Michael Rapaport Interview
Michael Rapaport was born on March 20, 1970 in New York City, New York.
The son of parents in the radio business – his mother, June Brodie, was an on-air personality, and his father, David Rapaport, was a program manager – Rapaport was introduced to the entertainment business at an early age. An outgoing boy from the start, he idolized his fellow New Yorkers and mass celebrities Christopher Walken and Robert De Niro. He was also noted for his adoration of Eddie Murphy, often dressing like his idol in gold chains and stylish white suits.
Rapaport managed to graduate from high school, but only after a series of expulsions. After leaving school he went to Los Angeles to pursue a career in stand-up comedy, though he would not linger on the stage for long.
Soon after his move to Los Angeles Rapaport made the move to acting in front of a camera, appearing in a guest role on the TV series China Beach in 1988. This role helped move him to a leading spot in the independent film Zebrahead in 1992. Zebrahead would prove to be Rapaport’s breakout role, and it clinched him a number of supporting roles in higher paid movies, including True Romance in 1993 (alongside Christian Slater), Higher Learning in 1995 and Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite, also in 1995. His success in these movies led to a string of other movie roles, including a supporting role in the 1997 movie The Metro alongside his idol Eddie Murphy.
Rapaport also enjoyed a number of television roles at the same time, most notably in four episodes of Friends in 1999 as the cop boyfriend of Lisa Kudrow’s character Phoebe Buffay. He also appeared in one episode of ER in 1998 as Paul Canterna. His longest running television role, however, came in the form of the show Boston Public, where he played the part of teacher Danny Hanson in 57 episodes between 2001 and 2004.
In 1998 Rapaport dated fellow actor Lili Taylor. They broke up, however, and Rapaport was later found guilty of having harassed Taylor after the split. He was made to endure a year of counseling and has since been ordered to stay away from Taylor. In 2000 he would find a new woman for his life, Nichole Beattie, with whom he would have two children. They are still married but have filed for divorce.
In addition to acting on-screen Rapaport has enjoyed some success supplying voices for video games, including Saint’s Row and Grand Theft Auto III.
Rapaport owns several residential buildings in New York City and was responsible for evicting actress Natasha Lyonne in 2005. Lyonne, at the time, was a compulsive partier and apparent drug addict. Upon checking her apartment Rapaport found it in a state of severe disrepair, a story he would later write about for Jane Magazine.
Rapaport later formed his own production company in the form of Release Entertainment and continued to star in minor roles, making two more grabs at television success: as the star of the two-season FOX sitcom The War at Home and as a recurring (and somewhat major) character in My Name is Earl. He is currently involved with two more movies, Only in New York and The Saints of Mt. Christopher, and lives in New York City.
HT: Reputation has it that you were a pretty tough kid growing up.
MR: Nah, I was a big mouth, but I wasn’t really tough. I was a little bit of a clown and antagonistic. I wound up just through events hanging out with really tough guys.
HT: Did you go to a PS in NY?
MR: I went to public school. I went to private school. I got sent all over the place. I’m from Manhattan. My best friends eventually wound up being from Brooklyn, Brownsville, and Harlem. It was just because we played basketball together. They’re the same friends I have now. Friends I met when I was 12 and that brought me into those neighborhoods. I sound tough, but I wouldn’t really consider myself tough.
HT: Is it true that you were kicked out of a bunch of schools?
MR: Yeah, disruption. Very disruptive. I was just not a good listener. That’s the only word that comes to my head.
HT: I was kicked out of The Neighborhood Playhouse in NY.
MR: yeah, yeah, yeah.
HT: I was kicked out in my first year. It wasn’t even a consideration of getting asked back for the second year. I missed too many dance classes.
MR: Right, that’s probably a good thing.
HT: Both of your parents worked in the radio business?
MR: Well, they’re both actually retired now. But my father ran a radio station in New York City. He was the general manager of WKT Disco 92. That was eventually a big influence on me because he exposed me to this music, you know, like a lot of disco and soul music and eventually rap music when that was invented. As it was coming out, I was getting promotional copies of Grand Master Flash and Sugar Hill Gang Records.
HT: So you go way back.
MR: Way back! And I was a kid, just like my kids like that music now. I just happen to be a white kid who was exposed to it in that way. It was just the music that I took to and it’s something that I always liked. My sort of love for it has weaned over the last five or ten years because the music itself has suffered so much and, I feel, the content of a lot of the mainstream stuff is so redundant. You know, it’s gone beyond bragging. The bragging is about being tough and what have you, not about being the best rapper, being the flyest. Especially because I have kids, it’s embarrassing. I have XM radio in my car, you know, the station that has the lyrics uncensored and they hear “Dananana…FUCK!” I feel embarrassed for the music. And I feel embarrassed that I like it, at times, because the content is so wrong. It’s all unnecessary is the thing, too.
HT: Up until what point before you lost the love for rap music?
MR: In the late 90’s I began to lose interest. I’m still up on a lot of the stuff and am pretty aware of who’s who. I still love a lot of guys and a lot of the music that’s being put out. It’s just more few and far between and you kinda gotta look for it.
HT: So you liked it up until Cube?
MR: Yeah, yeah I liked all those guys. I love Ice Cube and all that stuff.
HT: LL was probably about your age wasn’t he?
MR: LL Cool J I used to love!
HT: You guys are probably about the same age?
MR: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I used to see him around New York. I was thinking about this today. My five favorite MC s, I think, would be Rakim, KRS1, Big Daddy Kane, Chuck D, and Tupac.
HT: So, East Coast or West Coast, you never really…
MR: Nah, I mean, I like Ice Cube and Cypress Hill. I love their music.
HT: So you never felt because you’re East Coast you shouldn’t like Tupac?
MR: That’s retarded.
HT: Tupac was East Coast too anyway.
MR: He’s from Baltimore.
HT: So, were you an outsider or did you hang with a crew?
MR: Yeah, I hung with a crew. The outside factor was that I was the only white kid in the neighborhoods I was hangin’ around. And when I say only, I mean only. The only one.
HT: You lived on the Upper Eastside, right?
MR: I lived on the Upper Eastside. Right.
HT: In the 80 s (street)?
MR: 70 s and York Avenue. It was all basketball. But, you know, it was good because my friends got exposed to things they hadn’t been exposed to and I was exposed to things I hadn’t been exposed to at such a young age. And when you’re 12 your eyes are open and there’s not an agenda. As I got older, turned 19, and came out to Los Angeles, then I was made aware of the fact that I kinda talked a little different and my interests were a little different. It dawned on me that I was a little bit unusual because of the music I listened to and the people I was hangin’ around with. It was all really youth. It was youth.
HT: The interesting thing is you are really one of a kind. And when you came into the scene you represented that new culture of white kids growing up with rap. I mean let’s face it, you came up 10, 12 years before Eminem even hit the scene. So, it’s very interesting that you’re doing a family drama. It kind of symbolizes that first generation growing up. I hope The War at Home gets a chance to really stretch out the characters. If The Sopranos had been cancelled after one show, it never would have been what it became. The characters need time to grow and the characters on your show have so much potential. And I don’t like how the TV guide and other critics say this is a Married with Children for the new age because it’s not.
MR: I say about television critics that are reviewing sitcoms, that’s what you do for a living. You’re reviewing sitcoms.
HT: Married with Children was a dumb show. You guys actually tackle issues in a funny way.
