Chameleon-like actor works more than he sleeps
BY RON DICKER
Giovanni Ribisi has two screen personas - a TV funny guy and an edgy film presence.
We finally know why Giovanni Ribisi looks like he hasn't slept since 1982. It's because he hasn't slept since 1982.
Not much, anyway. Ribisi, the 32-year-old star of "Perfect Stranger," has often translated being wired off-screen onto the big screen.
"I do sometimes have problems sleeping," he says by phone recently. "I don't know necessarily that it's a problem. What was that Fassbinder quote? He'll sleep when he's dead? I adhere to that."
Ribisi has the puppy-dog eyes of a puppy on a caffeine bender. He uses them in "Perfect Stranger" as a cuddly yet creepy sidekick to Halle Berry. She's a newspaper reporter who goes undercover and online to snare advertising exec Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), whom she suspects of killing a friend. Ribisi's Miles is an IT wizard at the paper who gets her into places she shouldn't be. Miles is sweet on Berry's Rowena, but she does not return the gooeyness. Ribisi, whose films include "Cold Mountain" (2003) and "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" (2004), rarely collects the affections of leading ladies.
"I do get the girls more often, but people don't see it!" he says. Turning serious, he adds, "Deciding to do a movie is not necessarily whether I get the girl or not."
For the record, Ribisi points out that he does get all lovey-dovey in "The Dog Problem," a small romantic comedy opening later this month.
In "Perfect Stranger," he spends a lot of time pining, drinking and not getting shut-eye. Ribisi did not have to audition for director James Foley ("At Close Range"). Often, though, he insists on it.
"It's not necessarily me auditioning for them," he says. "It's them auditioning for me as well, and really seeing how the rapport will be with the director. The work starts immediately there."
Ribisi decries the lack of craft study among his peers, if only to flex the imagination. He waxes nostalgic about the heydays of Al Pacino and Marlon Brando, who did their time in the classroom.
But Ribisi is no throwback. He is of a newer breed, a born and raised L.A. habitue who entered the business through his mother, Gay, a talent agent. His transition to adult roles coalesced in a dopey but sympathetic turn as Phoebe's brother, Frank, on "Friends." TV always has welcomed the comedic side of Ribisi; movies have seemed eager to exploit his edginess. He prefers film but more and more television has turned cinematic, he said.
He was supposed to emerge in the remake of "The Mod Squad" (1999), but it flopped. His medic in "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) and his apprentice in a den of scheming stockbrokers in "Boiler Room" (2000) did more to cement his stature.
Ribisi regrets that the Italian-language "Heaven" (2002) with Cate Blanchett did not get its due because of terrorist themes in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Recognition is always welcomed. Bereft of an Oscar nomination in a career that began at age 9, Ribisi says, "If there's an award that someone wants to give me, I'll be there."
He still loves what he does, but as the divorced dad of a 9-year-old daughter (with actress Mariah O'Brien), the itinerant lifestyle presents obstacles at times, he says. His twin sister, Marissa, an actress, has managed to maintain a show-business marriage to pop star Beck.
The Ribisis are Scientologists. Given the occasional PR black eyes that Scientology sustains, especially because of its most famous practitioner, Tom Cruise, Ribisi makes the perfect spokesman.
"I love talking about Scientology," he says.
He recalls being yelled at for his beliefs as an 11-year-old and admits frustration that he has met only one naysayer in the last five years who has actually read works by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
"If someone wants to know my own personal experience, it's very much analogous to a college or university," the actor says. "You go, you study something, you practice thought and you go out and apply it and get a result."
In "Perfect Stranger," Ribisi got into his tech-wiz character long before he did the movie. Inspired by the artificial tableau of "World of Tomorrow," he attended computer-imaging classes to prepare for his own project as a filmmaker. He's considering a story about the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
It is one of his dreams to direct. Just don't ask him to sleep on it. «