Actor director Vincent Gallo seems to know everyone on the New York's Lower East Side from ex-cons and street kids to effete gallery owners. Every five minutes during the interview, we'd be interrupted by someone he knew just walking down the street. Compulsively extroverted, Gallo resembles a distracted man on the edge. But, the high quality of his art belies this appearance; it shows a man willing to immerse himself in life with a deep level of concentration. All of this only leads to more contradictions, for someone so open, friendly and well connected, he is certainly not a man at peace with himself or his world. Two of his favorite filmmakers, Pasolini and Ozu, illustrate opposite sides of his nature; his internal balance between the turbulent, excessive world of Passolini and the eternal calm and the quest for simplification of Ozu.
His memorable and idiosyncratic film, Buffalo 66, was well received by critics all across the board. His band, Gallo, formed with actor Lucas Haas, Bunny, (Lucas starred as the child in Witness and more recently in Mars Attacks) has a on Sony/Workgroup that Gallo will recorded in a newly constructed studio in his Hollywood home. He also composed the soundtrack for the Buffallo 66 and stars in countless other Hollywood and indie films
I heard that you insist upon being on the cover for your print interviews?
Vincent Gallo: I feel I give a very engaging bold outspoken interview with thoughts I've reasoned out my whole life. So they are gifts to the world. But in giving these gifts to the world, I suffer consequence. I have people who don't like me. I have people who won't work with me. When it gets to the executives at Warner Brothers, all they know is that I'm a loose canon. When it gets to actors and directors I've personally mentioned, there is eliminated work opportunities. So all I ask for in return is a validation from the magazine that they at least support me as a person to put me on the cover. Without that, I'm just the quack the magazine uses inside the magazine to entertain a bunch of potheads who get off on reading someone who doesn't like pot. If I'm on the cover, it means we may not agree with what he is saying, but at least he's got a reasoned out point of view.
What's wrong with pot?
VG: One of the reasons I have such a negative reaction to pot is that most of the ways people take it. They smoke it. The side effect is that there are fumes. Since it is a narcotic, I find it quite rude that people smoke it publicly. The same fuckin' hippy cocksuckers who protest a plastics plant: it is okay that they dose me with this evil narcotic. The real problem I have with drugs is that it is incredibly mainstream behavior. All the drug addicts who think they are so interesting, they remind me of television. That's how prime-time they are. There is no aesthetic to taking drugs. There is no cultural movement that is attached to it except some of the dancing around ecstasy.
But there is an aesthetic to drugs. It changes your point of view?
VG: Psychedelics, heroin and alcohol awakened sensibilities years ago. Nobody whose art was influenced by drug encounters has created a sensibility or a language that has been important to the development of culture, or the evolution of mankind. This movie centers around a place kicker's missed field goal in the 1991 Super Bowl.
As a Buffalo native, how significant was that moment for you?
VG: Very. I've from a city that has never won anything. If Buffalo makes the field goal, then I can be from a city that is a champion; a city that deserves respect. That same way I knew I would not get into Cannes, the same way I know I will never win an Academy Award, the same way I know no one nice will love me. The Buffalo jinx.
Any comment from the fellow that missed the field goal, Scott Norwood, who appears in the film as Scott Wood? Did he open a strip bar in real life?
VG: No. He did not. I tried to get him involved. He was not interested. I would have written his character in any way he wanted it. He could have been a teacher at a nursery school. He had no sense of humor about his character.
Why is the Yes anthem "Heart of the Sunrise" playing in the strip bar? This is not a song associated with sexy grinding and cigars.
VG: I got into this music in the most abused period in my childhood. I was bottoming out in my relationship with my parents and my social relationships at school. I was getting caught doing criminal activities. I was getting ugly in the face. I was going through early adolescence. I was able to put those records on because I could relate to this band. Other than Chris Squire, the bass player of Yes and Richard Nixon, I've never really admired another man.
You've called yourself a right wing Republican in the past. Wouldn't you say your film does not endorse family values?
VG: The crises in my generation is that children are neglected and poorly nurtured. It is ordinary that children have more than one father or more than one sibling from another marriage, have drug addicted parents, parents obsessed with their careers. The consequences of that kind of parenting have revealed themselves in a very destructive way. People are self centered to the extreme. There isn't a lot of nurturing of children. My movie is about an abandoned girl and a boy who was misnurtured by his parents.
Christina Ricci was an inspired choice. She is not someone I would picture you working with.
VG: Not to sound too out of my mind, but I actually wrote a script just so that I could work with her one day. When I finished the script, I thought I made the character just a little too old, Since it's too romantic, I thought it wasn't going to work because I thought she was like 13. But then someone said she just turned 17. Close enough. She is so good in the film it's ridiculous.
