NOVEMBER 20, 2005
Here's the article from GQ.
Scene One: Vince Does His Best Al Roker
If Vince Vaughn weren't Vince Vaughn, it would seem a little creepy for him to be standing around watching half-naked little kids splashing each other in a fountain in a public park. A lone male figure at the periphery, slightly pale, sweating, watching a kid in a bathing suit make for the water—probably an individual to whom Megan's Law should apply.
He's a robust character—six feet five inches, in jeans and a snap-button cowboy shirt, handsome, strong-looking—but just a little, if not depraved, nocturnal for the environment. If W weren't W, people would probably clutch their children and walk briskly toward safety. But since he is W, the parents of the kid in the bathing suit ask if they can get a picture with him. And seeing that it's okay to approach, the others, until now circling warily, go in for the kill. A man from a pawnshop in a white knee-length T-shirt gets an autograph ("Sign that shit to Jackie," he says); a teenage boy in a rakishly angled White Sox cap just wants a bro hug; a middle-aged woman in fuzzy pink fleece paces back and forth in tiny steps before saying, "I'm from Nova Scotia?" This, she hopes, will be dispensation enough.
"Come here, Nova Scotia," W says, gathering her up in his arms like a sexy, subversive Al Roker. "You had me at hello."
VV undergoes a minor transformation when he's around the general public, the seekers of bro hugs and camera-phone pictures. He slips into character, distributing patter and slightly cocked affection without making anyone feel bad about asking for it.
"Get in here, sweetheart," he says to a girl in platform shoes and a miniskirt, as her boyfriend takes their picture. "She's a great girl," he says to the boyfriend, giving him a wink. "I like where your head's at."
I'm not saying there isn't a little fatigue back there behind the curtain while he's being Vince Vaughn. That, like a department-store Santa Claus who smells faintly of bourbon, he doesn't seem sometimes to be going through the motions. But it's a violation of his principles to let on as much. He believes in the covenant—he works for these people, kind of belongs to them, and so is obligated on occasion to really be that dude from the movies. It's like that scene in Wedding Crashers in which he's making balloon animals for a group of children, and one little bratty kid with blond hair says, "Make me a bicycle, clown!" And instead of hauling off and smacking the kid, he says, "All right, I'm going to make you a bicycle. But I don't want to make you a bicycle." VV gets paid to be an entertaining personality, and he'd find it unprofessional to get pissed off when people see him and say, "Make me a bicycle, clown!"
"I don't mind it, I really don't. Those guys were cool," he says, having extricated himself from the clusterfuck and now walking up a knoll toward Lake Michigan, glittering placidly on the horizon. "If you're stationary, people can kind of swarm on you. But if you keep moving, you're fine."
VV is spending this afternoon wandering around Millennium Park, the new municipal crown jewel of Chicago, a tract of former rail yards so strenuously parceled out and landscaped that it feels overlaid with an architect's blueprint. He has just finished shooting the movie The Break Up here, with Jennifer Aniston, which he starred in and produced. He brought the production to Chicago because he wanted to shoot a film in his hometown. He was raised here, in the hushed, tree-lined, country-clubbed Risky Business suburbs north of the city, where, as he puts it, "kids were wearing Polo shirts at a young age." And he lives here now, as much as VV can be said to live anywhere (for instance, tomorrow he leaves for Iraq to tour American bases and screen Wedding Crashers; soon after his return, he begins filming a comedy with the director David O. Russell in L.A.).
"I don't always think things through all the way," he says. "But I sold my house in Los Angeles, and I bought a town house here, downtown. I was doing The Break Up in Chicago. So it was like, I'm going; I might as well buy a place. I don't know how you feel, but I get really bored living in the same place forever. Once I get comfortable, I like to do something a little different. I like getting new information."