MR: Unfortunately, a lot of the critics have their own agenda and their own personal things are reflected in the pilot. A lot of critics, from people who I’ve known, had particular issues and dumbed down the show. But we got good reviews. Our numbers are great. We’ve had four episodes on the air. The numbers keep going up. The people like the show. The network likes the show. I think the more honest the show is, the better it will be. Every sitcom is reviewed poorly when it first comes out. Seinfeld to Married with Children, to everything. People aren’t going to say, “the critics and the New York Times don’t like this sitcom so I’m not gonna…” People don’t give a fuck.
HT: When I was living in New York as a young actor, back in the days, Married with Children hit the air and everyone thought it was outrageous! How could they put this on TV! Like, wow, this is as low as you can get. But now it’s like fuckin’ nothing. You know what I’m saying? And you guys…I don’t even see the comparison. Like last week’s episode that dealt with race. The Jew versus black …people must’ve been like, whoa, what’s gonna happen next. This could get kinda touchy here. But I like how your character kept the humor and found a resolution.
MR: Right, right, right. Cool man. I appreciate that.
HT: That’s why I see the potential. If it lasts five years or more who knows where you could go?
MR: Absolutely. I think it has heart. I think we’re doing storylines that have heart and the more we go along, the more All in the Family-ish it’ll strive to become. Because that show had all the issues, but it also had heart. It dealt with things and had quiet moments for a sitcom. That is what we are trying to eventually get to is to have the quiet moments; I think it is possible to have “dramatic” moments in a sitcom forum.
HT: You were often in the position of stealing the movies, where critics wrote that there should’ve been more of you in a lot of these movies. The stakes must be a lot higher since you’re carrying the whole load now?
MR: Yeah, they’re higher, but I approach it the same way I approach a small part or a big part in a movie. I go all out! Every performance is life or death for me. As I’ve gotten older, the value of being able to work and the value of having the opportunity to perform five days a week. I appreciate it a lot more.
HT: Was the show designed to be mostly you? The show is 70% you at this point, do you think that was just the sensible way to get the show off the ground?
MR: Yeah, it’s not my design, but I’m the “lead” character.
HT: Personally, I think it’s the right idea, but the danger is, like, your wife’s character is about 10% of the show. So, people might think, oh, there’s not enough of her… But that’s why it needs a year or two for the characters to develop.
MR: Yeah, and she’ll get her story line and it‘ll be passed around.
HT: AJ Soprano was nothing in the first two years. Look at him now. Drea Di Mateo was an extra!
HT: But I think people want to see mostly you in the beginning.
MR: Yeah, and I want to do what’s best for the show right now. If that means more of me great, if that means less of me fantastic.
HT: Did you always have show biz dreams? I know you initially came out to LA to pursue standup.
MR: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a basketball player.
HT: Were you any good?
MR: I was alright. I was a guard, small point. I was never as good as in my mind.
HT: So, you were no Larry Bird.
MR: No, they called me Larry Bird. I actually started calling my son Larry Bird because he‘s got this curly blond hair and when I used to play ball they’d call me Bird ‘cause of my hair. I liked to shoot, but I wasn‘t anywhere near as good as him, but I liked to shoot jump shots.
HT: You would’ve been a great character for White Men Can’t Jump.
MR: I auditioned for that movie, but it was only like the second audition I’d ever done so I wasn’t ready for that. I had just started acting at the time. I remember the casting director was really very nice to me.
HT: So, did you start with standup because of Eddie?
MR: Mmhmm. Stand up because of Eddie Murphy.
HT: So, SNL and sitcoms maybe crossed your mind before even becoming a movie star?
MR: I didn’t think about acting until I did it. Once I did it, I realized that’s what I wanted to do. Soon after, I stopped doing standup and I really wanted to become a dramatic actor.
HT: How good did you get as a stand up? You only did it for like a year…
MR: I did it for three years. I had good presence, I had no fear, which was good.
HT: Any dirty material?
MR: Not dirty material, but I cursed a lot. I didn’t have a wealth of material. I didn’t understand putting together a bit. I just sorta, it was all tongue in cheek.
HT: Often stand up comedians, like Joe Rogan and Jay Mohr have painful pasts and they’re very edgy in real life.
HT: I guess the daily life of a standup comic often leads to a very destructive lifestyle.
MR: Right. That wasn’t my case. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been a little bit destructive in my personal life, but that’s just because I have asshole issues.
HT: That’s after your success, though.
MR: All throughout my life, you know what I mean. Getting kicked out of school, or getting divorced or whatever. My divorce certainly isn’t just attributed to me. I believe it was 50/50. Sometimes I take it to the line, but I’m never interested in crossing the line. I’m very aware of the boundaries. I just like to see how far I can push them sometimes.
HT: Did you ever have dreams of Saturday Night Live?
MR: Not really. I want to host it now.
HT: You never wanted to follow Eddie’s path?
MR: I wasn’t even in his league. I never thought about that kind of thing.
HT: He was just an idol.
MR: Just an idol. I loved his performing, but I was more into his whole thing. His whole star, his swagger, the whole magnitude of how famous he was. It was fascinating to me. He was just a fascinating person because he was so famous when he was so young.
HT: Chris Rock had it. Remember when Chris Rock…
MR: Chris Rock has it on stage, but Eddie Murphy breathed it, had it, partied and all that.
HT: Remember Eddie was the one who promoted him as a teenager on HBO in the 80’s.
MR: I remember.
HT: But it took him many years of struggling before he broke out on his own HBO Special.
MR: Yeah, and people don’t understand when Chris Rock is going up there…they documented in that great documentary about Jerry Seinfeld putting together his routine. It’s a total art and it’s a total thing you have to be dedicated to. It’s something you really have to work at. To be up there and to talk for an hour and half uninterrupted.
HT: And life experience starts giving you a little more…With Chris Rock, he tried everything. He even kind of flopped on Saturday Night Live.
MR: Yeah, I think he’s a better standup than he is an actor. Eddie was incredible because he was so young and he would do these concerts and he was so good. He was a freak, you know.
HT: Amazing! He was like Richard Pryor when he was like 19!
MR: Yeah, he’s still the most talented person I’ve ever been around. And I just hope that he continues to use his talent to do more than just these easy things. I know they talk about him playing James Brown. I think that he could easily be doing the kind of shit that Jamie Fox is doing because I think he is so talented.
HT: He is so good. He’s gone up and gone down a little bit, but he was even awesome in Bowfinger with Steve Martin.
MR: Yeah, he was incredible. Even in Nutty Professor, he plays all those characters and in Coming to America too. He’s the shit! He’s Eddie Murphy so…Eddie’s the truth!
HT: It’s a long time coming for you to get your own vehicle. Why did it take so long?
MR: Well, as far as television, I never really had the interest…
HT: Why TV? Did you always like the medium?
MR: No, I didn’t really like it until I started doing it. For a while, before I had kids, you could mix and match. You could say I’ll do one big movie this year and then do whatever else I’m going to do. I’ve done so many movies in such a short period of time, whether it was million dollar dramas or hundred million dollar big budget pieces of shit. It’s all about opportunities and I just wanted to have something where I could do my thing and my voice be brought up to the forefront so that’s why I chose to do this show. I was on the same page as the writer and creator of the show as to what the characters and the show should be and it just worked out.
HT: Weren’t you guys preparing to do a different kind of show at first?
MR: No, no, no, it was just this. Just this show. Last year I was developing an inter-racial Mad About You. That was actually my idea. I hired the wrong writer and it kinda went away. I still think it’s a great idea.
