Three Great Things: Vincent D’Onofrio

The iconic actor, currently playing Jerry Fallwell in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, on what inspires him creatively.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the current release of The Eyes of Tammy Faye, the new biopic about televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker starring Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Vincent D’Onofrio and Cherry Jones, award-winning actor D’Onofrio (who plays Jerry Falwell Sr. in the movie) shared what has been inspiring him creatively in recent times. — N.D.

The Radical Openness of Billie Eilish’s Music
I find music fascinating these days. Young people are making music in a way that is so different from when I was a kid – it’s so much more intimate, so much more about the person who’s creating it. For instance, I watched the documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, and Billie Eilish gives so much and allows people to know so much about her. At my age and with my experience, I still find it amazing that she is so committed to being as whole as she can be – considering all of our imperfections as human beings – and is focused on being brave and just producing really good music. She stands out amongst this current generation of musicians and I find her to be truly inspiring.

Billie Eilish is one of those musical geniuses who can compose music at a very young age. While that in itself is not something new, what’s new is our intimacy with the music, how close we can get to it, how much we can learn about these artists. And that’s where the inspiration comes from, because what we’re learning is totally about humanity and about each of us as people, both the good and the bad. What’s so fantastic about that is that you can examine a person and see their imperfections, and then those imperfections remind you of your own imperfections. To produce art, you have to be brave and laugh in the face of adversity, because that’s what we all have to do as artists. And it is so good for young people to see others on that intimate level – that’s what’s new. That’s what’s wonderful, because it always existed, but now people can not only see it, but have it be given to them by the artists.

The Diverse New Wave of Actors
A lot of my time now is spent writing and creating. I’m very passionate about the arts and I always have been, so all the things I’m choosing are about self-expression. Instead of naming names, I’m going to make an overall statement about emerging performers these days. I find the current state of acting jaw-dropping, in two different ways. First, a person can have no talent at all but have a phone and be incredibly famous. But, conversely, there are actors – female, male, trans, non-binary, etc. – whose work I’m seeing, who are incredible and extremely talented. And I’m saying this as someone who studied acting for many years across a number of different techniques. I find it extraordinary and inspiring, and it’s phenomenal to watch.

There’s a new wave of actors emerging. Because of our society’s new focus on diversity, we are allowing people to come forward and participate in art in a way that we never let happen before. And those people are bringing forward new experiences as individuals and as artists that are connected to who they are – their sexuality, the color of their skin, their religion, where they’re from in the world – and expressing themselves in way that is simply undeniable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a new actor and leaned back in my chair and said, “Wow, this is incredible.”

Any actor or actress who’s been in theater and film for a significant period of time has seen the suffering of the people who were marginalized until now, simply because they were not given opportunities, whether they were LGBTQ+ or because of the color of their skin or they had a disability. And this was suffering that went on while those in charge were saying, “We’re artists and creative and open to everything,” and that was clearly not so. Everybody has been witness to this in their careers, so to see this happening now where actors – down the line, regardless of who they are – are just actors because of this new approach to diversity, it’s extraordinary.

I’m more into reading and writing these days than I’ve ever been before. Because I’ve been so busy my whole life thinking about cinema and theater, and how to service stories and being inspired by different kinds of physical art, I didn’t spend enough time on the actual word and how words are put together and where reading and writing can take you. I just never took the time to do a deep dive with that and focus on and soak up the word. But I’ve found that writing is a really good thing for me now, and it’s as creative as acting or anything else I do artistically. And to watch other artists and poets take chances and be brave – in everything from a short poem or short story, to the incredible stuff that they’re writing for television these days – inspires me to actually write myself.

When I was a kid, I would come out of the cinema and certain movies would make me want to dance around, because I would feel the energy from the film, and writing and reading does that for me now. I’ve expressed myself in so many different ways over the years – sometimes failing miserably and sometimes not – and so I expect it to be the same way with writing. It’s a new part of me, it’s cool and I like it.

Vincent D’Onofrio is currently appearing as Jelly Fallwell in the biopic The Eyes of Tammy Faye, out now through Searchlight Pictures. He can currently be seen in EPIX’s new drama series The Godfather of Harlem starring opposite Forest Whitaker, and recently made his directorial debut with The Kid, starring Ethan Hawke, Dane DeHaan and Chris Pratt. D’Onofrio first gained attention for his haunting portrayal of an unstable Vietnam War recruit in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket; his other early film appearances include Mystic Pizza, JFK Oliver Stone’s and Robert Altman’s The Player. His recent major films include The Magnificent Seven and Jurassic World, and he played Kingpin in Netflix’s popular Marvel series Daredevil. D’Onofrio starred as Detective Robert Goren in over 100 episodes of the series Law & Order: Criminal Intent and received an Emmy nomination in 1998 for his guest appearance in the Homicide: Life on the Street episode “The Subway.” D’Onofrio directed, produced and starred in the short film Five Minutes, Mr. Welles and recently appeared in the Academy Award-winning short The New Tenants. (Image by Todd Williamson / January Images.)