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An unofficial homepage dedicated to Elias Koteas

Crash

 

I'm sure every character actor is always looking for that one part that will firmly establish his career as someone not afraid to take chances or delve into unusual roles. In Elias' case, this character would be Vaughan, a car crash survivor who delights in re-enacting famous car crashes for sexual gratification.

With Vaughan's weird scarred makeup, bizarre behavior and unusual fetish, the audience can't quite help watching his performance, making it akin to the urge one gets looking at a real car crashes in passing. Is Vaughan really a sick, twisted man or does he simply dare to enter a realm of exhibitionism and voyeurism others wouldn't attempt?

This is a very (heavy emphasis on very) graphic movie and not everyone who sees this movie will agree or accept its subject. But one thing that remained fixed on my mind long after the movie ended was Vaughan. No other character or actor (no matter how good looking James Spader is), remains with me after the movie ends the way Vaughan does.

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Detour Magazine Interview with Elias "Crash" Survivor,

By Dennis Hensley, April 1997

"Are you coming?"

So ends the trailer for Crash, director David Cronenberg's cinematic meditation on sex and car crashes that's gotten the gander up of everyone from Ted Turner, who had his distribution company, Fine Line Features, postpone the release of the film by nearly six months, to the jury at Cannes, who saw fit to create a social award in order to acknowledge the film's "originality, daring, and audacity." The above query is unforgettably growled by, in both the trailer and the film, by actor Elias Koteas, who plays Vaughan, the enigmatic, battle-scarred leader of the secret society of car-crash fetishists whose members come to include James Spader, Holly Hunter, and Rosanna Arquette.

The Montreal-born Koteas, whose well-rounded resume includes everything from art-house hits like Exotica and Chain of Desire to the kid flick Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, describes Crash, based on the cult novel by J.G. Ballard, as one of the most artistically satisfying times he's had making a movie, and he admits he's had a little trouble letting the experience go. "These black pants and this belt are Vaughan's from Crash," he says, "Somehow they've taken on a security thing, I don't know what it is. I guess I just like the way they fit."

"They didn't get all bloody and beat up filming all those crashes?" I have to wonder.

"Not at all," he says with a smile and a shrug. "No blood stains. No urine stains. No semen stains."

I don't know what Ted Turner was so worried about.

DH: Did making Crash ever give you the creeps?

EK: No, never. I didn't get the creeps. It was magical, the whole time, but it hasn't made me reckless. I've worn my seat belt ever since.

DH: Did you have to audition for the part?

EK: No, I just met with David. We had an opportunity to work together years ago, but it didn't work out. Six years later, I'm making another movie in Toronto and I'm working with David Cronnenberg's sister, Denise. We started talking and she set up an appointment for him to come by the set just to say hello. A couple of weeks later, his his assistant calls to set up a meeting with David. So we talked and he gave me the script. I went to the hotel room, buzzing from the experience and I read a few pages. Immediately, I was exhilarated. Something definitely felt right. Maybe it could've just been the sex. I have no idea. Maybe I'm just deviant at heart. Then he called me a few days later and offered it to me, I'm convinced that if he would've auditioned me, I wouldn't have gotten the job. I was three months away from being able to absorb it.

DH: How did you prepare, in those three months, get in a lot of fender benders?

EK: I drove across country. I thought, I've got 3,000 miles and I've got a month before it starts. I'm going to visit some friends across country and make it an odyssey. I saw a lot of car wrecks along the way. On the first day of shooting, I had this wave of euphoria just knowing that you are who you need to be. The fact that you were peaking while you were making a movie was... that's never happened to me before. Where you don't go home thinking, ah shit! I missed that moment. I should've done it that way! I felt we were making discoveries while it was happening.

DH: When you first saw the movie, what did you think?

EK: I thought it didn't go far enough. I saw it at Cannes the second time, and the whole experience was so overwhelming that I didn't really see it.

DH: Was that your first time at Cannes?

