'Jones'ing For Alessandro Nivola
Alessandro Nivola is one of my favorite actors -- but unless you obsessively watch Laurel Canyon (like I do) or spend all your free time at independent movie theaters, chances are you either know him as "that guy from Jurassic Park 3" or "the shaggy cutie from those Banana Republic ads."
So allow me to put his name with his face, and instruct you to Netflix every single movie on his IMDB profile. There, you will find a wide berth of brilliant, destructive, obsessive and fascinating characters that any actor would be proud to round their resume out with.
Janie Jones houses the lastest, greatest role Alessandro breathes life into: Ethan Brand, a rockstar destined for has-been status when an unplanned reunion with his estranged daughter brings light and music back into his world. I chatted with the should-be-more-famous actor about his attraction to this character, why his personal musical experiences left him wanting less and why Janie functions as an unofficial sequel to my favorite film of his.
Insider.com: I know you've sung a little bit in other movies, but I feel like this takes it to a new level.
Alessandro Nivola: Oh thanks – it's been something that I've done in a very amateurish way all my life. I had some crappy bands in high school, with names like Freudian Slip [laughs]. Some of our finest venues were frat houses during toga parties. I have memories of beer being poured over my head while I was trying to find the chords to Magic Carpet Ride. That's pretty much where my ambition for a professional music career started and stopped.
Insider: Even when you're not singing, I feel like music plays a much bigger role in your movies than it does in others.
Alessandro: I think so too. For me, it's all about how the music informs the character? What does it say about the character? What can I get across through the songs? How does it advance the story? For example, with Laurel Canyon, I used the music as a counterpoint to his personality. He was a clownish figure who was hard to take seriously because he was so libidinous and such a womanizing, decadent cliche of a rock star. But suddenly, he was capable of being really simple and passionate and not showy in his music. That comes as a surprise, with the character.
Insider: And here?
Alessandro: I wanted to get across a performance style that really contrasted his every day life. On stage, I wanted him to be wild, untethered, angry and kind of combative with the audience. When he's not performing, I wanted him to be almost lifeless and depressed -- like he could barely muster up the energy to have a conversation with anyone. The later songs are meant to be the kind of music he starts to play as he comes out of his manic depressive state and start to open up with something that's more of a soulful expression of where he's at in this life at that point.
Insider: I loved that the movie really withheld Ethan's acceptance of Janie for so long. It just felt very honest.
Alessandro: I wanted to postpone the moment even further – I felt like the longer I could hold that off, the more believable it would be. And the more of a relief it would be when it finally comes. I see the guy as someone who is just thrashing around in the beginning of the movie because he's facing the disintegration of all his childhood dreams and having to accept this waning career. I think he's just driven crazy by it and doesn't know how to handle it at all because he's so ill-equipped for life. Then, you throw a kid into the mix and ... you know.
Insider: Lastly, as a huge fan of yours, I'm curious -- if given the chance to revisit a role and tell chapter two of the story, which character would you like to play again?
Alessandro: My most enjoyable performances were in Laurel Canyon and this movie that no one saw where I played Leonard Chess. I'd be curious to know where they are today. I think the guy in Laurel Canyon would probably end up .. [laughs] somewhere similar to where Ethan does! [laughs] Janie Jones probably is the unofficial sequel to Laurel Canyon [laughs]. His band was inevitably going nowhere and that kind of decadence – unless you're Keith Richards – just doesn't sit as well as you approach 40 [laughs].
Janie Jones hits theaters on October 28