Movieline Magazine, October 1998
(c) Movieline Magazine
by Stephen Rebello
photography by David Rose

Straight, No Chaser

MovielineYears before Matthew McConaughey ever hit Hollywood, Tom Berenger was being touted as the next Paul Newman. And for years afterward, Berenger always seemed just a smash or two shy of superstardom. Look at the range of directors who've put him in leads: Oliver Stone, Wolfgang Petersen, Costa-Gavras, Jim Sheridan, Ridley Scott. But he's never muscled into the big-screen pantheon alongside Mel and Harrison. Lately, Berenger, 48, has been starring in Emmy nomination shoo-in stuff like the TNT miniseries Rough Riders, in which he made one hell of a Teddy Roosevelt for director John Milus.

"I'm probably satisfied with my career 80 percent of the time, says Berenger, who lives with his wife and kids in South Carolina. In other words: you won't find him pissing and moaning about lost showbiz battles, though he doesn't pretend to understand what gives with the ways of Hollywood. "Even my agents say, 'We don't know what this business is anymore.' These days, you can do a TV series for five years and all of a sudden be on top of the business. Features don't even run in theaters very long anymore before going right to television. And every other movie is one of those action things. I mean, Lost in Space?--a bunch of good actors running around shooting at special effects on a soundstage? I took my kids to see that and almost felt like I was on an acid trip. Most of what gets made now, you laugh your way through, go home and forget you've seen it."

So what can you do but create your own project? Berenger, a major world history buff, was a producer on his new film, One Man's Hero, which is an 1840's wartime-era love story based on an incident in which a troop of Irish soldiers defected to Mexico. "It was an ass-kicker spending five years trying to sell it hearing again and again from |studios| how history doesn't sell. My response became, 'What the f*** was the Best Picture Oscar-winner Braveheart if not history?' I was so exhausted after fighting for the project for five years, shooting it was like the Bataan Death March. But the end result should be worth it. Afterwards, he squeezed in the Showtime CIA thriller, The Agency. So what's next? Directing, maybe? "I don't think a director should have any kids," says Berenger. "I don't even think it's good for your physical health. Even guys in their thirties look exhausted because directors never get enough sleep. What I do is stressful enough."

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