And what he means by "new information" is, I think, this: As distant as Vince can feel sometimes (when you're interviewing him, anyway), as tiresome as it can feel to be Vince Vaughn whether or not he's in the mood, he gets genuinely jazzed by witnessing regular people doing regular things. (For instance, he goes practically bananas when he sees a guy in the early stages of trying to pick up a young woman on a park bench.) His whole being changes when he's under the spell of the normal; it's like he just got out of the penitentiary or stepped off an alien spacecraft. His interest in quote unquote regular people may be kooky or even condescending, but it's genuine. When he says he's moving here to get "new information," he means new information about regular people, newer information than you can get in Hollywood, because everyone knows quote unquote regular people do not live in LA.
Stay with me here. This is VV's second go-round being a magazine cover guy. The first time, he was coming off the heels of Swingers. The young-buck period. The matinee-idol period. You should see his guns on the cover of the December 1998 issue of GQ. But his next slew of movies didn't really stick. Clay Pigeons; A Cool, Dry Place; Return to Paradise; Domestic Disturbance; a movie called The Cell, in which he played opposite Jennifer Lopez's paranormal psychotherapist (!). It's what VV would insist on calling his not dark period.
"They said, 'Vince, you should go do bigger movies so people know who you are, and then you can do these kinds of movies and open them,'" he says. "I didn't give a shit—I was in my twenties. And I wouldn't take any of it back. I learned from all of it."
Then, about three years ago, he reemerged, beginning with the movie Old School—slightly weathered, less shiny and cut, a few burgers down the road of life-with a new and entirely formed alter ego. A normal dude. Maybe a debased, unhinged, freakishly quick-witted normal dude, but still. And he inhabits this dude completely. Every line he says seems ad-libbed, like he doesn't need a script because he's just being himself. And it's something that connects on a pretty deep level to all the other regular dudes out there. Wedding Crashers was the movie of the summer, because no one thought you could make an R-rated blockbuster, keeping out all those marauding 15-year-olds and their disposable income. But what Vince Vaughn teaches us is there's a marauding 15-year-old living within most of us.
The reason it works (besides his being an excellent comedic actor) isn't that VV is normal. Normal people do not make out with the world's most famous recently divorced actress. It works because he seems to genuinely believe, as certain people between the coasts do, that one should aspire to be normal. That's what gives him that weird on-screen humility (more on that later). So even when he's stealing scenes, which he does with remarkable regularity (see especially Starsky & Hutch), he never appears to be grandstanding. It's not easy to do, and most actors don't even try.
A Brief Historical Interlude: The Frat Pack, from Reality Bites Through Wedding Crashers, i.e., the Ascendance of Vaughn
First there was Ben Stiller. The progenitor of the movable-parts ensemble regrettably called the Frat Pack-Stiller, the Wilson brothers, Will Ferrell. Stiller was pretty funny. Not like Eddie Murphy/Bill Murray/South Park funny, but he had a good run: Reality Bites (admit it: when it came out, it seemed cool), There's Something About Mary, and especially Meet the Parents. Stiller was good in roles that took a kind of unattractive quality- a simmering, ever present frustration with other people, a modest sense of superiority, a nebbishness—and allowed the world to punish him for it in a funny way. But after a while, he didn't seem so keen on being unattractive. And that's a problem in a comedy. It's been noted that, beginning with Zoolander and continuing through Starsky & Hutch and Dodgeball, Stiller seemed to be making fun of vanity while actually being kind of vain. He was, in short, a little too ripped to be a comedian. Will Ferrell's naked flabby ass in Old School is funny. Really great pecs: never funny.
Wedding Crashers is the post-Stiller Meet the Parents (it even has the same plot, kind of). Certain people will argue that Wedding Crashers was Owen Wilson's movie. These people are wrong. And not just because Wilson was the straight man and Vince Vaughn got to do the dinner-table jerk-off scene and the late-night-bedroom scene with the gay brother. Owen Wilson is funny. He's created a brilliant Owen Wilson character—dreamy, almost creepily credulous, the drawly delivery, the sad eyes, the absurdity of just how serious he seems. But we've seen it a lot, and sometimes even he seems to be getting bored by it. And occasionally he appears, not unlike Stiller, to like the cut of his own jib. Whenever he showed up in Wedding Crashers, you wondered: Does he get his hair highlighted at the same place Meg Ryan does?
