Thirty years ago, Michael Paré got his big break on ABC's THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO playing Tony Villicana, a good-looking punk kid whose primary dramatic function was to piss off Robert Culp's salty FBI Agent every other episode. Prior to this, Paré had never set foot in front of a television or movie camera. Two years later, he was a movie star. EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS. STREETS OF FIRE. THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT. Two years after that, he was headed back to television. A few years later, he left Hollywood for Amsterdam, where he quickly settled into a successful career as a direct-to-video leading man. For most of the last decade, he's been appearing in Uwe Boll movies like 1968 TUNNEL RATS, RAMPAGE and BLOODRAYNE: THE THIRD REICH, and, it seems, genuinely enjoying his collaborations with the prolific German filmmaker.
But let's jump back to 1984. After fizzling out theatrically, Martin Davidson's EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS experienced a surprise resurgence via heavy pay cable rotation and steady soundtrack sales. This prompted MTV to air Paré's persuasive lip-syncing of John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band's "On the Dark Side" as a video - which no doubt led many to believe the actor was performing the song. Paré was all over television at this point, getting hot at the right time to help Universal sell their biggest hope for summer '84: Walter Hill's STREETS OF FIRE. With two films being shilled by MTV at a time when every young person in America was glued to the network, this appeared to be Paré's moment. But despite spawning a top ten Billboard hit in Dan Hartman's "I Can Dream About You", STREETS OF FIRE failed to catch on with a fully-aware moviegoing public, and wound up being one of the summer's biggest bombs. And while his box office clout was slightly redeemed when THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT performed well that August, even with EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS airing incessantly on cable, Paré's "moment" had inexplicably come and gone.
Considering how Hollywood is notorious for attempting to cram certain flavorless actors and actresses down the public's gullet, I'm always amazed when a guy as talented and undeniably magnetic as Paré gets brushed off so quickly. Very little effort was required here: had someone given him another crack at that shotgun-and-trenchcoat routine, this time in a straightforward action flick, they would've had a hit on their hands. No way moviegoers were rejecting that guy again.
So what happened? I spoke to Paré a couple of weeks ago, and rather than take shots at the studio system that gave up on him way too soon, he humbly admits it was his own desire to "stretch" as an artist that kept him from playing the Hollywood game. If there's any residual bitterness from how it all played out, he certainly isn't copping to it. Right now, he's focused on the next phase of his career, which kicked off last weekend with his brief but memorable supporting turn as Detective Kurlen in Brad Furman's THE LINCOLN LAWYER. Paré's badass bearing has only broadened over the years; the looks are still there, but he's got heft now - physically and emotionally. There's a danger that wasn't quite there before. One could very easily see him anchoring a gritty cop drama in the mold of THE SHIELD, or boozing his way through a noirish Lawrence Block yarn. If you fucked with the Paré of the past, you caught a beating; now, you'd just get dead.
Some smart director or series creator is going to look like a genius for "rediscovering" Michael Paré - and at fifty-two years old, he's finally ready to seize that moment. Paré is incredibly candid in the below interview (particularly in discussing his working relationship with Rick Moranis on STREETS OF FIRE). Hard not to root for this guy.
Mr. Beaks: So how did you hook up with Brad Furman.
Michael Paré: I got the job because a friend of mine was on this celebrity basketball team with Furman. He showed him his reel, and Brad saw that I was the other actor in the scene. And he said, "Hey, can you get a hold of him?" [Furman] called the casting director, got me an appointment, I auditioned, then he took it to [producer Tom] Rosenberg, and he and Tom agreed to put me in the movie. It wasn't exactly, "Call my agent, and I'll see what I think about it."
And Brad turned out to be a great, great guy. Young, incredibly creative, incredibly obsessive: you could see that this guy works twenty hours a day when he's doing a movie. And Tom Rosenberg is just one of those calm guys who's very confident in all of the creative choices he makes. It was an incredible experience. And Matthew McConaughey is also very calm and charismatic and confident. There was no Hollywood bullshit going on. It was all a bunch of professional, artistic stuff.
