Anthony LaPaglia is fittingly reserved when we meet in a Los Angeles hotel room. Never one to court media attention, the Australian-born actor took some time off between both fatherhood and a hectic TV schedule, to talk about The Guys, a moving, eloquent film based on the play in which LaPaglia had also previously appeared.
The first film to address the immediate after-effects of 9/11, LaPaglia delivers his finest performance to date as a fire chief who has to deliver a eulogy for his fallen comrades. Dressed in an elegant, dark blue suit and tie, the Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor disagrees that mag The Guys was somehow cathartic following 9/11. “Because that implies that you were able to kind of process the event and somehow exorcise it from your psyche, so on that level I would say that it was not cathartic because I did not exorcise it from my psyche and it didn’t really help me to particularly work through the enormity of that event,” the actor explains.
Yet shooting the film version of the acclaimed play had its emotional challenges, LaPaglia insists. “The biggest thing was the sense of obligation that I felt to get it right for the families of the fire fighters and the fire fighters themselves”, LaPaglia explains when discussing the eulogy scene which was shot in a church in front of families of those fire-fighters who perished. You really felt an acute sense of responsibility there.” Making a film dealing with 9/11 could easily danger of exploiting the tragedy. That was clearly not the case with either the stage play or film. “What I loved about it was the fact that it was imagined, not exploited; that it was trying to take a small experience that happened between two people in New York – a very large experience, in a way that I think every body could relate to and put it on film; in a way that did not exploit the moment.”
In this Hollywood age of special effects and cinematic scope, The Guys, directed with an artful simplicity by Jim Simpson, is something of an anomaly, an essential two-hander shot primarily in the confines of a magazine editor’s apartment. LaPaglia is unconcerned. “People have a certain expectation of what films are supposed to be now and I always question that; like who wrote the rule book for these cinematic experiences. To me, part of what I love doing is story telling which is why I like being an actor, the ability to get out there, become a character and then tell a story. And I think that somewhere along the line in our culture, we lost that and we are not that interested in story telling anymore.”
LaPaglia has no doubt that despite these troubled times of war and international upheaval, the time is ripe for a film such as The Guys. “I think the movie is incredibly timely. The difficulty with all small independent films is that you’re dealing in basically an entertainment market and therefore in the entertainment market what gets a movie seen is how much money you spend on prints and advertising and there is a whole political agenda in getting the film out there and getting it seen.”
But as to the current war itself, the actor is one of many celebrities who have very strong opinions as to the war itself. “I think something strange has been happening in this country since September 11. I think it was a truly stunning event that actually shocked people into inertia, to the point where we have an entire country which is basically letting the government dictate a policy that will turn out, I think in history, to be a very unpopular one; and in some ways damaging, if we have reached the point where we are going it alone if necessary so you suddenly go from being a coalition into an aggressive force. I am not saying that Saddam Hussein is an innocent party that doesn’t deserve some scrutiny, but rather, our foreign policy is really questionable right now and our decision-making policy seems to be completely irrational,” says an angry LaPaglia. “I would like people to see this film, just to realize how they felt in the first week after 9/11 happened in order to bring some humanity back into it and still, maybe, wake people up a little bit.”
The actor is also angry about his native Australia’s position in the conflict, accusing its Prime Minister of being “up to his neck in this as well” and being in [“Bush’s back pocket which is very, very depressing, but it’s also a very complex issue that I am not qualified to really speak comprehensively about because I am, after all an actor.” And it’s an actor that LaPaglia has changed his priorities. Happily married to fellow Aussie Gia Carides [currently co-starring in TV’s My Big Fat Greek Life], the pair recently welcomed their first child, Bridget. It was the prospect of impending fatherhood that led LaPaglia back to the regular grind of series television in the hit drama Without a Trace.
“At the time that I made the decision to go back do a series, Gia was probably about three months pregnant, and we had a long conversation about me and my inability to deal with authority,” the actor says smilingly. “And with television to a certain degree, you have to capitulate on a certain level and a certain place, so her advice to me was, you don’t have to do this. And, I said, that the alternative is that I do films and very few of them shoot in L.A. or New York. So the prospect of me running away to Toronto or Vancouver for two months at a time and missing that much time with my daughter was just not appealing. So I made a choice that if I could find the right television project, that I would much rather spend the first five years of my daughter’s life with her. I have been very lucky in my career so far, in that I have had like a really good one. I have done lots of interesting stuff on stage, on films, on television and I have pretty much covered the gamut and enjoyed all mediums so I don’t feel as if I’m missing out of anything.”
LaPaglia decided on Without a Trace, in which he stars as the leader of an elite FBI Missing Persons unit, because “I looked at several scripts and some of them were just me starring, some of them were ensemble, but still me starring and then, I read this script which was truly ensemble. I kind of anchor this show, but I don’t by any means carry it. Not only that, half of the show is done in flashback, because you are talking about the victim’s life which I have nothing to do with, so, it meant that I had a really good working schedule and that I was not working 18 hours a day; so I get to see my daughter in the morning and at night.”
LaPaglia, who remains impassioned with the stage, is still trying to fulfil his one ambition, to bring Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge to the screen. His Broadway performance garnered him both a Drama Desk and Tony Award. “Yes it is still happening; but it’s a long process.” In the meantime, he is happy to savour fatherhood and the fruits of a distinguished career that shows no sign of waning