EK: Yeah. James Spader said to me, "If you're not going to have a good time, don't be here, because they're going to hurt you. Smile and answer the questions, because that's why you're here." And I'm like, "OK!" But I'm not in this place where I get stopped on the street. I was very grateful that I was able to enjoy being in a movie I felt proud of, and at the same time walk around unnoticed.

DH: Is there any part of that kind of fame that appeals to you? Getting better scripts perhaps?

EK: I have to say, all the films I've done, with the exception of like four, I didn't audition for. I've been very lucky that certain directors saw something in me. So, I cannot complain. I may not have the box-office clout, but that's okay. There are people who have been able to live with fame and have their work grow from it and there are others who feel they'd like to be able to rent a porno movie and not have someone say, "Hey, you're that Ninja Turtles guy!"

DH: Ted Turner's company was set to distribute Crash, but once he saw it, he almost passed on it. What did you think of that?

EK: Well, I knew it wasn't going to be for everybody when I was doing it, but I'd like to have the choice to see that movie. He's in a position where he could bring art to people, and the high road would be to know that people have their own tastes, and it's not a dangerous film and I think that anyone who thinks it is has completely missed the boat. With Crash, I guarantee you, you're going to want to buy a car with a head rest and seat belts. And you're not going to go out and crash into cars while masturbating. To have a fear that it's going to corrupt people is absurd.

DH: How have people in your life reacted to it?

EK: Atom (Egoyan director of Exotica) saw it and he was very proud. A few friends who I work with dug the movie and were very supportive. It had the most profound effect on my sister. She's very sensitive and she had to leave. There were some scenes in there she couldn't bear to watch me in, and that's understandable.

DH: Like the scene where you and James Spader get it on in the car?

EK: That was tough. Ultimately, my problem was being in a position of vulnerability and giving up control and letting the scene play honestly and fully; that was scary. Once you got into it, then he's a fabulous kisser. He really is.

DH: He said the same thing about you.

EK: It was fine. It wasn't like we sat there and cuddled after each take. It was like, "Cut, okay, face the other direction." Maybe he was adjusting his pants and didn't want me to see. (Laughs).

DH: Was it a sexy environment on the set?

EK: Yeah. The actors and actresses gave it their all. In the movie, I see their vulnerability and they're so open, like they've never been on screen before. When I watched it, I felt for all of us.

DH: What was it like doing the scene where you recreate the James Dean car crash?

EK: It was cold. It was in the morning. But, what a kick. Being in a David Cronrnberg flick reenacting an event that had such an effect on people, it's overwhelming. I felt that I was the luckiest man.

DH: If Cronenberg had asked for frontal nudity, would you hacve done it?

EK: Hard to say. If I had time to fluff it up a little bit, maybe. (Laughs)

DH: You've got a few other films coming out besides Crash. Tell me about Gattaca.

EK: It's a good story about genetic coding set in the future. I play the very stern, hard-assed father who didn't appreciate Ethan Hawke when he was a kid.

DH: Then there's Fallen, with Denzel Washington.

EK: He plays a detective who's got this strange situation happening in his life. If I tell you what I play I'll give it away, but it's magical.

DH: Then there's Hit Me.

EK: It's about a bell hop at a three-star hotel who's in debt. He's taking care of a retarded brother, and his life is going nowhere. So he falls into this scheme to rob this bookie game that's happening in one of the hotel rooms, and his life completely unravels. The movie's fills with heart.

DH: One of your first film experiences was working with Francis Ford Copola on Gardens of Stone. Was that intimidating?

EK: This is me and Francis: He comes up to me and says,"How's it going?" and I'm like, "Aaah." I can't have a conversation with this man. I feel like and idiot. That whole experience, however grateful I feel, I can't ever get away from the fact that the only reason I was up there, unfortunately, was when his boy was killed in a boating accident some changes were made, so I ended up being a replacement. It was intense. He cast me later in Tucker, so I guess I didn't remind him so much of that horrible time in his life.

DH: Which movie of yours do you wish more people had seen?

EK: Full Moon in Blue Water. It's a great little movie and you don't even see it in the video stores for crying out loud.

DH: Whe did you know you wanted to be and actor?

