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Giovanni Ribisi - one of the greatest actors in the world, full stop!



Feature by: Jack Foley

LET'S get one thing straight. [Giovanni] Ribisi, in my humble opinion, is one of the greatest actors in the world, full stop. And he's going to become part of the folklore of 21st Century American acting, a la Marlon Brando.

High praise indeed - but certainly not far wide of the mark.

The comment was passed by Flight of the Phoenix director, John Moore, during a press conference for the film, in which he spoke candidly about working in the desert and the pleasure of working with an actor such as Ribisi.

"He's the sort of actor that absolutely gets thrilled when people go 'oh, you're the guy from, don't tell me, wait a minute, wait a minute...," he continued.

"They know they know him from films, but he starts from scratch with every role. And he's been so careful about the stuff he picks. It allows him to start from scratch, because I would say a good 60 or 70% of Hollywood actors aren't really acting.

"You're going 'oh look, there's Rene Russo being someone'. You know what I mean?

"Whereas with Ribisi it's genuine; he hits the screen and a few people tingle, like 'oh is that the guy from', but he's way ahead of the game in terms of being the character and I think that's a part of his particular genius.

"He's a real method actor. I still have no idea what it means; I know what it's meant to mean, but I think he's the real version of it."

Moore is to directing what Colin Farrell is to acting - candid, foul-mouthed and, above all, straight-talking.

He doesn't suffer fools or offer praise lightly, so such comments are all the more impressive in an industry that sometimes gets clogged up with celebrities gushing false praise for one another.

Yet Ribisi is exactly the sort of actor that Moore describes. In Flight of the Phoenix, he practically steals the show, taking on the Hardy Kruger role (from the original) as the brains behind the idea of constructing the Phoenix from the wreckage of the original plane crash.

And while Moore maintains that the actor's uncanny resemblance to Kruger in the remake is a coincidence, it comes as no surprise to find that it was something that Ribisi took a great deal of personal pride in developing himself.

"I actually called Giovanni from Namibia during prep and said, 'look, I have an idea, would you dye your hair blonde'? Maybe he knew that Hardy Kruger had blonde hair and that's why he was so co-operative.

"But he turned up in his own wardrobe. We had a whole look picked out for him and Giovanni turned up with the glasses and the tunic he's wearing [in the film], which he found in LA, and turned up and said 'wouldn't this look good'? And we were like 'yeah'."

In terms of acting, Ribisi has turned up in everything from Friends to Saving Private Ryan - yet viewers might be surprised to realise how frequently they have seen him.

A lot of the groundwork for his success was done in television, given that he made notable impressions in The X-Files and NYPD Blue before landing a recurring role in Friends, as Phoebe's brother, Frank Jnr.

Support roles gradually came in movies, too, and he appeared in Kevin Costner's The Postman, as well as the likes of That Thing You Do and Lost Highway.

It was in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, however, that he really made a telling big screen impression, appearing as the over-caring Medic Wade.

Significant roles followed in the likes of Sam Raimi's The Gift (alongside Cate Blanchett), as well as The Boiler Room, Gone in 60 Seconds, Basic, Lost in Translation (as the photographer boyfriend of Scarlett Johansson's character) and Cold Mountain.

He has since enjoyed his most prolific spell on the big screen, landing a key role in last year's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and now Flight of the Phoenix.

Yet despite shying away from leading man opportunities, his work is such that audiences always respond to him whenever he is on-screen, safe in the knowledge that they have seen and enjoyed him some time before, without necessarily realising quite where.

And his dedication to his craft is beyond question, especially when listening to Moore some more.

"You couldn’t get the guy off the set. He’s not one of these actors who will run back to his trailer, he’s fantastic, he just perches himself on the edge of the dolly learning everything.

"He wants to direct, so he just learned what everyone’s job was during the whole movie.

"And in terms of being hijacked by actors who are all 'look at me, look at me', being difficult and everything's so hard, Ribisi does the fucking work quietly in the corner and then brings it to work, and isn't the pain in the fucking arse.

"Films are like practical exercises, you know, you miss a day and you fall behind and it's not fucking funny; people aren't laughing, so this whole method thing, or the idea where one actor is so disruptive on a set because it's all about their process, really isn't that much fun.

"So if you want to enjoy the process of making the movie, then you're better off hiring guys like Ribisi."

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