copyright Michelle Martin, photo used with permission
John came to everyone's attention when he was seen quietly and unobtrusively greeting the fans on location for PUBLIC ENEMIES, day after day, night after night.
So is there a little bit of a personal element there?
JMB: Absolutely, absolutely.
We are all about reading and books here, so when you are published we'll have to review and share your book!
JMB: Thank you very much.
Would you be so kind to talk to us then about it?
JMB: Absolutely, I'll talk to you any time you want.
You are wonderful! Are you still living in the Hell's Kitchen area of NY?
JMB I am.
It's sort of a community in transition?
JMB: It is, but what it's becoming, I sort of miss the old neighborhood. I miss the funk!
You've played a lot of police officers in your career as I look at your listings on IMDb!
JMB: That's very astute of you! But ya know, I'm not going to complain because it pays the bills and from stereotype, I can do so much more than that, but not as of yet.
JMB: It's because I've got this Irish mug, and I think my Shakespearian trained voice doesn't help the situation either. (he laughs) But like I said, I'm not complaining! If they want to keep casting me that way? Cool!
JMB: I was in Third Watch for four years, I've been very blessed, I've been extremely blessed. I hope the blessings continue. As you know, you have a nice knowledge of the industry, you can work non stop for years and then not work for years, so you've just got to somehow keep your foot in the water and remember your swimming strokes.
Talking about keeping yourself in the water, you have done a boat load of TV work, and I'm looking at the number of years that you have put into your craft and then BOOM comes this huge Michael Mann film!
JMB: I'll tell you a great story, at the age of twenty seven I got sober, quit and got fired at the same time from a job that I had worked in for ten years, since I got out of high school. And decided to pursue my childhood dream to be an actor because I always loved James Cagney and I always just wanted to be an actor. But I never told anybody, I never was in a school play, I never did anything. I knew inside, I knew deep inside that someday this is where I would end up, I didn't know how I was going to get there, but I knew I would end up there. And apart from getting fired by my public service job, I started to enter in the world of taking acting classes and going around the Actors Studio where I eventually became a member of the Actors Studio. My very first professional job was on a show called "Crime Story" - Michael Mann and Bonnie Timmermann was the casting director. That was twenty years ago. That was one of the better received "Crime Stories," people had always said to me during that time that Michael Mann loves you, Michael Mann loved that episode, he loves you. In the time since, I've told my representation that you've got to get me into that Michael Mann project, he loves me. Twenty years later? I'm back with Michael Mann. He gave me my first break in television and this is a big shot for me in this movie. So...look at that. There's a French word "la ronde" which means full circle and it's just like a full circle to me. It's like back to the beginning again.
What's up next for you?
JMB: I have no idea.
Isn't that the wonderful thing about acting though? You never know when that next phone call will come and your whole world will be changed again?
JMB: I humbly wait at the end of the line. This has been a wonderful year for me, I can't complain, I can't sigh or I can't moan in any way. Just working on that film alone, I have good thoughts and hopes for the film and who knows.
Judging my what we've seen and heard this film could be very well received. You are going to found by a whole new audience out there that didn't know you existed, didn't see your years on TV.
JMB: Yeah I'm excited about that.
Do you think that might open some new doors?
JMB: You know, I hope so. I've been plugging away at this for quite a while and the thing about entering into the acting world when you're a bull in a china shop is in the beginning in my case, you don't know what to do, you don't know what NOT to do. I've probably made a few mistakes along the way, but I hope what it shows people is that if you have perseverance and tenacity and you're willing to grow and you're willing to hang in. 'Cuz it's about hanging in, believing in yourself which can sometimes take a person a whole lifetime to just be able to say that. Even upon saying that you still have doubts. I'm excited about the fact that I know Johnny's got an incredible following so I'm excited about the fact that my face is going to be seen by a whole lot of people, on Johnny's back, which I am happy to do.
This is such a cross marketable film...all the fans of Bale, Depp, Tatum, older people who lived the depression...
JMB: I also think to add to your thought, the times we're living in right now are so similar to those times, and I'm sure that Universal and Michael and everybody's aware of that. Even while we were making the film, while I was doing my own personal research, I went my God this could literally be a story told today. Also there's an incredible boatload of actors as well. Growing up I loved the old Warner Bros. films, like I said, James Cagney...there's just so many characters, mugs and faces and energies, it's going to be interesting, like a big pot of soup.
