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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 1)

It is, Berenger explains, the old catch-22; when you don't have work, you want it desperately. When you've got lots of it at one particular time, as he does right at this moment, it's a little more complicated.

"You know, on shoots like this one [Stiletto] we're six days on, one day off, with no room for play," explains Berenger, "and we might be shooting 14-, 16-hour days. Sometimes they're day shoots, sometimes they're night shoots. It's just brutal. When you manage to get to the seventh day, that one day off, you want to sleep, but chances are you'll wake too early because you're trained for it, you'll wind up getting up and then there are chores. Chores, chores, chores," he says, wearily. "And with chores, man, you know you'll never get them all done in one day."

When quizzed on whether that list of chores might include checking things off like, say, getting his nails buffed or scheduling his personal trainer, Berenger just rolls his eyes before muttering, "Yeah, right." For the down-to-earth Berenger, the list is a tad more everyday, a tad more mundane.

"Chores. You know, chores! Doing your laundry, getting your groceries, picking up the dry cleaning. Cleaning the toilets, cleaning the sinks and changing the sheets. You know, the stuff you do when you look around you and go, "'Man, this place is beginning to look like a pit.'"

If this doesn't sound like the to-do list you'd expect from a movie and television star, much less one with Academy Award and Emmy nominations and Golden Globe wins to his name, think again. Berenger may have relocated to Los Angeles last fall for "October Road," but he's the anti-Angeleno and definitely different from the clichés that typically accompany a Hollywood actor. There's no bling on the guy short of a gold wedding ring, and he's not feeling any particular pressure to swing a Hummer, Escalade or Mercedes convertible into valet parking. He's quite content, thanks, with his Honda minivan.

"I'm pragmatic," he says, simply. "I'm not that big into cars, I guess. I like room and I use it to haul things around, people around. For me, a car is to get from point A to point B. What's the big deal about cars here?"

He and his wife, Patricia Alvaran, were equally pragmatic when they made the decision for Berenger to relocate from their home in Beaufort, South Carolina, to Los Angeles last fall for "October Road." Because the couple also owns a home in Vancouver, British Columbia, they decided that Alvaran and their 8-year-old daughter, Scout, would live in Vancouver. Berenger would relocate to Los Angeles, find a place to settle in, and the family would reconvene after the school year ended. They also decided, ambivalently, to put the South Carolina house that they loved up for sale, but which wasn't practical for an actor working steadily anywhere but near South Carolina.

As Berenger tells the story, there's a gradual buildup that takes place, not unlike someone building up to the punch line of a bar joke, and as his lip starts to curl, you realize that whatever the joke winds up being, it's apparently on him.

"So, we make all these decisions, tough decisions for a family, and I pack up my things. I box my things, I rent a moving truck, I load the truck and I drive across the country. Now, I drive across the country," Berenger continues, enunciating every word to set up the punch line, "to move to L.A. for a job that, after I've been in town all of about four or five days, they tell me that they want to film in Atlanta. Atlanta! Whoa. I've just moved from the East Coast to the West Coast in order to go live in a hotel and film on the East Coast. Hell, with the South Carolina house I could at least have driven home on the weekends from Atlanta, but nooo. My wife and daughter are living full-time in Vancouver, which is on the West Coast, albeit way up the coast; I'm now in an apartment in L.A. and I'm going to be back filming on the other coast again. Whoa."

If there's a happy ending to this story, it's that Berenger is given a heads-up during the interview that "October Road" has been picked up for the fall season and that the network decided to film the majority of the upcoming season in and around L.A., with flashes of other scenery to lend an air of the East Coast. The hour-long drama, set in the fictional town of Knights Ridge, Massachusetts, focuses on the twenty-something author of a best-selling novel who, when he hits a serious case of writer's block in the big city, returns home to his birthplace, moves back in with his widowed father (Berenger) and his slacker brother, and tries to reconnect with the friends and family he abandoned 10 years ago. What complicates matters is that he didn't just leave on a six-week trip to Europe and never return; he used those same friends and family—sometimes unflatteringly—as the characters in his best-seller.

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