HT: You’re developing a show on MTV too, right?
MR: I’m producing a movie with MTV films and Paramount Pictures. It’s called “Car Show.” That’s the working title. It takes place in a car customizing shop. We’re in the process of rewriting the script.
HT: That’s a nice deal with MTV because they make them fairly fast and it could play on MTV if it doesn’t get a theatrical release.
MR: Exactly. So I’m working on that and that’s something I’m excited about, too. I am very interested in producing things, not necessarily to act in, but because of ideas and stuff I get passionate about.
HT: Like your world and stuff?
MR: Yeah, try to. (laughs)
HT: I must say, that you were the first actor of your kind, and you’ve manage to deliver the goods in a whole handful of movies now. You know what I mean?
MR: Thank you, I appreciate that.
HT: But you never had this I’m doing a movie so I want to avoid TV attitude? Because when you decided to do Boston Public, I know David Kelly came to you personally to persuade you.
MR: Well, once I started doing television, the lifestyle was very appealing to me. I had my first son and I was doing a television show, then I had my second son and I’m still doing the television show and then I was finished with Boston Public because it got cancelled. I was like, for me, at the time, it was too much of a grind to make a living, live a comfortable life making films. I didn’t want to sacrifice the time being around my kids because you’re in Vancouver for four months and all that sort of thing. The amount of time to be away from my kids was the main thing. Then the opportunity to do my own show presented itself and that was just what I chose to do.
HT: What’s interesting is that you’re a guy that probably made two movies a year, and I know for a fact that people in general think that a Michael Rapaport could do one picture and you’re financially set for a year.
MR: Well, that’s not the case for me. Some actors can. Especially those guys doing the comedy movies. They’re making money hand over fist. I haven’t gotten on that train yet. I would love to be a part of it.
HT: You never made a major score in your salary?
MR: Big time for me and big time for those guys doing the big comedies is different. I’m happy with the lifestyle I lead, but you look at some dudes making 5, 10, 12 million dollars a movie and you‘re like “shit!”
HT: A lot of bullshit stuff too.
MR: Yeah, and some of them are great, some of them are bullshit. I respect that group of people who are doing it. I think they are all really good, but I’m just like damn and they’re making a lot of fuckin’ money! I’m like, I wanna get in dat.
HT: I say bullshit because these guys get these huge sums for back to back to back comedy movies, and only one of them is any good.
MR: Exactly, it‘s true.
HT: Or it’s the same formulaic shit over and over.
MR: Exactly, it’s garbage. When you get kids and you get married…
HT: Kids really change things.
MR: Kids change your perspective. I’m a practical person and I’m very responsible. I was raised primarily by my father. Now being separated, my wife and I share custody of our children 50/50. I don’t want to not be at the hospital when my son fractures his arm like he did this week and I don’t want to be away when that happens. I don’t want to be away when he doesn’t fracture his arm skateboarding. I wanna be there for them.
HT: So the TV lifestyle is appealing?
MR: It’s very appealing to me.
HT: You know a check is coming and you could do other things around your work.
MR: The money and all the benefits are fantastic, but more importantly I’m happy where I am physically. And now I’m actually extremely proud and challenged by what I’m doing. Where, you know, you might be away doing a movie and it’s a lot of hype around it. Especially if it’s a big movie. The big movies I’ve been a part of, and I mean big budget films, have been shit. I haven’t done a big budget film that’s been successful. I’ve done two or three big budget films that have been pieces of shit. I got paid the most for those, but they’ve been the most unsatisfying work experiences. The checks are great, but you’re not proud of what you’re doing.
HT: Most actors have to take the best movie they’re offered no matter how ambitious they are. Even it looks good on the pages it turns out badly, so at least you’re doing a TV show that you’re excited about. Some actors have to take TV shows knowing this its going to be bullshit.
MR: I haven’t been in that position yet. And you know movies aren’t going anywhere. I did a really great independent movie that’s coming out next year. That was extremely artistically and personally fulfilling.
HT: Is this the one with Ray Liotta?
MR: No, that movie hasn’t been made yet. That movie Chlorine. They haven’t started shooting that. I don’t even know if I’m gonna do it or not. It’s a little movie called “Special.” I’m really proud of it.
HT: Who’s in it?
MR: No one you know. Character actors and stuff. It’s a really good movie. When it comes out, I’m looking forward to seeing it.
HT: You’re a big star, but was becoming a bigger star through TV a consideration from a business standpoint? It’s one thing to have done a lot a movies, but TV is a huge star maker.
MR: Now that I’m doing it, if the show does good, it’ll give me more opportunities to do films. My agenda’s never been to be a star. I think it’s proven by the way I carry myself. I never compromised who I am whether it’s sitting down here with you or being on a talk show. I’ve seen friends of mine going in front of cameras on red carpets, going on Jay Leno and David Letterman and they’re not the same person I’ve known for ten years. I’ve never wanted to do that. You know you go on those shows and its gonna be a variation of yourself. You gotta be more censored cause you’re promoting yourself.
HT: Superstars have to be consistent with a persona.
MR: And some of them aren’t even superstars. Whatever it is, it’s never been my deal and if I ever do get to that status, I’ll know I’m the same person. Hopefully a better person. I know that my friends who really know me will say he kept it real and I’ll stay true to myself, not embarrass myself. You see a lot of actors and they go on there and they’re faking jacks. They’re faking fronts, know what I mean.
HT: You mind if I snap some pictures while you talk.
MR: Nah, go ahead.
HT: You smoke? Wanna cigar?
MR: No, I don’t smoke. Never did.
HT: Oh, I thought you were smoking on Dinner For Five.
MR: I might have had it lit just ’cause I was bullshitting.
HT: You were good on that show by the way.
MR: The first one or the second one.
HT: The one you did with Jay Mohr.
MR: He’s a trip. I tell him to his face, for the record, he’s a pain in the ass. He’s funny, I think he’s a good guy, but he’s a pain in the ass.
HT: On that show you kept it way real, it was great. On a show like that, how many guys will go that far. I remember you said, “hey what about when you go auditioning and you see that same guy that always gets the job, and you start thinking you mother fucker….” And Jay was like “Jesus!” They all feel that, but they can’t say it because it‘s on camera.
HT: Do you have creative control on your show?
MR: It’s not like written creative control. I have collaborative control. It’s a trust and a respect that we’ve been able to build so far. They respect my instinct and they respect my point of view on things. They respect my sense of humor, but I’m not a producer on the show. I sometimes feel like I behave like one and am treated like one. When you’re around people that you respect, I think, that’s the easiest way to go about it.
HT: Your characters in for the long haul with his wife on the show; do you believe in marriage?
MR: Yes. I do believe in it. I don’t believe in divorce although I’m going through one.
I believe in that strongly.
HT: You grew up in one?
MR: I grew up in divorce. I’ve been surrounded by it.
HT: So, your divorce is not the product of the showbiz scene.
MR: No, our problems have nothing to do with show business. They’re just problems like any people. If I had the answers I wouldn’t be divorced. It’s a very painful thing to go through. I’ve been through deaths, I’ve never lost a parent, knock on wood, but that was no where near as horrid as going through divorce with kids. It’s a brutal thing and I’m far better than I was a year and a half ago, but it’s still continues to be something that is not easy to get your head around.
HT: You’re very busy and focused on your show right now, but is it tough to have your time with the kids limited?
