On a more serious note, besides the emotional story between John Q. and his son, the movie focuses a lot on the present state of the health care system. Its conclusion even comments on how many people die each year from not having proper health insurance. What is your opinion on the way the health care system works? Do you think that it looks bad that America is the world’s richest nation, yet thousands of people die each year because we can’t figure out a health care system that works for the rich, the poor and the middle class? ^ I don’t know enough about it. 7,000 people may die, but I don’t know how. Can you literally die on the street in America? I’d have to get more information before I threw answers out. I’m an actor who played a part. But I also understand that the systems in other countries aren’t perfect either. I mean how many people die in that system? I’ve been to England and it’s not all that great. In Canada, those who want the best surgeons sometimes will have to come to the states. So there is no ideal system and it would be very difficult to say, ‘starting next Tuesday we are going to turn this whole system over.’ There’s a lot of big businesses in America too, honestly. I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t think we should just go to a national health or whatever. I think we need some of this and some of that. Some of the people up in Canada were saying that they don’t get the state-of-the-art equipment cause they have to wait for the government to get everything. Here — where there is competition for business, the equipment and everything — everyone is fighting to have the best stuff. To the outside, obviously, if you are in the states many people like John Q. fall in the cracks– they aren’t poor enough and they aren’t rich enough. But I also don’t know if what happens in our film could happen in America — a kid that needs a heart, I don’t know if they would just send him home. Like I said, the fact of the matter is, they would send him to a county hospital.
Was there ever a time in your own life when you didn’t have health insurance? ^ Yeah, a lot of moments — I just didn’t need or it just so happened I didn’t get sick then. I don’t remember when I was paying off my Screen Actor’s Guild how fully covered I was early on in my career, but fortunately I didn’t get sick and I never had to use it.
So you and your family are now fully covered? ^ I don’t even know how much coverage I have to be honest with you. When something happens with the kids my wife takes care of it. I have the card and she has a copy, but nothing has happened to me lately. But what does fully mean? They cover the whole deal? So in a situation like John Q, they would pay the whole $250,000? I don’t know.
Let’s move on to another subject, the upcoming Academy Awards. You were nominated for your performance in Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day and are considered to be one of the front runners, next to Will Smith and Russell Crowe. You were also recently nominated for a Golden Globe for the same part. Do you find the numerous award ceremonies you attend to be tiresome, or are they still fun after all these years? And after all the awards you have already won during your career, does another one– even if it is an Oscar– really mean that much to you? ^ It’s fun. It’s nicer to win than not to win. I’ve been around the block a few times so we’ll see what happens. I’m more relaxed about it than in the past. I guess I get a little nervous right before they say whomever’s name they are going to say, but it’s really out of my hands so it’s not worth me worrying about it.
Does the Best Actor Oscar mean any more to you than the Oscar you already won for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for “Glory?” ^ I already have an Oscar and they are the same size and the same weight. I know this– I’m going to continue to work hard and continue to try and do good work. The Academy is going to have to get used to seeing me every year. I may be 80-years-old before they finally say, ‘Aw, just give him one.’ I may not be able to carry it by the time they give it to me, but I’ll be at the party. I’ll be back.
Now John Q deals with an enemy America seems to have forgotten about since September 11– the health care system. I hear you have an interesting story about where you were when the Twin Towers were hit. ^ I was in San Diego. Interestingly enough, this film I just directed about a young man in the Navy, one of the ships we did our research on left in, I think, July. I remember talking to the Master of Arms because they were going out for six months and he was talking about how excited he was, ‘we’re going to Thailand and Hawaii,’ and they ended up in Afghanistan. In fact, John Walker was held on that ship.
What exactly were you doing on the ship? ^ We were doing our research there because we used that same type of ship.
What’s the film about? ^ It’s about a young man from Cleveland. It’s about his life — he’s had a very tough life — and he joined the Navy. It actually took place in the 70’s and 80’s but I changed it to now because I felt it was more important to have the issues discussed now so that young kids could relate to them. So it’s a recent story.
Does the film have a title? ^ No, it doesn’t have a title yet. It’s the Woody Allen in me (Laughs).
What about a release date or distributor? ^ Not yet and Fox Searchlight.
To millions of people you seem like a man who is fearless. You have accomplished so much and the types of characters you play seem so head-strong and powerful. However, I recently heard you state in an interview that your first time behind the camera had you throwing your hands up in fear. Is that true? ^ Fear is a good feeling. There is another time when people throw up their hands in the air and that’s when you are on a rollercoaster — it must make it go away or something. Fear is healthy. For me, I’ve done 25-30 films and I’ve been blessed to do a lot of good stuff, get nominations and awards, but you can get bored with something. It wasn’t fresh and it was getting stale for me. With directing, I am alive again.
Since you were scared, I am assuming that you found that being a first-time director was difficult? ^ I didn’t sleep for two months. It wasn’t difficult — it was fun, it was exhilarating, it was frightening. Everyday was great when it was over cause I’d say to myself, ‘okay, I can do that. I do that.’ But then the next day would be like, ‘Well, what do I do now?’ It’s just all so new.
So looking back the process wasn’t too horrible? ^ It’s always in hindsight not that bad. But you have all these people relying on you and looking to you for answers and you don’t necessarily know what the answers are. Just the ‘can I actually do this’ of it. What if after about two days they say, ‘he’s terrible!’ Maybe they did, I don’t know (laughs). But I was smart enough to put the best people around me who knew how to do the job. I had a great crew and after a couple days in I was flying– I was gone. If I’m allowed to, I would direct for the rest of my life.
Really? Does that mean that your days as one of Hollywood’s leading on-screen men are over? ^ Acting pays well — it pays me very well. I’m already in the red on my film; my bills as a director are higher than my salary. Relatively speaking directing pays a lot, just not as much as acting.
So do you have any other plans for future films you might direct? ^ Right now I’m just trying to get through the one I’m doing. I’m working with the sound editor, the music editor… we are just working in that little laboratory everyday. There’s a lot of manipulation that goes on that I never knew anything about. But I do have a couple of ideas.
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Posted on March 14, 2002 in Interviews by Heather Wadowski
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