Whether he’s losing 40 pounds to play a POW for Werner Herzog in Rescue Dawn, plotting against George Clooney as an ex-con/stoner in Out of Sight or voicing a wise-cracking bear in Dr. Dolittle 2, Steve Zahn knows how to make an audience laugh. (And an editor, too.) As he continues the leap from comedic sidekick to leading man as Jennifer Aniston’s mismatched love interest in Stephen Belber’s Management, the Minnesota native opens up about his introduction to Hollywood—and why he’s not ashamed to admit he’s never seen Citizen Kane.
Jennifer M. Wood (MM): What is the first movie you remember seeing in a theater?
Steve Zahn (SZ): Not the first, but one that sticks out is Midway. My parents went to see it on a date and I begged to go along. I spent the next year pretending I was a Navy pilot in a refrigerator box.
MM: Who inspired you to become an actor?
SZ: My acting teacher, Frank Plute, and John Malkovich in [the play] True West, which I saw after I had dropped out of college and was working at a machine shop in Minnesota.
MM: Which is harder: Comedy or drama?
SZ: Comedy. Especially when it isn’t funny.
MM: What’s the one line a reviewer has said about you that has always stuck with you?
SZ: Someone once compared me to Steve McQueen. It makes me laugh, but I’ll take it.
MM: What’s the one project you passed on that you kicked yourself for later?
SZ: “Band of Brothers.” I had a good reason not to do it (the birth of my firstborn), but it still stings.
MM: What’s the one role you lucked into—by someone else passing on it—that the other actor is probably kicking himself for now?
SZ: An actor, last minute, dropped out of the table read of That Thing You Do! The reading ultimately got me the part.
MM: What’s the hardest you’ve ever worked for a role?
SZ: Rescue Dawn. I lost 40 pounds for the role. And being a low-budget movie, I wasn’t paid much.
MM: Who has the most important role on a film set?
SZ: The script supervisor.
MM: What’s the most underrated performance of all time?
SZ: Myself in Race the Sun… not.
MM: If you could shoot one project all over again, which would it be and why?
SZ: “Band of Brothers.” With me in it.
MM: Have you ever lied about seeing a particular movie?
SZ: I lie about seeing movies on a consistent basis.
MM: What movie are you most embarrassed to never have seen?
SZ: Citizen Kane. But it’s in black and white, so how good could it really be?
MM: To whom would you give an Oscar?
SZ: Sam Rockwell.
MM: If you could play any role in any movie, what would it be?
SZ: Teddy Roosevelt, the early years.
MM: What’s the one question you’ve never been asked at an interview—but would love to answer?
SZ: “What’s your favorite food?” Bananas. MM