Dave Matthews Talks About "Because of Winn-Dixie"
January 1st, 2004
From Rebecca Murray
Singer/composer Dave Matthews stars as an introverted loner who charms animals with his music and becomes close friends with a lonely girl and her dog in "Because of Winn-Dixie," a family-friendly film directed by Wayne Wang ("Anywhere But Here").
Matthews did some acting in Virginia before turning to music to fulfill his creative urges. But Matthews gets sent a lot of scripts and likes to keep his foot in the door when it comes to movies. Asked why he chose this particular role Matthews explained, "I was drawn to this project because I’m a big fan of Wayne Wang’s work. And I didn’t want to play a musician. I sing just a little bit in the picture, but I liked the chance to play an interesting role in a rich ensemble of characters."
INTERVIEW WITH DAVE MATTHEWS ('Otis'):
How weird was it walking a goat?
I feel a certain camaraderie with goats.
I'm not sure what it is, dirty old goats. I think it's that you're a stinky old goat, there are versions of that sort of saying, and so I liked goats for some reason. That's how I feel on the inside sometimes, like a goat, a filthy beat up animal.
Was that old beat up guitar tough to play?
That was my guitar. They put makeup on my guitar. They gave it makeup.
So it’s not that old and beat up?
Well, there's a little part of it, just for me. Maybe eventually it'll look like Willie Nelson's guitar, where I've actually worn a substantial or at least the beginnings of a hole in it. But all the beat up edges, other than that one little beat up spot, they added with their fancy Hollywood muck.
Did the make-up affect the sound of it?
No. But then afterwards, I snuck in a couple of over-dubs to make sure that everything sounded just right. But the performance of the song in the movie, what you hear is what's happening. But yeah, it's a good guitar, a simple guitar. That's what it sounded like in a room full of beasts.
How did you end up in this film? Had you actively been looking for an acting role?
Well, for a long time I've had first a friend and then sort of an agent - or I guess simultaneously - she's been sending me scripts for years and years and years. But I haven't had any time to do any movies. There've been some interesting ones that I've read in the bathtub. And for some reason, one of the big reasons was that I have twin daughters, and so the idea of doing a film that they might find somewhat interesting at some point in the next few years was cool.
How old are your twins?
Three and a half. At this point, the movie is hard to get through five minutes of for them. If it doesn't fly really fast or if it's not “Peter Pan,” it's just not going to cut it. But also I thought that it was just a fun story. It's not something that I've been looking for, but I've been open to it for a long while on any level, I think. Also, my position in music is that I'm allowed to do the sort of things that I want. So I hope that I can follow my heart more often. I don't feel like I'm pursing a movie career.
You’re not going to move to Hollywood?
Oh, no, no. That's one of my first rules. I'm not going to Nashville or New York or Hollywood. That's not because I don't like them, but I like my little middleclass lifestyle.
Your co-star Jeff Daniels lives in Michigan.
Yeah. And I live in Seattle and central Virginia. Seattle because my wife is in school, and central Virginia. Yes, we clicked pretty quickly, the two of us. We stay far away from the belly.
Were you nervous your first day on the set?
Yeah. I expect the worse and so that necessarily isn't always comfortable. And so I was pretty, I guess, not terrified that I was going to be killed or anything, but I was afraid that I wasn't going to bring my share to the table, and afraid I might stink. I hope that I didn't stink too overtly. But Jeff was a huge help to me because one of the things that he said, which I may have thought of in the past, but the timing was perfect and that was, he said, “Don't act. Don't move. Don't act. Just say your lines. If you can do that you'll be fine.” So be honest, essentially, you could interpret that as.
He said, “The closer your camera gets to your face the less you want to act,” which I thought was good information for me. So I tried as best as I could, but sometimes it's really hard when a camera is on you not to pretend. But I did my best as soon as they said ‘action’ to not do anything.
After performing so many years on stage and being in front of huge crowds, was it hard to play an introverted character?
It started off difficult. When I saw the movie, I could see [by] the way that I was moving the knife that it was difficult for me to stay still. I was having a hard time. I'm lucky that I didn't slice my leg open. That was a different movie.
It was difficult but it became much easier as we went on. And then the scene where AnnaSophia's [Robb] character, Opal, as the main girl, and I are running around in the pet store, that was a release. That was a lot of fun to be able to run around. I thought that I was moving more, but apparently I'm bigger than I think… The last scene was difficult for me because I really did just want to sit still in the scene where everyone is at the party.
I really thought, “Wow, if I could just completely melt into the couch here, that would've been perfect because I'd really become accustomed to sort of being still and introverted on camera.”
Why didn’t you contribute to the soundtrack?
