Getting Real with Good-Guy John Corbett
- Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
- 2004 10 Oct
You might not recognize the name, but you know exactly who he is. He played Chris in the popular television series, “Northern Exposure,” and Nia Vardalos’ love interest in the runaway hit, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Most recently, he was Kate Hudson’s “sexy pastor” boyfriend in “Raising Helen.”
In his latest gig, John Corbett appears alongside Hilary Duff in “Raise Your Voice,” a film that tells the story of a talented young singer who loses her older brother, then goes on to fulfill her dreams at a music conservatory. Corbett plays Duff’s music teacher and mentor, Mr. Torvald, who believes in the young woman, even though she is still grieving her brother’s death, and very unsure about her abilities.
I met with Corbett, a professing believer, at a recent press junket in Los Angeles where he shared some of his thoughts about the film, his faith and what he plans to do next.
Describe your role in “Raise Your Voice.”
John: I thought I was a little too old to be in a teen movie, but when I finished the script I thought it could be a great little movie. Mr. Torvald really enjoys teaching the kids and is sort of a big kid himself. He’s also pretty observant and recognizes that Terri (Duff’s character) is a diamond in the rough, so he gives her a little extra attention and she starts to shine a little brighter.
In the film you’re a mentor. Who would you say have been mentors in your life?
John: I had a great teacher named Lou Volpe when I was a sophomore. I went to Catholic school, and Lou was my English teacher. I had the typical ADD that every second or third kid has got today, and I couldn’t concentrate. I was a D-F student, you know, and totally disrupted the class. My poor teachers – I was always making jokes, the class clown, because I couldn’t pay attention. And Lou let me be myself. He was a really great guy, kind of like Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” – just inspiring. Another teacher was in Hollywood when I was doing those three years without having any success. I had a fear – and still do – of being judged, in my acting class, which was maybe 20 years. The class requirements were you had to get up every week and do a scene, but I couldn’t do it, and I was going to quit the class. So my teacher, whose name was Howard Fein, and he still teaches, said, “You can just come to class and sit in the back. You don’t have to get up.” He let me come to class and he didn’t charge me – and it was pretty expensive back then. Even in 1988 or 1989, it was like $500 a month. But I didn’t have to pay. I sat in the back for two years and didn’t do a scene. If he didn’t do that, I doubt I would ever have gone to another acting class. And I still have a problem getting up … I couldn’t do a play. I can get up with my guys and play, but there’s something about acting in front of people, where I open myself up to criticism … I have a fear of it.
You’ve played an awful lot of positive role models. Sometimes it’s just a lot more fun to play the bad guy. Have you ever really wanted to play somebody evil?
John: Yeah, because even though I’m blessed with this great career, I’m just tired of playing the boyfriend. Every movie I get, I’m the nice guy boyfriend. I’ve never done a movie really with guys. I’d love to be in a movie where it’s me and two other dudes. I did have a small part in “Tombstone,” in 1992, and that was the best time of my life, watching those guys. I actually learned how to behave on a set from watching Kurt Russell.
The roles you’ve been choosing really have something positive to say. Have you been seeking scripts out like that, or are you looking for something different? And what about your role on “Sex and the City?”[From 2000-2002, as Sarah Jessica Parker’s love interest, Aidan Shaw.]
John: That was a tough decision to make, you know. I’m 43 and my mom’s only 20 years older than me, so she’s right there. She watches everything I do, and I’ve never really wanted to embarrass her or see her hang her head. I’m from Wheeling, W.Va., and it’s a small town – everybody knows me there, especially from “Northern Exposure.” They know my mom and I never wanted to, you know, do a Playboy layout, you know what I mean? I’d never want to embarrass her, so it was a tough decision to take that show on. Because of the language and the nudity, I wasn’t really sure. I didn’t know the show that well. I had seen a couple of tapes and there was just a lot of nudity, but I really wanted to work with Sarah Jessica.
Have you walked away from parts before?
John: Oh, yeah. I say ‘no’ more than I say ‘yes.’ I’ve got one movie coming out after this and that’s it. Nothing on the horizon – no irons in the fire. I just don’t want to be in those … tell those stories.
Are parts hard to find?
