He's the singer who's sold more than 70 million albums and the rocker whose Bat Out Of
Hell went on to become the fourth best-selling album of all time, but still Meat Loaf
prefers to think of himself as an actor rather than a musician.
And, right now, he may be perfectly poised to make the transition in the public mind,
with chunky roles in two of the biggest movies of the end of year (1999) season: Fight
Club and Crazy In Alabama.
"Why should anyone be surprised when they discover I
In both, he acquits himself handsomely - and in neither does he do anything even
remotely like a song.
"Look, I don't know why people don't think of me as an actor," says the man,
with a deep sigh. "I've been acting for years, way before I became a musician. I
always say I'm an actor; I can't sing unless I have a character. I think that goes back to
my mother telling me it's a good thing I'm not going to be a singer because I can't carry
a tune in a bucket. I don't like the way I sing too much anyway.
"I did theatre for six and half years in New York, I did Sam Shepherd plays, two
Shakespeare-In-The-Parks, two Broadway plays, even Hair. Why should anyone be surprised
when they discover I can act?"
For act, the bloke certainly can. In Fight Club, he even steals a number of scenes from
Ed Norton, as the sad, overweight fella who's had the terrible misfortune to grow women's
breasts as a result of a hormone treatment gone horribly wrong after having his cancerous
He meets Norton, a man in search of a life, at a self-help group. The pair sob in each
other's arms. Later, when Norton's character joins Brad Pitt's gung-ho Tyler Durden in
forming a fight club, where men meet up secretly to stage bare knuckle fights to "get
back in touch with themselves" as men, Meat Loaf turns up again. He ends up as one of
their most trusted lieutenants.
The film, made by David Fincher of Seven fame, and also starring Helena Bonham Carter,
has been criticised for being overly violent, insensitive and politically incorrect - all
arguments Meat Loaf is eager to challenge.
"Real violence is when men fight through anger,"
"Real violence is when men fight through anger," says Meat Loaf, dressed all
in black, with his long hair tied into a neat ponytail, sitting in a comfy chair at a
swish hotel at the Venice Film Festival where the movie premiered. "This film is
different. In this, they fight to feel alive.
"But also it's something that they control in their lives because they feel out of
control. Edward's character is in a job that he doesn't like and his possessions are
owning him. He's very unhappy. He wishes he could do something else, but he's afraid to do
something about it. If I quit, he worries, how am I going to pay for my condo?"
To Meat Loaf, this idea was particularly intriguing. "I've seen this situation so
often in my own life," he says. "I've seen guys playing in bars who are very
talented and could do well, but they're afraid to go and say, `Fuck this! I'm not going to
play this game'.
As he warms to his theme he shifts in his chair and the physical strength that backs up
his strongly-held views becomes momentarily apparent. Although not as heavy as he once
was, his physical presence is undiminished.
"For me, I'd rather live in the backseat of my car and have nothing so I could
continue being creative. There's an old saying, `Follow your heart and the money will
follow'. To be absolutely truthful, I've never done anything for the money and I never
will; I'll never let a house or car own me."
As for suggestions that the theme of fighting, especially when it involves Hollywood
icons like Pitt and Norton, could somehow leave young, impressionable men brawling on the
streets or spur them on to violent acts like the massacre at Columbine High, that doesn't
worry Meat Loaf unduly, either. In a conversation with Helena Bonham Carter's
psychotherapist mother, she suggested that real-life fight clubs could somehow serve as a
"You can't spend your whole life worrying in case you
And political correctness has never appealed to the bulky Los Angeles-based Texan who
answers to the nickname Meat. "Was I worried about offending cancer groups?" he
laughs. He shakes his head in bafflement. "You can't spend your whole life worrying
in case you upset people. Political correctness has gone too far. Those people make me
want to slap them.
"They're talking about the rights of everyone, of chickens for God's sake. I think
most people, at least I do, have a sense of humour about themselves. In England, Mel Smith
parodies me regularly. In America last year, I was parodied three times on Saturday Night
Live. You have to look at things humorously. If I had cancer I would be upset: not at that
movie, but at the fact that I had cancer. You've got to be able to laugh at
Over the years, this has proved one of rock 'n' roll's great survivors' most valuable
assets. After Bat Out Of Hell was released in 1977 and went on to sell 25 million copies
worldwide, he was taken on a whirlwind ride of fame. "It was a nightmare because it
became about fame, and I'm not about fame," he admits sadly. "It was never my
ultimate goal." The price turned out to be high, too. He came down to earth
afterwards with a bump, and fell deep into debt, depression, drink and legal disputes.
Of course, eventually along came Bat Out Of Hell II, which rescued him from decline,
but not before he'd learnt a few important lessons. Chief among them was that he should
continue an acting career that he'd originally loved so much.
"a new album.... autobiography.... and major movie
Now, the world is his oyster once more, not only with a new album just released in the
US, Storytellers, a tour planned to back it, and his autobiography just published, To Hell
And Back, but these major movie roles.
The second role, as a racist sheriff in the Deep South black comedy, Crazy in Alabama,
starring Melanie Griffith and directed by Griffith's husband Antonio Banderas, was again
something he cherished. He didn't find the actual experience at all enjoyable, however.
"I kept going into my trailer and crying," he says, looking grim. "I
kept apologising to all the actors during the day because I felt so bad about what my
character was doing. I spent on eentire day sobbing uncontrollably. He is horrible. Evil.
He was very Nazi-like in that there was no remorse."
Safely away from the set, however, Meat Loaf is basking in the fact that his acting
career is once again the one making waves. He can appreciate it all the more too, since
he's been down as far as anyone can go, and has climbed right back up again. Yet you can
emerge out of that kind of experience without the battle scars.
"I'm very thankful for everything I have."
"I say thank you for my life - yes, all the time," he says, quietly.
"I'm very grateful, very fortunate, I'm very thankful for everything I have. I
understand how incredibly lucky I am.
"Too many people come from a place of entitlement and that makes me angry. I want
to slap them." He stops suddenly and guffaws. "I want to take them down to Fight