Is the film autobiographical?
VG: The abusive points of the parents are certainly authentic, but there is a catharsis there and I found a lot of humor in those two characters. I don't see them as evil. I see them as slightly disappointing. Every parent does the best they can.
Is your mother a Bills fan in real life?
VG: My mother is more of a fan than the woman in the movie. Her life crescendos are up and down based on the seasons the Bills are having.
Was she being ironic when she wore a Bills sweatshirt to a recent New York showing of the film?
VG: After the movie, she realized she was a parody of herself. My mother surprisingly copped to everything and was sensitive to everything she had done. She was apologetic. It was the most beautiful time I've ever had with my mother. I had already forgiven her just by making the movie because she had become so funny. But I grew to really love her as a person who was able to cop to this stuff, and as the person who shared the memory of those events.
What did she think? Was she at all disturbed by it?
VG: I think she was most blown away in the scene where Ben Gazzara lip synchs to my father's voice singing "Fools Rush In." My father is a terrific singer who did nothing with his talent and my mother was most stricken by realizing other than her son putting him in a movie, he's never been identified or recognized for his incredible talent.
Will you have a showing for the Buffalo Bills?
VG: The NFL was completely uncooperative, completely fascist. I have no interest in having any kind of relationship with the NFL or the Buffalo Bills or Scott Norwood for the rest of my life. My 75 signed 8 by 10 football player autographs that I have are in a paper shredder in Buffalo -- that's how much they turned me off. I wouldn't go to a Bills game, an NFL game, if it was the last sporting event on the planet. It's very painful for the NFL to treat me the way they treated me. To have the attitude they had about filmmakers and art that they had in reference to their league, which is filled with controversy. How could they be so uptight? That's why soccer and basketball players are going to make football players look like dinosaurs in ten years. Why don't they keep their players off the coke line?
So you got your footage from the USFL?
VG: Well they're defunct. All you gotta do is pay them and they'll do what you want. It was hard to manufacture a logo and a team to make it fictitious. What was their problem? The film was an anti-gambling movie. It is a love story centered around football fans. In the last line of the film, he says, 'I love Scott Wood. I love the Bills.'
How upset were you about not being accepted to the Cannes Film Festival?
VG: I surrendered my passport after being rejected by those assholes at the Cannes Film Festival because they didn't have room for me after they let in Godzilla. For me, traveling to Europe is the equivalent of Charlton Heston's ship landing on the Planet of the Apes. I'm embarrassed that my mother and father are Italians and I'm madly in love with America.
Who first got you interested in the movies?
VG: By seeing my film, you would never know my influences. I got into acting because of people like Robby Benson and Andy Kaufman, not Pacino in the Godfather and De Niro in Taxi Driver. Death of Richie was the performance that made me want to be an actor. That is one of the reasons I used Ben Gazzara in my movie because he is in Death of Richie. I very much liked Danny Bonaduce in "The Partridge Family", Sylvester Stallone in Lords of Flatbush. They are the reasons I thought to myself, I'm going to be an actor no matter what. I saw the Lords of Flatbush in high school and I started a vicious violent gang called the lords, chains and knives. We had leather jackets with jean jacket vests on top of them. I painted, for everybody, "Lords" on the back of the jacket. To get into the group you had to take a marijuana pipe and while it was hot, brand a circle on your arm. It was a vicious burn and I didn't have to do it because I was president. We walked around bad ass! So 20 years later I'm walking down Lexington Ave. and I see this guy with a Yes t-shirt from a concert I went to, the "Close to the Edge" tour. And it's real small on him, real tight, cause he's a FAT ass. I'm thinking, that kid's cool man. He's got a Yes T-shirt. My favorite Band of All time! And I'm walking, ... we get to this light, and we're standing there. I looked at his arm and he's got this nasty burn mark. I look up and think, "Yo! Burke Hughes! That's Burke." That's impact. That is the kind of impact I can recall.
That must have been inspirational.
VG: Somehow I get fixated on things. I have 15,000 albums and I probably listen to the same 15 over and over. But, knowing the other ones are there is vital to me. If someone took a record that I haven't listened to in 15 years out of my collection, and took it home to tape, I would be frantic...
You would get a rash
VG: Yeah, I'd be itchy until they brought it back. And if the record was say, Kalidescope's faintly Blowing album, which I paid $1,100 for, I would get out and pay $2,500 to put it back into my collection. Even though I probably wouldn't listen to it again for ten more years. But knowing that it's there helps me.
It makes life calm
VG: It calms me down, calms me down (Gallo repeats this like a mantra while he settles in to have his hair done for the photo shoot.)