Tim Robbins is one of those actors who doesn't always play it safe. He could have written his own ticket after doing "Bull Durham," but he chose to divide his time between the stage and movies, choosing the latter with care. He stars in "Jacob's Ladder," which opens Friday.
"I try to keep my eye on what's important," he said. "I want to do a variety of things, challenging things, rather than make quick money. After 'Bull Durham,' I could have worked steadily, done movies back to back and made a lot of money, but I would rather pace myself."
Robbins is artistic director of The Actors' Gang, an ensemble group in Los Angeles. He recently directed a stage version of Brecht's "Good Woman of Setzuan" for the group. "That grounds you," he said. "It's hard to think about the trappings of success when you're doing Brecht."
Robbins belongs to Equity, but he isn't all that pleased with the union's policy. "I'm very strongly for unions, but they make it difficult to do a play with more than three actors and make a profit," he said.
"Before, you had to pay the actors a percentage only if you had a house that seated more than 99 people. Now, you have to pay them a percentage even if it is under 99. Equity is blind to organizations like ours. We are trying to survive, and they don't allow for ensembles to continue."
You can tell by this that Robbins is a serious young man, serious enough to take part in demonstrations. "I've demonstrated for the homeless and abortion rights," he said. "I've been marching for a long time. It is only recently that photographers have been taking pictures of me when I participate in those demonstrations."
In 'Jacob's Ladder," Robbins plays a young man who is left for dead in Vietnam then returns home to a hallucinatory world in which he may or may not be married and may or may not be involved with another woman.
"It's a great role," he said. "It stayed with me more than previous roles I have done. It was emotionally exhausting, but it was worth it."
The character he plays in the film dreams a good bit. But "No," he said, "I didn't take that much home with me. I didn't begin dreaming the way he does."
Adrian Lyne ("Fatal Attraction") directed the new film, and he was one of the reasons Robbins signed on. "He was faithful to the script," said Robbins. "I knew he was obsessed by it, that he would be totally fair and would not impose any loose ideas and words on it.
"We first met in his office. He had an inordinate amount of images on his walls, so I had an idea of what he wanted. I also felt the tension he was creating. I think the film is powerful. I am very pleased with it.
"Adrian's done a wonderful job. People at test screenings are engaging in lengthy discussion about what happens in the film, and I think that's healthy. The movie is about death. People don't usually want to talk about that, but considering that we are surrounded by it, with people dying at early ages, I think it is very healing to do a film of this kind. We see people blown away on television, and no one mourns the loss.
"I certainly think people are looking for newness. The public seems to be ready for a change in both movies and politics."
That did it. In just a few seconds, we were into politics, and the actor spoke his mind. He thinks all political candidates should have free access to television.
"I don't know if it is possible to reform the political system, but it seems to me that it should start with the media. Candidates shouldn't have to have a million dollars to run. They shouldn't have to have a brilliant director guide them. Television should provide a forum free of charge.
"The press should also be asking more questions. We are supporting a monarchy and the oil companies, and no one is asking questions about that."
Obviously, Robbins thinks actors should be allowed to speak their political minds.
"Beyond being an actor, as a man, simply as a citizen, I should have the right to talk about issues, and I am exercising that right," he said. "What I quarrel with is the actors who are uninformed, those who are doing it for style rather than substance. People, however, shouldn't complain if an actor speaks his political mind. After all, no one complained about Ronald Reagan."
Reporters' chorus: "Oh yes, they did."
"Well, no one complained about him being an actor."
Reporters' chorus: "Oh yes, they did."
New this weekend
* "Graffiti Bridge" Prince and Morris E. Day play co-owners of a night club who continually battle with each other.
* "Jacob's Ladder" A Vietnam veteran, a battlefield casualty, returns home to an eerie world, one that may not be real. Tim Robbins stars.
* "Tune In Tomorrow" A 36-year old woman falls in love with her 21-year-old nephew by marriage. Barbara Hershey and Keanu Reeves star.