Matthew Modine Interview: Wrong Turn

Hollywood legend Matthew Modine has pretty much done it all. In addition to working with iconic directors like Stanley Kubrick, Oliver Stone, Jonathan Demme, and Christopher Nolan, Modine has used his star power to champion environmental causes, most notably bike-sharing in New York City, which has helped to completely change the way many of the city’s residents get around on a daily basis.

Modine’s latest project is Wrong Turn, a reboot of the long-running horror franchise. While the original six films relied on a crowd-pleasing formula of grindhouse thrills and campy mutant cannibal violence, the new Wrong Turn goes for a more realistic approach, featuring a group of young people who discover a hidden community of isolationist survivalists while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Modine stars as the father of one of the missing youths, who will stop at nothing in his righteous crusade to rescue his missing daughter. From its opening minutes to its shocking finale, Wrong Turn is packed with unexpected twists and deeply compelling character arcs.

While promoting the release of Wrong Turn, Matthew Modine spoke to Screen Rant about his work on the film, as well as his decades-long career in Hollywood. He talks about how his plans to hike the Appalachian Trail were foiled by an unexpected battle with Lyme Disease, and his intimate relationship with the horror genre, thanks to growing up at his father’s drive-in theater… And watching Night of the Living Dead even when explicitly advised against doing so. Finally, he discusses his breakthrough role in Birdy, and how director Alan Parker is one of the all-time great journeyman filmmakers.

Wrong Turn is out now on Blu-ray, Digital, and VOD.

Wow, this is so cool! Matthew Modine! Sorry, I’m not supposed to get star struck, but sometimes I can’t help it.

That’s very kind of you. I’m just happy to still be alive and working.

Sure, especially right now! Are you still a New York City bike guy?

Yes. I went out to Los Angeles for work, and got kind of stuck there. I’m in Macon, Georgia right now. Unfortunately, I lost my aunt.

Oh, I’m sorry.

But she had a good life. She was 96 years old. I celebrate her. She was the matriarch of our family, the last of that generation. I drove across the United States, and I’m in Macon, Georgia.

That’s amazing, she sounds like a great lady. As for the bike thing, I live in New York City, but I only ride my bike on the Far Rockaway boardwalk, I’m too chicken to ride on the street.

I got a citation from Mayor Bloomberg for my organization, Bicycle For A Day, which helped to usher in the bike-share program in New York City, and safe routes to school for schoolchildren, and the bike lanes, you know? It wasn’t just my organization; it took an army of people to bring what Mayor Bloomberg said was the first new mode of transportation since the subways were built.

It’s paid off. All my friends use CitiBike and all that. It’s amazing.

I do want to apologize because I actually don’t have one friend in New York City who hasn’t been hit by a bicyclist, so I have to apologize for that, since there’s a lot of people who don’t obey the traffic rules. You can’t do that! You’re on a vehicle with wheels, so you’ve got to obey the rules of the road, the same as a car does.

Yeah, totally. I have a couple of friends who were on bikes and got hit… They’ll call you later. Anyway, are you in general, an outdoorsy kind of guy? Have you ever been out in the middle of nowhere and encountered some strangers and been, like, “Oh boy, I’m a million miles away from anywhere safe, and I don’t know about these guys…?

I’ve never had that kind of… I did aim to hike the Appalachian Trail, but then I got Lyme Disease. We have a little place in Upstate New York, and I got Lyme, and it just about killed me. So, that kind of put the kibosh on hiking the trail. But I’d still love to do it. If you could take three months of your life and do something like that, it seems like it would be really incredible, to go hike that trail. It goes all the way from the lower states, all the way up, I think, to Maine.

I would love to do something like that. When I was a boy, I lived up in Dutchess County, New York, and I got Lyme Disease. That was pretty scary.

That’s where I got it!

There’s something going on there! And it’s not that far, really, away from the city, but it looks like a whole other country.

