The Verdict He Heeds Is His Own
New York Times, December 2001 (arg, lost the author)
NEW YORK Absent from the list of Campbell Scott's
credits are the summer blockbusters and popcorn movies,
sci-fi flicks and gooney comedies. Instead, he has played
Willy, a witness to the devastation of AIDS, in "Longtime
Companion," a 1990 film by Craig Lucas; George Tunner,
the unscrupulous friend in Bernardo Bertolucci's film of
Paul Bowles's "Sheltering Sky" (1990); a sad, glib Robert
Benchley in Alan Rudolph's "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious
Circle" (1994), and Joe Ross, a would-be deceiver
snared in deception, in David Mamet's "Spanish
Prisoner" (1997). He has even done mini-series duty as
Joseph Kennedy Jr. and Thomas Jefferson. Last year, he
starred in and was co-director of a well-received
adaptation of "Hamlet," which appeared on the Odyssey
Channel, delivering the "to be or not to be" soliloquy in
soft, aching befuddlement, lying on his side on the floor.
"Just what the world needed, right?" he says
self-mockingly. "Another actor making another movie of
But even his nonliterary work is smart and well-observed,
most especially in two small, independent movies in 1996:
"Big Night," in which he acted and served as co-director
with his friend Stanley Tucci and the delightful "The
Daytrippers," (also featuring Tucci) in which Scott had a
cameo and was also an executive producer.
"Campbell has never searched for a certain type of
career," says Hope Davis, who first worked with
Campbell in "The Daytrippers." "He's fascinated by
content and devoted to things that are worthwhile. There
was a time when he was offered a lot of Hollywood
movies, big dumb stuff, and he just couldn't do it. He's
almost too smart to be part of this business."
Scott's latest project, "Final," his solo directorial debut, is
a mystery story. Denis Leary plays a patient in what
appears to be a grim, prisonlike psychiatric hospital. He
doesn't remember who he is or how he got there, although
he has flashbacks and premonitions that enlighten and
confuse us. He is being treated by a doctor, played by
Davis, whose manner is professionally neutral and whose
agenda is not entirely clear. There are mysteries within
mysteries in this movie, and the audience is never
permitted to settle in and comfortably watch matters
unfold. Leary's confusion, Davis's reserve, the chilly
austerity of the hospital and the unreliability of the
information presented conspire to create a tension that
will undoubtedly send a portion of the audience out of the
theater feeling a little clenched.
"The thing I love about this picture is that it doesn't spell
things out for you or tell you how to feel," Scott says. "And
I don't care, because we rarely get that in our movies."
Scott's willingness to ignore expectations may be an
inheritance; he is a son of George C. Scott and Colleen
Dewhurst, two formidable and famously strong-willed
actors. "When I was a kid," Scott says, "my parents were
theater actors. They became famous later, almost after
they were divorced. My father was a hard worker and very
downplayed about what he did, and my mother was, too.
And that's how we grew up, seeing what they did, thinking
that acting was a tense, rather dull job, that it was work.
And that's what we learned. There was no glamour
attached to it, or if there was, my parents were so cool
about it. I think there's something about being in the
theater, that if you start in the theater and stay in the
theater, you remember why you're doing it at all times, and
you don't get caught up in the hoopla."
Scott says his parents neither pushed him and his
siblings into the theater nor discouraged them. "The first
play I was in in high school was 'Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern Are Dead,'" Campbell says, "and they both
came - they were divorced when I was 13 - and they were
supportive, but not entirely comfortable."
He adds: "My mother was a shockingly good person. She
gave me a lesson on how to be. She would give you her
total focus, make you feel really special. And that was
everybody. She would give a young actor five minutes, but
she made them feel like they were on top of the world.
That they were in a dignified profession that had nobility to
it. And my father was the same way - shyer, strangely,
much more reserved, at least in public. We had a more
distant relationship - after the divorce he moved to the
West Coast - but not a bad one. When he was sober he
was very funny, and also serious. But in a good way, not in
a boring, pretentious way. I see him when I watch myself in
films. I'll see a little bit of shtick that I do, and I'll think, Who
stole that from who?"
Likening his new movie "Final" to an episode of "The
Twilight Zone," Scott says he was drawn to Bruce
McIntosh's screenplay because it so deftly presented a
story that was not what it seemed to be, and did so without
providing audiences any respite. Audiences may be
predisposed to root for Leary, but that's a little hard to do
when he doesn't know who he is. "I love stories that are
relatively inaccessible, or at least difficult to engage with,"
Scott says. "I love the challenge of telling those stories."
Scott may have been most conscious of the technical
challenges he was facing, especially the digital filming, but
what most impressed his cast and crew was the
collegiality he established on the set. The shoot took place
last autumn on a quick 17-day schedule in a dreary,
unheated, abandoned psychiatric facility, Fairfield Hills
Hospital, in Newtown, Connecticut. McIntosh, the
screenwriter, said he had appreciated Scott's invitation to
be on the set and to contribute, an offer that directors don't
commonly make. "I knew he was going to be different,"
McIntosh says, "when he himself picked me up at the
Scott is now acting in a movie called "Roger Dodger," a
comedy in which he plays a Manhattan ladies' man whose
nephew comes to visit him. As the executive producer, he
helped midwife the financing of this independent movie. At
this point in his career, he is more drawn to these
"My ideal would be to direct movies and act in plays,"
says Scott, who has appeared in regional theater and on
the New York stage in Shakespeare's "Pericles, Prince of
Tyre" and O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night,"
among other productions.
"It's an easier way to be doing things you're passionate
about. Often I think I don't want to be an actor at all. I don't
want to go to the Philippines for seven months to work on
a movie where I'm going to end up with three lines. When I
was 20, sure, I didn't care. But I have a wife and a
4-year-old son. And that's where the shift comes from, the
shift to director and producer. You can avoid being in that
position where you have to take some movie to pay the
mortgage. Instead, you can get more consistent work
that's not in the limelight and spend your time working on
something you really care about.
"As long as I'm generating my own stuff, I'm happy."