When presented with this theory, Todd Phillips, who directed both actors (Old School and Starsky & Hutch), says, "I understand what you're saying, although I don't think Owen is that way. I think there are other, better examples." I ask if he means Stiller, and he talks about something else.
It's not just that Vince Vaughn doesn't frost his hair or whiten his teeth or eat a raw-foods diet. He doesn't have a trace of self-consciousness. He never looks desperate for attention. You never get the feeling that he's watching himself, admiring himself, which always seems to ruin things as far as acting goes. Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, etc.—they have an almost awesome beauty, an ability to seem like static advertisements for themselves even as they're machine-gunning people in abandoned department stores. Their talent is to be so fucking flawless, so stupendously unhuman, that we can, for a while, unload our own humanity while we watch them. But you're never really going to laugh laugh while you're watching them in a movie (or bawl your eyes out, either) the way you will with someone like Vince Vaughn. Who is, granted, abnormally good-looking himself but also comparatively out of control, addled, a prisoner to his appetites and foibles. It was when Stiller crossed that golden line from one (foibles) to the other (pecs) that he stopped being that funny. "The thing about Vince is that he makes it look effortless," Phillips says. "I think that's why audiences love him. I mean, look at Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It's a good movie. But Vince comes on, and you're just like, 'Ah, we're in good hands now.'"
Scene Two: Vince Vaughn Eats Two Hot Dogs and a Large Fries
At the Wieners Circle, the venerable Chicago hot-dog restaurant where young drunk white kids come to be safely, dependably, and authentically abused by the young sassy black women who work there, VV is not shy about scarfing down two char dogs with everything—in Chicago, that means pickles, onions, tomatoes, relish, and the underappreciated celery salt. And a large fries. And three root beers. Not to overanalyze, but drinking three root beers is kind of a departure from what other people in his situation—the wheatgrassers out in Los Angeles—would do. (Like, for example, the last actor who was profiled for the cover of this magazine [November], who showed the writer his juicer and protein powder.) W is a man of appetites, and he looks like it. He’s not a guy who puts his face on for you. His is the same crusty, bleary, three-day-growth charm as Belushi or Bill Murray or Walter Matthau, all men who look right in bathrobes at 1 p.m.
"I brought a friend to the set one day," one of the crew members on The Break Up said. "And she said he looked dissolute. I had to go look it up. But that's what he looks like: dissolute."
"I don't like going to the gym, getting on a treadmill, and putting on my Discman," VV says. “That’s not my idea of a good time. I like hiking or going outside for a half hour. I like being healthy. But I don't like the gym."
He quit smoking seven months ago, and he's put on fifteen pounds since then.
"What do I miss about smoking?" he says. "The reality is: nothing. Because it's such a trick, cigarettes. It's not a depressant; it's a stimulant. It makes you more anxious. But there's a psychological thing where it makes you feel like you're relaxing. And maybe just out of insecurity, it becomes part of your personality. It's always in your hand. You're always talking with it. I think you have to just kind of relearn yourself without it."
But what about other appetites? Is it true you are a friend to Budweiser?
"Well, Wedding Crashers had a product-placement deal with Budweiser that I had nothing to do with," he says. "And they liked Wedding Crashers, so when we did The Break Up, we went to them again."
That's a yes. But I meant more...personally.
"When I was younger, I used to go out a lot. But not anymore as much. I've been working so much. And I never really saw myself that way."
Todd Phillips takes the same line. Here he is on Vince's work ethic: "There's this misconception about Vince that he's sort of this hard-partying guy, when he really is one of the great actors of this generation."
And on his presence on the set: "He's not some hard-partying guy; he's an actor who wants to end up in a good movie."
And once more, this time on what he does when they hang out: "With Vince, you just go out, have dinner; you know, he's not like this really party guy."
I'm not saying dissolute. I'm just saying: defensive.
