Keeping up with Your Friends & Neighbours

Actor Jason Patric has an agenda making intelligent, meaningful films, says Ciara Dwyer

THERE'S no getting away from it. No matter how hard Jason Patric might try, the New York actor will go down in the annals as "Yer man who came to Ireland with Julia Roberts when she was doing a runner from her wedding to Kiefer Sutherland". Up until then, he'd been working away, happily honing his acting craft. Then, wham! He was all over every paper in the world.

"I knew dating her [Julia] would be trouble," he says now. "I just didn't know how much of an impact it would have on my privacy, because I'm such a private person. What happened was the ultimate nightmare. I'd worked for six years on my career to be as anonymous as possible, and in the space of a few weeks I was one of the most public people in the world just because I was dating a famous person who enjoyed being in the media spotlight."

Their romance soon crumbled. Then Patric tried to regain his privacy.

"There is celebrity that comes with fame," he acknowledges. "There's no question about it. I don't bemoan that. However, don't come into my house, don't bother me at a non-public event. But if I use my personal life to advance my fame, then I owe you my personal life. If I invite People magazine to the wedding, then they're invited to the divorce as well."

Patric wants to shout 'stop' at the avalanche of celebrity coverage in the media, yet he realises his voice won't be heard. It's a no-win situation.

"Frankly, if you don't expose more [about yourself], you're not going to be nearly as interesting as the other person. And all these magazines are in competition, nothing but reams of them on entertainment. It will never stop.

"I remember Demi Moore. With every Vanity Fair cover, she had to shock people. First she was naked and being painted in a suit, then she was pregnant and naked. I thought, 'Next she'll be mounted by a mule.' That would be the only thing shocking enough to make the next cover. They goad you into giving all that stuff and then they slice you."

All this 'Angry Young Man' thing would be refreshing if one didn't get the feeling that Patric, at 36, is a bit long in the tooth for such tirades. Add to that the fact that he says all this in one long monotone; it becomes clear that he lacks one of the most crucial things in life a sense of humour. It's a bit draining listening to him talk. Does he ever see the funny side of things? You want to give him a shake and tell him to lighten up a little. So why then should you or I or anyone sit up and listen to what Mr Patric has got to say?

Well, there is one simple reason. To use the American expression, Jason Patric doesn't just walk the walk, he talks the talk. In other words, although it may be draining to listen to him talk about the number of trite films out there, he has tried to do something about the situation. He wants your cinematic experience to be a fulfilling one. And if that means getting his hands dirty by producing films and fighting with studios for obscure actors to star in them, then he is willing to do so. As far back as 1987, he was telling the world about his acting intentions: "I'm willing to take less money and fourth billing and do interesting roles. I hate putting limitations on myself. I don't set out to sell popcorn or make money for the major studios. What'd I'd like is for my work to have meaning."

Many a young actor has uttered such lines and then been lured by big bucks to star in some brain-dead film. And when Patric signed up to do Speed 2, it seemed he was about to go the same way. But he planned to use the clout it gave him to do what he really wanted to do.

"I wanted to skim into the global marketplace so I could make small movies like Your Friends & Neighbours. There was enough hype around Speed 2 that I was able to get funding for Your Friends & Neighbours."

Your Friends & Neighbours was written and directed by Neil LaBute, way before he was well-known. The actors Ben Stiller, Aaron Eckhart and Catherine Keener have also shot to stardom. The film was about couples, infidelity and men being brutally honest about their relationships. It did not leave one with warm feelings. For this, Patric, the producer, was taken to task.

"A lot of people found Your Friends & Neighbours really off-putting because it was so close to them," he says defensively. "In playing my character he was ruthless I never winked at the camera, as some actors do, and since I did it so effortlessly, people thought that that was me. I didn't go out of my way to tell them otherwise. If you can't understand cinema, forget it I have no time for you."

And off he goes again with another rant about what's wrong with the film world.

"There should be room for smaller movies. But a lot of these bigger movies cannibalise the opportunity and space. It's like anything a generation that's grown up purely on TV is not as interesting as one that also reads. So if you grow up on these movies which tell you how to feel, what to feel and when to feel, then other movies are strange."

Patric does have a point. But do you see what I mean about his being heavy going? Listening to him, I couldn't but picture myself being dragged to the bottom of the ocean by a heavy weight.

So is everyone out of step except our Jason? Well, in a way. He has done two films in the past five years. Your Friends & Neighbours and his latest film, Narc. Why was he so unproductive, you may ask? He was holding out for quality, he says. "I didn't wait three years to make something I thought would be crap. I'm trying to make a classic every time. I was happy with Your Friends & Neighbours, so after that I wasn't going to step backwards."

A gritty cop film about two police detectives, Narc stars Patric and Ray Liotta. It has all the grime of Hill Street Blues, where you can almost smell the sweat from the officers' shirts after their long shifts. It's an edgy film which keeps us on our toes.

Hollywood blockbusters used to make Patric angry. Now he has become a little more philosophical.

"Who am I to say that you can't go into this business to make money? If you want to make money, good luck to you. But let's not pretend that it's good. What it takes is for someone to stand up and not work for a year or three. It takes someone not to make money and to take a chance on a first-time director [Narc is the first film directed by Joe Carnahan]. I'd like to set an example, I really would, and I have been consistent with doing that kind of stuff."

Jason Patric, the man with chiselled good looks and dazzling blue eyes, is not stimulating company. His drone would put years on you. Yet here is an actor who gets up off his ass and sticks with unglamorous interesting projects to the bitter end. For that, he should be commended.

'Narc' is showing nationwide