Vince Vaughn is a funny guy. And a lot more besides, as TARA BRADYfound when she sat down to talk to the star about his new movie – a documentary about the history and art of Northern Ireland’s political murals
ITS A BREAKFAST-grilling 34 degrees in Georgia as Vince Vaughn leaves rehearsals for The Internship, a new comedy featuring Vaughn and fellow-Wedding Crasher Owen Wilson. They don’t call it Hot-lanta for nothing, says the 6ft 5in star. In common with most of his utterances, it has the pleasing ring of an understated, effortless quip.
Atlanta is a good deal warmer, one must admit, than Belfast, a city Vaughn and his sister Valeri have been frequenting for years.
It’s a long story.
The wise-cracking star of Swingers and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story can claim a diverse lineage with ancestral links to England, Germany, Lebanon, Italy and Ireland. But in recent years, it’s his Irish roots that have taken him on a fascinating journey, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally.
“I went to Ireland with a friend of mine a few years back and just drove around, says Vaughn, who has an Irish grandfather on one side of the family and an Irish grandmother on the other. I had so much fun but I got to tell you I was so scared driving those little country roads. They’re so deadly. And then they have those black spot signs that tell you things like ‘15 people have been killed on this road this year’. Well, thank you, for putting that in my mind, when I’m already terrified.”
On one such bumpy excursion, he wound up touring Northern Ireland, and Belfast where he was “blown away” by the city’s many political murals.
“I was really moved by them,” he tells me. “Before that I wasn’t even aware that the murals existed. I know they came out of extreme conflict and represent extreme points of view. But I think they’re amazing to look at. Ever since – for years in fact – I’ve been talking about those murals to everyone. In my mind, they’re like blues music: they’re an amazing art form that comes from pain and conflict.”
Did he know much about Northern Ireland and Belfast before? “No. I was only vaguely aware of conflict in Ireland. It was something I heard about and thought ‘oh, that’s a shame’. I wasn’t particularly informed. But because I was intrigued by the art, I started to investigate the murals. And once you ask the question why did they draw this and what does it represent, you learn about something that happened on the Shankill Road 20 years ago or you learn about plastic bullets. I’m still no expert on it by any means, but I know a lot more than I used to.”
Eventually, he talked Valeri Vaughn, his big sister, into a pilgrimage to Belfast:
I brought her over and she was really fascinated by the murals too. She went to film school in London years ago and made a short that got a lot of attention at festivals. But she became a schoolteacher in South Central LA and was very passionate about it. I knew this was something that would inspire her.
And it did. So we decided we’d make a documentary about the murals and some of the muralists.
Art of Conflict, a chronicle of Belfasts murals, their meanings and their postsectarian evolution, features an impressive roll-call of artists and politicians from both sides of the Ulster conflict. The documentary – directed by Valeri and produced and narrated by Vince – has been a labour of love for the Vaughn siblings for many years. Interviewees include Gerry Adams and the late David Ervine, speaking to the film- makers shortly before his death in 2007.
“It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time,” says Vaughn. “We had so much footage and so many stories. There were so many people to track down. And you also have to structure the film in a way that explains what is happening for someone who knows nothing about this stuff.”
Vaughn drafted in Dan Lebental, an editor best known for his work on the Iron Man movies, to help shape the film. “He’s best known for feature films. He cut Elf for Jon Favreau. He worked with me on Couples Retreat. And we were so fortunate because he really fell in love with this project.”
The finished documentary will play at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh. “It’s the perfect place for us to show it,” says Vaughn. “We’ve been getting a really good response from people so its great that its getting out there.”
Its a singular project: how many Hollywood a-listers do you know with a documentary on Northern Ireland to their credit? Then again, Vince Vaughn is a singular fellow.
The double-v Vaughn siblings – Vince’s other sister is called Victoria – were born in Minnesota and raised in comfort in Illinois: their Canadian-born mother, Sharon Eileen, a real estate agent and stock broker, was once listed by Bloomberg magazine as one of the US’s top money managers. The young Vince’s motormouth brought him into conflict with educators, who bandied around terms such as “hyperactive” and “troubled”. A smart kid, he was bored by academia. He loved sports but was not particularly athletic. Finally, in 1987, the teenage Vaughn found his niche when he signed up for a stint in musical theatre. He headed for Hollywood and never looked back.
“I knew from my family,” he says. “Go after the thing you’re enthusiastic about. If you can find something that you like doing, then hard work is fun.”
Bit parts in shows such as Doogie Howser, M.D. and a national advertising campaign for Chevrolet followed. In 1993, Vaughn landed a small, speaking role in Rudy, where he met fellow struggling actor Jon Favreau. The pair remain friends and the relationship inspired Favreau to write and direct Swingers, the 1996 comedy that put Vaughn on the map.
