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MEAT LOAF

That big guy Meat Loaf - the singer who is really an actor - sobs for a day on the set, he admits to JIMMY THOMSON at the Venice Film Festival, and defends the violence in Fight Club.

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 can act?"

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 testicles removed.

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 cathartic alternative.

"You can't spend your whole life worrying in case you upset people"

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 yourself."

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 roles"

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 Club."

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Meat Loaf

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Meat Loaf co-stars with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in Fight Club, released Nov 11, 1999, and with Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith in Crazy In Alabama, released Dec 9, 1999.

REVIEWS; FEATURE

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... in Fight Club


... in Crazy in Alabama


.... singing

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