Michael Vartan comes to our interview with sense of humour intact. Starring now in his fourth season of the hit series Alias, and about to hit the big screen opposite Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda in Monster in Law, Vartan, who had spent several months dating his Alias co-star Jennifer Garner, is unconcerned as to what tabloid writers have had to say on that, or anything else for that matter.
“I don’t care what people write about me, because most of the time it’s such a load of rubbish that if you really take it seriously then you might as well just get out of the business or it will drive you crazy. You just have to laugh at it and know that no matter what you do, people are going to love you or hate you. You can’t please everyone all the time and things are going to be written about you and your personal life which is just part of the business. If you can’t handle it then you’re in the wrong business,” Vartan says, emphatically.
Michael Vartan was born in France, the only child of a French father and an American mother who got divorced when he was only five. He spent his childhood shuttling between France (where his father, a musician lived) and the U.S (where his mother lived). Vartan says that nomadic lifestyle had little to do with his desire to act. “I think more than the nomadic aspect of it – it’s more that I grew in such a simple environment, on a farm and a very simple life. I think in a way that’s what helped me stay grounded and not really take any of this too seriously. I mean, you certainly must appreciate and be grateful for this business and when you’re lucky enough to work in it, but at the end of the day it’s what it is, and life is about many more things than just that, so I guess we attribute that to my, my early years growing up in that kind of environment.”
At the age of eighteen, after deciding against joining the French military service Vartan shifted to the States. He hadn’t really thought about becoming an actor, but enrolled in an acting school after being told by many people that he had the potential for it. He made his acting debut in the French film Un homme et deux femmes (1991) and followed that with another French film, Promenades d’été (1992). It was with the Italian film Fiorile (1993), in which he played a French soldier that he made his international debut. He considers The Pallbearer (1996), in which he starred with David Schwimmer and Gwyneth Paltrow to be his first big American movie. He gave an impressive performance in The Myth of Fingerprints (1997) as Jake, who, during a Thanksgiving family reunion tries to gain some perspective into the nature of love and family relationships. Michael’s true mettle as an actor was seen when he played a character that he has described as being most unlike him. The role was that of the English Lit teacher-cum-Prince Charming Sam Coulson in the 1999 hit Never Been Kissed (1999) and it catapulted Michael to never experienced popularity and adulation. He followed his much talked about NBK performance with similar good ones in The Next Best Thing (2000) and It Had to Be You (2000/I). Meanwhile, he joined stellar company by being one among the biggest names in Hollywood to feature on shows like “Ally McBeal” (1997) and “Friends” (1994).
But it was the new fast-paced spy action series Alias that gave him a lot of instant attention. Now winding up its fourth series here, Vartan has no doubt as to why it has retained its popularity. “It was such a breath of fresh air and it’s got that comic book kind of action-drama. If you can watch it and not take it too seriously, it’s a fun show to watch with a lot of great dramatic scenes between such great actors. There are great stunts; fights, special effects and I think it’s an easy show to watch. I mean, obviously, it can be complicated and some of the story lines are very obscure and bizarre and sometimes even I don’t understand them. But, you can also just watch it as an hour of good, James Bondish kind of television.”
Vartan admits that he is enjoying Season 4, which he says remains his favourite season thus far “because it kind of has elements of the previous three. I mean the first season was really about establishing the characters and finding it’s own for the show and the writers and creators deciding what the show was going to be about; the second season was a lot of shooting and missions while the third year was the most, sort of disjointed. So this year has been my favourite because we’ve gone back to a lot more character-driven stuff.”
As for Season 5, “it will be a challenge to JJ and for the writers to find out a way to somehow make the show still as interesting, because it is a hard show to keep fresh. After all, I mean how many wigs can this woman wear? How many different aliases can we all have? How many times are we going to chase the bad guy? How many times can Sloane be bad? So, at some point, something will have to be done, to keep it interesting.”
While Vartan is committed to at least another season, he is keeping his feet immersed in movies, playing the romantic other half of Jennifer Lopez, while his controlling mother, Jane Fonda, is determined to prevent this marriage. Vartan says he was attracted to Monster in Law, because of the two women who were already attached. “Yeah, it really had to do with Jane and Jennifer – I just could not turn down an opportunity to work with those two icons of the business. Also, on a personal side, romantic comedies are fun to make and they’re easy, but it’s not my favourite,” Vartan concedes. “I’d rather do something a lot darker, something more challenging, but ultimately this was such a funny script and again, getting to work with these two women was something that I certainly wasn’t going to pass up on, and also the dates worked out perfectly. I’m a slave to when I can and can’t work in the summer, so everything about it sort of happened very smoothly.”
When we spoke, Vartan was about to shoot the season finale, and he thought Lena Olin would be making a reappearance. “I’ve been told, but I don’t know if she’s available – I guess it’s the subject of her availability as it often is with actors, but that is the wish that we have, that she comes back for the finale because there’s a great twist at the end,” says Vartan, smilingly. Vartan has ready to be pleased with himself, now that he has discovered success on one of TV’s coolest shows, but the grounded actor, says that he remains surprised by it all. “Yes, that is a continual source of surprise to me. I’ve been doing it for a long time, but I have to think, wow that’s pretty amazing, that I keep working somehow and I keep fooling them all. It never gets old, getting the call that you’ve landed a role or that you’ve been chosen for a specific part. It’s part of the thrill, as dark and depressing as the times that you don’t work and that you’re waiting for the phone to ring, that’s how exciting it can be. So, it definitely is a roller coaster kind of business and that’s why I think the level head is key.”
Finally asked if he hopes Vartan’s Vaughan and Garner’s Sidney Bristow, will ultimately end up together by the end of Alias, Vartan is circumspect. “As an actor, no, because I think it’s much more fun to play everything leading up to that, because once they’re together, that’s sort of done. However it’s a delicate situation with those two characters because they have been together then, they weren’t together and one of them thought the other one was dead and he got married, and now they’re back together. So it feels like in a way either they have to get married, or they have to sort of not be together, because we’ve sort of already done the, oh let’s do the forbidden fruit and see where it goes thing. I know that the writers are aware of that, so I would say they’re either going to – and this isn’t telling you anything – break up, or ……” Vartan stops, knowing that there are Alias fans out there chomping at the bit. For Mr Vartan, however, it’s all in a day’s work.