Actor Matt Jones (Breaking Bad) Talks Dan Fogelman’s Danny Collins

The character actor finds a personal resonance in Al Pacino's performance as an aging pop star trying to escape his schtick.

Remember when Pacino was Pacino? Earnestly charismatic and full of life. But then he was like that again, and again, and again, and again, until the charisma felt insincere and the life seemed to be gone. What he did felt like schtick. Moments like Donnie Brasco or Phil Spector would pop up and you’d smile and remember why you loved him. But then the moments were gone and you’d swear never to trust him again. Well, I think Pacino feels the same as you do.

In Dan Fogelman’s Danny Collins, Pacino’s title character can’t shake the fact that he has become schtick. From his 30-year-old hit song “Hey Baby Doll” to the little dance he does when he sings it. He’s collapsing from the weight of his schtick. Longing for the ’70s, when he was a real artist, he can’t stop apologizing to himself. But as much as he might wish to, he can’t stop doing what he does. The schtick is his security blanket. Coke, booze and women keep his conscience quiet, but eventually it grows too loud. And you’ll never guess who plays Jiminy Cricket… John Lennon.

The story is very loosely based on a real musician, Steve Tilston, who received a personal letter from Lennon 30 years after it was written. In the film, the letter basically tells Danny he should not let fame and money turn him into an asshole. Unfortunately, he already has. An ocean of what-if’s and woulda-coulda-shoulda’s washes over him, tailspinning him into turning his life around. He jumps in feet first, moving to a Hilton in the middle of New Jersey. He flirts with the age-appropriate hotel manager, Mary (Annette Bening), and he’s honest with his best friend and manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) for the first time in years. He connects with the son he’s never met, Tom (Bobby Cannavale), and befriends Tom’s wife Sam (Jennifer Garner) and their young daughter. He even puts a piano in his tiny hotel room and writes a song he’s proud of for the first time in decades. Danny Collins does everything right for once, but it doesn’t always work, because of us, because he’s scared. Because we beat the schtick into him for so long it’s all he knows.

I am an actor. I am a character actor. I am a very specific character actor. I’m tall, goofy looking, have an odd voice, and for some reason all that adds up to “stoner.” I don’t smoke weed. I did when I was younger, but that time passed years ago because I needed to get things done and weed makes me too sleepy. But that’s how I get cast, over and over, as some form of stoner. I can’t complain, because the important part of the word “typecast” is “cast,” so I’m happy to be working. I am in no way comparing myself to Pacino, I’m only saying I understand. They want you to do what you do and what they think you do is what you’ve done before. They want you to dance through this scene and get the job done.

I don’t know Al Pacino, but I seriously doubt he talks and screams in staccato inflections while blinking at odd times. But that’s what we wanted, for years. We even gave him an Oscar for it. But then, like everything does, it got stale and we complained. Complained, complained, and complained some more. Some of the laziest film reviews ever written are about shitting on Pacino (and De Niro, for that matter). But he’s afraid to try something new, because he doesn’t want you to hate him. Because we are afraid of change. I recently went to a sold-out Hall & Oates concert where the same people that were dancing their asses off all night booed the band for trying out a new song. They weren’t playing something the audience recognized.

Danny Collins lived his life to appease the masses and then reached a breaking point where he didn’t want to hate himself anymore. But ultimately all his hard work and changing don’t really work out. His fans don’t want him different. They want him to dance and be the man they remember. They don’t care who he really is. And Danny Collins gives them what they want. Because he loves them and there’s no time for him to love himself.

Can people change? Fundamentally change into people who aspire to right wrongs and ask for forgiveness? Perhaps change is just finally being honest with yourself, and the rest falls into place as an inevitability. Danny Collins asked me that question and let me come up with my own answer. Sure, it’s not a perfect film, but neither is life and neither are you. I’m definitely not, but I can remember to like who I know I am and let them think what they think. Do my job and love myself and separate the two.

I realize that Al Pacino is playing a character in this movie but wow, does it feel real. It feels like he’s apologizing to himself and to us while explaining his reasons for doing what he did. Those reasons feel justified and noble. He did it for love.

Matt Jones is an actor, writer, director and producer. He currently co-stars with Anna Faris and Allison Janney on the CBS sitcom Mom, and spent five seasons playing Badger on Breaking Bad. On the big screen, Jones  appeared in Kevin Smith’s Red State, the stoner comedy High Road, with Lizzy Caplan and Ed Helms, and Mojave, starring Mark Wahlberg and Garrett Hedlund. Jones directed, wrote and produced his first feature film, The Night Is Young, starring himself and Kevin Pollak, which recently finished production. He currently lives in L.A. with his wife and is the Chicago Bears’ biggest fan.