You just brought up doing your research, tell me what kind of research that your did to play Det. Martin Zarkovich?
JMB: When I first went into the part, I knew that there was a book, I understand that you've interviewed the writer of the book.
Yes, Bryan Burrough... he's a very nice man.
JMB: I went and read the book and ate the pages and then because of my extensive background of playing police officers, there's a mind set that police officers have, so I sort of have that. And then when I got to Chicago there was a lot of material available to me from Michael and from the research team. And then believe it or not, I had these wonderful things happen to me like one time when I came from New York, because I wasn't there for the length of the film, I was there about five different times for big periods of time but then I would leave and come back. One time I came in and got picked up at the airport by this big, older driver and we got to talking on the way in and there was snow and there was traffic and he said to me...yeah what're ya doing?...and I said well ya know I'm working on this film "Public Enemies" and he said "oh yeah" and it turned out that his father there on the night of the shooting, his father was a Chicago cop. So I had little magic things happen to me like that and it turned out that his father knew Zarkovich, so I had these incredible, wonderful. mythical mystical things happen to me. Then this character I played had a nickname, he was called either the "peacock" or the "sheik" because he dressed very well, he too the money and likened himself to be a gangster and a swell dresser with the madam girlfriend. I was walking through Madison, WI where we were filming and I walked into a store, a boutique and before I left there this lady said, I'd like to give you something, and she gave me a peacock feather not knowing...not having any clue. So that peacock feather? I clipped it and wore it on the inside of my pocket through the whole filming. I just had things like that happen to me that put me right there. I'm also a method actor so I was really into Zarkovich, there are still aspects of him peeling away from me. I'm trying to put him to rest, you know we literally had to take these people out of their graves.
Had you ever played a character that was real person before Zarkovich?
JMB: No, this was the first time.
Is it harder to capture someone who was a real person?
JMB: It is, because the way I go about it is that I'm aware of the fact that this was a human being and I felt my responsibility was to try to play him as fairly and as honestly as I could... and a responsibility to his soul, if that makes any sense. There were a lot of things about Martin Zarkovich's story that really disturbed me personally because be betrayed. BUT he betrayed Dillinger for the love of his life. And there were a lot of extremely painful moments for me personally during this film portraying Zarkovich realizing the tumult and the pain and the hell that this man went through and ended up living the rest of his days in. It was quite an interesting journey and it took a lot of me.
I was going to ask you about playing someone who while he loved his Anna Sage, he was basically a dirty cop.
JMB: Yeah he was a bad dude, a bad dude. I believe the only person who meant anything to him at all was Anna. He was just a bad dude. It was interesting because I remember hearing an interview by Anthony Hopkins who I think's a wonderful actor and he was doing a mini series for ABC playing Adolph Hitler and about three days into the filming the producers called him up and told him that he was making this guy likeable and I remember Anthony Hopkins saying every person has a person who likes them and there's got to be a likeability as well as evilness, the bad as well as the good to make a well rounded person. So I kept thinking about that, even though Zarkovich just a prick, I'm sorry, I don't know how else to say it. But there was something that was likeable about him too, he was some mother's son. The internal tug of war was unbelievable.
So how did you come home alone and work through this character after filming all day?
JMB: When you work the way I work, it's better that I came home alone and wrestled with the demons, you're a smart woman to ask me that question because I'm still wrestling with some of Zarkovich. I'll carry him for the rest of my days and there were moments ......whew....there were subtle moments in this film that I will never forget, ever. Where nothing had to be said and nothing had to be done, I just felt it deep in my core that will always be there.
In talking with you today, I have to say that so much of what you share are like what Mr. Depp seems to share as an actor, he like you and Anthony Hopkins say that they strive to make something of an unlikeable character likeable because as you've said, that character has someone who loves them.
