by Ed Symkus
Vince Vaughn is a big, strapping, gangly man, cigarette gripped between his fingers, who knows a lot about playing the bad guy. He's done it before, as Lester, the sparkling-eyed killer in the little-seen Clay Pigeons, and as Norman, the dead-eyed killer in Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho. He's still probably best known for his first feature, Swingers, in which he played Trent, a lady-killer of a different sort -- actually not a killer at all, but a self-described Lothario. He's played a straight-up hero opposite Vincent D'Onofrio and Jennifer Lopez in The Cell, but in his new film, Domestic Disturbance, opposite good guy John Travolta, he plays another heel.
His choices for roles, he says, have come on a case-by-case basis.
"Sometimes it's the material," he explains. "But in the case of Psycho, it was Gus. I wanted to work with Gus. And Domestic Disturbance was very much about me working with John. I thought I messed up when I first met with him. At the first meeting, I said, 'You know, I grew up on you. I love your stuff.' I thought maybe that wasn't the best thing to say.
"But I also thought the scenario was interesting," he adds. "In that when a parent gets involved with someone romantically, they have a courtship period and a time to get to know each other, and then both the significant other and the child are thrown into a very intimate situation but with no time to choose that. What I liked about the script was it wasn't gratuitous and didn't rely on shocking the audience about how despicably violent I was with the child. It was more about what could happen. It was a threat."
Known for his skill as an improvisational actor, Vaughn has found that different directors give him different amounts of leeway in approaching his roles.
"I think improvisation can give an energy and spontaneity to a performance if things are happening for the first time or if emotions involved in a conflict are discovered while that's going on," he says. "That's my way of working. And I think there are marvelous actors and storytellers that work in the other way. It's a style thing. It's funny, sometimes you get hired on these bigger things and they love what they've seen you do or that energy you've had. But when you get there, they don't want that. So it's like, 'Why did you hire me in the first place? You know what I do, and that's how I go about it.' But they have a controlling point of view of their movie and how they see it, and on a bigger film a lot of times the focus is a concept, so what I've done doesn't really fit into the movie. But as an actor it's not my job to worry about the movie and its conception. So it's freeing in a way. I worry about my part and how I'm fitting into the director's movie."
Although he's shy in discussing his personal life (it's public that he was once romantically linked with Chasing Amy's Joey Lauren Adams), he's not bashful at all when the discussion turns to the difficulties he had in school in the Chicago suburbs.
"I had to go to a class an hour a day for learning disabilities," he says. "But it was like we were 12 and playing 'Candyland.' It wasn't like we were having any big therapy, it was more of 'We can't deal with these kids all day, let's give the teachers a break from them.' But I wasn't ever disruptive. It was more sort of not being able to fully focus or concentrate on what was being discussed in class. And if there were teachers with rules, then I would question things. But it was only because I didn't understand some rule. And they didn't want to take five minutes out to explain it to me during class. I wasn't a troublemaker. In English class or history class, I would do very well, but in science or math it was very hard for me to grasp things. I moved slowly at it."
But he sure moves quickly from one movie to the next these days. He's got a great cameo as one of Ben Stiller's brothers in Zoolander. And his mind is set on another role opposite Stiller next year -- the big screen adaptation of the '70s TV show Starsky and Hutch.
"I'm not sure about me," he says. "I'm pretty sure it's happening for Ben, but I don't know yet if I'm going to be Hutch. It would be fun to go blond and sort of commit to like the groovy '70s of it all. I think it would be funny. It might happen, but I'm just not sure yet."