MR: No, it makes my time with them more vibrant and more, in a way, intense. I’m a working man. A nine to fiver just like on the show. I still have a generous amount of time to spend with them more than most people. Because of the show, I’m able to compartmentalize my time a little easier. I think it has helped me in terms of being a parent.
HT: Do you have time to date?
MR: Yeah, I got time to do that. During the evening and in the night time.
HT: That’s good because you got some juice now.
HT: Professionally, the stakes have intensified for you but are you under pressure?
MR: You know, if the show fails, the show fails. I’ve said from the beginning if the show fails, I want it to be one of those shows that people say why did that get cancelled it was such a great show. Like Freaks and Geeks or Arrested Development. Not that we’re as good as those shows, but I want it to fail swinging. I think that if it does fail, the people who were behind it will be like why did that go off the air? It’s not like that show was just a piece of shit?
HT: No compromise. You did it your way.
MR: Yeah, we did it our way, since it’s not just me. It’s definitely a collaborative effort. Thus far we’ve all been on the same page. Our way has been thus far to people’s liking and hopefully people will continue to see it that way. I love it. I love doing it. I love watching it.
HT: How do you like working with a live audience?
MR: Love it! My focus and the intensity of the work. I just get off on it.
HT: Had you ever done theater before?
MR: A little bit. I’ve done a couple of plays and the standup. I did four episodes of Friends, which I took for granted at the time. Doing this and being such an active part of it is really an intensely gratifying experience.
HT: It must have been great to work with an incredible talent like Lisa Kudrow?
MR: Really, really, really good.
HT: Did you see The Comeback? I thought it was a great fuckin’ show.
MR: She was so good in it. They were all are very good on Friends. It all looks so easy but they are all very talented. Being a sitcom actor and doing it at a high level like they did or Archie Bunker or George Jefferson, Fred Sanford, Red Foxx…it’s a performance and to pull it off is an accomplishment.
HT: I must say, a sitcom was the last thing I thought you’d do, but you pulling it off, man!
MR: Thank you, I appreciate it.
HT: I can almost see a James Gandolfini playing your character.
MR: I know what you’re saying and I take that as a very big compliment!
HT: How many guys can do that type of work? Gandolfini can, and you’re doin’ it.
MR: That’s what I say. I’m proud of it….that I’m able to perform in a sitcom, or play a dramatic role in a tiny independent movie, or whatever else. I am aware that not everybody can have that range.
HT: Better yet, if it ends up lasting 5-7 years it can’t be bad no matter what the critics said. Not to mention, all the dough you’ll be able to put away in that time.
MR: So, you know, I dig it.
HT: But Gandolfini took more breaks between seasons on The Sopranos because he was missing too many roles in the movies. Don’t you have some kind of a deal where you could shoot movies during the season?
MR: I can do things that I can squeeze in, but ideally what I would like to try and do is find one movie to do during the hiatus each year. I think that if the show does well it will make it easier to pick and choose something whether it’s a big movie or a little movie. I don’t really give a shit. What I would really like to do is to find something that I could direct.
HT: You’ve directed short films, right?
MR: Yeah. I directed the last episode of Boston Public too.
HT: You did the short on balding didn’t you?
MR: Yeah, exactly. Right now I’m all about the show and hopefully during the hiatus I’ll find something exciting and fun to do.
HT: If your show becomes important to Fox then they’d have to start giving you some stuff just to keep you happy. And it’s not like you can’t deliver given the chance, so…
MR: I like how you’re thinking. I appreciate that.
HT: The pisser is, though if the Coen brothers wanted you for a film during the season. And if those type of opportunities passed by season after season…
MR: Let me tell you something, I’ll be fine. If I did this show for eight years and had to miss a few films. If this show was able to go for that long, I’ll be fine. Those great filmmakers aren’t going anywhere. If those are the kind of problems I’m dealing with, terrific!
HT: It’s good to hear that.
MR: I’ll never take it for granted. If this show is a success and it continues to be fun, I’ll never take it for granted.
HT: Would you mind if people ultimately associated your name with The War at Home, regardless of all the great work you’ve done on film?
MR: Absolutely, no problem. I know I’m not going to embarrass myself doing it. I know that it’s not all I’ve done or all I’m able to do. It’ll give me the opportunity to sorta grow up in front of the camera. So I don’t give a fuck.
HT: It would be neat for you to watch your kids grow up while you’re working on set schedule here in LA.
HT: How’s your work ethic?
MR: Damn good. It’s gotten better over the years as far as my own personal “processes”. I’ve gotten more disciplined. I know my strengths and my weaknesses. I know what I need to do to prepare myself for whatever I’m doing. Sometimes certain things take more preparation than other things. Sometimes you need as much preparation as possible, other times you need as little as possible. It’s also about being humble about being given work. When you’re young and you’re given all these opportunities, you can take it for granted. Like it’s gonna last forever.
HT: Work begets work. This opportunity came about because you accepted the job on Boston Public. It’s too late to think about it two years later.
MR: Exactly, man.
HT: A lot of the actors I interview, including Michael Madsen, who’s great at what he does, think that they should be in The Sopranos. Madsen was like “what the fuck’s going on. What on earth are they fuckin’ thinkin’!” But you, you really would be good in that show! You could be Christopher Moltisanti’s contact in New York. Or you could be a young New York mobster from a different crew who takes on AJ. That way Tony couldn’t rub you out because you’re a made guy.
MR: I would love to be part of that show. I would love to do it! I know they’re going to do a seventh season and if I had the chance to do it I would. I met with one of the writers before and we talked about how I would love to be an antagonist to Christopher. Tony had Richie Aprile and Ralph as his antagonists. I’m such a huge fan of that show.
HT: I’m surprised that never came around.
MR: They talked to me about one thing one time. The part wasn’t that and it didn’t work out.
HT: Even Jon Favreau got a nice part in it.
MR: Forget that. I want to be in it. I want to be kicked in the ass, talking shit.
HT: Like a Hells Kitchen mobster or maybe Hesh’s nephew that causes some trouble?
MR: Right, right, right. I want to be the first tough blonde guy on the show. They all have dark hair and dark skin. I don’t know if they’ll ever have, but it would be a dream part.
HT: This exposure with your new show can’t hurt.
MR: Exactly. I would fuckin’ love it! I’m such a huge fan of that show. I would flip out…
HT: Yeah, Christopher’s really moving up in the family too.
MR: Yeah, I’m ready to take him out or he can take me out whatever.
HT: Again, Madsen’s great doing his thing. He even did Donnie Brasco, but he’s not a New York mobster. He’s from Chicago, know what I mean? You’re made for that shit…going toe to toe with Chrissy.
MR: I’m ready to do it.
HT: I want to go way back for a minute. When you did Zebrahead, which was one of those small gems that come along once in a while. It was critically acclaimed and you were nominated for a Spirit Award right off the bat. Do you see your sudden rise to stardom as a lucky break, great timing, or was it meant to happen?
MR: Timing, yes, it was the right time. I was ready for it. It was close to home at the time.
HT: You were perfect for the part. It was a small but important movie.
MR: Timing, luck, and being prepared. For me it’s like being a boxer. You need to always be in shape and ready to throw the punch. When you get the opportunity to fight like when George Foreman beat Michael Moorer for the heavyweight championship, he waited, waited, waited, then in the tenth round he was ready…he just bid his time. As long as you’re still able to throw your punch when the opportunity comes you’re straight.
