Tom Noonan Interview

Tom Noonan

Tom Noonan’s career spans 30 years of horror from Wolfen to House of the Devil, but he is still perhaps best known for his amazing performance as demented serial killer Francis “Tooth Fairy” Dolarhyde in Manhunter. He has clocked up notable performances in Heat, Last Action Hero, The X Files and Seraphim Falls. Tom Noonan also writes, directs, produces and even composes for film – he is a man of many, many talents.

Boston Haverhill had the pleasure of catching up with him at the London Film and Comic Con 2010, chatting about writing, Eminem, acting, the stupidity of the film industry and how no one messes with Tom Noonan. No one.

Sporting a nifty straw hat, Noonan comes across as a very serious man – stern, confident, curt, a little world-weary and utterly firm in his opinions. Tom Noonan clearly doesn’t suffer fools gladly…

GOREPRESS: Is this your first time in England?

TOM NOONAN: No, I’ve worked here a few times as a screenwriter.

GP : You’ve been involved in a lot of aspects of the film creation process – you’ve acted, written, directed, even composed – what do you prefer doing. Is it the acting side?

TN : Acting is easiest to do, and the rest of it all feels pretty much the same. Directing and acting feel the same. Writing is harder because it takes a skill, and acting has no skill involved -

GP : There’s no skill involved in acting?

TN : There’s a little bit – there’s a little bit when you gain experience, but acting is something you’ve got a knack for or not. Simple as that.

GP : What kind of genre do you like to write for – are you more drama, comedy, thriller, horror?

TN : Most recently drama, but I’ve written comedies and scary movies and thrillers, all kinds of stuff.

GP : Are you a fan of collaborating with others, or is it more about your own work?

TN : No collaborating.

GP : No collaborating at all?

TN : No.

GP : Why not?

TN : It’s just not as much fun.

GP : Do you prefer to act in your own work, that you’ve written, or do you prefer passing it on to someone else?

TN : The four features I’ve made I’ve acted in all of them. It makes it easier in a lot of ways, to act in something you’re directing.

GP : Have you had any trouble with directors or producers, in regards to passing over your writing?

TN : Usually by the time the movie gets made you’re not on it any more.

GP : Really? Why?

TN : When they sell your script they option it, and they give you a part of the money and then the rest of the money when you finish the re-write. So if you sell a script for five hundred thousand dollars, they give you a hundred, and then another hundred when you do the first re-write, another one-fifty for the second… except what usually happens is they give you a hundred thousand for the first re-write and then they fire you.

GP : And that’s happened to you?

TN : Yeah, all movies are done that way.

GP : Do you think that’s a good approach to making films? A sensible one?

TN : Look at movies. Most of them are terrible. So what they do is – there is a [script] budget for the movie, which is five hundred thousand, and you get a part of it, but you’re not going to get the whole five hundred unless you’re on it the whole time, which is very unusual. So by the time they begin directing, either they hate you or you hate them, and it’s a drag.

GP : Is it because you spend too much time with the director or producer?

TN : No, it’s because they tell you one thing and then a month later they tell you at totally different way to re-write it. And then a third way, and then their wife reads it and then their maid reads it and the maid has her own opinions on it.

GP : So the writing side of things is pretty harsh. What’s your favourite experience on a film? Acting wise.

TN : Besides my own movies, I do a show called Damages, which I really enjoy doing.

GP : With Meryl Streep.

TN : Exactly. I have a lot of fun acting, it’s very easy. People tend not to tell me what to do very much.

GP : Really?

TN : It’s sort of because of who I am.

GP : Are they scared of you?

TN : Hopefully, yeah.

GP : So it’s deliberate? Do people find it difficult to approach you about your acting?

TN : Usually on a movie, if there’s a problem with a scene, the director will go to the actor they think is easiest to talk to. So the more you make it easier to be directed, the more you’re going to be directed. Even if you’re not the problem. So I tend to avoid discussions about the scene, although I’m available if someone wants to say something, but they almost never do.

GP : Do you think this is because, during your thirty-year career, your most recognisable characters have been unapproachable, sinister, slightly twisted and ultimately a little terrifying? Is this a perception people bring to the set?

TN : Well, I’ve not done as many of those sinister roles as you’d imagine. I’ve done seventy movies, probably twenty or twenty-five have been strange. I think it’s just my attitude, and people also admire me because I’ve made movies that they’ve seen. Once you’ve worked a lot and they like what you do, they don’t really want to mess around with it.

GP : So they know what they’ve got and they’re happy with it?

TN : You know, making a movie is so fucking hard, and most people have no idea what they’re doing. So the last thing you wanna do is start messing around with an actor you like. So it makes sense that they don’t want to bother you, because if they fuck you up then they’re really fucked.

Tom Noonan in Manhunter

GP : Have you had any appalling times on set then, when people have messed with you?

TN : No, no, not really. I know my words and I’m pretty good, so no.

GP : You’ve worked with Michael Mann twice, on Manhunter and Heat. What’s he like as a director?

TN : I love working with him, but he’s not an easy guy to work with. He can be very tough with people… but not with me.

GP : With House of the Devil, did you have much influence over Ti West in regards to the writing or directing?

TN : I tend not to get involved with the directing element at all. I don’t tell them how to direct, they don’t tell me how to act.

GP : You’ve also composed music for some films (occasionally under pseudonym Ludovico Sorret) – what kind of music are you a huge fan of?

TN : I love Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, you know – the standard shit.

GP : Nothing hugely modern like Lady Gaga or Britney Spears then?

TN : Yeah, well pop music loses it’s sheen as you get older, and it doesn’t have much interest for me. Once in a while though, someone like Eminem comes along, who I like a lot. Rarely do I like something new – I’ve never liked pop music that much. It took me a while to even like the Beatles, which I now love.

GP : So – the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Who do you prefer?

TN : The Rolling Stones are great, but I like the Beatles because I think they’re better – their songs are amazing. Amazing words, and no one seems to really appreciate their lyrics. They’re great.

GP : So you’re more about the words, what they’re saying? Which is why you like Eminem presumably.

TN : I like what he’s got to say. It’s good.

GP : Finally, what’s your favourite horror movie?

TN : I think it’s probably Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The original one. And The Exorcist. And I like Vertigo, although that’s not really a horror movie…

GP : Thanks for speaking with Gorepress, Tom.

TN : Thanks.

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