The Bit Player

Vincent D'Onofrio may be the best actor of his generation, but who would notice?

When he was young, working off-off-off-Broadway in the early 1980s, D'Onofrio was, by his own admission, an arrogant actor. He believed he needed to turn himself into his characters; he embraced the Method, wanting to be Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando, someone who suffered for art. He thought actors were nothing more than clowns playing dressup, idiots who pretended for a living.

That changed in 1983, when he auditioned for a role in a Broadway show called Open Admissions, about three kids going to college. D'Onofrio read about the show in the trades and convinced himself he was right for the role of a guy from Brooklyn prone to delivering speeches from the works of Shakespeare. He was broke and had no agent. He also had no shot.

“I just went to the fucking auditions without even being allowed to,” D'Onofrio recalls. “I lied my way in, and I went in character. I was born in Brooklyn -- I really was -- but I was raised in Florida and Hawaii, so I didn't have a Brooklyn accent. I went in and lied my way through the whole fuckin' audition, and I got the part, and it made me realize I can do this kind of stuff on my own. I don't have to be anyone I'm not. This is me. If I choose to be from Brooklyn, I can be from Brooklyn. Vincent can be from Brooklyn. Vincent doesn't have to be Montgomery Clift from Brooklyn.

Vincent D'Onofrio, an actor somewhere beneath the layers
Vincent D'Onofrio, an actor somewhere beneath the layers
"Do you wear a hat?" D'Onofrio, in last year's The Thirteenth Floor
"Do you wear a hat?" D'Onofrio, in last year's The Thirteenth Floor

“The minute you try to make yourself the character, you're pretending, and that's going in the wrong direction,” he adds. “There's nothing romantic about it. You talk to any real actor who's done theater and who knows how to take apart a script and put it back together again and knows how to study the structure and composition of a story, and there's no romance in it. There's work. The romantic part is when the camera's rolling or when you walk out onstage. That's as romantic as it gets.”

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