Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Raul Julia Interview

Newspaper Enterprise Association


He's creepy, but not particularly kooky or ooky. And while we perhaps might be speaking of Othello — one of the many Shakespearean characters Raul Julia has played to acclaim on the New York stage — we refer, of course, to Julia's inimitable Gomez Addams.

After a broad, distinguished theater career and charismatic roles in many movies, Julia has found his biggest audience as patriarch of the dryly comic ghouls of Addams Family Values, the sequel to last year's hit, The Addams Family. Based, like the 1960s TV series, on the late Charles Addams's long-running cartoons for The New Yorker magazine, the film reunites Julia, Anjelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd and Christina Ricci as members of the horrific but loving family.

"Well, y'know," says Julia gamely, "each situation is interesting for its own sake. And as far as the Addams Family movies go, of course, I'm glad they're successful. It's a fun show, and I enjoy it very much. It's an excellent situation for having fun."

Gomez, indeed, is a wonderfully hammy role, and Julia plays it with a remarkable combination of cartoonishness and class. "With Gomez, my director, Barry Sonnenfield, would usually say, 'Go all the way! You can't go far enough!' But," says Julia, smiling, recognizing his larger-than-life tendencies, "I don't agree with that. I can go far enough!" he jokes. "Luckily, with Gomez you can go further than with most [roles]."

And Julia goes pretty far with his roles, whether as the chummy, gregarious drug-runner of Tequila Sunrise (1988), the coolly slick lawyer of Presumed Innocent (1990), or the tortured political prisoner Valentin in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985). Each has a palpable passion that seeps off the screen.

In person, on the other hand, Julia seeps relaxation. Looking like any other pleasant, comfortable, 53-year-old family man — his large eyes cheery and soulful, his full head of hair a stew of black and gray — Julia is upbeat about the new film, but otherwise subdued.

He was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where his father, a one-time engineer, opened a successful restaurant called The Chicken Inn, where, says Julia, he introduced pizza to the island. "He got the idea from traveling in New York when pizzas were just starting to be sold there, too, in the late '40s." Though his father passed away, the restaurant still exists, leased to different owners.

Julia himself came to the land of pizza in 1967, after having graduated from the University of Puerto Rico and performing in many amateur productions — and at a club where he was seen by actor Orson Bean (now of CBS's Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), who urged him to try making it in New York. Julia wound up under the wing of the late Joseph Papp, director of the New York Shakespeare Festival, and began a long and fruitful stage career, including a quartet of Tony Award nominations.

"I always wanted to be doing theater," Julia muses. "If a film came along and I auditioned for it and got it, then fine. But I would always come back to New York to do theater."

It may be a while before that happens — he's currently in negotiations for four movie projects, including playing artist Diego Rivera in a planned Frida Kahlo biography, The Two Fridas, to be directed by Luis Valdez (La Bamba).

In the meantime, Julia remains in New York, near his beloved theater, along with his wife of 17 years, former dancer Merel Poloway, and their sons, Raul Sigmund III and Benjamin Rafael. And as much as he can, he'll keep mixing his roles between the silly and the serious, as in art-house movies like Romero (1989) and The Penitant (1988).

"I like entertainment just for the sake of it," Julia says. "But also I like seeing an audience leaving the theater with something more than just a bellyful of popcorn."

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