Mr. Beaks: Do you find that's often the case when you've got a good piece of material like this? Egos are set aside, and guys just get down to work?
Paré: Well, you know, Michael Connelly... you can't argue this guy is a great, great writer. I've read most of his stuff, and you don't know what's going to happen until the last ten pages. And that's a 400-page novel. It's just fucking great, man. The better the material, the better the odds that everyone involved is going to work hard.
Beaks: Obviously, Brad was a fan of yours already.
Paré: Brad's from Philadelphia, where I have a big fanbase. And he's also into music. He did a documentary on Chicago jazz, which I think is how he got hooked up with Tom Rosenberg.
Beaks: When you finally met with Brad, were there any particular films of yours he was a fan of?
Paré: Yeah, he's a big EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS fan. But he sent me half a dozen emails saying how excited he was that he got me in the movie. It was a lovefest because I was a big fan of the material. My whole career has been about synchronicity: just being in the right time at the right place around the right people. That's been my whole career. So this was just perfect.
Beaks: You kind of had stardom thrust upon you.
Paré: Yes. Absolutely. Thirty years ago. (Laughs)
Beaks: I think I was ten years old when THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO was on the air.
Paré: Oh, okay. So you're not a kid. Good.
Beaks: And it was cool, because you were on that show, and then, all of a sudden, it was EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS and STREETS OF FIRE. Were you ready for it?
Paré: No. The magic of THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO - and I was a fourth supporting character, but was in, I think, nine out of eleven episodes and seventeen out of twenty-two - is that I didn't have a lot of weight to carry. I had a lot of time to prepare for every episode. I had studied in New York for a couple of years, and when I got out here I continued studying, so the onus wasn't on me. I got to continue polishing my craft as an actor. That was only a year-and-a-half, and then I got EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS.
But you see that was a real artsy project: they put us in this dive hotel in the middle of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and you wouldn't know that it was going to be a big movie. We had two weeks of improvisational rehearsal with the director Martin Davidson. You know, Joey Pantoliano, Ellen Barkin, Tom Berenger... they all had cut their chops and were established talent. It was a workshop, summer stock kind of environment, where everybody was trying to do great work. Then STREETS OF FIRE came along, and it was like, "Bam! Fucking Hollywood! Stand there and be a star, dude!" That kind of shocked me. I wasn't quite prepared for that. But, yeah, in four years I went from working in a restaurant to making a lot of money and being in movies that were released nationally and internationally. (Laughs) I met the Prince of Japan. They flew me over to Japan to meet the Prince!
Beaks: (Laughing)Had he requested your presence?
Beaks: That's surreal.
Paré: And literally five years before, me and my brother were living in a two-bedroom tenement on the Lower East Side when it was a really bad neighborhood. (Laughs) I shouldn't say two-bedroom. Two rooms. Two nine-by-twelve rooms. It was a tenement on the Lower East Side. Five-floor walk-up in the back. And then four or five years later I'm shaking hands with the Prince of Japan.
Beaks: I read that you studied with Uta Hagen.
Paré: I don't know where that came from. Uta Hagen's books were the first ones I read. And I went to HB Studio, because you could go on a daily basis there: you didn't have to sign a contract or commit to a monthly amount; it was a very economical kind of class. I studied with a guy named Robert Modica, and another guy on 14th Street named Bill Esper. And Mervyn Nelson. I just went from teacher to teacher because I couldn't keep up the contract; they all wanted financial commitments, and I just couldn't do it.
Beaks: Did you find that helped?
Paré: Studying with different guys? Yeah. Because you come to realize they're all saying the same thing in a different way. They identify the same task and give it a different label. So you realize that everybody has their own perspective, but it's pretty much the same road.
Beaks: Was it helpful to work with established actors like Robert Culp and William Katt before this rush of stardom happened?
