A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of getting on the phone with the one, the only Hart Bochner. Star of Terror Train and Die Hard, Breaking Away and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, as well as the director of one of the best cast comedies of the 90s, PCU. Now he’s appearing on The Starter Wife and spending his free time saving the planet. In fact, when I got on the phone with him he was refueling his hydrogen car at the only refueling station on the west side of Los Angeles. He had nothing but great things to say about that car…
It’s quite thrilling to drive this thing. Have you driven one of these cars?
I have not. I understand you’ve been incredibly involved in the progressive movement to get more fuel-efficient cars.
Yeah. I’ve been a greenie my whole life. I’m on the board of directors of the Environmental Media Association, which is the film industry’s only environmental group. But yeah, it’s funny because I had an electric car, I had the EV1, and that was this tragically doomed love affair, which I knew was going to come to a screeching halt when the lease ended. I don’t know if you know about this, but I went after the CEO of General Motors. I got his Blackberry address and started terrorizing him. We had this relationship for a couple of years that was sparked by the demise of the EV1 and then when he said a couple of years ago that it was a mistake I reconnected with him, and suddenly I was his friend and now he emails me two or three times a day. He has a whole team of scientists out there trying to disprove Global Warming, and while I told him I’m not drinking the Kool Aid, we have found common ground in that he thinks the planet needs to be cleaned up. One of the ways to save his company from bleeding these hideous record losses is to be at the forefront of alternative energy vehicles. The car I’m driving is a Chevy Equinox that’s been converted at the cost of around a million dollars each to run on hydrogen. I’ve been driving it a couple of months now, and it’s been fantastic.
That’s the thing with car companies is that you have to convince them they can make a buck on this. They’ll talk about saving the environment, but the only green they give a shit about is in their wallet.
Especially if there’s no government regulation dictating what they have to do. If there’s no mandate and you leave it up to the market, and gas goes up to 4, 5 bucks a gallon, people start to feel it in their pocket books, there’s suddenly instant motivation.
You recently got named the #2 Greatest Movie Sleazeball of All Time by Maxim for Die Hard. As an actor is that sort of a compliment for a role like that? Does it mean you did your job?
It’s fantastic. First of all, it was a long time ago, so the fact that the role and my performance still resonates with people is incredible. I basically improvised that riff. We were sort of left to our own devices, everybody had a great time, but nobody had any idea of what the outcome of it was going to be. Frankly we were left alone and I was working with [Alan] Rickman and Bruce [Willis] and Bonnie Bedelia, we had a great time. But no one had any sense that it was going to create a standard for the action genre. It was all pretty funny. I didn’t even know about this thing in Maxim Magazine is a casting director, and she told me, and the ego kicks in and my first thought was ‘Who’s number one?’
But of course it’s flattering. It’s terrific. Paul Giamatti’s on that list! The fact that after all these years people remember that role kills me. And it’s one of the smallest roles I’ve ever had, and that’s the one people, for some reason, remember me for. Which I think is surreal.
I know that you’re on The Starter Wife right now, but that show is going into hiatus. Does that mean you’ll be looking to do some directing again?
I’ve been looking at a few scripts. The thing is this: the last one took me a few years. It took me a year to write, a year to get financing, another six months to get cast and a year to get done. When I first started directing – my first film was called PCU –
Sure, I love that film.
I was a gun for hire. I had written and directed a black comedy that was a short with Jon Lovitz and the studio saw it and they hired me to do PCU. I was over the moon about that job, because I couldn’t believe I was doing a feature. My second film was a movie called High School High with the Zucker Bros for Sony, and then I found myself in movie jail. When you’re directing studio programmers and you don’t hit a certain box office number, you’re not advancing your career and you’re perceived as a gun for hire. I had wanted to be a director from the time I was ten years old because my baseball coach was a guy named Jerry Paris, who directed Dick Van Dyke and Happy Days, and I used to hang out with him all the time on the set and it seemed like a great way to make a living. I got into acting accidentally. But I had to go back to the drawing board and I wrote this script, Just Add Water, that Danny DeVito’s company got attached to. But my point is that when you get submitted material that you don’t write, you better make damn sure you like it and believe in it, because it’s a year or two years out of your life. For me I have to make sure the next one I do is somewhat of a labor of love otherwise, literally, what’s the point. I’m hoping that Starter Wife gets renewed and it goes on for a while because I love the gig, but I’d love to direct a movie during the hiatuses as well.