We can write this horror movie together, Zak! Someone will be up there, and their little dog is running around, and a tick is gonna get on the little dog. The tick will have his blood meal, and when they get back to the city, the tick will fall off and get on the rats in New York City, and then it will be a plague. What do they say in New York? We’re never more than ten or fifteen feet away from a rat.

I just had to deal with a mouse situation in my house, this conversation is too real for me. One plague at a time, I can’t take more than one!

Yeah, we don’t need another one, for sure, that’s true.

Okay, let’s talk Wrong Turn. I was so delightfully surprised. At Screen Rant, we’re gore-hounds and horror-scholars. This movie is so surprising, and so different. It takes everything you think you know and just flips it on its head. Tell me, did you audition for the role, was it offered to you, or were you involved from the jump? How did you get a part in this wildcard movie?

They sent me the script, and I don’t know if you knew, but my father was a drive-in theater manager. When I was a boy, we used to have these “Dusk till Dawn” events. From sundown to sunup, we’d play horror movies. Probably five different titles. They were usually Roger Corman-type movies, C-movies or sometimes a B movie. I really knew the genre. Over the course of my career, I got offered one that we did in England. It was okay, it was called Altar. I had only done one horror before. But I do love the genre. I love being scared. Going to a movie theater and hearing people scream, having that collective experience. I don’t so much want to watch them at home, but as I said, my dad was a drive-in theater manager, and he told me not to watch Night of the Living Dead.

Oh, one of the all-time greats.

So I had to sneak into the projection booth to watch it. And I watched it without sound. It’s a black-and-white movie, and it really messed me up! I think seeing it without sound, and for some reason seeing blood in black-and-white was more terrifying than seeing blood in color. That movie destroyed me for several years. Then, just as I was just starting to feel safe to go out in the world again at night time, I saw The Exorcist. William Friedkin’s movie with Linda Blair… Then you go through it all over again! Now you’re worried about demonic possession! When a horror movie works… And this, Wrong Turn, isn’t really a horror movie. There’s no zombies or supernatural events. This is real life horror.

That’s one of the things I liked so much about it. I can see some longtime fans of the series who are used to what they’re comfortable with lamenting the loss of the mutant cannibal angle, but this isn’t that kind of that movie, baby!

Some people were drawing parallels about modern society, but the one I just… Because of where I’m at… I drove through a gated community to get from one place to another, I took a shortcut through it, and I was thinking about Trayvon Martin, who made a wrong turn through a gated community and what happened to him… I think it’s very relatable in those terms, of modern society, and what happens in real life. I think it’s relatable in that sense, too.

We’re all split up into tribes, and just because we wear ties or put product in our hair doesn’t mean we’re not savages.

Yeah. I think people were trying to draw a line about Republicans and Democrats, and Trump supporters versus people who don’t support him. I think that might be too… I don’t know, people can draw whatever conclusions they want from it. For me, when I read it, I have a daughter and a son. You know, God forbid something should happen to one of my children, should they go missing, I’d do everything in my power to find them, whether it’s climbing a mountain or going to the depths of hell to save my children from some horrible situation.

I can’t imagine. I don’t have kids, that seems like more responsibility than I can handle.

(Laughs)

But I imagine it opens up a whole new world, right?

Absolutely. Everything changes. Your values, what you appreciate. You appreciate your mother and father more because you realize how difficult it is. And there’s the outside world that invades on them, and just the cruelties of life. You can’t protect your children from that. There are things they have to experience and go through, just as you did.

And yet, there will always be a bunch of critics who go, “Eh, it’s just a horror movie,” right?

