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An unhinged soldier who kills his sergeant and himself in Full Metal Jacket. The human host for an alien bug in Men in Black. A modern-day Sherlock Holmes in Law & Order: Criminal Intent. With such diverse film and TV roles on his résumé, it’s no wonder Vincent D’Onofrio is known as an actor’s actor, a compliment he said “doesn’t mean anything” in the 2012 viral video “Hollywood D’os and D’on’ts.” But whether he accepts it or not, the chameleon-like performer is highly regarded by his peers. In fact, it was friend and frequent collaborator Ethan Hawke who brought D’Onofrio back to the NYC stage, after a 17-year hiatus, for Jonathan Marc Sherman’s Clive at the New Group. Inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s first full-length play, Baal, the expressionistic drama chronicles the drug-, sex- and alcohol-fueled demise of a licentious songwriter and his loyal pal. Hawke directs and plays the titular libertine, while D’Onofrio, ever the character actor, is his big, bald BFF. We spoke with the star about why he rarely does theater, whether he’ll reprise his signature L&O role and building sand castles.
Unlike most Hollywood actors, you live here, in your hometown. And yet you haven’t been on stage since the ’90s. Why?
Vincent D'Onofrio: I just love films so much. Other than that, I have no idea why. I love going to the theater. But I wouldn’t be doing Clive right now if Ethan hadn’t asked me. He had tried to get me involved in stuff before, like I was supposed to do A Lie of the Mind [at the New Group in 2010], but then I couldn’t. I’ve just been blown away by everybody’s work on Clive and I’m having an absolute blast.
Does that mean we’ll be seeing more of you on stage?
Vincent D'Onofrio: I don’t know. I’m not going to do Tennessee Williams or Chekhov or some normal classic. That’s not me. There are so many great theater actors, and I don’t pretend to be one. Maybe you’ll see me do Lear one day when I get older. That would be nice. But theater is hard work! The movie business is a vacation compared to this. And nobody ever asks me to do theater except for Ethan. Maybe if they start asking I’d consider it more.
While there are darkly funny moments, Clive is super emotional and quite violent.
Vincent D'Onofrio: It’s intense. Clive and my character, Doc, go on this kind of narcissistic trip together. All of the violence in the play is driven by emotion. Some of it seems very American theater, like Sam Shepard or even Odets. But other parts seem like a song, even though they’re not being sung.
Although you rarely play romantic leads, you have quite the female fan following. How do you feel about that?
Vincent D'Onofrio: Gregory Hines was a very good friend of mine. Years ago, we were walking down Madison Avenue and he had to stop a million times to sign autographs, and I said, “Wow, man, how do you deal with all that?” And he said, “If you do a lot of film and TV work, people don’t get a chance to applaud, and that’s all they’re really doing.” If you think of it in those terms, you feel much more gracious. I’m just happy that people like what I do.
Indeed! There are some very interesting tribute videos on YouTube.
Vincent D'Onofrio: [Laughs] I’m sure there are. I stay away from them.
A lot of audiences know you best as Detective Goren on L&O: CI. Do you think you’ll ever reprise the role?
Vincent D'Onofrio: I’d play him again in a second, but I doubt that will ever happen. If Wolf Films thought that it could make a buck, then I would probably get a call, but I don’t think there’s any way of doing that unless it came back as a series. And I don’t see that happening.
You often work with the same people over and over, like Hawke and director Jennifer Chambers Lynch. Is that by design?
Vincent D'Onofrio: Yes. I need real relationships in my life. I don’t do very well with businessy relationships. I’m not a good networker and I don’t get out much. I’m a real homebody. I’ve got three kids now, a wife of 16 years. I’m very lucky to be working at all. This is how complicated my life is not: My wife got a DVD on building sand castles so our family could compete in the Coney Island Sand Sculpting Contest. We won first place last year. I’m very proud of that.
Click here for tickets to Clive.