A throwback interview with Saint Laurent’s latest campaign star – taken from Dazed issue 29
This interview first appeared in Dazed & Confused issue 29, published in 1997, and was the result of a chance meeting between photographer Michael Sanders and actor and musician Vincent Gallo in a health food store in Los Angeles in 1996. At the time, Buffalo ’66 had not yet been made, and Sanders and Gallo had planned to produce a behind the scenes documentary on the film, which would include a visit to the actor’s parents. This was never completed, and Anjelica Huston and Ben Gazzara played these roles in the final movie, which was released in 1998.
Don’t fuck with Vincent Gallo. This obsessive, neurotic actor takes personal vendettas very seriously. Forget for a minute his youth spent interning for the local mafia: his inspired, intense real life personality seems ready to flip any film role or personal situation into real drama.
He is electric in Alan Taylor’s June released Palookaville, and is deathly brilliant in Abel Ferrara’s upcoming The Funeral, in the US his tortured psyche has been sneering from ‘cK be’ billboards. He has just completed filming Roland Joffee’s Goodbye Lover alongside Patricia Arquette and has just accepted the lead role in the Kiefer Sutherland-directed Truth & Consequences.
Gallo’s most personal project is the quasi-autobiographical film Buffalo 66, a self-written and self-starring project that takes Gallo back to his family home. It’s the story of Gallo kidnapping a girl and forcing her to come to dinner at his parents’ house. He proceeds to tell them a bunch of lies about how great he is and how great he’s doing. It features his real life mother and father: Gallo’s way at getting back at them: his revenge was in making the film, focusing on his own shortcomings and insecurities.
34-year-old Vincent’s background is a checkerboard of swift moves and opportunities, from playing in the band Gray with Jean-Michel Basquiat at 17, to racing motorbikes for Yamaha; from dealing in hi-fi and vintage guitars, to exhibiting his artwork alongside Basquiat, Kruger, and other art world luminaries of the 80s at the famous Annina Nosei gallery. He has also appeared in 17 films including the ill-fated tragicomedy Arizona Dream with Johnny Depp and Lili Taylor. There was also a nervous breakdown in Paris at the tender age of 18, a five-month marriage at 23, and a few dubious tricks turned in desperate times. No stranger, then, to the hustle, for Vincent the art is very much in the deal, acting being the quickest way to the “love, money, chicks, and freedom” he craves.
You’re largely unknown in England. What would you want people to know about you before seeing your work?
Vincent Gallo: I would prefer it if nobody knew anything about me. I wouldn’t give a shit if one person in England or the rest of the world knew that I was alive.
OK. Let’s talk about your feelings for Rosemary Ferguson, the British model.
Vincent Gallo: The truth is that I’m not close to anybody. However, there’s been a girl or two in my life that I’ve fancied and for some reason Rosemary’s been a standout. I saw her in London five years ago, briefly, for a second, and I liked her, and a couple of years later I saw her in Interview magazine wearing these furry boots, and I had this picture of her that I carried around. And, unfortunately, I’ve had godawful luck in pursuing her.
You must really want to fuck her.
Vincent Gallo: No, no! Actually, l would be happy holding hands and if she let me, do a lot of kissing.
Why is love horrible to you?
Vincent Gallo: Because it feels bad.
And when did you first have this bad feeling?
Vincent Gallo: A long, long time ago I realised that my love for my parents was contradictory to our actual relationship.
How old were you?
Vincent Gallo: Two. I think my father had grabbed me by the throat and pulled me out of my playpen and started screaming at me for something – who knows what? – and I realised, ‘Wow, it’s very weird to love people who are kind of creepy and unlikeable.’
So what kind of relationships have you had?
Vincent Gallo: There were just a couple of girls that I’ve had that were actual girlfriends in my life. The only time l ever really had feelings for a girl and allowed myself to have feelings without being protective was at a very early age, like nine years old. As a teenager, the only girls that I dated, l dated only for sex, so they were usually uninteresting, or unattractive, or unpleasant, but easy to manipulate into sex. I didn’t know what it was like to have a sexual relationship with somebody who I had any kind of privacy with or affection for until I was in my early 20s and the first time it happened I was so shocked by those feelings that I immediately married the girl.
Have you ever sought therapy?
Vincent Gallo: Yes, I’ve sought it out once a week for the past seven years. Going to see a psychiatrist was the smartest thing I’ve done. Everything got better, I know it probably sounds silly to Europeans because you guys are so stubborn in that way: you’re happy to just sit and smoke and drink yourselves to death and have twisted, perverted relationships amongst yourselves. The tragedy of my life is even though I’m becoming so near to allowing myself to be intimate and loving, I’ve gotten so used to not being like that, that I’ve developed an incredible happiness within my misery and I’m so attached to it that I love it like a puppy.
When did you first want to be an artist?
Vincent Gallo: I’ve never wanted to be an artist, I always wanted to be a professional. I just wanted the cult glory that went along with certain professions.
What was your first profession?
