Back in the ’90s, Ryan Phillippe came onto the scene as the go-to toxic pretty boy heartthrob in such cult teen films as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Cruel Intentions and 54. Fighting against type, he soon branched out by working with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Robert Altman, and Tony Scott in critically-appraised fare such as Gosford Park, Flags of Our Fathers, Lincoln Lawyer, and the Oscar-winning Crash. Now with three very different roles in three new films, the father of three is clearly not ready to slow down.
We sat down with the Delaware-native to discuss his slate of new projects, what he learned from working with legendary directors, his newfound love of rock climbing, and—of course—the appeal of a Ten Most Wanted list.
Tell us about your role in the upcoming film Summit Fever?
I play Leo. He’s a mountain climbing guide veteran from America, relocated to Chamonix. Leo loves traditional mountaineering and is probably the most experienced climber in the group. He doesn’t really like outsiders.
You received extensive climbing training for this film. Did you end up climbing either the Eiger, Mont Blanc or Matterhorm mountains? Is this something you’d like to pursue going forward?
One of the enticing reasons for doing this movie is that I’ve always wanted to try climbing and knew the training would involve being taught by some of the best in their field. It was as terrifying and exhilarating as I imagined it would be. Especially the ice climb training. We had almost two weeks to get up to speed and look like we knew what we were doing – climbing portions of Mont Blanc and other local mountain areas on the Italian side, but sadly not the Eiger. So, I guess I have to go back. My son and I are planning a climbing trip. It will be his first time.
When I think of the Eiger, I’m reminded of the Clint Eastwood film The Eiger Sanction and that you yourself were directed by Eastwood in Flags of Our Fathers and have also worked with such legendary directors as Robert Altman, Ridley and Tony Scott, Christopher McQuarrie and many others. Is there a working experience or relationship that has been particularly influential on you as an artist?
I was so fortunate to have been able to work with and become fairly close to all those filmmakers, but I had a special relationship with Tony Scott, who I considered a mentor. There was even a period that I lived on his property. He was the most fun and I miss him greatly. Altman was so kind to me during Gosford Park. I was the only American outside of Bob Ballaban, and I was away from my newborn child, and he and his wife Katharine, I think, felt an extra responsibility to take care of me. I learned so much from him on that film. He made me sit next to him while watching screened dailies every day at lunch. The best film school ever. Both he and Clint taught me the most about how to operate a set efficiently, as well as how to get the best out of your cast and crew. Treat everyone with respect and as true collaborators.
Also out in October is American Murderer, based on the true story of suspected murderer and conman Jason Derek Brown, a fugitive who is still at large and wanted by the FBI. What attracted you to this project and how did you come to be involved?
I love true crime stories. True stories, in general. Selfishly, it makes prep a lot easier because the person you’re playing exists or did at one time. I’m also drawn to any story that involves the Ten Most Wanted list, which Jason Brown was on. And I really like our young director, Matthew Gentile. I think he’s got a bright future.
You wrote, directed and starred in the 2014 thriller Catch Hell. Do you see yourself directing or writing more in the future?
I enjoyed every single second of making Catch Hell. It was the culmination of a lifelong dream to direct a movie. Independent films are tough, the budget was under 2 million, only had 19 days, but I’m very proud of what we made and how odd and dark the movie is at times. I will be directing again, possibly very soon, something fun in the horror genre. As for writing, it may be my favorite part of the process and the thing I think I’m best at, so I will continue those efforts. I’ve got a few other existing scripts that will hopefully find a home someday.
With so much going on, it seems like it could get overwhelming. What do you do to help keep you sane?
Life is overwhelming for us all at times. I try to manage that with exercise and time in nature. I love the outdoors and travel. Two things that get me out of my head and make me feel optimistic. Hobbies though… It’s hard for me to sit still and most hobbies require that. The things that used to hold my attention in that regard, no longer do at this advanced age.
CHECK OUT RYAN
As Leo in Paramount’s Summit Fever
As John J. Flynn in the true-crime biopic Miranda’s Victim
As Lance Leising in the true-crime drama American Murderer
As Hunter in Collide
As Henry Denton in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park
As Jon Bradley in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers
As Parker in Way of the Gun
As Sabastian Valmont in Cruel Intentions