October 15, 2002|I met Cole Hauser, visiting Denver with his latest film, White Oleander, in tow (it opened the 25th Annual Denver Film Festival), at the press suite of the city's Hotel Teatro. A rising star, Hauser is along with Alison Lohman the best thing about the intensely mediocre White Oleander--he's the best thing, in fact, about a lot of films. With the virile presence of a young Brando (crossed with Jon Favreau) and a glacial mien, Hauser has escaped stardom only through his steadfast decision to take roles based on the quality of director or role rather than succumb to the bright lights of easy stardom. (Director John Singleton, with whom he worked on Higher Learning, is at least partly responsible for his upcoming appearance in The Fast and the Furious 2.) I asked Mr. Hauser about playing a skinhead, about the underestimated The Hi-Lo Country, and about his once-estranged father, actor Wings Hauser.
COLE HAUSER: I didn't know my father until I was about 15. I didn't really grow up with him but when I moved out to L.A. he let me live with him for a year and we got to know each other a little then. I learned some things as far as the acting world and the business was concerned, but y'know, him being an actor, his career was much different than mine.
FILM FREAK CENTRAL: Is there a philosophy that generally governs your choice of roles if your father does not influence it?
A script comes across the table and you have to look at it from the perspective of not wanting to become typecast--y'know, pigeonholed into one kind of thing. It's that challenge that keeps life from being boring. I played the same role for a couple of years on [the television show "High Incident"] and by the end of that two years I was so tired of that character. One of the great things about my job is that you have the luxury to switch it up. It's fun to be able to switch from a cowardly, kinda weak guy to playing a brave military guy--it's important to really enjoy that part of being an actor, I think.
I don't think I ever saw "High Incident", was it a police drama?
Yeah, it was right after the Rodney King incident and I think they wanted to shed a better light on the LAPD and try to show what it is they go through on a day-to-day basis.
Right before the TV show, you played a skinhead in John Singleton's Higher Learning.
Right, it was really intense and I was too young, I think, to be able to differentiate very much between acting and completely immersing myself in that lifestyle. But the great thing about playing bad guys is that there aren't any limits really to your behaviour--there's no moral compass that you have to follow and that can be a scary thing.
What was it like working with Richard Linklater on Dazed and Confused?
He was a really positive guy--anything you'd want to try he'd pat you on the back and say, "Yeah, let's do it, let's go for it"--he'd really encourage you, and for a young actor, I was fifteen at that time, he was just really wonderful to work with.
I've heard similar things about David Twohy.
Yeah, me and Vin [Diesel] and Radha [Mitchell], we got down there about a month-and-a-half before we started shooting Pitch Black and engaged David in a dialogue about what he was trying to accomplish. Some of it was really good, some of it was really bad, so we worked really hard with David to accentuate the good. We did things like establish back-story for Vin's and my characters for example, and I think we really made the screenplay a lot better. That's one of the major advantages of having the writer and director there to listen and be receptive to our ideas and concerns.
I'm a big fan of Stephen Frears's The Hi-Lo Country, can you tell me about working on that film?
Stephen's a great director--a great visual director. When I first came in to audition for him, I was going up for the Billy Crudup role but I just wasn't well-known enough, well-established enough, or just not right for it or whatever, but Stephen saw something that he really liked in me and wanted me to try for the Little Boy Matson role, who is just despicable. He's weak and cowardly--just a terrible little shit of a guy, and Stephen really worked hard with me to just get me really immersed in that character so that by the time his moment of truth comes around, I could play it with the right kind of spin.
I really like that film as well--just beautifully shot. It was a Gramercy production, I think, and they just didn't promote it at all. Y'know who I really learned from on that film was Sam Elliott--it was amazing being on set with such a great, veteran guy.
You must've had the same feeling working with Robert Duvall in A Shot at Glory.
Oh yeah, absolutely. He just called me one day out of the blue and said, "Cole, I want you to do this role," and I jumped at that opportunity. The chance to work with one of our greatest actors was an incredible honour.
So, why White Oleander?
The chance to work with Robin Wright Penn. She's amazing. I remember seeing her in State of Grace way back when and she was just so good and so beautiful so when the chance came to play opposite her in something, I just really jumped on it.
Before White Oleander, you did two war films back-to-back--one, Joel Schumacher's Tigerland, was a small film with a good reception and the other, Hart's War with Bruce Willis, is a big film with no reception--what was the difference?
The character I played in Tigerland, when I got the part, didn't even have a name. He was "NCO" ("Non-Commissioned Officer") in the script and Joel gave me carte blanche to fill in that role. It was a movie that didn't have any budget, in other words, but it did have the dedication and contributions of its cast and creators. With Hart's War, it was a bigger budgeted movie but you know as well as anyone, I'm sure, that when you mis-promote a film, as opposed to not promoting a film like with Tigerland, you do your work an incredible disservice. In the two trailers for Hart's War, they showed the only two action sequences in the film--the piece was a race drama and a courtroom drama. You've got to be really careful not to try to trick the audience--they get pissed off and they're not as stupid as some people in Hollywood maybe think that they are.
You're working with Willis again on Tears of the Sun.
Right--that just wrapped. It's going to be great, I think, it's got a lot of great things to say about the human condition.
And then with John Singleton again on Fast and the Furious 2?
(laughs) Yep, together again and having a great time.