Scene Three: Vince Vaughn (Sort of) Discusses Sex with Jennifer Aniston
One morning he shows up at a diner, in a working-class suburb, that he used to go to when he was in high school, late at night, when everyone was drunk. He rolls into the parking lot in a pearlescent Lincoln Town Car, an appropriate vehicle for him: masculine, a little too big, luxury of a type that is no longer fashionable. He orders two eggs over easy, bacon, white toast, hash browns.
Are you dating anyone?
Going on dates?
"I hate dates. I don't like even the concept. It's like that rant I give in Crashers. Isn't the whole point to kind of see if you can be comfortable around someone and if there's a connection? The nature of a date is so formal, it kind of stifles that."
What are your relationship issues?
"Mine are probably the same as most other people's, where you have your trust issues. Then you have your own issues with being faithful. And then you kind of balance it with saying maybe it'd be good to be with someone, and then you say maybe it'd be good to be open to stuff. The one thing I've sort of learned is there's no real planning in any of it. The only real thing you can do is be honest and be yourself."
But you're right in the middle of some very public relationship issues. First you shoot Mr. and Mrs. Smith with Brad Pitt. Then you shoot The Break Up with Jennifer Aniston. Then people whisper about how maybe the world's most famous recently divorced woman is spending lots of time in your hotel room. And then there's a picture in People magazine of you kind of making out with the world's most famous recently divorced woman. How was life in the vortex of the Brad-Jennifer-Angelina-Vince-love-quadra
"That stuff is like, to me, people are doing their jobs. They're trying to sell magazines. I think it's kind of unfair. Things can be manipulated, taken out of context. But I try not to take it too seriously."
Well, it would be great if you just tell me what sex was like with Jennifer Aniston.
"Yeah. Exactly. But see, in my position, you're just like, whatever. There's nothing that can come out of talking about that stuff."
Scene Four: Vince Vaughn Says Why He Likes Forms of Endearment So Much
In September, VV begins a thirty-day stand-up tour called Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show that consists of thirty shows in thirty nights. He's touring with four other comedians—all regulars at the Comedy Store and purveyors of fairly typical male-observational stand-up, the kind where you talk about Starbucks and women being crazy and how France is a pussy country. That he can draw 2,000 nonstalkers on a Monday night to see a bunch of guys you can watch on Sunset Boulevard any night of the year is a testament to, as one agent in the VIP section says, his juice.
Vince does some sketches with his friends and introduces the comics. He's funny, emanating goodwill, always appearing to cede the spotlight, like a midwestern boy should. He doesn't seem to be using a script and is totally at ease ad-libbing. "I just filmed a movie this summer in Chicago with Jennifer Aniston," he says to the audience. [Pause.] "I guess none of you heard about that."
After the show, there's a party on the roof, sponsored, of course, by Budweiser. A bunch of Hollywood executives are there, as is producer Joel Silver, director David O. Russell, and a swarm of guys who look like agents—youngish, well built, wearing expensive blazers. Vince stands off to the side with Dwight Yoakam, who's wearing a trucker hat and looks weary. Neither talks much, and they both seem comfortable with that. It is what men do.
Then, like a breath later, VV is doing what men usually do not do: talking about how much he likes the movie Terms of Endearment.
"That to me is like, what a movie is!" he says. "That scene where the kids come in and the mom says she's gonna die. And the one kid's being kind of a smart-ass, and she won't let him get away with it. And the other kid's real sad. It's so complicated, just like life. People don't have just one response. And it gets you, because it's real and you can feel what it would be like to be in that situation. Other movies, you feel manipulated, or it just doesn't seem real, and you're not invested. But not Terms of Endearment."
Vince is unquestionably masculine. He's not immediately intimate; he does his honest best not to be a typical narcissistic movie star, but he's more comfortable talking about his personal human condition as a performance than he is talking about it in person. Like: He lets the name of the world's most famous recently divorced actress cross his lips onstage, but never in conversation. In this way, he is kind of reminiscent of Johnny Carson, who was reticent and private while also being open and affable every single night in front of millions of people. If you've ever seen old footage of Carson when he's smoking a cigarette, talking to Dean Martin and some forgotten golfer who's wearing a royal blue blazer and everyone seems like he should have a scotch in his hand, that's the kind of vibe VV cultivates.
