AVC: Is there a favorite project you’ve worked on over the years that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
DM: Well, there’s probably a lot of them. Even though they got love from the people who saw them, it’s just that they didn’t get a wider experience of love. It’s hard to single out one, but there’s a movie called The Slaughter Rule that I did with Ryan Gosling when he was 19, by Alex and Andrew Smith. I was at Sundance one year, and I heard there were these two young filmmakers who wanted to talk to me about a movie they had. And I met Alex and Andrew, they brought me the script to The Slaughter Rule and I read it, and I loved it. I really loved it. And they asked if I’d do the role, and I said, “I’d love to do it.”
I think it took them three years, maybe four years, to do it from when they asked me. Originally they couldn’t get it done with me doing that role—there were two starring roles—and they were very heartbroken that they were going to have to ask other people, like Nick Nolte or other stars. But I said I understood that they had to get their movie made. So they went to other people, and those people, for whatever reasons, wound up not doing it, and eventually they came back to me, which I think they were happy they were able to do, because I was who they originally wanted. And they eventually actually got their money together.
At the time, Ryan had only done Remember The Titans, I think. He’d been a Mouseketeer with Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera, and he really did not want to go down the Mouseketeer road. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve met. I auditioned with a number of young actors in Los Angeles with Alex and Andrew—some of them are now famous—and I’d go off-script and try to challenge them or whatever, and I sort of pushed him in these scenes. Ryan was really the one who could stand toe to toe with me when we did these scenes, and after we saw him, it really felt like there was nobody else who should do the role.
And he was offered another movie at the same time, which was a traditional Hollywood movie, and he was offered a bunch of money considering how inexperienced he was. But he really felt as an actor that he could go make the money, but it wasn’t the same quality of role as The Slaughter Rule, and he just felt like the best thing for him as an actor was to not take the money and to do the role that was really going to challenge him more. I absolutely loved doing this movie with him. He really had a quality—and now you can see it—that was shared by the best people I’d worked with and known, like Sean [Penn] and Jack Nicholson. He had that same quality as a young actor, and I felt lucky to have been a part of his experience as an actor and lucky that we all got to do it together. I’m just sorry more people didn’t get to see it.