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 'Hamlet.'"

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 airport."

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 behind-the-camera duties.

"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."