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The Man Behind the Mask

From Acting to Directing, Cigars to Jazz, Actor Peter Weller Is a Man of Many Passions
Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Matt Dillon, Spring 96

Peter Weller is waxing poetic about white truffles. "It is like putting gold bullion in pasta," he says, brandishing the fungi on his fork to make his point, before savoring their delicate aroma and flavor.

Seated in Bice, a posh Northern Italian eatery in midtown Manhattan, on a slightly cloudy, late October morning, the slender 6-foot-tall, 48-year-old actor and director is in New York City to talk about his many passions: acting, directing, art, politics, cigars, jazz and, not to mention, white truffles. Sporting large sunglasses, a checkered burgundy blazer and blue jeans, Weller, best known for his role as the gunned down policeman turned crime fighting machine in Robocop, has worked with some of the most revered actors and directors of our time: from Diane Keaton in Shoot the Moon, to Judy Davis in Naked Lunch and The New Age, to Woody Allen in Mighty Aphrodite and Michelangelo Antonioni in Par-Dela Les Nuages (Beyond the Clouds).

Many careers in Hollywood have had their ups and downs, and with a career spanning almost three decades, Weller has seen his share. It seems that he has often tottered on the brink of stardom, only to have it elude his grasp. He has been in only one blockbuster, Robocop, and, although a majority of his films have garnered him critical praise and a contingent of loyal fans, his is not a household name.

So who is Peter Weller? He is passionate and strong-willed. He is socially aware and politically active. He is witty with a tendency to poke fun at himself. But there is much more.

First, there are the cigars. Cigars, especially Cuban cigars, are one of life's greatest pleasures, according to Weller. An avid cigar smoker for more than 10 years, Weller prefers such Cuban brands as Cohiba, Partagas, Bolivar, Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey. But he has recently learned to appreciate premium Dominican cigars as well, such as Partagas, Arturo Fuente and Avo.

"I was at the Grand Havana Room [in Beverly Hills], and a guy sitting next to me had a box of Cohiba Esplendidos, and I was smoking an Avo XO Churchill," recounts Weller. "I don't think he knew how good the Dominicans could be. And he said, 'Oh, put that out.' And I said, 'I don't want to put this out' and he said he had Cohiba Esplendidos, and I said, 'I would not trade you this cigar for a Cohiba Esplendidos at this second in time.' What I wanted was a long cigar. What I wanted was a light peppery cigar. I wanted to enjoy my Avo."

Like most cigar smokers, Weller finds the ritual relaxing and one that fosters camaraderie. "I find when people smoke cigars, men and women, their nature immediately transforms to one of grace and compassion," he says between puffs on his Partagas Lusitania. "When I smoke a cigar I am happy. It is kind of a momentary celebration. When I work, [a cigar] calms me down and makes me more accessible. It makes me kinder."

Some people enjoy smoking cigars alone and at home. Others, like Weller, feel the need to go to bars, restaurants and sporting events with fellow cigar lovers. One of Weller's cigar smoking comrades is Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom he has known for some time. Once, the two actors were at a World Cup soccer match, and Schwarzenegger wanted to light up. "Arnold asked me for a cigar and I thought, man, you are only making $480 million a year. Not that I am broke. And I said, 'I will give you a cigar. What are you smoking?' and he said, 'Whatever is free, Peter.'"

Weller hasn't always been in cigar friendly company and, like, most aficionados, he has had to deal with the antismoking fervor that has swept across North America in recent years. "I did have an experience in Toronto. I was outside, in a very lively part of Toronto. There are a lot of bistros and cafes outside, way outside, with huge gardens. I light up a Lusitania and a guy four tables away comes up and says, 'Would you please put out your cigar?' Now, I look at this as a confrontation. Nothing was blowing his way. He was in my face and I said, 'No, I am not going to put out my cigar,' and the head waiter came and said, 'I am sorry, but we are outside and everybody can smoke out here,' and [the objector] says 'I don't like it.' I was outraged. Then I thought, this is nonsense, the guy is just doing this to get attention. Lo and behold, 10 minutes later he comes back and says he's sorry. He puts out his hand and repeats some doofus line from Robocop and then made a swipe for my cigar! My reaction was to give him a shove, and the bouncer came around and grabbed him. He went completely wild. This incident had very little to do with a cigar and much more to do with just creating a disturbance."

Weller concedes that altercations like this are rare, and if he is in a restaurant and his smoking bothers another patron, he will politely put his cigar out, or go elsewhere. Nevertheless, he is passionate about his right to smoke.


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Comments   1 comment(s)

Andrew Bejarano — Mesilla Park, New Mexico, United States Of America,  —  June 17, 2012 12:33am ET

Great interview with Weller. I love that fact that Weller will now get his PHD at the end of the year.


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