On Monday, May 6, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of Birdy (1984), starring Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine, followed by a Q&A with actor, director, and NYFA board member, Matthew Modine, moderated by NYFA Screenwriting instructor, Eric Conner.
Modine studied with Stella Adler at her Conservatory of Acting in New York City. While still a student of hers, he was cast in lead roles in film and later theatre and television. Modine has acted in a number of films including Vision Quest (1985), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and he has worked with a number of critically-acclaimed directors including Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick, Spike Lee, Christopher Nolan, and Oliver Stone. He has been nominated for Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, and Independent Spirit Awards. Modine is currently running for president of SAG-AFTRA.
The NYFA Theater was packed with NYFA students, including veteran-students enrolled in various programs at NYFA. Many military servicemembers have a special fondness for the famed actor because of his numerous portrayals of the life of a soldier–including his standout roles in Birdy, Full Metal Jacket, and Memphis Belle.
Birdy is a 1984 Vietnam War drama that follows the story of two teenage friends, Birdy (Modine) and Al (Nicolas Cage) who served in the Vietnam War and are forced to cope with the post-traumatic stress disorder from their experiences in combat. Birdy appears to completely lose touch with all reality, and Al struggles to help his friend regain his connection with the existent world. Modine gives a tremendous performance as the young, traumatized Vietnam veteran.
Mike Kunselman, a veteran and member of the NYFA DVS staff, expressed, “As a veteran, and an actor myself, I was very interested in Mr. Modine’s emphasis on the importance of being proactive with one’s own career.” Kunselman continued, “I also was intrigued by his portrayal of a Vietnam War US combat serviceman, and his ability to own the sympathetic character of Birdy.”
Conner opened the Q&A by asking Modine what he’s learned from his prolific career as an actor in Hollywood. Modine replied, “The only moment that an actor can completely control is between ‘action’ and ‘cut’… that’s your moment… Everything else is out of your control. The editing. The distribution. It’s all out of your control. I worked just as hard on the successful films I’ve made as I did on the films that weren’t successful—what’s the lesson? Simple, always do your very best … work really hard and be present and, if you’re lucky, it all comes together.”
Modine shared a piece of advice for the producers and directors in the audience, “When you’re putting your crew together, that’s just like casting the movie with your actors; you want to cast your crew and your actors that you know and trust.”
One of the students in the audience asked Modine for advice for actors just starting out in the business. Modine said that actors should trust themselves and their instincts: “If you’re waiting to be directed, you’ve lost, you have to be self-prepared and have made choices about your character. Your choices are your talent!” he emphasized.
“Mr. Modine was very informative with the information that he shared,” said Jonathan Garza, a Navy Veteran and BFA Producing alum. His stories from being on set were very entertaining. Even as an alumnus of the Producing program, I can take the information that he shared and apply it to my craft.”
Modine also shared that he believes the auditioning process to be very important as an actor and that, when actors are feeling discouraged, they should remember that, “Every no is a step closer to a yes.”
New York Film Academy and the NYFA Division of Veteran Services would like to thank Matthew Modine for sharing his advice for actors and directors as well as anecdotes from his experiences in the entertainment industry.