THR's Actor Roundtable: 6 Leading Men on Politics, Over-40 Actresses and the Dangers of Success
Matt Damon, Jamie Foxx, Denzel Washington, Richard Gere, Alan Arkin and John Hawkes convene for a rare exploration of the current state of the male movie star.
THR: But for a woman over 40 …
Washington: I tell my daughter -- she's at NYU -- I say: "You're black, you're a woman, and you're dark-skinned at that. So you have to be a triple/quadruple threat." I said: "You gotta learn how to act. You gotta learn how to dance, sing, move onstage." That's the only place, in my humble opinion, you really learn how to act. I said: "Look at Viola Davis. That's who you want to be. Forget about the little pretty girls; if you're relying on that, when you hit 40, you're out the door. You better have some chops."
THR: Denzel, you said the other day, "We attract what we fear." What are you all afraid of?
Damon: I'm afraid of great actors! (Laughter.)
Hawkes: David Mamet wrote a line in Edmond: "Every fear hides a wish." I guess I am afraid of mediocrity and cliche, and that's about it. I'm not afraid of being poor; I've done that. Not afraid of it all running out -- that's OK, too. If a bomb drops tomorrow, I'll be in an alley, making up a poem for the five people who survived alongside me.
Gere: I get afraid every time I take a job on -- every single time. There's a buzz I get before every take.
Washington: But that's a good thing.
Gere: I'm OK with it. I'm still trying to figure out the world, myself, people around me, and ultimately part of that curiosity is probably a fear also that I don't know who I am. Is it possible to ever know another human being? Is there a self? Is there a Richard? I don't know.
THR: Do you have any role or thing you've done in your career that you regret?
Washington: Shoot, yes. But I would never say because someone made the film.
Foxx: I did a film called Booty Call.
Gere: I thought it was one of your best!
Washington: I got the Blu-ray. (Laughter.)
THR: Who is the most interesting person you've met and why?
Gere: The Dalai Lama, for sure. He's got more energy than all of us. He's more curious, more skilled at dealing with people, absolutely willing to be the buffoon if it takes people to the next level. He's deeply funny. He tells dirty jokes. He can do anything.
Arkin: I had the opportunity to meet him 25 years ago, and it got blown somehow, and it's a moment I regret.
Gere: I'll make it work.
Washington: [Nelson Mandela] is up there, for sure. He used to call me on New Year's Day: "Denzel? I'm going to come to your house." He actually came to my house. He wanted my wife to fry him some chicken! It was, like, helicopters around -- it was Nelson Mandela! And he was sitting in the house. One of the security guys where we live was like: "Sylvester Stallone keeps looking over the wall. Think we should let him in?" We had about 50 people, from Stallone to Oprah to Quincy Jones, and they were just hanging on every word.
THR: Is there a danger in associating with political figures or politics?
Damon: I don't think there's anything wrong with saying what you believe, as long as you're OK with people disagreeing with you. For some reason, I was one of the first people to ask, "Are we ever going to get to know this Sarah Palin person before the  election?" I did take it a step further and compare it to a bad Disney movie, with the mom from Alaska facing down Vladimir Putin in the third act. (Laughter.)
Foxx: Republicans don't take jokes well. I've performed for George W. Bush and all these guys 'cause I'm from Texas. I did a big thing at the Cowboys' new stadium. You got Bush there, I'm cracking jokes, and I said, "Come on, man, you gotta lighten up." They don't take it well because all jokes have a layer of truth.
Gere: When we talk about something, we've got to know our stuff 10 times better than anybody else to be taken seriously. And that's OK. I would stay clear about something I don't know. But Asia's my area; Tibet's my area. AIDS was very, very important to me.
Washington: Giving is the most selfish thing you can do because you feel so good -- [that's] the feeling that I get since I'm "independently wealthy." (Laughter.) We've got an obligation to give. I'm the national spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and [since that began] we've gone from 2 million to 4 million boys and girls that we service. You know that you are affecting in a positive way someone's life.
THR: Given that a lot of kids look up to you as a role model, do you worry about the characters you play or when there's too much violence?
Washington: No, I don't. I mean, if it's something I wasn't comfortable with, I wouldn't do it. The most violent characters are in Shakespeare, so should they not see Julius Caesar?