Yeah. Well, I had this conversation with Stanley Kubrick when we did Full Metal Jacket. We talked a lot about horror movies and my dad being a drive-in theater manager and the movies that played there, and Stanley making The Shining. The Shining was dismissed when it came out. It wasn’t considered all that, and now it’s considered one of the top five horror movies of all time. I think that’s the case with a lot of Stanley Kubrick’s movies. Certainly, 2001: A Space Odyssey was dismissed when it came out. Barry Lyndon was dismissed, and so he was kind of used to it by then. He made a real-life horror movie, also, with A Clockwork Orange. It’s not about the supernatural, but the real horror of those droogies going around and beating people up because it’s fun. When we think of, why would people want to subject themselves to horror? Why would they want to go to see a movie with supernatural, scary things? If you think about the history of religion, it’s full of imagery. The Book of Apocalypse, Revelation, the supernatural aspects at the end of the Bible, and people going into a church and people preaching fire and brimstone, people going to the church… Imagine now, the church is a theater. And when they pass the plate, and you put the tithing in the plate, that’s you purchasing a ticket to watch a movie.

I feel seen.

In the 20th century, as movies become more and more part of our culture, people start to move from the churches into movie theaters. It starts to become a new kind of religion. The thing about horror movies, the supernatural ones, like a vampire movie, is that if there’s death or, in the case of a vampire, eternal life by drinking other people’s blood, isn’t that why we go to church? We want to believe in everlasting life. We want to leave the difficulties and struggles of this life and go to someplace where the streets are paved with gold and everything’s beautiful and there’s no suffering. If you go to see a horror movie and there’s a monster, that’s something that’s horrible, but within it, subconsciously, is the promise of some kind of… If there’s evil, there must be good. If there’s evil eternal life, then there must be good eternal life. In a way, people subject themselves to it subconsciously because they want to believe they’re going to have eternal life.

That’s so good. That’s such a great way to look at our love of the movies.

That’s a little bit of soapbox psychology! (Laughs)

It’s fantastic, though! Good rises to meet evil, and we choose to believe that there’s something better over the horizon! It’s magic!

That’s what we love about Rocky, that’s what we love about First Blood and Rambo. The good will triumph. The bad guys will get beaten up and the underdog can win.

In your career, you’ve been around the block. You’ve worked with all of the greats. Stanley Kubrick, Oliver Stone, Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Demme, Abel Ferrera… And I will always go to bat for Cutthroat Island and Renny Harlin.

I love Cutthroat Island!

I wish more people would give that movie a chance. I think it’s special.

It’s funny, when people are critical of it, I say, “Did you see it?” And they say, “Well, no, but I heard…” And I say, “Well, that’s really stupid. So you’re saying, “ha-ha, you did Cutthroat Island, but you’ve never even seen it? C’mon man!” The movie, I think, just came out too soon. People just weren’t prepared to have Geena Davis be an action hero and a female action hero, and a female protagonist being a pirate.

Right. I always relay this anecdote of wanting to show any wildcard movie to my friends, and sometimes they say the stock phrase, “Isn’t that supposed to be bad?” And I say, “None of them are supposed to be bad.”

Nobody ever sets out to make a bad movie. We all do the best we can. That’s the astonishing thing about this profession. Everybody has the same equipment. You have a camera, some lenses, a sound man, lighting equipment, all these technicians who come forward to help make the movie, and everybody starts out with the intention of making a wonderful film. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. And within there, someplace, lies some magic. You never know when something’s going to be magical and become successful. You just don’t know. The lesson in it, for every young actor and every young filmmaker who might be reading your article, is to do your best. Show up, be prepared, and do your best. Because you just don’t know.

In your career, is there anything you’ve done, a film or a show or whatever, that you’re particularly proud of, that maybe didn’t get the appreciation it deserved in its time? Anything you want to shout out to the Screen Rant reader?

Yeah, there’s a few of them. I really love a movie I made called Orphans, with Albert Finney. I think it’s a terrific movie. And Equinox, that Alan Rudolph directed. I think that’s a terrific one. And Birdy. You know, I mean, Birdy is pretty well known, and we won the prize at the Cannes Film Festival, but a lot of people have never seen it or heard of it. I think Alan Parker, I would put his film career beside any one of the greats. You look at Bugsy Malone, Midnight Cowboy, Angel Heart, Mississippi Burning, Pink Floyd: The Wall… The diversity of the films he made and the beauty of the movies he made, I think he was a real master. So I give a shout-out to Alan Parker.

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