John: Good ones are hard to find, yeah. I’m just not interested in some of the movies. There have been a couple of movies that I’ve been offered, that have come out and done okay business, but you know, I’m just not interested in being in a movie where four people get their heads bashed in, man. I don’t even like to see those movies. I like to see the movies that I’m in – those type of movies. I just watched “Love, Actually” the other night. “Raising Helen” is a good movie. I like to be in movies like that. I try to stay away from murders and from nude scenes. I won’t do a nude scene. I don’t even like to do kissing scenes, believe it or not. You know, I’ve got a girlfriend and it’s not okay for her to kiss somebody else. It’s really creepy to go see one of your movies and be sitting next to your girlfriend while you’re making out with somebody else. It’s a weird, weird thing to do. And if I ever did get married, then I would never do a movie where I’d kiss somebody else – ever. It blows me away that married people kiss other married people in movies. When I get married, man, the lips only touch the wife. So, I’ll work even less.
That’s an exceptional attitude, especially when we can all think of stars who shatter their marriages so they can do those kinds of movies. Where do you think that come from for you?
John: It just seems creepy, you know? It’s not deeper than that, man. It’s just weird that it’s okay if – and I’m not going to name Mel Gibson, but if Mel Gibson is making out with somebody and he’s got ... seven or eight kids, right? When is it okay? Who’s married in this room? Guys – when is it okay for your wife to make out with another dude? Is it ever okay, on any level? If you’re at a party and you open the door, and your wife is in there with another dude [kissing] and she says, “Just kidding!” Yeah, right! It’s not make-believe. It’s a good excuse.
What kind of work would you have gone into had you not gone into acting?
John: I don’t know, man. I’ve been involved in restaurants for the last decade, so I probably would have worked in a restaurant – been a bartender or a waiter or something like that.
What’s this about an album?
John: Yeah, I got a country record deal in Nashville, and I’ve been recording. How about that? I’m going back in October for a month to finish it up. We don’t have a name yet for it – I’m still trying to figure out if I just want to call it “Corbett.”
How about “The Housesitter?”
You’ve spoken openly about your faith in the past. Where are you right now in terms of your faith and spiritual journey?
John: You know it’s tough, man. TV preachers are bringing me down … but me and the Lord are on good terms. I travel a lot. There’s a little Catholic church that I go to once in awhile, but I haven’t found a church that I like to go to. Church bums me out, too. I just read the Bible and pray.
“Raise Your Voice” has something really positive to say to young girls, but the work you did in “Northern Exposure” was also exceptional – it was a great program. Everyone was just super on that show.
John: Thanks. It’s on the Hallmark Channel now. I was flipping through the channels one night, didn’t know it was on, and caught [the very first episode,] so I decided to watch. And man, when it was over, I felt really blessed and lucky, that that came to me, you know? That changed me life. [Tears appear in eyes.] And there are definitely some similarities in the characters. If you followed Chris from then to now, he could have ended up as Mr. Torvald, for sure.
What was it about the show that changed your life?
John: I had been acting for about three years, with only one credit, “The Wonder Years,” and I was at the end of it. I’d flown to Hollywood, and nothing had happened in three years, and I was tired of it. I was going to housesit on Bainbridge Island for the summer of 1990, for some family friends. I was going to go out there and just rethink everything, and I was pretty sure I was not going to come back to L.A. and try to act. I was 27 but in my acting classes, I was with 40-year-old guys who had been doing it – trying to be an actor – for 15 years, and nothing was happening. I didn’t want to be one of those guys.
Two weeks before I was to leave, I got the audition for “Northern Exposure” and I had to call those guys and say, “Well, I got good news and bad news. I’m coming to Seattle but I can’t live on your island.” I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t. It opened the world up to me. From that show, I became a friend of the world, you know? Just everywhere I’ve gone in my life, people have been as nice and as friendly as you guys – wherever I go, anyway, even getting gas. A guy will come up to me and say that it was his favorite show. It’s been like a light, walking around the world.
New Line Cinema's "Raise Your Voice," starring Hilary Duff, John Corbett, Ashlee Simpson, Jason Ritter and Rita Wilson, releases in theaters nationwide on Friday, October 8, 2004.