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Loudon Wainwright III

A Conversation with Loudon Wainwright (continued)

PM: It would have been really cool if Undeclared was a big hit, but hey, it got somewhere. And there are good films coming up.

LW: Yeah. I just got an email, actually, from my agent, my theatrical agent. He told me that the buzz on the new Tim Burton movie, which I participated in this Spring, is very good. So hopefully, when Big Fish--which is the name of that flick--comes out--I think it's slated for Christmastime--I'll become a massive major motion picture star in addition to being a folk legend.


PM: One can only hope. And that's an amazing thing. What's your role in Big Fish, and what's the film about?

LW: Well, I'm kind of the mayor of this town called Specter, Alabama. Specter as in a haunting specter.

PM: Right.

LW: It's a very strange town where people have an almost Village of the Damned/Stepford Wives vibe--but not as menacing. This movie is--I haven't seen it, of course, cut together, but it feels--speaking of lighter in tone--it's certainly lighter in tone than Planet of the Apes.

PM: [laughs]

LW: This town is the kind of wonderful place where people go barefoot all the time, literally. So the mayor of this town, that's who I play.

PM: That's great.

LW: I welcome this character played by Ewan McGregor.

PM: He's the lead, Ewan McGregor.

LW: Yeah.

PM: Yeah, I like him.

LW: He's the lead as a young man. And then the lead as an older man, or at present time, is played by the legendary Albert Finney.

PM: Wow. So were you on location with Ewan and Albert?

LW: Yeah. Well, all my scenes were with Ewan, so I worked a lot with him, along with Steve Buscemi. He was in all those scenes.

PM: What's Buscemi like?

LW: Terrific, fabulous, as you might imagine.

PM: Yeah. He seems like he'd be an amazing guy.

LW: He likes to hang out. He's a very friendly, open guy, a great guy.

PM: And seems somehow like he'd be a fantastically intelligent guy, Buscemi.

LW: He's very bright and funny. We had a lot of fun together. We went to Hank Williams' grave together--

PM: Get out!?

LW: --one rainy day.

PM: Where is it?

LW: It's in Montgomery, Alabama. We were all on location in Montgomery, Alabama.

PM: I was born the day Hank Williams died, New Year's Day, 1953.

LW: Wow, yeah. Well, we went up there. It's in this graveyard outside of town. Hank is up there with Audrey. And we made a little pilgrimage up to the hill. I had a lot of fun with Steve. He was great. And Jessica Lange is in the movie. She was great.

PM: Were either or both of them fairly familiar with your tunes, your music?

LW: Well, Jessica said she was a fan. I don't know, maybe she was just trying to be nice. But Steve--I had worked with Steve, actually, on another movie called 28 Days, a Sandra Bullock rehab movie.

PM: What did you play in 28 Days?

LW: I played the guitar guy.

PM: I got to go back and see it and look for the guitar guy.

LW: I didn't have any lines, but I sang in the movie, and I was in all the therapy sessions.

PM: I'll go back and check that out. Because when I checked it out the first time, I was all about seeing NRBQ.

LW: Oh, I'm in it much more than NRBQ. They're in it, but very, very briefly. They're in the wedding scene.

PM: Yeah, just the opening--the wedding band.

LW: No, I'm in the movie quite a bit, actually.

PM: I'm going to go back and check that. I just wasn't wired in. Do you know NRBQ at all? Are they friends?

LW: Sure.

PM: Yeah, because Joey Spampinato [their bass player] is a good friend of mine from town. [See our interview with Joey in the archives.]

LW: Yeah. They're great.

PM: And they did an excellent version of "Rip It Up" in the movie, I thought.

LW: Yes.

PM: It's hard to beat Little Richard's take on anything.

So I'm interested, obviously, in the difference between your musical and your acting careers. If anyone can address that without a longer setup, it certainly is you.

LW: Well, I originally thought, as a young man, that I was going to be an actor. I went to drama school in the mid 60s, 1965. It didn't last but a few years. But I thought I was going to be an actor, and learned a few skills there at Carnegie--it's now called Carnegie Mellon, it used to be called Carnegie Tech, in Pittsburgh. It has a fine drama department. But I kind of dropped out in the late 60s, was a hippie. Then I started to write some songs. But I returned to acting in the mid 70s. I was on a couple of episodes of M*A*S*H.

PM: Right, I remember, as the singing doctor.

LW: Right, Captain Calvin Spalding, the singing surgeon.

PM: That was really cool.

LW: It's probably being rerun somewhere as we speak. And then in the 80s, I started to get back into acting. I did some plays in New York. I was in a musical called Pump Boys and Dinettes.

PM: That was big.

LW: That was a big thing. And then I did a kind of weird movie called The Slugger's Wife, where, again, I played a musician. Rebecca DeMornay and Michael O'Keefe were in that movie.

PM: Didn't he marry Bonnie Raitt? Is that Michael O'Keefe?

LW: They were. They were married. They are no longer together. continue

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