October 23, 1998

Vince Vaughn: Playing kooks is OK with him

By Cynthia L. Webb, Associated Press writer
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Vince Vaughn doesn't care if people think he's crazy for portraying serial killers. He has always been able to do things differently yet still come out ahead.

The 6-foot-5-inch Vaughn broke onto the scene a few years ago as the video-game loving, bar-hopping actor of "Swingers," who was on the prowl for "beautiful babies" and made the saying, "You're so money," seem hip.

Vaughn, 28, plays a killer in "Clay Pigeons" and will star as the equally demented Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant's remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, "Psycho."

Based on his dead-on performances, will people think he's a womanizing, smooth-talking, borderline psychotic, too?

"It would be nothing new for me," laughs Vaughn, rubbing his stubbly baby face. Still, he warns, "Perception can be a bad thing."

He says the real Vince is often "painfully shy" and only turns up his humor if he likes someone. If people are mean, he can be downright "boisterous."

Over a lunch of chicken tacos near his Los Feliz, Calif., home, Vaughn speaks quickly, almost in a stream of consciousness. If his hands aren't gesturing while he speaks, he taps them on the table. Every so often, his denim-clad leg jitters below the booth. Vaughn is always on the move, even while he sits -- perhaps a remnant of a childhood hyperactive streak.

Vaughn offers a scary portrayal of a madman in "Clay Pigeons" -- a twisted, at times comic tale of a gas station attendant who is befriended by a mysterious cowboy drifter named Lester Long (played by Vaughn).

Vaughn said he didn't know the film would be released only months before "Psycho," but shows no worry about being pegged as the guy who can only portray wackos.

Van Sant said Vaughn's physical appearance helped him get the "Psycho" role.

"Vince came in for a meeting when we started to cast the film and he scared my assistant because of the way he looked," the director said.

"He had close-cropped hair and a short beard ... but there was something quite deep in his gaze which helped me make the decision to cast him. Not looking like Anthony Perkins helped, too."

Vaughn said he drew on personal experience to help the two characters come alive: "I identify with the fact of being young and not being understood -- of having people come at you and not being able to protect myself."

Vaughn has tracked dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg's sci-fi thriller "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," and co-starred with Anne Heche in the recent love drama "Return to Paradise."

"I like people who are real, and I don't like to play characters that try to be liked," he says.

The Midwestern-bred actor -- born in Minnesota, raised in Illinois -- said he has never tried to win praise by following the norm.

"I was weird. I'm a kid that they took to a psychiatrist at 5. They thought I was crazy because I was never a follower," Vaughn says. "I was a kid who would take tap class and then I would go play football. ... I was always lucky that I could do my own thing."

School was not his forte. He remembers talking back to teachers and going to detention, even if it was to stick up for other kids he felt were being wronged.

"I had a lot of confidence. I think I got it from my parents that you can't just let people pick on you," Vaughn says.

"I had teachers yelling at me all the time. But I had one teacher who never yelled or anything. He pulled me outside and said, 'I just wanted to tell you, you let me down.' I cried my eyes out, even at 13 years old, because I wasn't as comfortable with that, I guess. My journey has been getting more comfortable with that sort of thing."

At the suggestion of the school, he went to counseling and then was put in a special class for a while.

"It was like, 'He's got issues. He's hyperactive. Talks out in class and stuff like that.' So they made me go."

Vaughn's parents decided acting would be a good outlet for his energy. At age 7, he was in school plays and community theater. After high school, he did some work in Chicago -- even temporarily joining an improv group.

"I liked (acting) because I liked movies. I thought they were really cool," says Vaughn, who likes to tell stories using Marlon Brando films as a point of reference.

Vaughn skipped college and headed to Los Angeles at 18, leaving behind a life that had always been full of contrasts. He was raised both Protestant and Catholic; born poor but later transplanted to a rich Chicago suburb; obtrusive at school, yet still popular.

He describes his dad, Vernon, as being a hardworking man from a "redneck outdoor plumbing farm in Ohio."

"My dad put himself through college, served in the Navy, and became a self-made man and made a lot of bread," he says. "He worked in an insane asylum at night so he could do his homework and put the kids to bed. He was so determined to change his life existence."

When Vaughn was in elementary school, the family -- parents and two older sisters -- moved to affluent Lake Forest. His parents have since divorced.

"It was such an extreme thing," he says. "So I was forced to sort of look away at the kind of exteriors -- of needing a place to fit in, trying to find a group -- to find the individual."

Vaughn uses this philosophy to stay ahead of the game in Hollywood -- being up front with people and "being honest with yourself."

By Cynthia L. Webb, Associated Press writer
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Posted by Christine at 10:33 PM