HT: You got to go all twelve rounds.
MR: Fifteen rounds is old school.
HT: You know Antonio Tarver’s in the same issue as you.
MR: Oh, shit. That’s cool. Are you doing him out here?
HT: I did an interview with Bernard Hopkins a couple issues ago.
MR: Is he cool? I bet he’s really outspoken, right? Is he fighting Jermain Taylor again?
HT: Yeah, but he’s going to retire in January for sure. B-Hop was robbed in the first bout.
MR: I’m a huge Bernard Hopkins fan, but I don’t think he got robbed. I think it was draw. I don’t think he lost. He (Taylor) did not win and he shouldn’t have gotten those belts. It was a draw. Bernard just waited a little too long…
HT: How could they do that to the Champ?
MR: I know; it’s fucked up. He was a little too passive in the first rounds.
HT: Too many rounds!
MR: He almost knocked him out. It was a cool fight. I’m a huge fan. I love how he’s on his own terms. He’s smart, He doesn’t take any shit. I wish I didn’t have to take any shit. We could whoop some ass.
HT: He did some time in prison, too.
MR: He ain’t no fuckin’ joke.
HT: He’s up at 6 even off season.
MR: He runs and shit. He’s always in shape, right? Disciplined.
HT: He doesn’t fuck around going up and down in weight either. Isn’t it crazy that Mayweather wants to fight Winky Wright? He’s got to worry about moving up to welterweight. Winky’s almost too heavy to be a middleweight.
MR: He don’t want to mess with Winky Wright. Winky Wright is no fuckin’ joke. And the defense…he’s fuckin crazy with his shit.
HT: Floyd better start getting some belts in welterweight first. He definitely wanted to fight Winky in December, but it didn’t work out. Anyways, you got Zebrahead and the timing was unbelievable. After that picture got some exposure I’m sure that all the casting directors were dying to be the first to put you in something great. And then came True Romance. You were the only newcomer in True Romance. What was that like?
MR: Very exciting. It was the only film that I’ve ever done where I knew it was going to be great. Other films I’ve done had the potential to be great, but don’t turn out. This film had an excitement with the cast. The script first, then the cast, and the director. You just knew it was going to be good. It couldn’t fuck up. It would be hard to fuck that film up. It was just exciting being around all those people being the young dude and most inexperienced guy. It was a lot of fun. I wished I would’ve brought my camera more on that set. I had a couple but I wish I would’ve got more.
HT: Gandolfini was probably the only other new face.
MR: Yeah, it was me and Gandolfini, because he was new, too. It was me and him.
HT: He was sensational! You could see Tony Soprano coming.
MR: Excellent. The whole cast and Tony Scott was great to work with. He was the first director to be interested in my ideas. Not that I had done much at the time, but he made me feel like it was ok to bring things to the table. Some things he liked some things he didn’t like. He was just a fun person to work with at the time.
HT: Were you familiar with Tarantino’s work then?
HT: Because Zebrahead went to the festivals with Reservoir Dogs?
MR: My Sundance was the same Sundance…we won the same year that he won.
HT: Wow! I think Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Allison Anders were at Sundance too.
MR: Yeah, it was a good year at Sundance.
HT: Did you have to audition a lot for True Romance?
MR: Yup. I was that character in a lot of ways. I was a struggling actor. When I got the part, my response was the same as Dick Ritchie, life changing.
HT: You were very real and touching in that scene too. It was a tender moment when you thanked Clarence and Alabama, for bringing him karma almost. There wasn’t a lot of that in the film.
MR: He was definitely the warmest character.
HT: Is it true you wanted a Dick Ritchie spin off?
MR: No, I never…Somebody asked me once to do it and I would if it were right, but it never crossed my mind. It would be fun if they did it.
HT: Dennis Hopper told me that that was the best movie of that year, and it was ridiculous that it didn’t get any exposure.
MR: It barely did anything at the box office. It was ahead of its time. People still talk about it today. Everyday, at least one person will say something to me about True Romance.
HT: It was certainly the best part that Christian Slater ever got.
MR: Absolutely and I think it was the best character Patricia Arquette ever had too.
HT: Her scene with Gandolfini was unbelievable.
MR: It really triggered, not that he needed it, but it took Christopher Walken’s icon status to whole new level.
HT: I agree. His role was kinda what you expected from Christopher Walken. Like a Saturday Night Live skit almost. Hopper told me about the shoot that day; he said it was like a tennis match with Walken.
MR: And you knew it was something special. I went to the set when they were filming that. I wasn’t allowed to see anything, but I was outside the trailer.
HT: I mean, Gandolfini stood there in the background. Did you ever take any acting classes?
HT: It was all on the job training?
MR: On the job training and instinct.
HT: You never wanted to try some acting teachers or learn some methods?
MR: Dialect, for my accent.
HT: But you never got to try with accents.
MR: You should be my agent man, because the way you see it is the way I see it. I’ve done a lot that’s been New York characters and a hand full that have not been.
HT: Even Harvey Keitel’s a few southern accents and a Scotsman in The Piano. De Niro got to go way out there in Cape Fear. I would’ve liked to have seen you play Guy Ritchie type character or even a cowboy.
MR: I haven’t been given the opportunity. They think what you are is all you can play. I did a movie called Higher Learning where I was as far away from being a New York “hip hop” kid as you can get. And people act like that shit didn’t happen, know what I mean. That’s another film, I get stopped on the street everyday because of that character. It’s just a matter of staying in the game and being ready. Keeping your nose to the grind and keeping your eyes on the prize. Having goals, even though it sounds stupid. Gotta have things you want to do. When the right opportunities present themselves and you make the right circumstances present themselves you get to do all the shit you want to do.
HT: That’s good.
MR: Yeah, but I don’t need to prove I can do an accent. I want to prove that I can play a character. I feel like emotionally, I’ve shown as many colors as anybody. Whether or not it’s smaller or bigger films. For me, it’s not how many tricks you can do or how many disguises you can put on a character. For me, the expression of emotion is my biggest agenda. How many emotions you can express. The box of crayons has 16 colors. I’d like to say that I have 234 crayons in my box. That’s always been my goal.
HT: Your character in Higher Learning…I thought American Citizen X with Eddie Furlong and Edward Norton were great in that story. But you showed a different side of how kids get into that frightening world. You should have got more recognition for that role.
MR: I think so. I’m very proud of what I did in that movie. The movie had flaws, but looking at the character, since this is an interview about myself, he was very original and human and a very honest true character. I worked very hard on it.
HT: You did a lot of research right? Because Singleton wanted you to step it up.
MR: Yeah, and the more I would bring to him, the more he would put into the script. It was a great experience, I enjoyed working with him. I don’t know why he hasn’t hired me again although we’re still friendly.
HT: You want to say that off the record right?
MR: That’s true. No, you can put it on the record. I like to break his balls.
HT: You could’ve played Christian Bale’s character in Shaft.
MR: I wanted to be in Shaft. I wanted to be in Four Brothers too. John’s my man, he’ll get it together.
HT: You see, Shaft could’ve been an opportunity to for you to play different kind of New Yorker. But you grew up on the Upper Eastside so you know those preppy types and how they roll.
MR: I called him about it…exactly. I agree.
HT: That would have been interesting casting to me. An English dude playing that was interesting but you would’ve had to play a different kind of New Yorker. You would’ve brought some interesting authenticity to it that could’ve been more than just a psycho preppy.
