When Matthew Modine calls The Dark Knight Rises the “most insane film that I’ve ever been involved with,” that’s really saying something. After all, this is the same man who did a famously lengthy tour of duty with Stanley Kubrick to complete the seminal 1987 war film, Full Metal Jacket, an exhausting odyssey that lacked a scripted ending until the final stages of production. When Modine describes Christopher Nolan’s sprawling new Batman epic in such terms, however, he’s not referring to such chaos, but the sheer scope, the stirring action, and the swirling winds of philosophical and political commentary that are howling through Batman’s cape, Catwoman’s spandex, and Bane’s mask.
Modine, too, plays an important role in the proceedings. As Deputy Commissioner Foley, he represents a misguided Gotham City that has turned its back on what is important during a time of relative peace. Like the rest of the police force — except Commissioner Gordon — he’s hungry to capture Batman for all the wrong reasons, and when Bane finally grabs the city by the throat, he’s not prepared.
That Modine — who hasn’t popped up in a big studio film since Transporter 2 seven years ago — appears in The Dark Knight Rises shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Nolan’s filmography. The Dark Knight auteur was an impressionable 16 years when Modine starred in Full Metal Jacket, and he’s consistently sprinkled 1980’s movie stars — like Rutger Hauer, David Bowie, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, and Tom Berenger — in his projects. Modine, who has also worked with Robert Altman, Oliver Stone, and Jonathan Demme, couldn’t help but be impressed by what he saw of Nolan up close. “There are no chairs on a Nolan set,” says the 53-year-old actor. “He gets out of his car and goes to the set. And he stands up until lunchtime. And then he stands up until they say, ‘Wrap.’ He’s fully engaged — in every aspect of the film.”
Like Kubrick, who personally operated the camera on most of his films, Nolan is never far away from the actors. “Too often today, directors are not even on the set,” says Modine. “They’re sitting under a tent, watching what’s being filmed from a monitor. But a great director is your scene partner, and Christopher Nolan is there standing by the camera. You can feel him listening. You see his eyeballs in your peripheral vision. You get something from a director who’s there because he’s your best audience.”
His role in the Dark Knight franchise is certainly a high-profile boost, but Modine has never stopped working and remains as busy as ever. He just completed shooting his role in the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic, the one with Ashton Kutcher as the Apple icon. “It is a story about the journey towards genius and the many throats that get stepped on to achieve success,” says Modine, who plays John Sculley, the Apple executive who pushed Jobs out during his first tenure with the company. “The scenes between Sculley and Jobs begin with great friendship and camaraderie,” says Modine, who met with Scully himself to learn about those tumultuous days at the company. “The relationship between the two men sadly disintegrates and becomes destructive and inconsolable.”
Modine will step back into leading-man territory in Category 8, an apocalyptic science-fiction thriller he’s currently shooting for Hallmark. A military space accident sends a laser beam at the sun that generates a gigantic solar flare that’s going to cook the Earth. And the only person who knows how to create a magnetic field around the Earth large enough to protect mankind from this solar flare is the scientist who created the technology for peaceful purposes in the first place. And that would be Modine. “It’s a fun, end-of-the-world story,” says Modine. “When I read it, I was like, ‘Holy Christ! This is like a Harrison Ford movie.’ I love those Harrison Ford movies!”
For now, though, Modine is in the midst in something huge. And he knows it. In May, he caused a stir during an appearance on VH1 when he vowed that the The Dark Knight Rises would “kick [The Avengers‘] butt” at the box office. The Internet blowback was immediate and enormous. “It started this war between people over Marvel and DC,” says Modine, whose son had to explain to him the concept of Internet trolls. “I was like, are you serious? People were saying silly things on the Internet and Twitter, like ‘The Hulk would kick Batman’s ass!’ It was really stupid.”
For a moment, Modine seems genuinely chagrined by the online nastiness that his flippant comment provoked, and he says he responded to his critics online by reminding them of the real troubles in the world that require our passion and attention: the wars, the flagging economy. But then there is a pause… “And if I was going to go there — the only person you can really compare Batman to, of those characters, would be Iron Man, another rich guy who has the ability to make fantastic toys — so if you want to take Batman and Iron Man and put them in a battle, that’s an interesting battle. But if you want to take Christian Bale and Robert Downey Jr. and put them in a UFC fighting cage, Christian Bale will — to quote Full Metal Jacket — tear Robert Downey Jr.’s head off and sh-t down his neck.”
Modine cackles with laughter. That’s why they called him the Joker.