Published Friday, March 24, 2000
YDN Movie Critic
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YDN movie critic Eli Muller had a few minutes to talk with Dawson’s Creek star Joshua Jackson about his role as Luke McNamara in The Skulls, an upcoming thriller which is based on secret societies at Yale, and Jackson’s own experiences with privilege as a television and now film personality.
YDN: Do you find that the responses of viewers to you as Joshua Jackson change according to what Pacey does?
JJ: By and large, the response has been good, because by and large Pacey is a pretty noble guy. But I do know actors who have played evil characters or who have played the bad guys. The response that they get is intense. Sometimes people lose sight of the barrier between the fantasy and the reality. Things may be changing for me here soon now that I’ve stabbed my buddy in the back [when Pacey kissed Joey on Dawson’s Creek]. It only happened last Wednesday. The festering anger hasn’t had a chance to filter its way to me. You can’t predict these things, nor can you bank on the whims of the entertainment industry.
Q: Do you find it difficult to play a character younger than yourself [on Dawson’s Creek]?
A: I actually think that it’s easier to play a character younger than yourself because you’re given the perspective of age. You have insights into what you were going through at that time. Me, at 21, now, when I look back on myself at 25, I will realize that there were different influences at work in my life than [the influences] that I thought were at work in my life. So. frankly, I think it’s easier for me to play a 17-year-old than it is for me to play a 21-year-old, because at 21 I’m still experiencing what it means to be 21. There’s more guesswork to it.
Q: The movie is nominally set on our campus. Did you ever visit Yale in the course of production?
A: I actually didn’t. I didn’t get the chance to go down to Yale, but I wanted to and I actually feel like I was probably remiss in not going down there.
Q: Is college something that you would like to go back to?
A: It would have to be “go to” not “go back to,” I never made it to college. College for me would be something of a different experience. I wouldn’t go to college in the pursuit of a degree; I would want to go to college because I really want to see if I could survive in a collegiate environment, to throw [myself] into the brain pool and force [myself] to swim.
Q: As someone who has had this meteoric rise in success in recent years, it must be a challenge to play Luke, who is very normal and is always looking at a privileged world from the outside.
A: Certainly, I have been an unbelievably lucky young man and the blessings in my life are many and often quite enjoyable. But before all that, the other 18 years of my life, even when I was a working actor, I was not always a hugely successful working actor. So, I think actually that the insight that I have is from seeing both sides, from living on the side that Luke looks at things from and now looking at how the other half lives. The way that I grew up is not the manner to which I am accustomed now — lying around, sitting in hotel suites and answering questions about being a leading man.
Q: What do you do to avoid becoming to accustomed to fame?
A: All this stuff is fun, and this stuff is funny, but I just do my job. I’m not curing cancer. All I do is entertain people.
Q: How confident are you that you will be able to maintain a career at this level of success?
A: Not confident at all. Acting is a fickle mistress, she comes and she goes. The reality of the movie business right now is that there are two groups of people: established actors who are working and will continue to work, and the next wave, the new generation. It’s an inevitability. You have this next generation of people out there right now, but there are too many of us. The will be a culling of the herd, a thinning of the flock, and some will survive and some won’t. I hope I will be on the surviving side, but it’s not something that keeps me up at night.
Q: So, the movie is an interesting combination between a fanciful conspiracy thriller and a very strong morality tale. How much of the film do you think is credible?
A: Half of what we make up about the Skulls is simply conjecture and all used for the dramatic device. The touchstones for all the things that we use in the film are realities. The men who come out of Skull and Bones are very well placed within American society. They are extremely wealthy and powerful, usually white and Protestant and almost exclusively male, except this is changing recently. These things are the truth. Now, from there, to say that since they are rich and white and powerful — to say that they must be evil and have nefarious plans on their minds — that, I think, is a little fanciful. Money does not necessarily equal evil. It depends on who uses it.
I’m sure I’m going to hear more than once or twice from people who have been members of these clubs saying things like, “Man, cut us some slack. I mean we just gather around and have dinner. That’s all we do, it’s a smoking club.”
But, I certainly do think it makes a comment about the power structure and the stratification of power in America. It’s more comfortable to believe that it’s a true meritocracy and that democratic principles are at work, that any citizens of this country can achieve whatever they put their minds to.
This, however, is not truthfully the case, because we are not all starting from the same place. This is not to say that there is or is not a glass ceiling. That’s not for me to say one way or the other, that’s for other people to make up their minds about. But, to say that we’re all equal in American society is foolish, because it’s not the truth. If you were born of the bloodline of the Skull and Bones members, and your father was the captain of a Fortune 500 company, you start in a different place in society. The doors that are open to you are different than if you were born in the Mississippi Delta and you work in a Mobil gas station for half your life.