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.
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
in passing. Is Vaughan really a sick, twisted man or
does he simply dare to enter a realm of exhibitionism
voyeurism others wouldn't attempt?
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
Detour Magazine Interview with Elias
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
DH: Then there's
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
DH: Which movie of yours do you
wish more people had seen?
Full Moon in Blue Water. It's a great little movie
and you don't even see it in the video stores for crying
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
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
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
DH: Do you live alone?
EK: Well, I have livestock in the
house, a Great Dane.
DH: Does he wear the pants in the
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.