MR: I agree, but that’s his fault, so whatever.
HT: Whose talent, in terms of what you do, like blew you away? Where you felt like, I couldn’t touch what this guy does?
MR: I have great respect and a friendship with Benicio Del Toro. I think he is exceptional. He mixes bringing really genuine, strong honest emotion and takes a lot of risks. He’s able to be distinctly different as a character with what he’s able to do with his body and his voice. Exceptionally.
HT: I respect the risks he takes but when he fails…
MR: He’ll fail big.
HT: And he has. Some of the roles that people thought he was genius, I thought were bullshit. But then you see him in 21 Grams and he’s incredible.
MR: He’s a fuckin’ enormous talent. He has the whole package. He has special talent and is a true artist. I really respect him and enjoy him. We did a little movie called Money for Nothing with John Cusack, Michael Madsen, Phillip Hoffman, myself and Debbie Mazar.
HT: Oh, I saw that.
MR: Yeah, it wasn’t really that good. But we became friends on that in like 94, 95. We remained friends and he’s a good man and a good person. He’s a good dude. He’s one of my contemporaries that I love. And of course, the gods; the DeNiros, the Duvalls, the Dustin Hoffmans… I just saw Capote and was really impressed with Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
HT: He’s really come on in the last five years.
MR: He’s great. He’s very talented. Him I really like.
HT: Even what he does in the background of Boogie Nights…amazing.
MR: Yeah, and especially in Capote.
HT: You’ve worked with megastars like Travolta, Tim Roth, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, but I would imagine the guys who blow you away are Hall of Famers like Harvey Keitel, Hackman, De Niro, and Hopper?
MR: Those guys are on a whole other level. They’re like uncles who you rarely see. I’ve not met them all, but have had opportunity to sit down and talk to Harvey. To chat with him and De Niro and Christopher Walken. They’re so adored and revered by me and a lot of young actors. That generation, that group of guys, the ten, twenty, thirty…Jon Voight, Pacino…It’s never going to happen like that again because the business has changed so much. When they were doing it, it was coming from an artistic place. What really fucked it up is the E Channel, Us weekly, Entertainment Tonight, and all that shit. You are not able to grow as an actor anymore. There has to be instant stardom. None of those guys are particularly models. Not all of them. But young stars today have to look a certain way, like models. Dustin Hoffman is 5’5’’ with a big nose, Al Pacino’s weird looking. That’s why it’s never going to happen again.
HT: That all came about after the McQueen, Newman, and Dean, you know. They still took over.
MR: Yeah. Men. Not children, men. With the life experience of a twenty year old what are you going to do? If you become that famous when you’re twenty and are being chased around by paparazzi, where the fuck do you draw from?
HT: You got to play a Yankee in The Scout, right?
MR: (laughs) yeah.
HT: You actually played at Yankee Stadium?
MR: Yup. That was really cool. Sitting in the dugout and walking out on the field. The movie was a piece of shit, but it was fun.
HT: How can you turn that down, right?
MR: Yeah, you’re shooting at Yankee Stadium with Albert Brooks…it failed, but it was fun.
HT: You would have been good in Billy Crystal’s *61.
MR: Those guys were so good.
HT: You could’ve played one of the other dudes.
HT: What did it mean for you to be starring in a Woody Allen movie right off the bat and be hired again?
MR: It meant a lot! It meant a lot to be hired again.
HT: It totally legitimizes you in New York.
MR: It made me proud. The timing of it. I remember I was having a tough time personally and professionally, I don’t remember why. I remember getting the second part.
HT: Small Time Crooks was a damn good movie.
MR: Thank you. I cried when I got that second part, I was so happy. It was such a validation. It meant everything. I’ll always have that. I’ll always be able to say I did two Woody Allen movies.
HT: The thing about Woody is how he cast stars? In Small Time Crooks he put guys like Tony Darrow, who plays nothing but mobster roles, Jon Lovitz, and you together. It was genius. He wanted guys who were believable New York friends. That was good.
MR: He’s the best. It was a pleasure to do. So easy, so much fun, and so exciting. Such an iconic thing to do. Being in New York and being able to shoot Woody Allen films in New York is very special.
HT: How proud were your family and friends?
MR: My father watched me filming a scene five blocks from where he lives and where I grew up. He was across the street watching me scream at Woody Allen in Mighty Aphrodite. I remember looking over at him in between takes and gave me a thumbs up. It was a cool thing, we were both excited.
HT: Woody only gives you pages, right?
MR: Yeah, he only gives you pages.
HT: How was that for you?
MR: I didn’t have no problems with it. It made me stop reading scripts. It works for Woody… A lot of times, before I get parts in movies, I won’t read the scripts, I’ll just read my pages. You don’t really need to know, when you look at it. It’s fun to read the script. You want to read the script, but you don’t need to.
HT: The director is going to talk you through it on the set anyway, right?
HT: Is it true that he avoids fraternizing with his stars?
MR: He doesn’t really fraternize with anyone on the set, but the crew because he’s worked with them for so long, he plays around... I talked to him about basketball, about music. He told me an interesting story about seeing Thelonius Monk’s dead body. He’ll talk to anybody. He just doesn’t want to talk about Annie Hall or himself. He doesn’t want you to be nervous around him. If you talk to him, he just wants to talk on an even playing field. Not like ‘you’re the best!’ I don’t think he’s very comfortable with that. So, that thing about not talking…
HT: He just wants to be as normal as possible. Like when he plays the clarinet in that club every Monday night.
MR: Exactly. Spike is very similar. He doesn’t really want to talk about the character. He hired you so he trusts you. I don’t know why people are uncomfortable with it because he’s giving you free reign to do pretty much whatever you want. You just have to deliver. He just doesn’t want to hear about it. That’s my point.
HT: So, he doesn’t ask you to do it this way or that way?
MR: He’ll tell you if it’s good or not. That’s about it. If you’re not neurotic and you’re comfortable. His writing is sorta actor proof anyway. It’s the easiest thing to perform anyway, because the writing is so good.
HT: I’m sure that you saw yourself when you first read the script.
HT: You’ve worked with Woody, DeNiro, Keitel, so many guys, Eddie, Spike…when you work with that caliber of talent what do you do? Do you just try to soak in the atmosphere as much as possible or you don’t think about it too much?
MR: I’m very aware of it. But I leave my fan part in the trailer. When I get back to my trailer, I call my dad or whoever and say oh, I just did this scene with Eddie or De Niro just did this. When you work with them they don’t want…unless they are… like Christopher Walken had a great sense of humor and you could ask him just about anything. I never asked De Niro about shit. I don’t think he’s interested in talking to me about Raging Bull although I would have four thousand questions. So different people… Spike is very accessible to me. He’ll talk to you about anything. The main thing, I remember when Allen Iverson came into the league, he was like I don’t respect anyone on the court. What he was saying was he was playing against you. It doesn’t matter if it was Michael Jordan, he’ll go out there and bust your ass. Basketball mentality is different than acting, but it’s the same thing. I have the utmost respect for the person I’m working with, but it has nothing to do with what you’re doing right there. You have to treat yourself and see yourself as a peer. I don’t think any real artist or any true actor is going to want you to bow down to them. They’re going to want you to, if the scene means for you to bring it to them, they’ll want you to bring it to them. If you want to get someone’s respect, like one of those great people, the most important thing is to bring it to them.
HT: You’re only going to get that shot once.