JMB: Johnny and I didn't get to spend a lot of time together because it was just insane ...but we liked one another, I am sure of that and we connected and we had a couple of scenes together and whenever we saw one another we were very warm to one another, there was a connection for sure, I am sure of that. When it came time that we were coming to the segment of the shooting I would weep. I would just weep. Because I felt so bad. The way I was brought up, the way I was raised and the way I live my life is that the one thing you do is you have honor, you do not betray anybody. And you do not betray your friends and it still irks me, because I know that Martin Zarkovich after the whole thing was said and done they ended up deporting Anna Sage and he ended up living his life sort of in silence, he never spoke about it again and sort of drifted away. There's a great story "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allen Poe, he must have lived in his own cask of Amontillado, that's the part that haunts me. I remember looking at Johnny and I uttered under my words "I'm sorry kid". When you look in his (Johnny's) eyes there's a whole reservoir of humanity there. And it was killing me. It killed me. It killed me. Plus Anna Sage was the love of Zarkovich's life..there was a whole lot going on, that I (my character) was afraid for her sake and our safety. I just went back to my religion and I just thought about what Judas Iscariot must have felt like for those pieces of silver...he ended up hanging himself. It was deep, I took it to a deep level, I hope it shows.
Let me ask you a different type of question, do you know why I wanted to talk with you?
JMB: I don't.
It was when I saw a clip of you on youtube saying so many really gracious things to the fans, you were the one who was out there with the fans after filming day after day. Being such a gentleman to the fans who were there, you gave of yourself. I said to myself that I wanted to try to contact this man, that this man was kind to the fans and we thank you for that.
JMB: Thank you, as I said to the fans, without them, I'm nobody, I'm just another John Doe on the street. And those fans were my safety net. I knew that whenever I came back from wherever I'd been, if I fell, that they'd be there for me. And I knew that their love and their support and their smiles and all their faces were all apart of the experience. I would see them, they were just a whole part of the experience. They kept me going so many times that you don't know.... My credo is I've never met a fan I didn't like, if somebody is going to take the time to walk over to me or say hello to me or smile at me or look for my attention...you know actors, we're all little kids who didn't work our stuff out so we're trying to work it out now, we're turning our pain into art and the fact that anybody would go out of their way on the planet to be nice to me or get my attention then they can approach me any time they want.
YOU are quite a remarkable gentleman!
JMB: Thank you very much.
May we speak about Michael Mann? You've worked with him in television and twenty years later in the movies, is he the same man?
JMB: When I worked with him in television he was the executive producer he wasn't the director, although he was around. Do you want my opinion of Michael Mann?
I'd love to hear what you'd like to share with us!
JMB: My opinion of Michael Mann is George Patton on top of a jeep driving through the snow with bullets flying. I would work for this guy anywhere, anytime, any place, for any amount of money, anywhere. I don't know anyone else's opinion and I frankly don't care about anybody else's opinion, this man treated me with respect, gave me an incredible part, put me in a great position and I have never seen a dynamo and this isn't and actor sucking up to a director. The job's done. I've never seen a man like this in my life. We were out one night filming on the famed, fabled Lake Michigan and within four seconds the weather went from being pristine to like the end of the world. And I watched this man running with equipment in the wind, this man is "first in and last out" he was, if he called me right now and said "John start walking to Chicago, I've got something for ya" I'd say, Karen, I gotta go. That's my opinion of Michael Mann. I can't say enough about Michael Mann and that's the truth, that's from my heart, that's not hoping he'll hire me again. I mean that. Michael Mann is one of THE most passionate, driven people.
I want to tell you as I'm talking to you right now I'm looking at a poster that's been on my wall my whole life and it's called "Public Enemies" ...it's a James Cagney movie that I've had in my possession forever. And I'm in a movie called "Public Enemies" I mean you can do the math any way you want. Michael Mann... I got to stand there and watched him in the most unbelievable situations whether it was ego or weather or demographics or logistics or all of the above at the same time coming down with the unknown, he handled it. He handled it with aplomb and grace. The man is the bomb. And I mean that. The man gave me permission, what do we look for in life, we look for an "atta boy" - we look for permission, we look for somebody to take notice of us, we look for somebody to see us across a room.
So you feel that as an actor, the way he treated you enabled you in the role?
JMB: ABSOLUTELY! And you know he's got a method to his madness, he knows exactly what he's doing. He would have you psychologically set up to be right where you were supposed to be without even knowing it. It was just brilliant what he was doing and he couldn't have been more graceful with me, sometimes he wouldn't talk, he'd just come over and put his hand on me and that was enough. A lot of people in this industry need to realize first that we're blessed when we get to do this and second we have a responsibility to humanity because we get to portray the human spirit, we go where other people don't get to go. And that there needs to be a little more respect for the craft and a there needs to be a little more respect for people called directors because they're the ones that are ultimately going to put it all together in the end and that doesn't just pertain to this project, it pertains to every project I've ever done. Michael Mann ran a first rate, first class operation, where we didn't want for nothing, we didn't need for nothing, we were treated like gold. All the way, first class from the beginning to the end. Given everything we needed to live, everything we needed to be creative. Everything, everything. The top, the best...cameramen, costumers...everything was the best.
