Rough Cut's by Veronica Mixon
The 24-year-old Giovanni Ribisi has earned a reputation as a brilliant and powerful actor, who can deliver quirky, funny, intense performances in both comic and dramatic material. He was the dedicated medic in Saving Private Ryan, the mentally challenged suitor in The Other Sister and the popular recurring character, Frank Jr. on the TV sitcom, "Friends." Ribisi has also worked with some of the best directors in Hollywood, including David Lynch in Lost Highway, Richard Linklater in SubUrbia and Tom Hanks in That Thing You Do! Later this year, he'll appear in The Boiler Room and All the Rage.
Does your family ever read your reviews in newspapers or magazines?
We never do. But, my dad and I rode over and we read it.
You must be thrilled about The Other Sister.
Yeah. It was cool.
Some people think it's a controversial performance.
Is it, really? Oh, cool. I didn't have to do a whole lot of work on that character. I'm just kiddin.'
We heard from director Scott Silver that you injured yourself during filming of The Mod Squad. He said you kept the limp on- and off- camera.
I didn't really, actually, hurt myself. I think it would be cool, though. Maybe I should take it to that next level [and] do things like that to my body. (laughs) I didn't keep the limp constantly off-camera. It's just a thing. You try to make it an innate thing and you put a rock in your shoe. So, if you have a rock there, it helps the limp.
Scott Silver said you gave the best audition and got the part.
Wow! I went in as prepared as I could be, because I have this fanatical preparation thing of being really prepared for auditions. I don't know. I really didn't know who else was up for the part and I had already established this great relationship with Scott, so he made it very safe for me. It can be really nerve wrecking, going in for a screen test.
What kind of preparation did you do?
I saw [my character] as -- it was really personal, it really made sense to me. He was one of these really wealthy kids who decides to run away from home, because he had a horrible relationship with his father -- his parents -- and ends up on Hollywood Boulevard. [He] had all this familial money and grows up with a silver spoon in his mouth, but ends up being a complete bum, a homeless person sniffing glue on Hollywood Boulevard. I said, "Yeah, I can see that guy. I know who he is."
Did you ever watch the series as a kid?
I didn't see it. They sent episodes over to watch and I actually consciously made a choice to not see it, because [what] I really wanted [us] to do our own thing and not to pick up any other habits or things.
Why haven't you change your name? People might think you are from Italy.
[laughs] I'm just this guy from L.A. -- from the valley! My father really liked Italian names and I think they're beautiful as well. I actually named my daughter Lucetica. I think, when I was younger, I had this thing of being called Johnny when I was 8. I used Johnny for a week and Vonnie for early TV work. My liberal parents said, "Great," but now, I really see value -- not like cha-ching -- in my name Antonino Giovanni Ribisi. I think Italian names are beautiful.
How did you start acting?
A friend of our [family] down the street got an agent. I come from a family that really likes cinema, and in my generation, the VCR had just come out. So, the weekly ritual was to get a couple of movies on the weekend. I think I just kind of grew up watching movies and my father and grandfather love films. It was the thing that I just wanted to do. So, I asked if could we hook up with that agent. We had a meeting and went on from there.
So, you had the meeting?
I did a Unical '76 commercial. I did a "Highway to Heaven" [episode]. I played a cancer patient and it was kind of weird, because I was nine years old. I was forming an identity. I had to shave my head and there was part of me that thought it was kind of cool, but at the same time, there were people who [were] asking, "Are you OK?"
What did you do after that?
I got on a show called "My Two Dads" for a couple of years. Initially, it was only going to be for one or two episodes, but then, they thought they wanted to have a girl on and wanted her to have a boyfriend. I did TV for the first seven or eight years. I got involved in this acting class at The Beverly Hills Playhouse and it was something that changed my life, because of the teacher. I guess I like to say that it is the same as a modern-day version of the Acting Studio. I know people are going to say, "What? I've been studying there for seven years."
When did you begin making films?
