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The Good Fight

For 30 years, Tom Berenger has navigated Hollywood with a keen eye for history and a solid sense of what's important.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
Tom Berenger, July/Aug 2007

(continued from page 5)

Of course, Berenger will happily tell you, there's a lot to go "whoa" about when simply talking about New York. In spite of splitting his time between homes in L.A., Vancouver and South Carolina, it seems New York is his kind of town.

After graduating from the University of Missouri with a double major in communications and film editing, Berenger was lucky enough to immediately land a job working at a film production and editing studio in Kansas City. Specializing in training films, film footage of professional sporting events and documentaries, the little production company (which, interestingly enough, had also been the starting point for director and producer Robert Altman, years earlier) provided experience for Berenger in every facet of film production, except acting.

Berenger moved to New York to take acting lessons and within six months, he says, he was landing work. "I got a couple of commercials, a voice-over for Coppertone and then a year's contract on 'One Life to Live' and three plays concurrent to the filming of the soap. There were a couple of really small movie parts and then," Berenger pauses, "I got Looking for Mr. Goodbar."

The grim drama about a New York schoolteacher's search for love and sex in the New York singles bar scene of the 1970s was released in 1977 and featured Berenger, Diane Keaton and Richard Gere. The book on which the film was based told the real-life story of a New York schoolteacher who frequented singles bars and was murdered in 1973, and, even now, looking back 30 years, Berenger gets a bit grim himself when talking about the role.

"Over the years I've met a cop who worked on that case, I've met a woman who had known the perp, and I know a lawyer down on Wall Street who'd known the victim. I had nightmares after the film [and] it made me want to take a lot of showers."

Just as with military history, Berenger can talk at length about the case, and you realize that crime and the details behind the crime hold a certain fascination for him. When, during the photo shoot, Berenger has trouble lighting his cigar, a hotel guest already smoking one offers to loan Berenger his lighter. The following morning, Berenger discovers that the guest happens to be a retired New York detective who's in L.A. to consult on a high-profile murder trial. Berenger's eyes gleam as he tells the story, and he and the gentleman make plans to meet in New York a week later at the fellow's cigar club.

Berenger doesn't smoke a lot anymore, but when he does ("I kind of prefer a Cohiba") it's typically when he's with friends, drink in hand, swapping stories. And, given a choice, in New York.

Berenger lived in New York for 10 years before beginning a cycle of moving from locale to locale as he followed his film roles.

"You know, people say to me, 'Where do you live?' and I say, 'I don't know. I. Don't. Know.' Now, where would I want to live? New York. Again. It's where my buddies are, my son's kind of close in New Haven, I've got friends in the Village and in Tribeca, and I miss it. When I went back recently I got a phone call from a producer friend who said, 'How's it going?' and I said, 'I'm walking down Broadway and I'm alive. I'm ALIVE!'"

Berenger spends a few minutes talking about what it is that he loves so much about New York—taking his kids to the theater, giving them a historical tour of Harlem or of nearby Fort Lee, New Jersey—before zeroing in on what sets this place apart from his current locale in L.A.

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