And I hope Michael Mann gets the Academy Award for it, he has quite a body of work and he deserves it for this.
Well Universal has this film as it's tent pole film next summer, so I hope there's a big push for the film at awards time.
JMB: Gee I'm feeling like Will Smith all of a sudden! (we laugh)
Zarkovich was a bad dude, but was there any joy there at all for you?
JMB: Let me see, my first scene in the movie, there was a lot of joy because I was awaiting him and I was with her (Anna Sage) and I knew once I saw him we were going to get a pile of money and I was going to be able to eat steak with baked potatoes, carry on, buy a new suit, act like a big shot and treat my baby nice and life was going to go along swimmingly. That's about it though. From there on it was a battle for Zarkovich's soul.
As an actor knowing the outcome, was it that much harder for you?
JMB: I tried to sort of hypnotize myself that I didn't, that I was going to go moment to moment. And you know it was so disjointed for me, it wasn't like I was there and we did it chronologically so I had to sort of psych myself up. Zarkovich was with me all the time and when I would come back to NY, he was with me and people would say to me "what's up with you?" and it was too much to explain. Colleen Atwood, the greatest costume designer on the planet, when she would give me some of these clothes, shoes and just these little things, like the uniform..so I tried to take it moment to moment, I tried to imagine what he went through. It's in your soul, it's a deep, dark place. I always look at acting as if it were an Olympic swimming event and there's three types of actors, you have the first type of actor who wears the speedo, looks great, dives in the water, barely makes a splash, swims end to end, comes out, doesn't even look wet. Looks great. You have the second kind of actor, wears the speedo, looks great, but does something else in the water, does the butterfly, breaks it up a little bit, then you've got the actor that I am, that I think I am, the actors that I really care about you show up, you're probably not in a bathing suit, you find the deepest end of the pool, you dive in, you make a really big splash and you hope that people wait for you to come back up. If that makes any sense to you at all.
That makes great sense and so that also gives me a question, what swimmer is the lead actor in this film, Johnny Depp?
JMB: He's my swimmer. Absolutely my swimmer.
Can you give something about him, a one word description maybe?
JMB: Soul. Soul. Soul. You look in eyes and there it is. Right there. There's no mistake in why he's a movie star, he's a gorgeous guy, he's got the suave, he's got the look, he's got the grace, he's got the moves but...when you look deep in his eyes? There's the soul. It's like a mine of gold. And that's what Tim Burton and anyone who uses him, they know. It's his soul, it's right there.
I hope that we can visit again maybe when the movie comes out? You've been such a great man to talk with!
JMB: I would like that very much! Now, could you do me a favor?
JDR: Yes of course!
JMB: I would like you to give my love and my best regards to all the fans and tell them that the brightness of their eyes and the depth of their smiles will stay with me forever and that I wish them well and I hope that we meet again.
I will get great joy out of doing that!
JMB I mean that. While we were doing this film, I mean we worked inordinate hours, there were people all around at the hotel, the Starbucks...and they got to know me and I got to know them and then we knew each other by name and they would see me like sleepwalking, staggering through the street. It's just part of the process, the hours, it's just part of the deal, no complaints. There were just fans there, the things they said, they'll never know.. little things they said, or did.
They will know because I will tell them.
JMB: It's the people who you remember along the way, that may say something to you or change your course. The fans, where ever we went? There they were and they'll never know how much they played a big part in keeping me going.
I promise you, they WILL know it because I will write it for you. Fans react to you because of what they got from you. You gave to the fans. It's an interaction. You shared with the fans and that's why I wanted to talk to you.
JMB: One of my favorite sayings comes from William Faulkner when he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in 1956, I think, the year I was born, he said "when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tide less in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.". And that's something that keeps me going.
You've just portrayed a tortured human spirit.
JMB: Yes, one of them, and I'd like to put him to rest. Life is pretty simple, you're born, you learn integrity, dignity and compassion, sense of humor, some grace, manners and you're gone. You hope maybe you left a mark.
I thanked Mr. Bolger for his honesty and his generosity of time!
The photos of John with his fans copyright Elizabeth Herzog and Michelle Martin, used with permission