Film puts actor in team-player mode

`Narc' earns acclaim for Jason Patric

January 04, 2003|By Mike Morris | Mike Morris,SUN STAFF

All Jason Patric wants to do is eat a crab cake sandwich, get lost in the crowded walkway surrounding Baltimore's Inner Harbor and stroll through the National Aquarium.

"Do you think they have duckbill platypuses?" the actor asks, looking at the aquarium from his sixth-floor window in the Harbor Court Hotel. "I really like duckbill platypuses.'"

He'd prefer to spend this brisk late-fall morning discussing unusual Australian mammals, but he can't. Against all sorts of odds, Patric is the star of a movie that is generating the kind of buzz many actors only dream of, and he feels obligated to promote it.

Three years ago, it was unclear whether the movie would even get made. Called Narc, the $5 million independent film features two down-and-out cops (played by Patric and Ray Liotta) who team up to solve the murder of an undercover narcotics officer. Now the movie, which was directed by Joe Carnahan and opens Friday in Baltimore, is being promoted by Paramount as an Oscar hopeful.

Until recently, the 36-year-old was perhaps best known for his roles in the controversial 1996 drama Sleepers and the following year's action flop Speed 2: Cruise Control - and as the guy who dated Julia Roberts in the early '90s, followed by a six-year relationship with supermodel Christy Turlington.

"I normally don't do interviews, but Narc throws a wrench into the monkey works," says Patric. "It's good for movies like this to succeed so that movie executives can see that they don't know what they're doing."

Some of those movie executives may be scratching their heads as to exactly how Narc pulled off what it did.

The movie started as a short story written in college by Carnahan. After modifying the script for years, he received the green light from an independent production company, but as funds began to dry up, the movie's future looked bleak. "We were scrambling to buy film for the following day's shoot," says Carnahan. The 32-year-old filmmaker said private investors then eased the film's financial woes in exchange for producer credits.

Carnahan refers to the movie as "the little engine that could" while reflecting on the meandering path it has taken since being shot in 28 days nearly three years ago in Toronto, a substitute for the picture's Detroit setting.

"I guess I attribute it to the stars being aligned. That star being Tom Cruise and the universe he inhabits," the director says in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

After generating buzz at last January's Sundance Film Festival, Narc attracted the attention of Cruise, who saw a private showing of the movie in the spring. Carnahan and Patric used Cruise's interest in the film as an opportunity, encouraging him to suggest Paramount pick up the indie flick and distribute it.

Long story short - that's what happened. And that, in part, is why Patric has come to Baltimore, why he is cooped up in a fancy hotel suite, scanning a room service menu for a crab cake sandwich.

"Narc is not a movie Paramount would make, but they had a big star demand that they pay attention to it. Now they genuinely love the movie," Patric said. "Tom Cruise is out there doing interviews for my movie. I can't not do them. I have to be part of the team."

That team-playing mentality is somewhat of a new concept for the outspoken Hollywood rebel. Patric routinely refuses to attend the Academy Awards (even now he's debating whether he'll show if Narc is nominated), and finds many commercially successful movies, such as Titanic and American Pie, boring.

"My refusal to participate in pop culture sort of brands me in certain ways," he says. "Because I'm not on the cover of People magazine and I don't work often, people say, `He must be difficult.' I leave an open palate for people to paint."

Indeed he does. When choosing acting projects, Patric lets his instincts guide him. Sometimes those instincts move slowly: It's been four years since he was last seen on the big screen, starring opposite Ben Stiller in the drama Your Friends and Neighbors.

Patric's most mainstream movie role occurred when he served as Keanu Reeve's replacement in Speed 2. He calls making Speed 2 a "miserable experience," yet says the movie's failure doesn't affect him unless he wants to make "those big, dumb Nicolas Cage movies," which he promptly insists he doesn't.

"I've tried to stay away from celebrity for celebrity's sake. I've tried to concentrate on the movie," Patric says. "The important thing in movies is human behavior. Most actors in movies act like they're in a movie. They're not acting real human behavior. Real human behavior is what connects all of us. That's how you identify with someone on screen even if you don't understand them or speak their language."

There'll be no translation necessary while watching Narc.

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