You Can't Be Everybody's Friend:
On the beat with EvenHand's Bill Sage

by Matt Mulcahey

From his frequent collaborations with director Hal Hartley (Simple Men) and other indie successes (High Art, I Shot Andy Warhol) to edgy studio fare (American Psycho, Boiler Room), actor Bill Sage has built an impeccable body of work by seeking challenge over commerce.

With a slate of new films horizon and an intense, raw and funny performance in the new Texas beat cop character study EvenHand, the Staten Island born actor appears on the verge of expanding his reputation beyond the art houses of the New York City.

Directed by fellow New Yorker Joseph Pierson and shot in San Antonio, EvenHand traces the mundane and extraordinary events that comprise a year in the lives of a pair of South Texas cops (Sage’s Officer Ted Morning and Bill Dawes’ Officer Rob Francis).

A graduate of the State University of New York (SUNY) who got his break when friend and SUNY alumn Edie Falco took him to the set of Hartley’s The Unbelievable Truth, Sage had to look no further than his own family to crawl into the alpha-male mindset of a police officer.

“I have a father who spent 34 years in the military and my uncle was career law enforcement,” Sage said. “I get along great with my father, though I differ politically on his views, and I respect what he has to say. But I think there’s a mentality I noticed with my dad and my uncle in the way they view the world. They are good people, they’re good, good guys, but there’s a self-righteousness about them and I tried to bring that to the role.”

While his family served as inspiration and a role as a police officer partnered with John C. Reilly in 1996’s Boys helped as well, it was during a series of pre-production ride-alongs with San Antonio police officer Richard Hodge that Sage truly discovered the character of Officer Morning, a well-meaning but rage-filled man who yearns to connect with people but isn’t equipped with the ability to do so.

“As an actor I love research and I became good friend with Richard Hodge. He’s the real deal. He’s not a cop like Morning, he's a really good cop, but the cadence in which he spoke, the way he moved, were the same,” Sage said.

While the extreme antics of Sage’s Officer Morning clash with and the by-the-book friendliness of his recently transferred partner (Francis’ Officer Dawes), so do the film’s dueling tones of comedy and tragedy.

“I think with Bill Dawes it was a relationship that worked from the very beginning. He’s a smart actor. There was a camaraderie with Bill, we worked out an awful lot together because these guys were really fucking buff and it was in the script that they took care of themselves,” Sage said.

“What’s great about (the San Antonio cops) is that they play to each other, they try to make each other laugh. It’s all done for their partner’s sake. They’re like a bunch of little boys on a certain level. They’re like a high school homeroom and part of the reason why is the reality that they have a job that’s really dangerous. There was a cop shot when we got to San Antonio and there was a cop shot when we left, and how they deflect that fear is what was of interest of me.”

As EvenHand and Sage’s dynamic performance make the festival rounds in search of theatrical distribution, the actor has already finished Salma Hayek’s directorial debut Maldanado Miracle and the Gary Oldman/Ving Rhames New York revenge drama Sin and is preparing to shoot Mary Harron’s The Battle of Betty Page and another Hartley film co-starring Chloe Sevigny, Jaime “Billy Elliot” Bell and Saffron Burrows.

"My character is a hard-boiled detective type of guy who is a revolutionary," Sage said of his most recent teaming with Hartley. "He narrates the movie as it's going along and a little bit of that is a dime-store detective novel sort of thing. I think it’s very timely."

originally published on 04/17/03 19:50:31.