Vincent Gallo: Selling cinnamon-flavoured toothpicks that l made at the age of six. My first career move at the age of 12 was towards opening up a string of cleaning businesses. I then started working in the crime field a bit, doing a bunch of car thefts and robberies for some heavy and powerful Mafia gangsters in Buffalo. I was a coffee boy in a social club and would bring them stolen merchandise. So at 13 I had my heart set on being the Godfather.
How did you not continue on that path?
Vincent Gallo: Because an actual Godfather-like gangster took me aside one day and told me that l was a special kid and that it would break his heart to see me sell myself short like that. That I could have all the power and money and success that l wanted without breaking into stores. I know this sounds like a ten cent melodrama but I got an epiphany from that conversation.
“I’ve developed an incredible happiness within my misery and I’m so attached to it that I love it like a puppy” - Vincent Gallo
Out of all the things that you’ve ever done: painting, motorcycle racing, music, acting, trading in hi-fi, which are you best at?
Vincent Gallo: Counting money. I can count 10,000 dollars in one dollar bills in 32 seconds. That’s a record. I’m the greatest cash counter that ever lived.
Why did you do all these things, and how did you come to acting?
Vincent Gallo: Because you do these things and you sit back and you see what happens after you do them. You say, ‘How much money did I make? How many people did I influence? How much recognition did I get? How much revenge can l execute out of this power and success? And how little time do I need to dedicate to this particular thing to get all those things?’. You evaluate them with a pen and paper, and I came up with acting. But don’t take this as a sign of laziness, because I assure you that I work fanatically till I drop and I feel guilty if I sleep more than five or six hours.
What’s your greatest achievement in acting so far?
Vincent Gallo: My greatest achievement as an actor were the scenes cut out of Emir Kursturika’s Arizona Dream, the scenes that you’ll never see, and that’s a painful thing l think about often.
Of the people you’ve worked with, who’s inspired you the most?
Vincent Gallo: The most talented person that I’ve worked with by a million times is Patricia Arquette. She’s just so pretty and loose and free and cool, if l had to do a TV series for the next 40 years with Patricia Arquette, they would be the happiest 40 years of anybody’s life. It’s funny: in my career life basically all l am is a failed baseball player in my mind. All I really would have wanted to be is a great New York Yankee. I’ve done all these things to compensate for that. In my social life, every woman I have a relationship with from this moment on will be just a consolation for the fact that I’m not married to Patricia Arquette.
When did you write the screenplay for Buffalo 66?
Vincent Gallo: The afternoon of March the 18th, 1996.
And how did you come to the story?
Vincent Gallo: It’s very easy. It’s the same way l do a performance. I tell it like I already wrote it. I told everybody about this script l wrote for about two years and they would say, ‘So, what’s it about?’ And I’d make it up, and I made it up so many times to so many people that l saw in their faces, in their eyes, which were the best scenes. I realised at a certain point that I was able to tell the story from the beginning to the middle to the end and keep people interested. So I tested my audience over and over and then I wrote it out over an afternoon.
So how much is actually autobiographical?
Vincent Gallo: Well, most of the character himself, his feelings are true to things I’ve felt, and most of the situation with his family is very similar to how my mother and father are, and the concept that l would want to make someone love me, even if by force, is not that far-fetched. But it’s not purely autobiographical: there’s also a very clever screenplay there.
“I can count 10,000 dollars in one dollar bills in 32 seconds. That’s a record. I’m the greatest cash counter that ever lived” - Vincent Gallo
How will your father react to us turning up and making a film about his dysfunctional family?
Vincent Gallo: You know, he’s a very interesting guy, my father. It’ll be a combination of incredible rage that I would break the family privacy to the point that he’d call me and threaten to kill me. At the same time his greed and cunning would allow him to figure out ways to make it work for himself, So it’ll be interesting to watch both those things happen.
And your mother?
Vincent Gallo: My mother will stay in the same kind of denial that nothing is happening as she would if l had both of my legs sawn off by a passing train and I’d say, ‘Ma’ and she’d say, Oh, honey, put some ice on it.’
Why is it so important to make the documentary to go with the movie?
Vincent Gallo: Because the documentary chronicles the motivation for the whole project. My inspiration for the piece: my resentments and revenge for wanting to make the piece, and it also portrays my own shortcomings in a way where we see how petty someone can be in being antagonised into making a work of art like that, it’s almost like you’re walking down the street and someone bumps you and three years later you do 13 movies about it, you know?
Do you have a favourite fantasy?
Vincent Gallo: Listen, you pervert, l like girls. I like everything. I like kissing them, touching them, sniffing them, sucking them, holding them, squeezing them, greasing them, pleasing them.
How often do you masturbate?
Vincent Gallo: Let’s just say that I have to sedate myself to fall asleep. So that’s the minimum.
And your dream for the future?
Vincent Gallo: I don’t want to sound like some corny jerk, you know. But my dream for the future is that I just wish that everything could stay exactly the way that it is right now. You know I just really feel happy right now.
So, more of the same?
Vincent Gallo: Yeah.