EK: Pretty late. I wanted to be an architect when I was a teenager, but I quickly discovered I didn't have any inventiveness in it. Then I saw a movie on the life of Harry Houdini and somehow watching all the mystery and wonderment, the "come inside , let's entertain you for a brief moment," that movie touched me somehow and sirt of set the tone.

DH: What did you get made fun of for when you were a kid?

EK: There was a bully named Ronnie who used to always want to chase me after school and hurt me. Finally, my fifth-grade teacher said, "Look guys, we're going to go to the gym and have it out." And I won and he never bugged me again.

DH: What's the worst job you ever had?

EK: Because I wasn't allowed to work in this country, I worked for a dollar an hour washing dishes, bussing tables in New York.

DH: Was there ever a time that you, this acting thing is never going to happen?

EK: No. I always knew. But that's easy for me to say that now, remembering the drive I had at 20, 21. I don't know how romantic it would be at my age if I didn't have an agent still. I like to think that I would still be tenacious.

DH: Have you ever felt pressure to be more of a leading man, and play the Hollywood game a little more?

EK: No. I never really consider myself in that situation, otherwise I would've tried to plan accordingly. That doesn't turn me on anyway. I think that there are guys who are better at it than I am. I'm, a little bit more quirky and that's fine. There's room for everybody to make a living at it.

DH: Do people often tell you that you look like Robert DeNiro?

EK: Yeah. There are worse things in the world. He's a good-looking man. Do you think anybody ever goes up to DeNiro and says, "Hey, you look like Elias Koteas?"

DH: Give them time. What's the worst thing that's ever gone wrong for you on stage?

EK: I was doing Kiss of the Spider Woman and there was a time in the play that I lost my mind. I started hollering and yelling and it had nothing to do with the play. I made it about me. I needed to let it out after two months of pretending to be in jail.

DH: How did the other actor react?

EK: He up and knocked on the jail door and he got let out early so the act finished early. He just wanted to get out afterwards. He was very understanding. He said, "Elias you don't ever have to go there." I just went crazy.

DH: What do you like to do when you're not working?

EK: I'm still trying to discover that. If I feel fulfilled creatively, there's nothing I don't want to do. In the past, where I felt like I wasn't there in the work, I did things that were destructive. Now, it's like I got a dog, I got my family and a few buddies, and I try to be as loving and giving to the people I cherish and I don't know what else to do. My New Year's resolution is to read more. I'm trying to enjoy the present. I spent ten years worrying about my hair falling out. I look at pictures of myself two years ago and go, "Look at all that hair I had." Now I'm like, "Why was I worried? Why couldn't I just accept the wonderful hairs that were there? So now it's like, the three hairs that are there now, they're good hairs. It's human, you know?

DH: Do you think living in L.A. makes those insecurities worse?

EK: Well, I was in New York over Christmas and I didn't feel insecure about myself, about the stuff that is human and normal. Everywhere else but here, somehow, and I don't know if the city's fucked or if it's my perception of it. There's so many perfect looking people here. Any normal, sensitive human being is going to feel uncomfortable and not good enough. I love L.A. if I can spend half of the year away from here.

DH: Do you live alone?

EK: Well, I have livestock in the house, a Great Dane.

DH: Does he wear the pants in the family?

EK: He doesn't wear the pants but he has the balls of the house. He could fill the pants.

DH: Speaking of balls, if somebody reading this is thinking of seeing Crash, but isn't sure, what would you tell them?

EK: Well, if they enjoy watching movies that push the boundary, as far as the human experience and relating to one another, that is something they've never seen before and if they're truly intuitive and creative people, then they should go ahead and watch it. If they're Holly Hunter fans, you see her in situations that you've never seen her in before and the same goes for everyone in the movie. I think it's very different, very courageous, and it's what films should be, as far as having someone speak their voice. And know that it's not for kids. It's not for everybody. (Laughs) You're free to walk out if it doesn't work for you.

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Crash Quick Time interview with Elias

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Crash Fan Site:
www.cronenbergcrash.com

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Vaughan and Ballard (warning:  graphic content)

 



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