Ask your typical actor how they deal with bad reviews or buzz and most will give you a typical answer about how they don’t pay it any mind or how it doesn’t faze them in the least. But Matthew Modine is not your typical actor.
Modine stopped by Entertainment Weekly Radio (SiriusXM, channel 105) on Tuesday morning to talk about directing his new short film Super Sex (starring Ed Asner, Kevin Nealon, Elizabeth Perkins, and Modine’s daughter Ruby, and screening at the Tribeca Film Festival), but we also spent some time discussing some of the films from his past. After an extensive discussion on the greatness of Vision Quest — he rightfully prefers “Crazy For You” to “Gambler” — I asked Modine about the infamous Cutthroat Island.
Released in 1995, Cutthroat Island was plagued with production issues and is considered one of the biggest box-office flops of ever. (The film cost between $98 and $115 million to make and grossed only $10 million domestically.) Reviews for the swashbuckling adventure also starring Geena Davis were equally as brutal as the box office receipts.
But while many would shy away from discussing such a black spot — to borrow pirate parlance —on one’s resume, Modine spoke candidly about dealing with the harsh reaction to the film and the impact it had on both his psyche and his career. Here’s what Modine said when I asked if he was able to put the blowback against Cutthroat Island easily behind him.
“No,” says Modine. “I was in Los Angeles to do press and I was staying at the Wilshire hotel and they said, ‘Do you want the newspapers and the trades tomorrow?’ on the day the film was opening. And I said ‘No. I don’t want to read the reviews. Because theater actors know this — that if you read the reviews, they’ll kill you. If they’re good, they’ll kill you; if they’re bad, they’ll kill you. Because if they’re good, every time you have that moment when you’re doing the play you’re going to think about the review that was written. And if they’re bad, it’s very hard to go out on the stage every night and perform when you know you’ve received bad reviews. So I said ‘Don’t put any of them there.’”
Sounds like a wise move. But when Modine woke up, the papers were all there anyway. “They were all outside my door,” he continues. “And I thought, ‘Well, I’ll read one of ‘em.’ And it was horrible! And then I picked up another one of them and it was more horrible! And then I thought, “There’s got to be one that’s good. And it was just one after the other that was horrible, horrible, horrible. And I went downstairs to have breakfast and I felt like everybody in the café was looking at me going like, ‘Oh my God! The walking dead,’ you know.”
So Modine retreated back to the safety and privacy of his hotel room, away from prying eyes. But that also left him alone with his dark thoughts. “And then I went up to my room, and I’m not going to lie. I didn’t want to kill myself, [but] I wanted to hang myself in the bathroom so that when the cleaning lady came in to do the room, that she’d find me and say, ‘Oh my God!’ and call. Because I wanted people to know how much that hurt — that I did the very best that I could on the film, as did everybody that was working on the film.”
It’s rare you hear an actor admit to feeling so personally hurt by public and critical reaction to their work, but Modine also thinks the movie has been unfairly maligned due it’s immediate punch-line status. “You know, it’s funny because a lot of people say ‘Oh, Cutthroat Island is horrible.’ And I say ‘Did you see the film?’ And they said, ‘Well, no, actually I didn’t see the film.’ And then if you see the film you see that it’s actually a really fun pirate movie, that Renny Harlin did a good job. There are things that don’t work in the film that I feel critical about — which I don’t need to discus now —but overall, it’s a fantastic film. And I think it’s as good as the Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean movie. And you just wonder why one worked and another one didn’t. Was it just the wrong moment? Were we just too early?”
For his part, Modine acknowledges the difficulty of the moment and the negative impact it had on his career, but also points to the inspiring message of overcoming adversity that stuck with him as a result of his most painful professional experience. “Yeah, it hurts to get kicked like that really hard,” he says. “And I think it some ways it kind of damaged my career. But there’s a great metaphor that I’ll tell you. There’s a donkey that fell down in a hole, and the man who owned that donkey loved that donkey. And he didn’t have any means to get the donkey out of the hole. So because he loved that donkey so much he decided, ‘I’m just going to bury him. I’m going to kill him as quickly as I can.” He started throwing dirt on the donkey and throwing it as fast as he could and throwing the dirt and throwing the dirt. And the donkey down in the hole kept shaking the dirt off and shaking the dirt off and shaking the dirt off and shaking the dirt off. Until finally he had thrown enough dirt on the donkey where and he had shook it off where he was able to climb out of the hole. And that’s what we have to do in our life, is just keep shaking off the dirt and hopefully we can climb out of the hole that we find ourselves in.”
Listen to Modine’s candid thoughts on Cutthroat Island above.