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/Film - Matthew Modine's Birdy Casting 'Flabbergasted' Even Him


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In 2014, Matthew Modine appeared at the 9th Annual Macon Film Festival to celebrate the 30th anniversary of "Birdy." He told CW69 Atlanta, "It was a film that just about every young actor in Hollywood wanted to be in. A lot of young actors wanted the parts of Birdy and Al." He originally auditioned for the role of Al, but was surprised to hear that he won the title role instead: 

"I said 'Well, that's great! Are you going to change the character's name or am I going to play an Italian-American?' And [director Alan Parker] said 'What are you talking about? You're going to play Birdy!'"

During the 1980s, there were many films about Vietnam veterans trying to reconcile with the trauma and confusion of a hated war. The trend started with "Coming Home" in 1978 and went on into the late 1980s in films such as "Jacknife," "Born on the Fourth of July," and "In Country." "Birdy" was also one of these films.

"Birdy" is a strange, fairytale-esque take on Vietnam veterans who are dealing with PTSD. Alan Parker's film has an absurdist vision that sets it apart from other Vietnam War movies, reflecting the chaos of a war with no clear motive. Nicolas Cage plays Al, a veteran with a damaged face who visits his best friend, nicknamed Birdy, in a psychiatric hospital. After fighting in Vietnam, Birdy no longer speaks and pretends to be a bird, often perched naked on his bed and staring at the sky yearning for some kind of escape. Flashback scenes contrast Al and Birdy's happiness before the damage of war.

Although Matthew Modine did not expect to play Birdy, it became one of his most celebrated performances. 

What Makes His Performance Great


Matthew Modine elaborates in his interview with CW69 Atlanta about being cast in the challenging lead role: 

"I was flabbergasted because I hadn't auditioned for Birdy. I had never imagined playing the part of Birdy. So, I had to really go through an extraordinary transformation in my mind of trying to bring this remarkable character to life."

Through his physicality, the actor had to authentically portray Birdy's transition into a catatonic state after fighting in Vietnam. Matthew Modine relies on the power of his expressions from his angular yet sensitive face, and simplistic, languid movements to convey a psychologically broken man. Birdy no longer talks, his eyes are glazed over, and his mind appears to be elsewhere. In flashbacks, we see the childlike goofiness that once radiated joy and curiosity, has been extinguished.

Birdy has a fixation on birds, capturing pigeons and constructing wings to try and fly. He regards the birds with a wide-eyed wonder that borders on sensuality, gently brushing his fingers against their feathers; his love of birds is deep and profound. Alan Parker conveys Birdy's obsession through an innovative sequence, where Birdy imagines flying above his small town, leaving his troubles behind as he goes up to the sky. Birdy is not the typical protagonist of a Vietnam War film. His preoccupation with birds can be a bit eccentric, but Matthew Modine's earnest performance brings out the gentle purity of his character that, in light of his transformation, is devastating.

The Actor Connected To Vietnam Veterans


Although Matthew Modine originally thought he would never play Birdy, he ended up having a spiritual connection to his character. In an illuminating interview about his career with Military.com, Modine describes his preparation to perform the role: 

"I got down on my hands and knees, and I begged that all of those veterans ... who had ever been misunderstood and beaten up by life that [were] suffering from — we didn't use the term then, post-traumatic stress, but shellshock ... that those people might come to my aid and help me to interpret this role. I felt the rush of these souls of spirits from the beginning of time come rushing into me and help to guide me to interpret that role of Birdy."

Modine explains in the interview that the Vietnam War had an impact on his young life and he used his career to try and comprehend its meaning: 

"I've made three films trying to understand the Vietnam War ["Streamers, "Birdy," and "Full Metal Jacket"] and I come to terms with the fact that I'm never going to understand why it was being fought. I'm not sure that the American people will ever understand why we were in that war and the tremendous costs for so many young Americans who were drafted, who served, who enlisted, and the repercussions for their lives afterward when they came home."

While "Birdy" is bizarre, it is a powerful film anchored by Matthew Modine's tender performance, and the way he traces the destruction of Birdy's innocence is heartbreaking. 

Read this next: 14 Underrated '80s Movies That You Need To See

The post Matthew Modine's Birdy Casting 'Flabbergasted' Even Him appeared first on /Film.

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