Hollywood icon Timothy Hutton stars in the new ABC drama American Crime, which premiered the first week of March. Raised in Cambridge, he won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for his first major film role, as Conrad Jarrett in Ordinary People, at the age of 20. He has since starred in numerous films, among them Taps, Daniel, The Falcon and the Snowman, Beautiful Girls, Kinsey and The Good Shepherd. His theater credits include Prelude to a Kiss, Babylon Gardens and The Oldest Living Graduate, and his television credits include leading roles on TNT’s Leverage and A&E’s A Nero Wolfe Mystery, on which he also served as executive producer, director and music supervisor. He lives primarily in upstate New York.
Timothy Hutton: It’s not a procedural. It’s about the people affected by the murder—victims’ families and suspects’ families.
Biggest crime you ever committed? Jaywalking.
What is your favorite movie of yours? I would say Beautiful Girls.
The Falcon and the Snowman.
Beautiful Girls I would have said Beautiful Girls, too, but I already said it. Ted and Amanda Demme put together an amazing soundtrack for that, but there’s something about Falcon and the Snowman, with Pat Metheny and David Bowie, that’s just incredible. Plus, I got to be there for the sessions.
Beautiful Girls Yeah, we all knew. There was something about the poise she had at a very young age and an understanding of the depth of that character that she played so beautifully. Everybody saw it. Everybody knew it, and it was it was no surprise that everything that followed did.
Yeah. Imagine how I felt playing the role. She just was such a lovely person, and those scenes were quite incredible to play. And they were very, very delicately directed by Ted Demme, because it was walking a fine line there. Some people’s reaction to it is that it’s this incredible kind of connection between two people, and some people have commented—very few I might add—that they think it’s weird and strange.
Wasn’t it set in Boston? One of the reasons I wanted to do that movie was that it was going to be shot in Boston. And then the producers said, “We want to absolutely guarantee ourselves that we’ll have snow on the ground, so let’s go to Minneapolis and do it there because there’s always snow.” And that year, there was no snow in Minneapolis.
These giant flatbed trucks rolled up with cotton rolls, and a lot of the scenes where you see people out and about in the background with snow on the ground, it’s actually cotton. And they had snow-blowing machines. It was also the first movie for this guy’s new invention using potato flakes. So whenever it was snowing out or there were mounds of snow, it was all potatoes.
Oh, boy. You know, what I love about that question is that it assumes there’s only one.
Is there an emerging talent you’d love to work with? So many right now. I can’t remember a time in the last 15 or 20 years with such an amazing group of young actors. Two that come to mind are Eddie Redmayne and Chloe Moretz.
Again, the beauty of the question is the built-in assumption that there’s just one. I’ve been lucky, though. I wouldn’t want to work with someone who doesn’t take the opportunity seriously, or thinks they’re above the project and doesn’t come prepared.
Favorite director you ever worked with? If I was forced to answer just one director, which is really hard to do, because Demme, Schlesinger, Polanski, Redford. Bill Condon. John Ridley. So many. Alan Rudolph. Harold Becker. Robert De Niro. But if I really had to pick just one, I’d say Sidney Lumet. I was fortunate to work with him twice, and the way that he prepares a movie is like you’re doing a play. You have four weeks of rehearsal. You do run-throughs. You have full dress rehearsals with props before you film anything. You get so connected to the material.
Do you wish you did more theater? Sure. But then again, I probably couldn’t have bought my house. Doing theater is not just a completely different way of approaching acting, but the life around it is kind of incredible, too. You do eight shows a week, and most performances are in the evening, except for two matinees, so you have the days for yourself and then you have this event that you get to go participate in. Friends show up, and you go out to dinner afterward. Every night, the feeling of the play, the tone, the reaction to the play is radically different.
I wish I could tell the 20-year-old self from where I sit now not to think so much. Get out of your head. Not to worry.
Well, I don’t know about fun. It’s the most surreal kind of out-of-body experience you could ever imagine. Every possible thing that could cause nervousness or anxiety, all of these factors just come at you all at once.
How did you escape the craziness of Hollywood? You were 20, had just won Best Supporting Actor… Well, I think the particular circumstances of my life during that time helped ground me because of work. The day after the Academy Awards, I was on the first flight to Philadelphia to begin filming on Taps in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. I was already well into another character, working with amazing young actors like Tom Cruise, Sean Penn and Giancarlo Esposito, and then there was George C. Scott. I had to be on my game.
I think partially, but also work and family were. Where I lived might’ve helped a little bit. I didn’t live in L.A. I lived in upstate New York, so when I wasn’t working, I wasn’t in the middle of all that.
I wish I had been because that’s exactly the kind of book I would have loved when I was a kid. I wasn’t aware of them until I was in my 20s.
Probably the Heisman. [Laughs]
Do you think Donna Reed ever farted? [Laughs] Certainly not.
Wow. They both were great, but I would have to say Mary Tyler Moore, because I really got to know her. I didn’t really know Donna Reed off the set, but Mary I got to know and she’s a really exceptional human being.
Good question. Because the restaurant business is such a sound investment, and I wanted to voluntarily put a lot of money into something I would never see a return on. Just kidding. It’s done very well. I went there a lot when I was a kid. It’s New York history, and it had a special significance with my family, so when a friend in the restaurant business said it was for sale and asked if I wanted in, I said yes.
Kinsey Well, the most uncomfortable thing is that a film set is usually cold. Yes, there are 75 people there doing their jobs, and they’re fully clothed, and you’re not. But you just kind of go for it.
You dated Patti Davis during your 20s. Favorite memory of President and Mrs. Reagan? Well, when she thought it was time to meet Mom and Dad. It was just before he moved into the White House, but he’d just been elected. They had a house up in Bel Air, and there were all these checkpoints to pass through. Finally, we get to the front door, and Nancy answered it. She said, “Welcome, welcome,” and showed us into this study with a wet bar. She called out for Ronnie, and he came down looking cool in a white turtleneck and cowboy boots and jeans, and he offered Nancy a drink and asked Patti and me if we’d like a glass of milk. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] She’s a great person, and that was an incredible period of time in my life.
I’ve managed to not really to be part of those things, and when I have, it’s just been kind of pseudo-innocuous stuff. I spend a lot of time in France, because my younger son lives there, and I’ll read something like that I was at some rowdy club in L.A. when I was with my kid in France.
At its core, it’s really an eccentric town with crazy history. It can be a great place to be when things are going well, and it can be the most isolating place on earth when things aren’t.
Thing you miss most about Boston? The snow. Kidding! Everything. I love the city. But what I miss most is my uncle, who passed away from Alzheimer’s in November. He was the real rock of our family, an exceptional person. He was a history teacher at Watertown High. John Hayward.
So what’s left for you to conquer? Well, everything. There’s no telling what it will be, but it’ll be interesting to find out.
Photography: Clay Patrick McBride; Grooming: Losi at Martial Vivot Salon / Honey Artists using Oribe; Wardrobe: Ise White / Tracey Mattingly; Styling assistant: Alex Robinson; Styling intern: Liz Carson; Wardrobe: Cognac leather jacket from Belstaff, chambray shirt from Elie Tahari, John Varvatos t-shirt