MR: They don’t want you to tip toe around them. Bring it right to them. If that means scream at them or cry in their arms. Give it to them just like you want them to give it to you. Doesn’t matter who they are.
HT: I remember when he first came into the league, he was expected to be Robin to Stackhouse’s Batman. Like from the beginning he was like no, no.
MR: Yeah, he was like fuck that and fuck anybody…
HT: You never been star struck at any point?
MR: Not between “action” and “cut.” I was pretty excited to work with Woody, De Niro, and Eddie Murphy. I was pretty damn excited. But between “action” and “cut” they are just who they are.
HT: Was working with Eddie like? I mean things came around pretty fast for you. It’s not like you’re working every day, every week, but before you know it you’ve done 50+ movies. When you worked with Eddie did you finally realize, I’ve come a long way. I’m starring in a movie with one of my idols.
MR: It was a trip. In hindsight, the experience was so skewed, because the film didn’t come out that good. The director was putting handcuffs on both of us. It was Thomas Carter. It was a real disappointment. I thought the potential for me and him to get down and do this comedy drama together was so much better than it turned out to be.
HT: It could have been like Bad Boys if they let you and Eddie loose.
MR: That’s what I thought I was making. That’s what I was there to do.
HT: He was no let down though, right?
MR: No, he was cool.
HT: Are you still tight with him?
MR: When I see him we’re friendly, but I don’t see him that much. He doesn’t call me to check in on me. I just saw him a few weeks ago. I have nothing but love and respect for him.
HT: When people generalize and say Michael Rapaport’s good at playing dumb guys. Does that offend you?
MR: It used to, but now I’m more comfortable with myself now and more confident in only a genius can play a fool but not visa versa. I did a line in Mighty Aphrodite where my character was unclear about which hand was the left and which was the right. That was probably the hardest line I ever had to do in a movie because you really have to dumb yourself down to do it. It’s not an easy line to deliver as an actor and if you’re really that dumb you couldn’t pull it off. I used to get a little offended. Someone once said I was the king of the dumb white guys.
HT: It’s not so easy playing a dumb guy because you are not dumb. Burt Young has played some tough guys, but he also played a lot of great dumb guys. Gandolfini played a lot of dumb guys, look at him now. That’s why I hope your show on Fox gets a chance to grow. Whether it gets cancelled in five years or you just decide to call it quits after six seasons. If it gets a nice run, I think it’ll be a good character to follow. We’ll really get to see all the characters grow.
MR: Right now, I see episode 12 because that’s all we’re guaranteed. I think we’ll get picked up for the rest of the season. When we get a little more breathing room, you can look at the scope of it. We’ve got some interesting shit that we’re doing next week when we start. I think we’re on to something.
HT: There’s a lot of potential there. Kids going to college, daughter getting married, and all kinds of modern issues that other shows can’t tackle.
HT: Talking about dumb guys, how about Nicholson in Prizzi’s Honor? That was a well-rounded character. He seemed like a dumb guy, but he also a deadly hitman.
HT: Do you hang with stars at all?
MR: I don’t, no. I’ve got a couple friends that are actors that I’m in touch with.
HT: So you don’t hang with like Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau?
MR: Nah, I’m not in any click. It would serve me better if I was, but I think I’m an outsider in a lot of ways. Self imposed probably in some ways, nonetheless an outsider. In the business, I’m an outsider.
HT: Do you still hang with the homeboys when you go back to New York?
MR: That’s it. That’s it.
HT: What do you guys do?
MR: Well, none of them are in show business. My best friends are not in show business.
HT: Before I met you, I knew you always kept it real. But I must say that I’m impressed that you’re committed to what you’re doing on TV than any other great film projects that might be out there. Did your friends always help you keep it real?
MR: Yeah, they’re like bullshit monitors. Just the same way I am with them. We’re friends and we look after each other. Watch out for each other, advise each other and support each other. Break each other’s balls. Just like any friends would do.
HT: But you never got an entourage out here to LA?
MR: Naw, my friends tease me, like we fucked up, I should’ve been like Turtle. I’m like that shits a TV show, know what I mean. I stand alone.
HT: We talked about your range as an actor and what you have been able to do and not do. Do you feel you have limitations as an actor?
MR: That’s a good question. I think everybody has limitations on what you can do. I’m certainly limited. There are a couple people who can do anything. Peter Sellers. There’s a handful of guys who could do anything. The harder thing is to get the opportunity to do anything or everything.
HT: People won’t even give Jim Carey the chance to do much more than what they want him to do. I think that general people think your limitation would be your accent. But you can lose it, right?
MR: I’ve already done it.
HT: Again, this show should give you some nice opportunities to explore some serious moments within a sitcom setting.
MR: Exactly. I’m looking forward to being able to play men as opposed to young men. I’m a man now.
HT: Even if you keep the accent, playing older is like a whole another character in itself.
MR: There’s a bunch of New York actors that have inspired me and the rest of the world. They are constantly playing New Yorkers that I wouldn’t have a problem following in any of their footsteps.
HT: How ambitious or competitive are you? Obviously, you like to think in terms of sports mentality and analogies a lot.
MR: Extremely competitive, but I also respect. I have respect for guys that I’m competing with. I’m a little bit of a hater, not that it’s a good quality, but I’m just going to be honest with you. There are some people that I think are shit as far as actors. But those that work a lot, I think, deserve it.
HT: At the end of the game you shake hands and appreciate the competition.
MR: Yeah, when you see ‘em you give ‘em love and give ‘em props and support. The thing that’s important is that actors are community unto themselves. At the end of the day we’re actors. We’re all in SAG, and we need to watch out for each other. It’s not just our peers, the one’s who are famous who are working. We need to help support the younger actors through the ropes. It’s pretty scary, lonely place to be a young actor out here with a big dream. People approach me and want to hear my opinion about things, especially young actors, as far as like dealing with lawyers, agents and publicists, I’m always very open in giving them advice. You can be taken advantage of even if you’re working. You get taken advantage of out here if you’re not on your shit and not about your business. If you don’t understand the business…
HT: There is a strange mix of business and art.
MR: We don’t mix. Artists and business people they don’t mix, besides making money off of each other. Going out to coffee, there’s not much in common. When an actor reads a script and an agent reads a script, they’re coming from two different points of view. When an actor reads a script and an agent reads a script, they see different things.
HT: What are some roles that you wanted?
MR: There’s not really been a part that I wanted that I didn’t get that actually turned out to be something. All the parts I would’ve wanted have already been done. They’re iconic things. I couldn’t even touch the way they’ve been done.
HT: You worked with Spike in Bamboozled where he trusted you to play a very pivotal part in that movie.
MR: I would’ve liked to be in 25th Hour. Although I didn’t think the movie was that good.
HT: I actually thought it was one of his best movies.
MR: I thought it was flawed. I thought all three of those guys were great. I’d have loved to have a shot because I love Spike so much, not taking away from any of those three guys. I think it’s important to work with the same people, because the more you work with the same person the more you’ll get out of each other. I would’ve loved to have the opportunity to do it, but those guys were great.
HT: Which part?
MR: I don’t even know which one. I thought all three parts were interesting.
HT: Have you ever thought like ‘at my age De Niro had already done Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, and Raging Bull…?’
MR: Yeah, I think about it, but then I also think that was 30 years ago. They’re not making Taxi Drivers and Raging Bulls anymore. You got to live in the present. I would have loved to be around in that era. Now is where it’s at.
HT: Or have you thought ‘that dude I knew has already done this many movies and got a nomination?’