Arkin: It's not the violence, but it's the attitude toward it that's the issue. A lot of times I feel as if I'm watching people that are reveling in it, and that disturbs me. I can feel it jumping off the screen at me, being loved for the amount of blood or the graphic design of it. When it gets into that, I feel like it's dispassionate, which scares the hell out of me. Yeah, I think there's too much. I think it's more than necessary.
Washington: Does good news sell?
Hawkes: That's the thing. Doesn't sell here, does it?
Foxx: I watch all that. I'm the Internet dude. I watch when somebody slams somebody -- I just love that!
Hawkes: We love conflict, and we love storytelling. We're curious people.
Damon: And fearful, too. And fear sells a lot, so there is always an attempt to drum up fear.
THR: Has anyone given you a life-changing piece of advice?
Hawkes: Growing up in a little rural community, it was getting on a bus in 10th grade and going 150 miles to a theater in Minneapolis and seeing Arthur Miller's The Crucible. That was the "burning bush" moment for me.
Arkin: Two things. Reading the life of Gandhi, that was a kick in the head. And then somebody gave me The Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse. It disturbed me so much that I knew there was a truth in it that I had to find out about. It changed my life radically. It was the beginning of wrenching me out of a kind of psychic despair, into a sense of hope. And the needle started shifting from acting: The first 45 years of my life, acting was the only reason I had for being alive, and from that moment on, it started shifting to what it is now, where it is an expression of who I am, and it's not the reason for my life anymore. And I just feel infinitely happier as a result.
THR: Is there one role you would love to play?
Damon: I'd love to play Bobby Kennedy. At the end of his life, he really saw the matrix and said some radical and amazing things, and then he died.
Washington: James Bond! (Laughter.) Some more Shakespeare, all of it. I did Richard III when I was too young. I need to revisit that. Too old for Hamlet now, I guess. Lear.
Damon: Too young!
Gere: The big, dramatic, crazy characters are much easier, for sure. The quiet, delicate ones that don't show too much, that you've still got to keep interesting for two hours, I find extremely tough.
Hawkes: It's the opposite for me. It's easier for me to play the more still person, although I'm not above scenery-chewing.
THR: If you gave up acting, what would you do?
Arkin: Become a safecracker.
Foxx: Oh, man, I'd leave this in a minute. I would scratch a Lotto ticket; I'd be history. (Laughter.) I'd be cool, I would be in Thailand, Golden Triangle.
Washington: Eighteen-hand massages.
Foxx: I told my daughter, I said: "If I hit a lick, I'm out." It's just the pressure right now of trying to be "that guy," it's tough. I've mapped myself after D [Denzel]. Me and Leonardo DiCaprio were talking about you the other day, about [how] everything he does, I really believe he does it. And Leo goes, "Buddy, I'm scared of that dude. He'd just grab my trachea and pull it out." I watched him when he went from the television series and then Denzel became "D," the one that everybody wanted to hang with, the one you identified with in the movie, and I thought that was fantastic. My worry is, how do I … without stealing so much from him …
Gere: which is impossible …
Foxx: … find your way to where you're really comfortable? But it's a lot of pressure. That constant pressure sometimes eats away at you a little bit.
Richard Gere in Arbitrage (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)
Gere plays a Wall Street wizard whose life spirals down as he struggles with a crumbling empire.
Alan Arkin in Argo (Warner Bros.)
Arkin (right, with John Goodman) plays a fictional producer hired to help free the 1979 Iran hostages.
Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained (The Weinstein Co.)
Foxx (right) teams with Tarantino favorite Christoph Waltz in this slave-era drama.
Denzel Washington in Flight (Paramount)
Washington plays a heroic captain who saves his passengers -- only to emerge as an alcoholic.
Matt Damon in Promised Land (Focus Features)
Damon, who co-wrote, plays a fracking executive hired to convince a small town to allow drilling.
John Hawkes in The Sessions (Fox Searchlight)
Hawkes stars as real-life quadriplegic Mark O'Brien, who engages a sexual surrogate (Helen Hunt).
The Hollywood Reporter continues its annual series of exclusive discussions among the year's most compelling film talents. As awards season unfolds, look for roundtables with actresses, writers, directors, producers, composers and, for the first time, costume designers. Go to THR.com/therace to watch videos of the full discussions.