I didn't want to contribute other than what was in the movie, but I thought that the song was going to be in there. But it's not in it. I didn't think that it was going to be excluded. I did the arrangement and recording of 'Glory, Glory' with [Patrinell Wright]. And I though that 'Butterfly' would at least be on the soundtrack, but it's not on there. When I said to someone that I didn't want to tour around and play that song while promoting the movie, that I'd rather just talk to people if I'm doing press or if I do any TV appearances for the movie, I'd rather talk than play a song which is what I already did, maybe that was interpreted… Because I'd really like that song to be on the soundtrack. I thought that it was a sweet song. I'll have to put it on one of my CDs.
Being on the road, you probably don’t have any pets, do you?
Well, I have a cat that doesn't tour with us. My family always tours with me and travels with me. We have a lot of dogs in Virginia, but they're really all my mom's and my brother’s. They started off as mine, some of them, but I'm on the road and so they're all over there. They're like a giant pack of dogs. And they change in numbers because one will pass and another one will arrive. There's a lot of strays. There are eight dogs at my mom's house, I think, right now. They're all different shapes and sizes. If you're a deer, don't walk across that lawn because then it's curtains.
Has this movie whetted your appetite for more acting?
Yeah. I do think that it's a really interesting process. I think that it's a very, it could be a very personal thing. It's a very funny exercise. And I think that it could be a very rewarding sort of endeavor. Maybe if I did it right it could be really searching in yourself rather than going off on what Jeff said. I think that for that reason it's an adventure. I think that if nothing else, I like sort of challenging myself, putting myself up against things. So my initial response with things like that are, “No. I don't want to do that.” But then I stop and go, “Well, maybe I should do it just because that was my first reaction.”
Did you come up with the idea for the mustache and beard?
Well, I was on the road when I met Wayne [Wang]. Wayne came out to a show. And I think that I was scruffy when he met me. I don't preen maybe as well as I should when I'm on the road. I don't have that many compelling things in my wardrobe either. So I was looking sort of as if I was on holiday in the Bahamas more than as if I was onstage or should've been looking. He said, “Well, I like the beard.” He said, “We'll keep that.” But then when I arrived, I was really hairy. He said, “Maybe we should pull that back a bit.” I don't think that it would've been that different, but when I arrived it would've been more of a Grizzly Adams thing, a mountain man more than someone who just hadn't shaved for a few weeks.
You don’t want to compete with the hairy dogs, right?
Exactly. Yeah. “Who is that creepy man with a giant beard?”
How was working with AnnaSophia Robb?
She's interesting. She's a really lovely girl. I felt comfortable with her right away because when I'd written the song 'Butterfly,' really when I wrote it, it was for my children in some ways. But I mean, they were sort of the inspiration because I'd read the book and the script, but I hadn't met AnnaSophia. But at the same time, as I was writing it for my girls or using their personalities or my love for them as inspiration for the song, I was imagining who this girl was that I was meant to be writing the song for. And she looked exactly like Opal.
My proof of it is that if you've ever seen those books, there's a book of Gnomes, and there's a book of Giants, and there's a book of Fairies, not modern New York or California fairies, this is the old fashioned English countryside fairies, the kind that Peter Pan ran into, and that's what I was thinking about because of the wings. That's what I was thinking for 'Butterfly.' And AnnaSophia looks exactly like that. So when I first met her, she was underneath a bar in a restaurant, and that sounds bad, but we had rented out this whole restaurant. And I looked under there and I thought, “Wow.” She's grown a lot since then, quite a bit. But I thought, “Wow, that's sort of weird how much she looks like that.”
She's just fun to be around and she's very open and precious.
She's got a girlie quality to her that was fun to play with. So I think that she did a good job and also, she made me, along with everyone else, she made me want to do well because she deserves everything that she can get out of this. So she brought out qualities in me that I liked, all the kids too.
Wayne Wang’s known as an actor’s director. What was your experience like working for him?
I would like to do more with Wayne just because of that, because I think that I could learn more than him maybe than he could learn from me. Or I could learn more about what it is to act or be a piece of clay sort of for a director. I mean, he would expect things of me, but very mild direction. And in some ways, I hope that's a credit to what I was doing. But up or down, lean this way or lean that way was mostly was he said.
He has a good calming influence and that was helpful because “Smoke” and “The Joy Luck Club,” and I've seen a lot of his other films, but those two specifically I think are among my absolute favorites. “Smoke” is maybe my favorite movie, top 10 for sure. So meeting him, I was kind of like, “Oh, what's he going to be like?” And then he's just so quiet and so focused that you don't feel like you’re the focus. You feel like you're doing something with him rather than doing something for him, which is really a great gift, I think, in whatever you're doing. He's a good boss.