Campbell Scott has made the transition from actor to independent filmmaker. The son of legendary actor George C. Scott, Campbell turned his back on mainstream Hollywood and focused his career on making smaller, more character driven films. He produced "The Daytrippers" for a mere $60,000 in 1996, which helped to pioneer the use of digital video in low-budget movies. Campbell's latest effort is "Off the Map", a touching story about a family of naturalists living in the New Mexico desert. Off the Map has had a tenuous road to theaters since its completion in 2003. Screened at some fifty film festivals, it was well received but considered not commercially viable. It was picked up for distribution, but has the odd distinction of being released at the same time as "The Upside of Anger"; another film starring Joan Allen. Campbell takes it all in stride and hopes a double dose of Joan Allen will help Off the Map find its audience.
Is it true you badgered Joan Allen to do this movie?
Campbell Scott: I did ask her for many years. She was the first one I ever asked. A lot of companies could not see Joan in this role, which spoke to their ignorance. I asked her she said no. She was incredibly honest. We were only acquaintances, but I had seen her in plays. I went to school in Wisconsin. I use to drive down and see Steppenwolf [Theatre Company] in a basement. I saw the first "True West" with [John] Malkovich and [Gary] Sinise. They were unbelievable; it's what made me want to be an actor. I said, "I can do that."
Why did she initially say no?
Campbell Scott: She said it's a mom. I've been playing a lot of moms. I'm not doing it. She was very frank. But I'm an actor and I'm usually like "I got it. I'll leave you alone." But I just kept trying to convince her. The whole Native American thing is different. It had some great actresses attached. This was over years. Some would fall out and not come back to do it. Up until three months before we shot I still had someone else. They fell out. Fifth time I went back to her, and then she said she'd do it for some reason.
How did you get her to do the nude scene?
Campbell Scott: She doesn't do nude scenes. I said fine. I'm an actor, I respect her. I said do what you want I don't care. That's the thing to say to an actor. Most people don't understand that. Not to manipulate them. That's what you say to an actor. You got a problem with the whole environment in doing that? Fine, what are we going to do to make the scene work? Now you have someone on your side. Now you have someone working with you. I wish directors would say to me. I don't want to get naked! Most people don't some say, well, if it works for the film. It never works for the film. This gesture is way sexier than watching two people fuck. Unless you're watching porno and you're into that and you know what you're in for. This is all going to sound terrible written down. But the fact is that Joan is smart enough and I recognize that. And I showed her that I recognized that by saying what are we going to do I'm totally game. However she knows that in this movie it is important for Jim True-Frost to see something, because it does something in the movie. She came to New Mexico and she said I'd do it. Let's go. How are we going to do it?
What made you decide to do this film?
Campbell Scott: All self-interested reasons. I didn't know what I was doing. I've only co-directed one movie, "Big Night," which was a great experience but we didn't know what we were doing. I saw it [Off the Map] as a play. I fell in love with it. I've been to New Mexico. I knew it was a small movie. And it thought, ok, I bet I could handle it. I've said this before, but it's true as an audience movie. I love "Walk About", I love "Days of Heaven", I love "The Black Stallion"; I love those directors and those movies. I just think they're great movies. I'd love to be out in the middle of somewhere where I don't know anything about it and it accumulates in power and you don't know why, but by the end of the movie you're freaked out in a good way.
Was filming in New Mexico a big part of what drew you in?
Campbell Scott: Yeah. I had been there. My ex-wife was a painter. So I had been to New Mexico many times. I loved it. It's a very exotic, interesting, severely crazy environment. I don't know if I could live there all year. It's such an intense place.
Why did you not want to play the character of William (Jim True-Frost)?
Campbell Scott: There was talk early on. I then became too old. But I have to say I never wanted it. I saw the play and thought immediately, I could handle this as a director. I don't want to be in it. I don't want to be in front of the camera. I directed myself in a couple of things. Nice experience. But you don't want to do it too often, unless you have a tiny part and its fun. In general, I'd rather be behind the camera.
Does acting make you a better director?
Campbell Scott: Without a doubt. Because most of the time for me, you're learning what not to do, as opposed to what to do. You never know what to do. I don't, especially in a work environment. You have a little formula yourself. But when I see a director do something I think, whatever he or she just said totally screwed that actor up and now they're worse. I'm never going to do that. I'm going to figure out something else. I want my movie to be good. And that's how it works.
What makes you decide what movie you do as an actor?
Campbell Scott: Everybody always says the same boring answer, which happens to be true in my life which is good scripts. I don't have a career plan. As I get older, different things become important to me. And frankly I'm a dad so it's like how long is it? Where is it? If I generate it myself like "Roger Dodger", they often take place where I live and they're written by great people. It's just the kind of things you want to stay involved with and still surprise yourself a little.
Are you more a fan of character driven movies?
Campbell Scott: In one way they make the movie something you can handle because it's character driven and it's slightly off center. That's what's attractive, but it also has the potential of being cutesy and sappy. I am so uninterested in that. What affected me about the play is the way I like being affected. I couldn't describe. I could not walk out on Off the Map when I saw it. And if someone asked me why I love it I had no idea. But the fact is it did affect me. I can't explain the movie to you. As soon as you can explain it, it's now smaller as far as I'm concerned. Especially in movies or plays or art or whatever, because that's just the way it is.
How do you feel about "Off the Map" and Joan's other film, "The Upside of Anger", being released on the same day?
Campbell Scott: I can't talk about it in terms of good and bad. I think you can't get enough of Joan. So I think it's a good way to look at it. Maybe they'll help each other. People will be talking about Joan Allen.
You've always been a champion of independent filmmaking. Were you happy to see the low budget "Million Dollar Baby" beat "The Aviator" for Best Film? Is Hollywood more apt to embrace smaller films these days?
Campbell Scott: Who knows? I'm trying to figure this kind of stuff out. I know it's good when I see a smaller film get recognized because it means more publicity for them. Any way to get the word out, I'm just learning about this. The end of this distribution sentence is the scariest part, which is when you start producing and directing. Now the movies are a little more like your children. You now spent years of your life and then it just dumps in one day and you think what happened? It doesn't always happen. Off the Map, we made it almost three years ago. Distributors are scared of it. Frankly a lot of these guys are smart and they know what they're doing. The fact is it's hard to release movies. And especially movies like this where you're not going to have 20 million dollars behind it. It can almost be put in the column of whining. But we've been to at least fifty movie festivals and people are talking about it.
Can you talk about your two new films?
Campbell Scott: "The Dying Gaul" is with Patty Clarkson and Peter Sarsgaard. It's another Hole Digger film, but very different; kind of a brutal Hollywood bisexual story. Hole Digger is the guys that made these films that I have a relationship, but I'm not part of their company. "Lover Boy" stars Kyra Sedgwick and I just play a small part. It's based on novel about a woman who is overly possessive about her son, sadness and craziness ensues. It has a great cast. Again, here we are these little films. How are they going to make it?
Dont't forget to also check out: Off the Map