Paré: Robert Culp was really cool. He was very friendly to me. In the script, whenever we talked it was adversarial. But when the camera wasn't rolling he was a real mensch.
Beaks: And did that help prepare you for what was coming?
Paré: Well, I learned about working with a camera. In acting class you don't have cameras, so you have no idea. I remember the cinematographer of the pilot for THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO was Jacques Marquette. He actually produced the original ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN. I didn't know anything about marks or shit like that, but I had these great shoes that had kid-leather soles, so I could gently slide my feet and feel the tape. And Jacques said, "Where'd you learn that?" And I said, "Uh, I just figured that you shouldn't see me looking for my mark." And he said, "Kid, you've got a natural instinct." (Laughs) You know, Peter Falk had that he has where he's looking at the ground? He was looking for his marks. I heard that story in acting class, and I didn't want to do Peter Falk. So I had these shoes. I would take a step, the second one would be kind of a sliding step, I'd feel the tape and I'd hit my mark.
Beaks: (Laughing) Do you still do that?
Paré: No, I've been doing this thirty years. I figured shit out.
Beaks: One of the interesting things about that early part of your career is that EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS was not a success initially. It grew through cable and video.
Paré: It got that second theatrical release after cable. That's probably what it got the most news from.
Beaks: So you've got these three movies within almost a year of each other: EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS, STREETS OF FIRE and THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT. But Eddie really became the character for you. Did you worry about being typecast from that?
Paré: The danger was that they didn't see you playing anything less profound than a rock legend who drops out and hides out in Europe for ten or fifteen years because he's such an artistic poet. Playing a normal guy after that, they just don't see it: you're not a normal guy. I've been playing heroes, and heroes are not normal people. You can't find a leading man doing a nine-to-five job on Wall Street. And that hurt because they said, "You can't play a regular person." Tom Cody was also bigger than life. And in THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT, I'm a time traveler for god's sake. So for a long time, all I played was cops, heroes and soldiers.
Beaks: So you were yearning to play regular guys?
Paré: I should've kept my mouth shut and played what Hollywood told me to play and had a bigger career. But like a lot of foolish actors, I wanted to stretch myself as an artist, and Hollywood doesn't really give a fuck about what you want to do. (Laughs) They want you to do what they say they can make good movies from. So after doing about ten or fifteen action movies, I started doing these little psycho thrillers. I had, like, three movies where I commit suicide or come close to it. A lot of dramatic stuff. It was very stimulating and rewarding for me as an artist, but Hollywood's like, "We'll tell you when we want to make those movies. You make what we want, or we won't work with you."
Beaks: This must've thrilled your agent.
Paré: They didn't like it at all. They were like, "What the fuck's wrong with you, man?"
Beaks: Were there any roles you were up for at the time that you didn't want to go after?
Paré: No, because I left the United States. After I did that HOUSTON KNIGHTS series for a couple of years [with THE WARRIORS' Michael Beck], I hung around and was getting these action pictures and whatnot. I got divorced for the second time, then I did a movie in Sicily, I did [MOON 44] with Roland Emmerich, and I did EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS 2. And then I moved to Europe. I kind of dropped out.
Beaks: Recently, you've done a string of films with Uwe Boll.
Paré: Yeah, and he let me play some wild characters. SEED was one of the ones where I had to kill myself. That was a great role. And TUNNEL RATS, that's actually where I got introduced to Michael Connelly. He wrote a book called ECHO PARK, and it turns out that Harry Bosch, his most famous character, is an ex-tunnel rat in Vietnam. I told somebody I was being considered for this, and they said, "You've got to pick this up because it has a great explanation of the psychology behind the guys who went into those tunnels." From there, I started reading Michael Connelly incessantly.
Beaks: How is it working with Uwe?
Paré: You know, he's kind of like a docudrama guy in all of his movies. He shoots most of his movies like they're documentaries. He shoots fast, not a lot of coverage, and the dialogue... as long as you say what he needs to have said, he moves on. He's a brilliant guy. He's got two advanced degrees in Economics and Literature. And he's a boxer, so he's a really charming guy. I don't know if everybody would find him charming, but for an actor, to see a poet-warrior, it's just very cool.
