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Exclusive Interview: Jon Bon Jovi for "U-571"

By Paul Fischer Friday April 21st 2000 12:21AM
Jon Bon Jovi for "U-571"

He's a songwriter, vocalist, and actor. He's been a top rock star for close to two decades, and now, Jon Bon Jovi is also a movie star. But through it all, he's a down to earth guy who loves what he's doing, and in between his group's new album and a key role in the World War 2 thriller U-571, Bon Jovi is flexing his artistic muscles to the extreme. Paul Fischer spent some time with the legendary musician-turned-actor.

It's hard to believe that Jon Bon Jovi is a whisker away from turning 40. The New Jersey native, looking dapper in his charcoal Versace suit, has been entertaining fans for nearly 20 years, as one of America's foremost musical survivors. Yet when asked whether that initial teen audience of the eighties remains his current fan base, or their own children, the unassuming Bon Jovi doesn't want to know.

Though on top as lead singer of his Bon Jovi band, as an actor, Jon has made small, but effective inroads. Working predominantly on small character-based pieces as Moonlight and Valentino, and John Duigan's underrated The Leading Man, Bon Jovi has chosen this period of his career to join the ensemble cast of the big-budget Hollywood action thriller U-571, a classic tale of heroism under the sea. It's a far cry from his humbler acting beginnings, but he feels the time is ripe for him to go Hollywood. "Initially my biggest reservations were lack of experience, and I'd always been somehow attracted to the more dialogue-driven independent movie, than the blockbusters; the kind of films that I'd walk in on a Friday afternoon cursing my agents for not getting me, yet thank them on the way out because there wasn't anything there to sink yourself into." Of course, he didn't pursue those unattainable roles, because "fortunately for me I have a great day job and I don't have to take a movie for the sake of a movie. Now, with this, which was my seventh film, I feel much more comfortable and confident in taking on a role in a movie that a lot of people will see."

For Bon Jovi, who had been an established rock star before trying out acting, acting was, he says reflectively, an "extension of the arts", but admits that he got into it by accident. "I had far too much respect for the medium to ever think that because I was a singer in a rock 'n' roll band, I had any RIGHT to be an actor. Sean Penn or Robert de Niro wouldn't consider making a record unless they knew the craft." Those perceptions began to change with Bon Jovi's initial foray into the film industry, not as an actor, but as a songwriter. "When I wrote the soundtrack to Young Guns, 10 years ago, the enormous success of that and the various awards it got, led me to WANT, as an outlet, to make soundtracks." The trouble was, that at that time, film directors weren't very keen to the idea of thinking about music during production, so scripts dried up rather quickly. "I then went to an acting coach hoping to get my hands on scripts." The result was Bon Jovi's acting debut in Moonlight and Valentino. "Because that was a good experience, subsequently the others happened. Now it's my biggest passion."

But that passion didn't come easy. Producers took some time to accept Jon Bon Jovi the rock star as an actor. "To them, I was just another rock star who wants to be in a movie; it was like the meeting that they felt like they had to take. It was very difficult."

That passion has now led him to the high profile blockbuster, U-571, a World War 2 action thriller, set in 1942. It is a fictionalised account of a mission aboard a creaky sub, involving plans to capture the Germans' infamous Enigma coding device. Though Bon Jovi didn't serve in the military himself, one of the reasons that he responded to the material because "my parents had been in the marine Corps." For Jon, it was therefore important that if he participate in this film, "that I do it properly and pay attention to details, so that I could represent this accurately." Bon Jovi's other connection to this film was that he had three boyhood friends who were in the navy. "The home town in which I grew up was very blue-collar, and there were simply two ways out of there: One was working in the factories or the other was to join the military; I chose not to join the military and pursued a career in music." Even after his three close friends joined up, Bon Jovi chose to remain behind "I had blind faith and naivety in my corner, saying to myself: I want to be a rock 'n' roll star. I also felt the navy clothes come in anything I want," he adds laughingly. "That blind faith led me to making records."

Now Bon Jovi divides his professional time between music and movies. "I think I've found the balance. I spent five months last year doing this picture, then I came home at the end of May to start the new record, and now I'm shooting a small part in the new Kevin Spacey movie. When I complete my role on that, I go back and start my day job, because the record is coming out. So I won't be able to get myself in a movie for the rest of this year, because I have to go on the road, but I'm going to STOP the tour at the end of the holidays so I can find four or five months to take the next break." Asked about comparing the two industries, Bon Jovi offers this analogy. "In the music business, I'm the director, producer, the star and the marketeer; in the movie business, I'm just the bass player. I show up, I play my part, I'd better do it well, and then I'm told to leave. "That's a very humbling experience, and it's been very helpful for me to take that humility back to the music business."

It's been close to five years since Bon Jovi and his band released an album, and Jon is not concerned as to how the band has collectively reacted to his passion for acting. "Everybody has outlets from the band, and so we're not reliant on it. The band realises that I'm not fooling around; I REALLY LOVE this and want to do it all the time." There's no doubt that had it not been for the band's members to go off and pursue other things creatively, they would have split up years ago. "We've been able to express ourselves in a variety of ways, from our drummer who's now an accomplished painter, Richie has made two solo records, and for me, the acting gives me a whole lot of creative freedom."

After promoting U-571, Bon Jovi hits a different deck, this time flogging the band's new album, 'Crush', which he says, "will be our biggest yet." With that promotion, comes the touring, this time involving about 50 shows, beginning in Japan and ending in Australia just after Christmas. It's the process he likes the least. "Couldn't care less about it, not looking forward to it. Because the pace has changed, I'll be kicking and screaming until the first night when the house lights go out; till then I'm dreading it." And he's leaving the family behind. "It's difficult to drag them across to start a tour in Japan when the time changes so dramatically."

At 38, and close to two decades since the launch of what became, the Bon Jovi phenomenon, Jon can rest on his laurels. With the new Kevin Spacey-Helen Hunt film due out later this year, and his new album readying for release, it's been said of Jon Bon Jovi, that, as far his music is concerned, he's finally formed a steady relationship with rock 'n' roll. Mr Bon Jovi would be the first to agree. "After so many years you'd better write a good amount of songs that people care about. We have a catalogue of work that touches a lot of people, while never bothering to keep up with fads or fashions. I've never let fear run decisions for me, or I would not have become an actor. It's all about making wise choices and not being afraid."

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