FROM COOL DUDE TO HOT PAPA
By DIANE BARONI
Executive Editor, Moviecrazed
I'd always been intrigued by the man and his music, but when I interviewed
Kris Kristofferson for Indie Magazine in 1998, I became even more
so. Complex doesn't even begin to describe him. He's brilliant,
funny, sweet, stunningly honest--one of the most fascinating people
I've ever interviewed.--D.B.
has, at various times in a hard-living, hard-loving, complex life,
been a janitor, bartender, novelist, Army helicopter pilot, Rhodes
Scholar, songwriter, movie star, singer. Hes been married
three times, slept with Barbra Streisand on screen and off, spent
a boozy, sex-drenched month with Janis Joplin. Hes had his
problems with liquor, dope and women, but the man who wrote and
sang such country classics as Help Me Make It Through the Night,
Loving Her Was Easier, Me and Bobby McGee, and Sunday
Morning Coming Down keeps coming up for more.
at 62, Kris Kristofferson is coming up as a serious actor. Just
last year, he won critical acclaim playing the evil sheriff in John
Sayles "Lone Star." And hes currently attracting
major attention in the role of a writer and World War II veteran
in the Merchant-Ivory movie, "A Soldiers Daughter Never
Cries," the new October Films release.
When we talk, hes in L.A., just back from Nashville, where
he performed at a tribute to country legends and long-time pals
Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. With his beat-up satyrs face
and long, wiry body, he still has a bad-boy edge, but the boozing,
sleep-around days are over. When hes not touring with his
band or making moviesbesides "Soldiers Daughter,"
his recent and upcoming films include "Blade," "Dance
With Me," "Payback," "Girls Night,"
"Father Damien," and "Joy Riders"he lives
on a remote village on Maui with his third wife, Lisa, and their
five kids, ages 14 to three. Kristofferson has three other childrenone
from his second marriage, to singer Rita Coolidge, and two from
his first, to his high school sweetheart, Fran Beer.
His relationship with all eight kids is tightone reason he
identified so strongly with his role in "Soldiers Daughter."
Based on the partly autobiographical novel by Kaylie Jones, daughter
of writer James Jones ("From Here to Eternity," "The
Thin Red Line"), its the story of an American family
living in Paris in the Sixties and Seventies. Kristofferson plays
the James Jones charactera successful expatriate writer whos
haunted by his memories of combat in the Pacific. When he suddenly
discovers a congenital heart problem is getting worse, he moves
his family back to the States so that he can be under the care of
American doctors. Although preoccupied with trying to finish his
final novel, about his war experiences, he still loves a good party
and a good poker game. But he loves his wife and kids a whole lot
"The more I found out about James Jones, the more I respected
him," Kristofferson says, leaning back in his chair in the
Santa Monica hotel where hes staying with his wife, his five
youngest kids, his 25-year-old daughter, Casey, and her two-year-old
daughter. "I think, in some ways, his life was the best piece
of work he did. He was a serious novelist, but Im not sure
that, as a writer, he ever measured up to Hemingway. In his life,
though, he left him way behind.
"I dont know if Ive always been as good a father
as James Jones was in the movie, but I tried to be. I have a much
more open relationship with my kids than most kids did with their
parents when I was growing up. Its like the way I get along
with dogs, you know? Little kids and dogs lock in on your eyes,
and you either get along with them or you dont, and it seems
like I do.
"Recently, my oldest son, Kris, and I were coming out of an
airport, and I saw this little kid Id seen back at the gate
with his mother, and I said, Lookthats the kid
who was coming out of the gate with us. And Kris said, Dad,
youre getting old. You noticed the little kid and I was looking
at his mother.
listen, in my relationship with kids, Ive experienced just
about everything you could. Ive been through everything. All
the rehabs in Southern California. And so have my kids. I quit drinking
right after "A Star Is Born" [with Barbra Streisand, at
left] but I was still smoking a lot of loco weed. Now I dont
son of an Air Force Major General, Kristofferson spent most of his
boyhood in the small town of Brownsville, Texas, just over the border
from Mexico. When he was 11, the family, which included a younger
brother and sister, started moving around the country. They wound
up in San Mateo, California, where Kristofferson finished high school
before going on to Pomona College and then Oxford University as
a Rhodes Scholar. His father, he says, was nothing like the stereotypical
taskmaster, military man.