Beaks: You said Boll works quickly. What's your preference as an actor?
Paré: I'll tell you, I liked working on THE LINCOLN LAWYER a lot. They had three cameras, and they didn't move on until Brad was very happy with what was on the screen. And then you had the consiglieres, "Okay, fine. We'll give you one more." I like to know that everybody, all the bosses, are happy. Doing little independent movies off in the middle of fucking nowhere, none of the bosses are looking at it. So you can shoot the whole movie and find out, "Well, we should've done this," or "We should've done that." This is where I come to the conclusion that I should've stayed in Hollywood and made the movies my agent and manager were telling me to make instead of saying, "Oh, I want to do something important." Who says what's "important"? They're only movies in the long run anyway.
Beaks: I have to ask, as a huge fan of STREETS OF FIRE and Walter Hill, what was your experience like on that film? It's a very unique movie. Very ambitious.
Paré: You gotta realize that, out of the whole cast, nobody was over thirty. Diane Lane was, I think, eighteen. It was an enormous Hollywood production. My manager had me hire a limousine to pick me up at home and take me to work. I was like, "Jesus, this is incredible. This is fucking Hollywood. The real Hollywood. The Hollywood they make movies about." My manager was a little woman. She wasn't, like, a thug, which is probably what I should've had as a manager at that time. (Laughs) It was scary. And Walter isn't the kind of guy who works well with kids. He's a cowboy. He's like John Ford. "Don't ask me how to act! I'm a director!" (Laughs)
Beaks: Did you at least enjoy shooting the pickaxe fight at the end with Willem Dafoe?
Paré: Now that was something I could understand. The stunt coordinator, Bennie Dobbins, would've been a great director for me. He was like, "Shut the fuck up. Listen to me, and do it like this. You're supposed to do it like this." I think that was one of my best scenes. And the scenes with Diane.
Rick Moranis drove me out of my mind. There's this whole wave of insult comedy. In the real world, if someone insults you a couple of times, you can smack them. Or punch them. You can't do that on a movie set. And these comedians walk around, and they can say whatever they want. I'm just not that handy with that. Comedians are a special breed. They can antagonize you and say whatever they fucking want, and you can't do anything to stop them.
Beaks: All you can do is laugh it off.
Paré: It's one thing once in a while, but, you know, you're with the guy every day. All fucking day. He's this weird looking little guy who couldn't get laid in a whore house with a fistful of fifties. He would imitate me. The first thing he says to me is, "Do you just act cool, or are you really cool?" That was the first sentence out of his mouth to me in Joel Silver's office. And I was like, "Oh fuck, this is not going to go well." But he was one of Joel's dear friends, and he ended up making a bunch of movies for Disney. I just wasn't that sharp. I wasn't ready for that kind of crap.
Beaks: But I think that worked for your character. Cody looks like he really wants to tear the guy's head off the entire movie.
Paré: Yeah, but why wouldn't I? What I wanted to do was just hit him once and let him go through the whole movie like Jack Nicholson in CHINATOWN. I wouldn't have to hit him ever again. Just "Shut the fuck up" and boom! He would then know that was a possibility, and it would've brought his attitude towards me down a little.
Beaks: (Laughing) So in THE LINCOLN LAWYER, you're playing this veteran detective, and it just feels so right. Do you feel like you're entering a new phase in your career?
Paré: I hope so! You know what they say: "An actor is the first one to know his career is over." So who fucking knows? I hope it's going to open doors for me. I've had a shitty pilot season, but then nobody's seen THE LINCOLN LAWYER yet.
They have now. Michael Paré is back. Let the revels begin. Let the fire be started.
THE LINCOLN LAWYER is now playing in theaters everywhere. It's an immensely entertaining legal thriller with a phenomenal cast. Check it out.