He’s worked high-profile gigs ever since, including Spielberg’s Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Gus van Sant’s remake of Psycho and Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. His biggest hits, however, have been comedies, many of which he also writes and produces. By the mid-noughties he was regarded as the head boy of the Frat Pack, a catch-all term for the new comic actors of Zoolander, Old School, and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
“I had done a few things when the comedies got going,” he says. “It just happened that they were the best scripts around. And I ended up on a roll. We were never conscious of the Frat Pack thing. The Internship, for example, will be the first time I worked with Owen [Wilson] in eight years.”
He has also lately re-teamed with Ben Stiller for The Watch, a new comedy also featuring Richard Ayoade and Jonah Hill.
“I like Jonah quite a bit. Hes funny and really talented. I loved being around that kid. And I loved working with Richard. I thought he did such a great job directing Submarine.”
The Watch is Vaughns first comedy in almost two years thanks to an extended paternity break. Vaughn, who has dated Joey Lauren Adams and Jennifer Aniston, seemed destined for Clooney-style bachelorhood until he met Kyla Weber in 2008. Like mom, she’s a hardworking Canadian real-estate agent. The pair married in 2010 and have one daughter, Locklyn.
“I took time off to be with my wife and daughter,” says Vaughn. “But then, she was breastfeeding for six months. And I realised for a dad, there’s not a lot you can do to help with that. But I just really wanted to be there when we had the baby. It was great to have that time at home for the first year. I love just hanging out with my wife. She makes me laugh all the time. I was very lucky to meet her.”
Between changing diapers – the couple don’t have a nanny – and tinkering with the final cut of Art of Conflict, Vaughn has found the time to lend support to Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul.
“I have my own views,” says Vaughn. “And I’ve always liked Ron’s principles. I was happy to go to a couple of events and introduce him. He’s a very genuine guy. For me, it’s all about the principle of liberty. A government can’t create freedom and equality by using force. My feeling is that governments have gotten so protective throughout the world. A lot of times its very well intentioned. But there are always unintended consequences when a government starts interfering with individual freedoms.”
Can there be anything left on actorcomedian-producer-activist Vince Vaughns to-do list, we wonder?
“Well, I’ve had a few offers around this superhero craze, but nothing I felt passionate about,” he says. “In the end, I always follow the projects I connect with or feel enthusiastic about. I know there are films out there that are made to be worthwhile or that are made to change the world. But mostly I like telling stories and making people laugh.
“You know. Movies for people.”
Art of Conflict is screening on Saturday, July 14th, as part of the Galway Film Fleadh. The six-day festival runs from next Tuesday, July 10th to Sunday, July 15th.
For more, see galwayfilmfleadh.com
TEN OF THE BEST AT GFF 2012
GRABBERS:Gremlins meets Whiskey Galore when icky sea monsters touch down on the west coast of Ireland. Jon Wrights smart, witty creature feature, which opens the festival, offers yucks and jolts in equal measure.
KING OF THE TRAVELLERS:Mark OConnor, the young director of Between the Canals, unveils two films at the Fleadh: Stalker and this gritty drama (above) set among the travelling community.
THE NINTH CONFIGURATION:The phrase “cult film” is overused, but William Peter Blatty’s bizarre, underrated shocker, certainly qualifies. Unique blend of comedy and scares from the writer of The Exorcist.
HEAVENS GATE:Michael Cimino’s famously expensive Marxist western gets a welcome airing as part of a tribute to Isabelle Huppert, who will take part in a public interview on Sunday, July 15th.
PILGRIM HILL:Buzz is already gathering round the debut feature by 23-year-old Listowel film-maker Gerard Barrett. The picture follows a misfit caring for his family’s decaying farm at the penumbra of a small town.
GOOD VIBRATIONS:The much-anticipated film on Terri Hooley, founder of Good Vibrations records and godfather of Northern Irish punk, is finally with us. The script is by top journo Colin Carberry and nifty novelist Glenn Patterson.
BRAVE:Heck, it wouldn’t be the Fleadh without one big mainstream blow-out. The latest from Pixar, following an angry Scottish female warrior, offers a very engaging twist on the Princess fantasy. Suitors? Who cares?
SHADOW DANCER:Sleek, gripping, smart thriller starring the currently unavoidable Andrea Riseborough (below) as a woman who gets sucked into danger during the Northern Irish Troubles. The versatile James Marsh (Man on Wire, Project Nim) directs.
SILENCE:Winner of a Dublin Film Critics Circle award at this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, Pat Collins’ sublime experimental piece concerns a sound engineer investigating the nature of silence in rural Ireland.
GOD BLESS AMERICA:Bobcat Goldthwait’s already controversial film takes aim at a swathe of deserving targets during an orgy of angry satire. With this and the weird Sleeping Dogs Lie, Bobcat is fast becoming an essential oddball.