"He could light up a room. Everybody loved
him. Before he died, he told me that although hed never understand
what I did or what I do, he could understand my need to do it. He
said he was sorry that hed gone along with any
Kristofferson pauses, lost in painful recollection. "My mother
was furious when I decided that I was going to go my own way, go
to Nashville and be a janitor and be a songwriter. I guess my background
and being a Rhodes Scholar had led to expectations that Id
go in a different direction. Do something responsiblebe Secretary
Which he might well have done had it not been for Vietnam. "Life
was so different before Vietnam, and the assassinations of all the
visionaries," Kristofferson says. "The scary thing about
it was that everybody J. Edgar Hoover hated, it looks like, died.
The experience had to change you. I was a totally different person
before Vietnam than I was after. My nickname in college was Straight
"Early on, when the anti-war movement first got going, I wasnt
part of it at all, because my friends were over in Vietnam. But
now I respect what those people did--Joan Baez and the rest--because
they were right. We didnt belong there. And they werent
protesting against the soldiers, they were protesting against the
sons-of-bitches that sent them there."
When Kristofferson, who was serving a five-year Army hitch, did
still believe our soldiers belonged there, he asked to be transferred
from Germany to Vietnam. Instead, he was assigned to teach English
literature at West Point. Thats when he resigned his commissions,
traveled to Nashville to pursue a career as a songwriter, and began
to listen toand believe passionately inwhat Baez and
other protesters, including disillusioned Vietnam vets, were saying.
later, when he was on the road during the Gulf War, Kristofferson
did some protesting of his own. "I may have been the only entertainer
out there who was talking against it, and I was getting picketed
for it. The whole country was waving flags and were bombing
the people of Baghdad around the clock. And the suits like Kissinger
are saying, We cant pull our troops now; wed lose
Theres a knock at the door, and Kristofferson lights up as
Casey and his granddaughter burst into the room, then gently explains
that hes doing an interview. "I think Im a much
better father as an older man than I was with my first kids,"
he says, when theyve left. "Occasionally, I have to yell
at the little guys, but they dont take me seriously. Listen
to the old guy, they say. Isnt he great? Hes
Someone who does take him seriously is John Sayles, his "Lone
Star" director, who has just assigned him to play a bush pilot
in "Limbo," a love story set in the rugged Alaskan wilderness.
"I feel a great debt of gratitude to John, mainly because he
revived my whole career," Kristofferson says. "I was trying
to express that to him one time after 'Lone Star.' I told him, You
know, any time I can work with you, Id be glad to work for
scale. And he says, Any time you work with me, you will
be working for scale.'"
Also high on the list of directors hes worked with are Martin
Scorsese ("Alice Doesnt Live Here Anymore"), the
late Sam Peckinpah ("Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid") and,
of course, James Ivory. "James Ivory is quite a gent. It was
nice working with a bunch of people who were emotionally involved
in the project, who believed in it. Its depressing to see
so many stupid movies get a lot of money."
Theres a line in "A Soldiers Daughter Never Cries"
where the James Jones character says hes afraid of leaving
important things unsaid and undone. Has Kristofferson ever felt
"Lately, Ive been gravitating back toward writing,"
he says. "When I started performing my own music back around
70, and doing movies at the same time, I got onto the performing
roller coaster, and expended so much creative energy doing that,
I didnt get around to writing the longer stuff I thought Id
be doing. And Im thinking it may be time to do that. my house
is a great place to write.
I live in Maui (where his neighbor is long-time pal Willie Nelson,
shown with him at left) is the closest thing to the way it was growing
up in Brownsville. Its like a big extended family. The local
kids call me Uncle. Like, Uncle, tie my shoe. They dont
treat you like a stranger. I feel like Im in a pretty honest
relationship with the people in my life now. Ive been married
for 15 years, and Ive got five little kids and a house.
"Its nice when it all comes together."
Click here for more interviews by Diane Baroni and Guy Flatley.