‘Stranger Things’ star Matthew Modine talks taste
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My personal style signifier is ’40s-style clothing – the high-waisted trousers, the sharper cut. We’ve always been a secondhand family – I’m the youngest of seven kids. My grandmother worked in New York City, and we were in Utah and so she used to send boxes of secondhand clothes from places like Saks Fifth Avenue, or Brooks Brothers, or some fancy men’s shop. So when I moved to New York City to study acting I went on shopping at the “dead man’s store”. The ’40s style reflects the same era of actors that I love too – Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper. And that’s where I’ve stayed. Because contemporary men’s fashion is probably the most abhorrent thing I’ve ever seen.
A place that means a lot to me is Italy. For the richness of the culture, the beauty of the language. If you grow up on the other side of the Mississippi River, you realise that travel is essential. Harper Lee wrote that we never truly understand another person until we see things from their point of view. Until we get inside their skin and walk around in it. It’s essential to travel, to experience people through other cultures and language. Italy also has the benefit of delicious food.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is wisdom. Life lessons. Is that really boring?
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It sounds like a self-help book. It’s not. First of all, he didn’t write the book to be shared and published. It probably should be called reflections, as it’s not like sitting with your legs in the lotus position. His meditations are him trying to come to peace with his thoughts. I don’t meditate at all. I mean, I do walking meditations – you know, I go for a walk for two hours and try to come to peace with my thoughts.
The artwork that changed everything for me is Little Big Man, which I saw when I was 11 years old and growing up in Utah – my father was a drive-in theatre manager. It stars Dustin Hoffman and the amazing Chief Dan George. But the reason the movie was significant was because I was going to school with Navajo. And it is among the first films in which a filmmaker had pivoted the camera from white settlers being attacked by savage Indians to indigenous people being attacked by savage white people. People often ask me why I would turn down a movie like Top Gun? Because it’s war pornography. You only have to look up the road to the Ukraine to understand there’s nothing sexy or attractive about war. And there was nothing beautiful about the Great Western Migration when you look at it from the perspective of a Native American.
My style icon is my dear friend Charles Finch [the businessman and film producer] because he’s the most mysterious man I’ve ever known in my life.
In my dressing room you will always find flowers. Something that produces oxygen. Otherwise nothing. The less clutter, the more easy it is to think. What I’ve learnt over time is that things… you don’t own things, things own you.
The person who changed the way I did things is Caridad Rivera [his wife, since 1980]. One of the most difficult things to say when you’re not a working actor is that you’re an actor. Because usually the first question is, what are you working on? But when I told Cari that I was an actor, she really looked at me and she said, you’ll be very successful. And within six weeks I began working. Her belief in me was the key to start my motor. It gave me the confidence that someone believed that I could accomplish something.
The last music I downloaded or bought was Ruby Wylder Modine’s Infinity Mixtape. Ruby Wylder Modine is my daughter. She’s like Amy Winehouse. She’s very good.
I have a collection of photography. Or I did. I have just sold a collection of my photographs from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Kubrick allowed me to photograph the experience of making a movie, which was kind of unheard of for him, because he controlled everything. But he allowed me to photograph his set. So there’s three people that own my prints: a museum in San Antonio, for the veterans who served in the war, Christopher Nolan and the Kubrick estate. It’s pretty cool.
Football or soccer? American football. The New York Giants. When I was young it was the Jets, because I loved Joe Namath. He was super-cool, Broadway Joe. And then when I moved to New York, you have to choose Jets or Giants. And the Jets had had such a poor streak, I jumped on the Giants.
I love to play tennis. I used to play basketball. And skateboard. Something your readers should know: you should never look at your phone when you’re skateboarding.
In my fridge you will always find some milk alternative because they’re the foundation for soups and cooking. And Miyoko’s [cashew milk] butter. They don’t sell Miyoko’s in the UK. But it’s really good. Better than butter. I was a chef in my early career, and I would use that for everything. I would make croissants with Miyoko’s.
I’ve recently rediscovered watercolours and oils. My father taught me how to paint watercolours and so I learnt composition and light value – the way that you do with watercolours more than oils or acrylics. It’s so difficult. I paint portraits. Here’s a weird story: when I first moved to New York, I painted everyone I wanted to work with. Like, I saw a picture of Al Pacino in a magazine and I thought, that’s a great photograph, so I painted it. I saw a picture of Arthur Miller, I painted Arthur Miller. I painted Wallace Shawn. I gave him the portrait. And then the next thing I’m doing is a play that he replaced the actor in. Diane Keaton – the same. I would end up working with the people I painted. The placebo effect works – thinking makes it so.
When I’m travelling for work, I always carry my bag, which was a gift I got for presenting at the Baftas. It’s a very fancy bag.
My signature dish is… I can make anything. But I don’t cook animals. When I was a boy, I worked at my dad’s drive-in. But my parents bought a Mexican restaurant where I learnt how to make proper Mexican food. My wife is vegan so it’s a great challenge for me to find ways to make beautiful meals that wouldn’t make you feel deprived if you liked eating animals. But I learnt from the vegan Café Gratitude that the oyster mushroom carne asada is better than the one with meat.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a Hellfire Club hoodie that they gave to me when I went to Stranger Things: The Experience. The fans of that show are like no fans I’ve ever had in my career. They love Papa. It’s weird because he’s complicated. Fame is so different now. Millie Bobby Brown [who plays Eleven] is famous in a way that never existed before. I don’t feel it because I know that fame is a chimaera, and I know that the career is a rollercoaster and that the higher you go the harder you fall. It’s going to happen. It’s how many times you get up, right? strangerthings-experience.com
An object, I would never part with is my Cartier Trinity ring. For me, it signifies my wife, my son and my daughter, all bound together.
In another life, I would have been an oceanographer. That’s what I studied in college. I wanted to be like Jacques Cousteau. And then I came to class one day and my oceanographer professor was crying. And I said, what’s wrong. And he said, forget it, man. At any moment the ocean is going to die. And that was in 1979. If he were alive today, he would be suicidal seeing the extinction of species around the globe. The solution is to get your hands in and start cleaning up. We have to have hope. When I was a kid, the future was utopian and beautiful and flying cars. And if you to speak to children today, they think that we’re living the end of time. I’m doing everything I can to give Greta Thunberg hope. It demands all of our participation.
I don’t have a wellbeing guru or trainer or osteopath. The only time I cut my hair is when I have a job.
The best advice I ever received was from Stella Adler, my acting teacher. She said, if you stand on a stage, if you come into people’s homes on a television, you have a responsibility to the audience that the things that you do and say will have an impact upon their lives. I take that very seriously. If I’m going to speak to people, I want to speak with love and compassion and be in roles like Atticus Finch that have the potential and possibility of helping to see the humanity in other people.
When I need to feel inspired I read. Then you can pilfer other people’s thoughts.
To Kill a Mockingbird runs at the Gielgud Theatre, London W1, until 20 May