Talking Pictures: Campbell Scott 

A remarkable performer, Campbell Scott exudes the idea of “actor” in his gestures and his grandiloquence. And now this son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst has chosen to add director to his many roles, with the indie feature Off the Map starring Joan Allen and Sam Elliot, a story of a bohemian couple grappling with depression and a daughter coming of age in their isolated New Mexican desert home.
The L Magazine: Does acting make you a better director?
Campbell Scott: Without a doubt. You’re learning what not to do. Sometimes I see a director say something to an actor, and it totally messes them up and makes them worse. I’m less likely to do that now.
The L: Why did you decide to do Off The Map?
CS: All the self-interested reasons. I’ve only co-directed one movie, Big Night, which was a great experience, but we didn’t know what we
were doing. I first saw it as a play and I fell in love with it. I’ve also been to New Mexico. I knew it would be a small movie. And I thought, ‘I bet I could handle that.’
The L: Was making a film set in a southwestern state also an attraction?
CS: Yeah. My ex-wife was a painter. I had been to New Mexico many times and I loved it. It’s a very exotic, interesting, severe, crazy environment. I don’t know if I could live there. It’s such an intense place.
The L: Is it true you badgered Joan Allen to do this movie?
CS: 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, and 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 plays in a basement. I saw the first True West with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise. I saw the first And The Nightingale Sang with Joan. That’s what made me want to be an actor — they were just unbelievable.
The L: Did she have a problem doing the nude scenes?
CS: She doesn’t do nude scenes. I said, OK. I’m an actor, I respect her. I said, ‘If you have a problem with the environment in doing that, fine. What can we do to make the scene work?’ That’s the thing to say to an actor, not to manipulate them. Now you have someone on your side. I wish directors would say that to me. I don’t want to get naked! But Joan is smart enough, and I showed her that I recognized that by saying that I was totally game with whatever we were going to do. But she understands that in this movie it is important for Jim True-Frost [who plays William] to see something because it does something in the movie. She came to New Mexico and she said, ‘I’ll do it.’
The L: What did you learn making this film?
CS: Well, I wasn’t a stranger to low budgets. The Daytrippers cost $60,000 and I produced it, which meant that I invested in it. But it was done with friends and it was made in nine days blah, blah, blah. Working with [the production company] InDigent was great because it was hard. Final was shot on video and that was totally new to me. I’m 43 and was raised on films like Vanishing Point and Five Easy Pieces. These are great films so you look at video and think, “who cares?” But you can’t buck the fact that everyone now can make a movie. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.
The L: What do you think about character-driven films?
CS: In one way it is something one can handle because it’s slightly off-center and that’s attractive, but it also has the potential of being cutesy and sappy. I am so uninterested in that. What excited me about Joan Ackerman’s play [the basis of Off The Map] is the way I was affected. And I couldn’t describe why. The same with Walkabout — I don’t know what Walkabout is about. But it did affect me. As soon as you can explain it, it becomes somehow smaller especially in art because that’s just the way it is.                                                                              Brad Balfour


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