As a director for hire on PCU, how much say did you have in the casting on that one? Was that you?
Yes. It was great with that, because Peter Chernin had just been brought in to run the studio, and our executive was Michael London, who went on to produce Thirteen and Sideways and House of Sand and Fog. They had a lot of respect for the filmmaker and were very, very supportive. One thing they did do that I wasn’t thrilled about was that they required me to deliver a PG-13 movie, that was contractual, but I felt like they made me cut out the edgier, funnier, aspects of the whole PCU thing. We had to soften some of that stuff, which worked against the movie. It’s a whole marketing thing – what do we lose by making the movie R instead of PG-13? The movie, I understand has become a cult favorite, which is nice.
But you’re asking about casting – yeah, I fought for Piven. I fought for him over people like Adam Sandler, because I thought he had the kind of energy that was rare and kinetic and infectious. It’s interesting when you look back at the actors you hired and didn’t hire: Ashley Judd, Naomi Watts, Steve Zahn, Sandler, all these great young actors. The ones you hire are the ones who did best in the room. Sometimes that’s the to detriment of the box office, and you think ‘Ah shit, I should have hired so and so!’ But you never know. I was thinking what would make the funniest movie. I believe if that movie had been given its day, it would have done better.
When an actor or celebrity gets involved in an issue, some people will say, ‘Shut up, get back to acting, what do you know?’ What do you say to those people?
I’ve been a greenie my whole life. I grew up in Santa Monica and I went to school in North Hollywood, and in those days there was still leaded gasoline and going over the Sepulveda Pass you could never see Ventura Boulevard, let alone the mountains. I played on a football team and basketball team at school, and after school you couldn’t breathe at night. I was in this soup every day thinking, ‘What are we doing to ourselves?’
It’s one thing to join a cause because you think it’ll promote yourself and make you look good. It’s another thing to feel deeply passionate about a cause, whatever that is, and by lending your passion and name to it you can help make some kind of change. I think that’s very worthwhile. I was doing this quietly behind the 8 ball for a very long time. I gave up acting for a long time because I was directing, so my name value wasn’t doing anything, but my passion was inspiring people. After the demise of the EV1 Debbie Levin and I got a demo Toyota, and she and I directly were responsible for getting the movie industry to buy the Prius. Having to convince studios and agents and celebrities that driving a little Japanese car that wasn’t particularly sexy versus Porsches, Mercedes and BMWs was a tough thing to do. But we did it. Think about how many tons of CO2 we’ve taken out of the atmosphere by convincing people to be more responsible. Or how many people we’ve convinced to save water or use energy efficient light bulbs and devices and how they live their daily lives. That’s all very satisfying for me. It’s part of what I do, and I’ll do it until the day I die.
For me it’s never about self-promotion. I just want the planet to get better.
I have to say that it’s refreshing to talk to a celebrity who isn’t just going to fundraisers but is actually personally involved in the movement.
One of the things that I recognized when I joined the organization is that it’s more than just content in film and television product. More than having a message in programming, whether it be messages of recycling or alternative fuels or whatever it is. It’s also in deeds. So I created the EMA Green Seal, which is like a Good Housekeeping Seal for [environmentally friendly] productions. We sent out a list of targets to hit and if you abide by those, you get the EMA Green Seal on your movie. I wrote and directed a movie earlier this year that was the first to get the EMA Green Seal on the credits, on billboards and posters. Hopefully it becomes a standard for the industry.
As someone who has done that, put your money where your mouth is, that did a film that earns the seal, is it harder as a director? Can you reassure other directors that it won’t make things tougher?
You’re actually looking at saving money. What we’d like to do ultimately is have every production go carbon neutral, which isn’t expensive – it adds 50 grand to a hundred million dollar movie. As an indie we did the best we had with what we had. If you’re getting people to print scripts on both sides, if you’re using recycled paper, if you’re not using styrofoams and plastics when feeding your company, if you’re using alternative fuel vehicles for transpo, if you’re using biodiesel for running your generators instead of diesel fuel, ultimately you’re doing the planet a good thing, you’re saving money and you’re educating people in the process.
I’m doing this TV series now, The Starter Wife, and the first thing I did was send Debbie Levin over to meet with the production to talk about greening the company and have everybody do their best. I’m a hired gun on this, so the best I could do was to say to everyone ‘These are your options, do the best you can, hopefully we’ll get renewed and we can talk about something next year.’ But the company has done well in hitting the targets we asked them to hit.