (known for Memphis Belle, Birdy, Pacific Heights etc) and renowned for being so clean-cut and clean-living he makes John Boy Walton look like John Holmes.

Sipping his cafe latte decaf, Modine admits his agents were “somewhat nervous” about their client doing The Blackout and reveals he himself had previously turned down a part in Ferrara’s 1996 gangster flick The Funeral (with Vincent Gallo eventually playing the support role to Christopher Walken).

“I didn’t like the story,” Modine says bluntly, frowning. “I didn’t want to do this one either. But I was encouraged to do it by several women I love and respect, which is strange because it’s so violent towards women. So abusive… But they found something really truthful and honest about the film.”

Sadly, the answer to Modine’s original question is: no, he doesn’t take more drugs than Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant but he does his best. At least this time, when the star promises it was powdered milk that he was snorting, you can believe him. (Not always the case in an Abel Ferrara film.)

“That can’t be good for you either,” Modine moans rather feebly, reverting to type. “You don’t have to do anything else. You can just be around Abel and breathe to get high.”

Though he seems rather dazed by the impact of working with the Lower East Side’s version of a Tasmanian Devil, Modine insists he would willingly do it again.

“I feel like I’ve had my baptism – if a baptism is a re-birth, a cleansing of the past. I feel more mature having had the experience. I know a bit more about myself.”

How much this has to do with some of Ferrara’s more, um, unconventional, uncompromising, approach to film making is not clear. 

Typically, nothing had been rehearsed, story-boarded, or even scripted.

“Abel would say: ‘you’ll say something, take some coke, who knows what’s going to happen...’ And just roll the camera.”

He recalls how in one scene (when Modine and Hopper are seen entering a hotel room) the actors were surprised to find “these two black girls waiting. There was a third girl too who split really quickly.”

Beaming rather bemusedly, Modine continues: 

“So these girls start taking their clothes off and spanking each other. Dennis, of course, is from the Actors Studio so he’s improvising, going: ‘yeah baby, go on !’ I’m on the couch and this girl starts to pull off my pants and go down on me. I shout: ‘hey ! Slow down !’ Cos no one told me that was going to happen and my character’s looking for his girlfriend (Beatrice Dalle). Then the girl looks over at the focus-puller and says: ‘oh right !! A guy telling a girl to slow down ? What the fuck is that ?!’ Which is a good line and is actually in the movie. Anyway, when we finally ran out of film I said to her: ‘who told you to do that ?’ And she says: ‘nobody. It’s a porno flick right ? That’s what we do.’ She couldn’t believe it when we told her it was for a real movie.”

No wonder Matthew Modine wants to do another one.

Abel Ferrara is a drug of his own.