Judging from the on-screen company he's shared -- Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Lopez, Zoe Saldana, Drew Barrymore, Madonna, Julianne Moore, Courteney Cox -- you'd think Michael Vartan was one of the world's most famous actors. But as he freely admits, those gigs were lovely but have painted him into a professional corner.
Michael wants to slash throats and tickle your funny bone but Hollywood is only interested in seeing him make lovey-dovey faces at a slightly more famous female. It's a champagne problem, but a problem none-the-less.
One that I found him refreshingly willing to talk about as we chatted about his role in the underrated actioner, Colombiana, where he plays the love interest to Zoe Saldana's revenge-fueled assassin.
TheInsider.com: What was it about Colombiana that attracted you?
Michael Vartan: The overall nature of the movie – the action and the intensity, plus everyone's a sucker for a mafia movie. That whole cartel world is so mysterious. I don't get to shoot a gun or say any cool things though – I'm the love interest in the movie for 10 minutes … if you don’t blink [laughs]. But ultimately it was the chance to work with Zoe [Saldana], [producer] Luc Besson and the script reminded me of Alias meets Scarface.
Insider: Given the Alias undertones, I kept waiting for you to pull a gun.
Michael: [laughs] Exactly. I was waiting for that too, but it never happened. It's funny, when we finished my part, I was joking with the director about a sequel. If ever a movie had sequel written all over it, it's Colombiana. I could be the bad guy!
Insider: You and Zoe really sparked on-screen -- did you know her prior to this?
Michael: I'd never met her. I've been asked a few times based on the leading ladies I've been fortunate enough to work with, what they have in common. And I always say that they're all able to generate their own chemistry. Not to say that I didn't bring something to the table, but ultimately, a phonebook would have chemistry opposite Zoe. Who would not have chemistry with her, seriously? She's so charismatic and elegant and strong – it was just a case of learn your lines, don't vomit on her shoes and Zoe will take care of the rest [laughs]. I've been doing this for 22 years now, and looking back on my projects, I've been able to work with some amazing women. At the time, they were all at the top of their game. I feel really blessed to have been part of those projects, but now that I'm getting older, I care less about the romantic comedies or being the leading male – I want to do something really dark or really funny.
Insider: You know, after seeing your work in the internet series Backwash, I remember thinking, Vartan is really funny and wondering why you didn't make more irreverent comedies like that.
Michael: You know how this business is. Everyone sees me as the nice teacher in Never Been Kissed or the apple pie eating CIA Agent in Alias. No one could possibly see me with a shaved head, no teeth and mass murdering people in a movie. That's kind of frustrating in the sense that I'm not even on the radar for lots of those projects. Look, I'm no DeNiro, but if you got me in the audition room, I could change a lot of opinions. It is what it is. I'm not a spiritual person, but we're all exactly where we should be ... or we'd be somewhere else. That's my favorite expression.
Insider: It's not like you're 800 years old, there's plenty of time to change that perception. But how do you approach doing that?
Michael: That's exactly the position I'm in now. I've had a few meetings with my agents over the last 6 months where I say that I want to do comedy or dark projects. There's nothing wrong with the romantic leads, we wouldn't be talking right now if it wasn't for those roles, but I don't want to do them anymore. At the end of the day, it's boring. I want to curse, I want to shoot people or I want to make them laugh. I just want to do interesting, mentally stimulating projects – the problem with romantic characters is you know everything they're about by page 10. That predictability isn't exciting. When the alarm goes off at 5am, I want to leap out of bed and shout, "Yes! I get to go play that crazy character today! That's awesome." As opposed to, "Ugh, this boring fart again." The road to that is going to be paved with stuff like Backwash – the roles that are small enough they're willing to take a chance on me. I'm not going to be starring opposite Will Ferrell in the next Christmas blockbuster, that's not how this industry works, but I could get there.
Insider: Like many people, I loved -- and still have serious affection for -- your Alias character. Do you still feel that passion from fans?
Michael: You know, I don't. I think one of the reasons is that Alias has been off the air for a while. In the street I get a lot of, "Is that the guy from … nah!" I kind of have the best of both worlds where I can go about my business without being hounded by paparazzi but at the same token, you want to be recognized because that means your career is in a specific place. I'm a very picky actor in terms of the things I try and do, which is hard when you don't have access to all that great material. Because I'm not working constantly, I do feel like, "Hey! Does anyone remember me? I did a movie 15 years ago?" That's sort of normal for most actors. Show me an actor who's not insecure about their next job once the current one wraps. I wish I didn't care, but it's typical. You wrap one movie and you think, "I'll never work again."
Colombiana is now available no DVD, click here to buy.