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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

There are history buffs and then there are military history buffs.

Actor Tom Berenger will casually mention that he's a bit of a history buff, but there's little about military history—ours or just about anyone else's—that he can't recite off the top of his head. His knowledge of military strategy, whether learned through books or through the movie roles that he's played over the last 30 years, is a bit overwhelming, as is his opinion on which battles were worth fighting, which were questionable and whether the final outcome was worth the engagement. This includes Hollywood.

In The Art of War, the classic treatise on military strategy by Sun Tzu, the Chinese general and warrior offers that "if you know your enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles."

Tom Berenger has a pretty good handle on who he is and what he's made of, and after three decades of being on the stage, on the set and on the tube, he's got a pretty good feel for who and what Hollywood is. Berenger may never have served in an actual war between countries, and his résumé surely lists "actor" as his profession, but it might as well read "veteran"—maybe even "warrior."

The average reader won't see a whole lot in print on Tom Berenger outside of the traditional movie review, the announcement of a new DVD release or, as is currently the case, some general news about his ongoing role in the ABC television drama "October Road."

There are no screaming headlines about Tom Berenger leaving questionable telephone voice mails for any of his six children, no public divorce battles with ex-spouses (he's happily married, thanks, and is on pretty good terms with his two ex-wives) and nothing in the industry tabs about Berenger walking off sets, demanding bigger trailers or calling fellow actors racial or sexually charged slurs.

In a day and age when even C-list—especially C-list—performers hire the most expensive publicists their wallets can stand in the hope of generating mega print and television exposure, Berenger can't be bothered. He hasn't had a publicist in years, he admits, and, at 58, doesn't see the need for one now, in spite of having a television series and his having just finished wrapping three movies—the Christmas-themed Jonathan Toomey, the life-in-flashback drama Order of Redemption and the violent thriller Stiletto—scheduled for 2007 and 2008 releases.

Of the few articles on Berenger from the last decade or so, the only thing in common is references to his eyes. More often than not, they're referred to as "icy blue" or "light blue" and, frankly, they're not. Oh sure, there's no question that the guy can freeze you in your tracks with a simple narrowing of those eyes, but it's more about the laser intensity of the gaze rather than the color. There's nothing cool or light about Berenger's eyes; a vivid, intense blue-green indoors, a brighter, clearer blue outside, and reflect the kind of color a jeweler would call aquamarine and that companies like Sherwin-Williams and Crayola hire marketing specialists to package with names like "Cerulean" or "Caribbean."

Ask Berenger what color his eyes are and he mumbles something like, "Uh, blue-green," before getting uncomfortable. On a two-month hiatus from filming "October Road," he's spent the last 10 days filming the crime thriller Stiletto. For his role as a Greek thug, Berenger is sporting a ruddy tan that still doesn't hide the extra wash of color that comes when discussing his looks.

What becomes clear very quickly after meeting Berenger is that looks are just not all that important to the guy. On the first day of the interview he shows up in an old faded T-shirt, even older sweatpants and a pair of deck shoes. It's eleven o'clock in the morning when he arrives and, having come from a shoot that went until midnight, there are deep circles under those eyes. Although he's taken the time and care to shave, it's equally obvious that, given an option, he'd rather be lying prone with a pillow over his head than at the Beverly Hilton Hotel preparing for a photo shoot.

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