When I started at the Playhouse, I made a choice to stop doing television, because I wanted to do more exploratory -- all that actor jargon -- so I decided to do film. It's sort of hard when you're making those weekly paychecks to kind of drop all that and realize that you only have $7 to your name and try to do a movie career. The first movie that I did was this thing I really didn't want to do, but my agent said, "You're going to doing it!" It was out in Bulgaria for two months and it was one of these Showtime films that you see late at night. It was a monster chasing me and Lance Henriksen. It was originally called "Out Post," but they wanted to make it even better and they called it "Mind Ripper." [Laughs]
Why did you think you had to do this?
Well, I really wasn't working for a long time. I was trying to break into film.
Did you have any idea of the impact Saving Private Ryan would have?
I don't know if I had any idea, because I think I try to train myself to know the outcome. But, it's positive. I don't say that in a negative sense. You never really know the outcome, because it is a communal thing, because you have so many different people doing the music, the editing and the acting. I know, though, for Saving Private Ryan, our purpose was to honor those men who had died for us on Normandy and in Europe during the European campaigns. It was an important kernel of the film -- obviously for Steven Spielberg, too -- because he's so creative and he's been around a long time and he knows his s--t. Col. Dale Dye really instilled in us, during that first week to 10 days in boot camp, it was not a thing. It was the hardest thing that a lot of us had ever been through and we really understood the job we had to do.
You joked that you didn't have to do too much research for The Other Sister, but that's obviously not true.
I spent weeks and weeks of being around handicapped people and kind of taking specific attributes from handicapped people and making the sort of amalgamation of a guy who had a speech impediment and walked a certain way and with the eyes. With a video camera, I took photographs of myself, because it's hard to be objective about myself. My wife snapped these photos of me in character. I think, essentially, you get the physicality down and then you start to understand them psychologically and emotionally, and how they'd react to certain things in the script. But, I think the most important thing would be the relationship with Juliette (Lewis).
Did the two of you stay in character while off-camera?
I don't know. We have two different techniques. Not when I would go at home, because I have a baby and a wife as well! (laughs) [She'd be like,] "Get out! You're sleeping on the couch!"
How'd you meet your wife? Is she in the acting business?
Yes. She's in the business. She's a great actress. Her name is Mariah O'Brien. We met each other seven years ago through a mutual friend. Another friend, Juliet's brother, Lightfield Lewis -- he's a genius! He makes these films -- we've actually have been spending three years working on this video, it's not finished yet. But, over the three years, we started dating, got married and had a child and we're still not done with this movie.
You got married at age 22 and your parents said it was fine?
Yeah, gosh! Oh, absolutely! [They're] completely supportive. It was this thing: My wife is the most intelligent woman, [the] most beautiful thing. I realized I was admittedly getting into this promiscuous 21-year-old thing and I realized that I wasn't into that. You can keep on trying and then, you realize that you can get into these circular relationships. I said, "I understand that I'm going to have problems, essentially, maybe, but she's beautiful and she's everything that I ever want."
What was it like working with David Lynch?
I think he's at the forefront of our directors. My agent told me, "You're going to meet David Lynch in 15 minutes." I drove up to his house -- he has three houses side-by-side. He's really into carpentry and he actually makes all the furniture for his films. I walked to his office, I saw some of his paintings and I was so nervous to be in his house. I saw him coming from another house and his hair was [makes these wild gestures and sounds]... I think, "He's just woken up from a nap." He says, "Do you have two weeks open?" But, at the same time, he's trying things out. It seemed like it was all about the lifestyle and their identity. He took everybody's idea and he was very surreal. I think [Lost Highway] turned out to be beautiful.
The Boiler Man is coming out soon. But, the next thing that I'm going to be doing is something that I'm really excited about. It's a TV show -- Wow! I've been talking about TV as such a negative thing -- but it's this Showtime thing -- it's late at night called Mind Ripper 2. [laughs] No, it's this TV thing based on The Hunger and David Bowie is going to be in it. Tony Scott is going to direct it and it's the first episode. It's this incredible David Lynch-ian script. I'm really excited about.
Are you going to the Oscars for acting in Saving Private Ryan?
I haven't been told anything about that. I think it would be fun.