MR: No, there’s nobody…
HT: You’re grateful for what you’ve done.
MR: Extremely grateful for everything I’ve been able to do and for all my opportunities and everything I’ve learned so far.
HT: What do you consider your strength as a performer?
MR: Emotional honesty is my biggest strength. Emotional honesty is what I also know I need to always be working on. To be honest and genuine as possible.
HT: There’s your work ethic again.
HT: In my opinion, you had this one quality from the get go, which I think is the reason why you work so much. And that quality is vulnerability. It’s fresh.
MR: That’s a good compliment.
HT: It’s not easy to do. Some stars haven’t produced once in their careers.
MR: It’s true.
HT: Was Copland a good experience for you? I thought it was a great movie.
MR: It was a good experience. I think the movie at the end of the day was over-shadowed by all of the hype about the amount of stars that were in it for low budget. It was great to work with all those people to be around.
HT: How was James Mangold back then?
MR: He was good, he was young. He had a lot of people to deal with. I enjoyed working with him. I’d like to work with him now that he’s made a couple more movies. I think some of his ideas were…
HT: Again, your vulnerability was the conscience throughout the whole movie along with Stallone’s.
MR: It’s true.
HT: Did you have to compete for that role?
MR: That one I didn’t have to compete for. Mangold and Miramax had me in mind.
HT: And your character ‘Superboy’ stood in the middle of good and evil.
HT: All those party scenes in his house and that dude who plays Artie in the Sopranos…they were all extras. So, Spike you like?
MR: I love Spike and his work. Our birthdays are the same day. I’ve always felt we had a lot in common. He’s taught me a lot even before I knew him. Through his films and the music he’s chosen for his films. I’ve always been a huge fan. I love his independence. When he says it’s a Spike Lee Joint, it’s a Spike Lee Joint.
HT: Which Spike Lee movies highly affected you?
MR: Do the Right Thing, Mo Better Blues, and Jungle Fever. The actors he chose to perform. He was the first person to use Denzel Washington as a sex symbol. He had never been cast that way, and used that way, or shot that way. The cinematography. The exposure that he gave to Jon Turturro was an enormous influence on me. I’m a huge fan of Jon.
HT: You’ve never worked with Jon?
MR: No, I haven’t worked with him. I love him. He’s outstanding. I adore his work.
HT: He’s great in all the Coen brothers stuff too. He’s even great in a tiny part in The Big Lebowski. He was the pedophile bowler
MR: He’s a big inspiration for me.
HT: I don’t think your work in Bamboozled got the recognition it deserved.
MR: I don’t think that movie ever got the recognition it deserved. It was a flawed movie.
HT: I can see how audiences and critics chose to ignore the movie because of the subject matter but there were some good scenes in the movie. I like Spike’s later movies. I really do. He Got Game was good. Clockers was good. However, Bamboozled was kind of a King of Comedy wannabe for me. But he most important and realistic statement was your relationship with Daman Wayans. I can totally see how Spike wanted you to play Dunwitty to show how there are guys like that allover show business trying to get rich off of black culture and entertainment.
MR: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was happy to do it. I loved that movie. I like that character. It was a lot of fun to do.
HT: I’m sure Spike had a lot of trust in you to deliver. I mean your character was the reason for what ends up happening in the movie.
HT: What’s your opinion of the whole “wigga” thing. Are you offended when people call you that?
MR: I’m more offended when white people come up to me and say “what’s up, nigga.”
HT: To you?
MR: Yeah. I think that is the most crazy shit. I don’t understand it. I don’t like to be generalized in that way, but I understand where it’s coming from. The infusion of hip hop white boys is a pro and con. I think it’s a good thing in a lot of ways, but I also think it’s fucked up, too.
HT: Do you like Eminem?
MR: Yeah, he’s cool. He’s real.
HT: What do you think when people want to know your opinion about race subjects, whether it be OJ or Rodney King?
MR: If anyone wants to talk to me, I’m happy to talk to them. I think that I have a point of view like anyone else. It’s not any more relevant or less relevant. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve gotten to be around certain people in my life and have a specific point of view on that sort of thing. On race and how it’s perceived.
HT: The black community has always embraced you. That must make you feel good?
MR: There was never a specific agenda.
HT: These people feel where you’re coming from though.
MR: It’s an honesty. The characters in Bambozled and Higher Learning have gotten a lot of respect in the community because of the honesty. Despite the fact that they’re sort of racially provocative characters.
HT: Who do you feel like you need to work with?
MR: Martin Scorcese! I think he needs me (laughs), as far as young actors. I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I just feel like I’m a Martin Scorcese actor. He’s inspired me so much and I have such respect for him. I would just like to be a part of one of his movies. I think my energy would…
HT: It would make sense for you to be in his list of actors.
MR: Love ‘em!
HT: And of course you’d like to work with or be directed by Jon Turturro?
MR: Love him. It would be a great learning experience.
HT: What other actors do you love?
MR: I love Terrance Dashon Howard, I’ve loved him for a while. I love Jon Turturro, Benicio. Lawrence Fishburne I really like. Sam Jackson, Sean Penn. Those guys. My son once saw a billboard with Sean Penn on it and he thought it was me.
HT: How important is success to you in terms of getting rich?
MR: To say that you don’t care about money…for me that would be bullshit. I got a family to support, kids to support, and I like to have nice sneakers on my feet.
HT: What about popularity? This business is so up and down.
MR: More for me is respect. Respect is the most important thing to me. To have the respect of my peers and anyone who sees me work.
HT: Have you been wise with your money?
MR: I’ve been wise and extremely conservative. I’ve invested and I’ve saved.
HT: You’ve got the 18th street hook up and people know that you own shit now, too. Did your parents influence you to save and invest?
MR: I have two very smart Jewish parents. They’ve always lived conservatively.
HT: So you’ve never gone wild with the rims and blings on your wrist?
MR: Never. I regret ever leasing that Navigator just because I should’ve gotten the Expedition. I was talked into it by a friend of mine to get the Navigator because it was flyer, but when I was getting it I was dumping all the trash out of my car. Los Angeles is such a car city, but I’m not about cars. It’s just not my thing. I would have saved $300 a month if I had…let me tell you something if I ever had a lot of money…well maybe I’d buy a nice car, but…it certainly is the last thing I’d think about buying. I just don’t give a fuck about cars. This is the way I am.
HT: The clothes and the cars. You never bought into any of that?
MR: Nah, I still like nice sneakers, but since I had my kids, it’s so hard to keep your clothes and sneakers clean.
HT: Finally, how much more do you want to accomplish in the next ten, fifteen years?
MR: A lot more. I know that my next big accomplishment will be directing a film. That’s what I have my eyes on. That’s what I really want to do next. I think I’ll shift gears when I’m fifty.
HT: In terms of check listing your accomplishments, how much have you accomplished?
HT: How do you want people to remember Michael Rapaport?
MR: If anybody discusses me, if I’m ever in the ballpark of remembering, it’ll just be someone who says…I want people to say I liked his shit. Like he was alright.
HT: Is it important for you to do an important movie that does something socially…
MR: I’ve already been in movies that strive to do something socially. Bamboozled, Higher Learning. I just want to do things that are good, that I can be proud of and I can stand behind. That goes top to bottom. Secondary to all that is, the main thing is I want to be looked at by my kids the way I look at my father. I want them to be proud of me and that has nothing to do with acting. That’s the main thing.