Chris Isaak Plays a Wicked Acting Game

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
June 19, 1994

Chris Isaak used to joke that he had less screen time in the three films he’s been in so far than in the video for his breakthrough single, “Wicked Game.”

Those days are gone.  The San Francisco-based singer-actor stars as the father of a young boy believed to be a reincarnated Buddhist teacher in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Little Buddha” (now playing in Chicago at the Fine Arts). Last year, Isaak took a break from recording for filming in Nepal and Seattle.

“Nepal was a beautiful country, but everyone kept warning me that I’d get sick there,” he said.  “People around me were dropping like flies, but luck was with me, and I didn’t have any problems. You just don’t eat anything you don’t boil. You want a candy bar? You boil it first.”

Though Isaak’s mother speaks fluent Italian, and so he’s familiar with the language, Isaak had trouble following the conversations of the primarily Italian film crew.

“I kind of used the method dogs use to to understand things,” he said.  “I relied on their tone rather than their words to figure out what was going on. I was pretty good with lunch. I always knew when that was.”

Best known for his moody music, Isaak had his eyes set on a film career since his college days, but decided music might be his entre into movies.  He was right.  After releasing his 1985 debut album, “Silvertone,” Isaak attracted the attention of directors Jonathan Demme and David Lynch, who liked his music.  Isaak had bit parts in  Demme’s “Married to the Mob” and “The Silence of the Lambs” and Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.”

But it was “Little Buddha” that got him invited to the Cannes Film Festival for the first time.

“It was like a celebrity picnic, but I didn’t meet any famous people there,”‘ said Isaak, who turns 38 on June 26.  “But it’s funny because you always think you’re seeing someone famous. My drummer (Kenney Dale Johnson) was all excited because he thought he saw Brad Pitt, and then later someone else said that Brad Pitt wasn’t there. Someone probably saw me and told someone else they saw Karl Malden.”

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