"A friend of mine who knows us both said we'd like each other because we both do what she calls 'chick talk,' " David O. Russell says. "Like talking about our emotions. I remember a couple of years ago, I went with my family to see The Wizard of Oz at the Hollywood Bowl. Every year they play the movie with a full orchestra. And I saw Vince standing by himself, to the side, when I was walking to the concessions area. And I went up to him. You know, the guy doesn't carry a cell phone. The guy drives a Trans Am. The guy does not have a posse. I think we're in different territory here from 99 percent of movie stars. We chatted for a while, just talking about how much we fucking love The Wizard of Oz. How it made us feel. We were going on and on and on about the movie and the music. And then this girl walked by and said, 'Excuse me, are you Vince Vaughn?' And he said, 'No,' but he said it in this Vince way, with like a little gleam in his eye. And then he said, 'Get over here, you.' And she went over to him, and I walked away. It was sort of sweet how he did it."
Scene Five: Vince Vaughn Does a Mini-Rant (But It's Still a Rant!)
When he walks into the hotel after the hot-dog lunch in Chicago, all the attention and brain waves momentarily disengage and refocus on him. He stayed here when he was shooting The Break Up, and the girls at the concierge desk remember him and twitter at his approach; he doles out personal affection in response (How are you, beautiful?). Waiting in the vast, dim, casino-like lobby are Sandra (his assistant-pal-manager) and a woman from the hotel, who wants him to sign some papers for reasons unknown.
Normally, they have this really great flavored tea out, he says. It's delicious. The berry tea is amazing. The hotel woman says, Oh, well, that's only out on Fridays, but I'm sure we could find some for you. A few minutes later, a man in a white tunic appears with carafes of tea, and everyone tries it and agrees the berry and mango flavors are delicious. Vince and the hotel woman talk. He seems interested in her kid and her cop husband. As happens between nice people who don't know each other that well, the conversation careens from dull/strange subject to dull/strange subject: baby names, Laundromats, Americans versus Europeans, the nap-friendly culture of Spain, and finally, bullfights. Here he finds some traction. He went to a bullfight in Madrid once, when he was on vacation with a friend.
"On one hand," he says, "I liked the tradition of it. The old men in the stands. The kind of macho thing. On the other hand— and I might sound like a guy my father would find ridiculous—but isn't it kind of fucked-up?"
He starts to warm up a little now, feeling his way into a bit. The hotel lady's eyes gleam, and a thought bubble appears over her head that reads: Oh Vince, please be entertaining so I can retell the story to my husband when I get home!
"First, these guys on horses come out and they throw spears into the bull. And they, like, wear him down. He's tired, the bull. Bleeding. The bull is basically near death. And then here comes the bullfighter in this, like, really tight suit."
He leaps up from the table and struts around with one hand in the air, accepting the adulation of the crowd with a down-turned smile, nodding his head in false humility.
"He's like, 'Yes, yes, my friends. I know. Thank you. I am frightened, but I shall do my best.' And meanwhile, here's this bull with, like, five spears sticking out of him."
The quotes above are from memory; no notes were taken during the iced-tea stop. Later, I call W and ask him if he'd mind performing it again so I can get it down right, or at least make it funny (it wasn't vintage VV, but it was better than rendered above).
"Oh man, I'm just stream of consciousness with those things," he says, sounding fried from the grind of doing nightly shows. "I can't even think of anything funny about bullfighters right now."
He clears his throat, hacks a little.
"But I will tell you that I have started smoking again. I was off for seven months. I think it's a reminder to me how strong it is, that I'm not someone who can just smoke four or five a day. I lost weight, though. Like for the romantic comedy, I quit smoking and put on about fifteen to twenty pounds? And now that I'm done, I've started smoking again, and I've taken the weight off very graciously."
Let us hope this is not a prelude to great pecs.
I love this picture. It's Lester: revisited.