Look - It's Tom Whatsisname
by Graeme Kay
Empire Magazine
December 1991

Empire Magazine It's 96 degrees here, been that way for four days.  It's getting bad.  People will start to go mad soon.

     The "here" in question is New York in the summer and the throaty chuckle rattling down the international ear-trumpet belongs to one Tom Berenger, to be seen on the screens of the UK this month in Shattered, a taut mystery thriller starring the 41-year-old, Chicago-born actor as Dan Merrick, a wealthy real estate developer attempting to rebuild his life after a horrifying car accident has left him with severe physical injuries and amnesia.

     Making his Hollywood debut at the film's helm is German director Wolfgang Petersen, and while Berenger readily acknowledges that along with Platoon (which he of course starred in), Peterson's previous project Das Boot, "is one of my two favorite war movies," he admits that initially he was reluctant to take on the role.

     "I kinda liked the script," he says quietly.  "And it seemed pretty commercial.  At first I thought it was kinda long on plot and short on character, but then I got to thinking about it and I thought, "Well so were a lot of Hitchcock movies, and this is a Hitchcock movie. Wolf would tell you the same thing.  No bones about it.  Then about a week later he called me and we talked for two or three hours on the phone and he was extremely charming and funny and I finally said, 'Okay that's it, I'm in, but if you ever quit films,Wolfgang, you should come down here and sell cars, you'd do well. And he would too.  Everybody likes him."

     Having accepted the role, Berenger confesses that, "I had to do a lot of research because I didn't know where to start.  So I went out to Los Angeles and visited plastic surgeons, neurosurgeons and a psychiatrist and her patient.  That was a very interesting experience
because the psychiatrist herself had recovered as far as its possible to recover from amnesia. I mean, you never know if you're back to where you started, so clinically and emotionally she'd been on both sides of the thing and obviously she was still in a rather fragile state.  She
actually started crying at one point.  The other thing is a lot of amnesiacs are prone to extreme mood swings, so one minute they're throwing tantrums out of sheer frustration and the next they're totally passive and having to take on trust that everything they're being told is true.  That was pretty much the crux of the medical research and as you can imagine it was pretty draining."

     After a short rest with his wife and four children at his South Carolina home, the one-time student of journalism will be traveling to the tropical rain forests of Queensland to shoot a psychological drama called Sniper, teaming up with little-known Peruvian director Lucio
Llosa.  This, and previous working partnerships with maverick directors such as Oliver Stone (Platoon), Casta-Gavras (Betrayed), Alan Rudolph (Love at Large), Jim Sheridan (The Field), and Petersen himself, would suggest that the presence of what might be termed a left field
operator behind the camera is the prime consideration in Berenger's choice of work.

     "Well," he muses, "the main thing for me is the story, and then the character.  But the director is important.  I mean the good thing about Wolfgang is he's a great leader.  That's real important.  I mean you can have the kind of attitude from a director that is like, y'know, 'This film is mine, it's all for me and you're just here because I wished it.' I mean, that's one kind of attitude but Wolf was like 'Okay we're all here, let's do this and have a good time,' which made him good to work

     Fourteen years on from his film debut as the psychotic killer in Looking For Mr. Goodbar, Berenger, who's quick to deny any personal directorial ambitions ("I guess it comes down to not wanting to be a leader, I don't want all that responsibility on my shoulders"), has established himself as a solidly unflashy character actor who's never short of work.  And, while he agrees that it would be nice to swell his bank balance with the sort of terrifying fees enjoyed by high flying
contemporaries such as Costner or Cruise, he claims not to envy the lot of the leading man.

     "I cant imagine what their lives are like," he laughs.  "I mean I've turned down magazine covers because, for one thing, I don't know if I want people sending them to me for autographs or whatever, and I don't like the idea of seeing myself on magazine racks.  Another thing is I do
like my privacy and I get very little of that as it is.  I like to do what I want when I want, and I want to be able to walk down the street without an entourage or protection.  It's bad enough for me already. . ."

thanks to Jean and Leigh

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