With news of a Peabody Award nomination for the Netflix hit series, “Stranger Things,” it couldn’t have been a better time to have New York Film Academy’s long-time friend and board member, Matthew Modine, come in to hold an intimate master class for New York’s Acting for Film students.
Modine made his feature film debut in John Sayles’ “Baby it’s You” (1983), soon becoming one of Hollywood’s hottest young actors with his contributions to three Vietnam War-era films. The first was Robert Altman’s “Streamers” (1983), in which he played a soldier preparing for decampment to battle, followed by a starring turn as the mentally unstable titular character of Alan Parker’s “Birdy” (1984). In perhaps the most recognizable role of his career, he narrated the horrors of war as the independent-minded Private Joker in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.”
“Being invited to work with Stanley Kubrick certainly altered my life,” said Modine. I can’t relate him to any other director because I was there for two years. That just doesn’t happen anymore. The experience with Stanley wasn’t just a friendship. It was a mentorship, a job. It became something that was much more profound. It changed the way I think about art.”
“He was such an analytical person,” Modine continued. “He was a chess player. There’s different ways of playing the game but the goal is to win. He was a great manipulator. His creative process was the thing that I don’t know if anyone knows the answer to.”
Most recently, Modine won the SAG Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series award for the role of Dr. Martin Brenner in the Netflix original series “Stranger Things,” and appears in the “Sicario” sequel “Soldado,” the thriller “47 Meters Down,” and the British comedy of manners “The Hippopotamus,” directed by NYFA alumnus John Jencks.
The award-winning actor began the evening by introducing each and every student in attendance at the theater. After calling out close to 70 students, Modine stressed the importance of understanding who a person is and where they come from. After all, we all come from different backgrounds and experiences and that’s what makes up for who we are. Recalling the classic Harper Lee book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Modine said, “You never really understand a person until you get into their skin and move around in it.“
Throughout the evening, Modine broke down powerful scenes from his films, including “Full Metal Jacket,” “Birdy,” “And the Band Played On,” “Married to the Mob,” and more. He was extremely personable and loose with the students, providing moments of laughter and sincerity.
Admittedly a very liberal person, Modine says — no matter where you stand politically or spiritually —that actors should understand and appreciate the enormity of the fact that, “What we do is very important. We tell stories that change people’s lives.”