Matthew Broderick and even his interviewer, Alec Baldwin, revealed much about themselves and their careers in a freewheeling discussion on Saturday at Guild Hall that included some surprises and surprisingly candid insights on hits, flops, directors, and Marlon Brando. The talk was part of the Hamptons International Film Festival Conversations series.
Mr. Broderick, who has a house in Amagansett, has been in a vast assortment of films, including “War Games,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Glory,” “Election,” and the phenomenally successful play and movie remakes of “The Producers.”
The discussion actually was a conversation: unwieldy, funny, and candid at times, two actors basically shooting the breeze about their craft and recounting their experiences to each other while a packed audience looked on. “This is more about me, though,” Mr. Broderick joked at one point when Mr. Baldwin once again used his own experience as an introduction to a question. Later, when Mr. Broderick directed a question back to him, Mr. Baldwin parried with “but this is about you.”
Mr. Broderick grew up in an acting family. His father, James Broderick, who died at the age of 55, early in his son’s career, was most commonly known for his role as the father on the television series “Family.” At the time of his father’s death, Mr. Broderick had already broken through with roles in “Broadway Bound” on stage and the movie “War Games.” Still, he said, “I don’t remember that as a joyous time.” Mr. Baldwin said his father died at 55, also early in his own acting career.
According to Mr. Broderick, it was during the filming of “Ladyhawke” in 1985 when he finally felt he had arrived. “It was my first time overseas,” filming in Cinecitta studios in Rome. “I remember seeing Michelle Pfeiffer there leaning out a window I think with a cigarette. . . . She was so incredibly gorgeous in this Italian light and I thought, ‘I’ve made it.’ ”
The two candidly discussed movies that they thought would be very good and ended up being disappointing, such as “The Road to Wellville,” directed by Alan Parker. “That was an example of the best intentions and, I don’t think I’m alone in saying this, did not work out,” Mr. Broderick said. It was a film based on a T.C. Boyle novel. “I loved the book and was thrilled to be cast. It had Alan Parker, the best design people, a wonderful cast, and the movie was just silly and not as good as the book.”
In noting the differences between film and theater, Mr. Broderick recalled, “I was working with Donald Sutherland and he said he just does what the director wants because [film] is a director’s medium.” He added that a director can make a film much better or much worse depending on his or her approach. “It’s very mysterious when it all goes together. I find it extremely unpredictable.”
Mr. Baldwin said that he avoided “giving in to folks that don’t have my full confidence.” Yet, “you realize you’re not the one calling the shots. . . . You don’t want them in the cutting room hating you.”
Mr. Broderick added, “You have to give them whatever it is they want that, to some degree, you like, too.” He especially enjoyed working with the directors Herbert Ross, Alexander Payne, and John Hughes, he said.
Hughes, who died in 2009, directed Mr. Broderick in “Ferris Bueller.” He was an example of someone who “was so tuned in to my performance. He was hilariously funny and quiet.” Although he could get mad at times, “he was the most easy person for me to work with” and receptive to ideas, too. Mr. Baldwin remembered that he was the only director he knew of who used cue cards during filming for notes.
Another film milestone for Mr. Broderick was working with Marlon Brando in “The Freshman.” Mr. Broderick said “nobody ever really thought Brando would show up. At least I didn’t. We got to rehearsal and he wasn’t there and they said, ‘He’s on his way.’ And I said ‘Yeah, he’s on his way, whatever.’ ” Then he arrived, not that late and on his knees apologizing. Mr. Broderick was not certain of this memory, but he said he believed he was in a velour sweatsuit with sunglasses and possibly a cowboy hat.
He said he was surprised that Brando would just sit down and read the script like the other actors. “Every now and then he was not in the best mood and you would be careful around him, but most of the time he was cheerful and an absolute thrill to act with.” He recalled that the actor said on set that he hadn’t had “an honest moment with another person in 40 years, because he felt people treated him like Marlon Brando.”
Mr. Baldwin added his own recollection of a conversation he had with the actor at his house. “He said, ‘We’re like two dogs, you and I, sniffing each other. . . . Why don’t you just say whatever it is you want to say and I’ll say what I want.’ I think he was used to people being in awe of him and creating an artificial environment around him.”
According to Mr. Baldwin, one of the most explosive moments he had ever witnessed in theater was the opening night of “The Producers” in Manhattan. “People almost blew the roof off the building from the applause. They laughed from beginning to end. They had the time of their lives.”
Mr. Broderick said he really liked doing plays, something in front of an audience that goes from beginning to end, unlike films, which are rarely shot sequentially. They knew from the beginning in a test preview in Chicago that they had a hit. “We just had a little piece of an audience and they went crazy right from the beginning. . . . Even the bad jokes are hilarious, apparently.”
At one point toward the end of the conversation, a distraught guest interrupted the questions from the audience to implore the actors to help her with various government agencies plotting against her. She was escorted out by security. Mr. Baldwin defused the situation with humor, saying that the “big burly gentleman behind you would like to get some information from you now.”
Mr. Broderick was next asked how he met his wife and he said, “Sure, right after I’m assassinated” to much laughter. He actually met Sarah Jessica Parker through her brother, who worked with the Naked Angels theater company at the same time he did. “She would come around to rehearsal and I met her that way.” They lived together for a few years, then got married in 1997.