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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 4)

The result, Berenger reflects, was that they became their roles. "We [finally] took two hours out and we did a mass reading of [the script] and it was fascinating hearing all the characters because it was all jelling in my mind. It was like, indeed, all these guys were becoming their characters."

Apparently, Stone's strategy worked. The little $6 million film went on to gross nearly $153 million worldwide, win four Oscars and another 18 awards (including Berenger's Golden Globe) and receive nine more award nominations.

Other successes were on the horizon for Berenger, including hit movies such as Major League and Major League II—lines from which are still quoted by sportscasters and sports writers—At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Last of the Dogmen and Born on the Fourth of July, another Oliver Stone war-themed drama that brought Stone, Berenger and Dye together again, with Berenger once more playing a square-shouldered Marine.

"There's a simple reason why Tom gets offered these roles, I think," says Dye. "He's really that kind of guy at heart. He's tough as nails when he wants to be and that's coupled with a really big, kind Irish heart so the directors see the contrast. You just drive in on his face, look into those eyes and there's always something happening in there that's more than the action you see him perform."

A movie that's a favorite of both Berenger and Dye is Rough Riders, the slightly fictionalized story of how Teddy Roosevelt gathered a volunteer cavalry to fight on the side of Cuban rebels struggling to overthrow Spanish rule.

It was a movie, Berenger says, that appealed to his intense, personal love of American history and one of the movies he's most proud of. It was also, he adds, the movie during which he first realized he was falling in love with his wife.

Alvaran, a makeup artist, had worked with Berenger before and the two had slowly become casual friends. But something, Berenger says, changed on the film set of Rough Riders.

"We were on the set, getting ready to shoot, and Trish was off to the side, all the way across the set, wearing this babushka, a head scarf kind of thing. She had a smudge of dirt on her cheek and I just remember looking at her and thinking, 'My God. It's Julie Christie in Dr. Zhivago.' She looked up, we locked eyes and...whoa. It was like something just changed, right then and there. Whoa.'"

Tom Berenger says "whoa" a lot. Not the exaggerated, drawn out "whoa" that Henry Winkler made famous (along with "aaay") in his role as "Happy Days" resident rebel, Fonzie. It's not the same kind of flat, Valley boy inflection that a joint-high surfer or skateboard dude would offer up, or the kind of "whoa" you'd use to calm a horse into stopping. It's more of an exclamation point to Berenger; his eyes widen and he stares straight at you to make sure you understand the "whoa factor"—part surprise, part "can you believe this?" and part "are you following me here?"

Berenger says there are some serious "whoa" moments in Stiletto, the indie film he just finished wrapping, and there's a "whoa" moment in an opening scene, shot from the air, in Order of Redemption, which was filmed in New York late last year.

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