Cain and Dante, the stars of 1997’s Volcano and Dante’s Peak, respectively, settle into the booth across from me at a small diner outside of Roslyn, Washington, where they’re currently on location doing post production work for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks reboot. For Dante, it’s a return to the state that made him a star. For Cain, it’s a return to the kind of prestige project he once seemed destined to star in forever. Over eggs and biscuits, the two volcanic legends look back on the 20th anniversary of their signature films, being typecast in Hollywood, and what’s the next step for two mountains who have already seen the summit.
The two of you ended up in the same place, two decades ago, but you took different routes to that destination.
Cain: Well, my Dad had a really successful career in Hollywood. He played the title role in Joe Vs. The Volcano and also starred as the volcano in When the Time Ran Out with Paul Newman. So I grew up in LA, in Hollywood. I was around movie sets my whole life. I think my passion for acting surprised my Dad. He never pushed me to follow him. People used to cry nepotism whenever I booked a gig, and to a certain extent I don’t shy away from that label. I’m not ashamed of it. My Dad is who he is. I’m not the first actor to get a break because of his Dad. I just knew that if and when I got a shot, I wanted to be more Robert Downey, Jr. than Freddie Prinze, Jr. In terms of how I got involved with Volcano, it came together pretty quickly. Mick [Jackson, Volcano’s director] was looking for a local actor to kind of give the movie an authentic feel. I was lucky in that regard. It was kind of a no brainer for me.
Dante: Peak was definitely a blessing. I’d kicked around Hollywood for a while. I’d done a few bit landscape parts, some bigger than others. Ended up on the cutting room floor in a few films I’d done. My biggest role, pre-Peak, was the hill that Wesley tumbled down in The Princess Bride. After that, I kind of thought I was about to take-off, career wise, but it didn’t really play out like that for me. I worked on a few sets as a DA, did some editing, kicked around as a sound tech for a while. When the script for Peak landed on my desk, I thought you know, what the hell? I guess I was lucky Cain was already booked.
Were you aware of each other’s work? Were you aware that the other movie was being made?
Dante: We were definitely aware of each other, sure. You know, the volcano fraternity, if you want to call it that, we’re a small group. I grew up watching Cain’s dad in theaters. It was something that inspired me.
Cain: I knew that Peak was being filmed when I was doing Volcano, but it’s not something I really thought about. It’s not something you really want to think about, to be honest. You can’t afford to focus on anything but the movie you’re in. You have to mow your own grass.
Both characters were similar on the page, but they appeared on screen much differently. Considering the sort of race, if you’ll call it that, between the two films, what kind of challenges did you face in creating your characters? How did you separate yourselves from the character and separate the characters from each other?
Cain: Creating the character of Volcano was intense. It was a difficult process. I kind of ran through it in a few different ways before we started shooting. You know, I grew up in LA. I know what LA is all about. People there aren’t really easily impressed by anything. They’ve seen it all. Or they think they have. I really wanted to make an impression. I wanted the character to be scary, sure, but also interesting enough to register for people. In LA, interesting is better than scary. I had this fear where the people of LA would see me in character and just be like, “Oh, by the way, there’s an active Volcano on Rodeo Drive (mimics a big yawn). So where should we brunch?”
Tom Hanks had some great advice for my Dad on Joe Vs. He said, “I know that this movie is a fantasy. You know it’s a fantasy. We can’t let the people watching we know that. Our characters don’t know they’re in a movie. We have to play it for real. Play it that way.” That’s kind of what I did. Interestingly enough, the closest I let “fantasy” creep into my role was that I borrowed a lot of stuff from Mt. Sauron, from Lord of the Rings. That’s why my character’s name in Volcano is Mt. Wilshire. I wanted to throw that “shire” in there as a tribute to Tolkien.
Dante: Wow! I never knew that about Mt. Wilshire. That’s fantastic. We called it Dante’s Peak because that’s just my name (laughs). I’m not that creative. Honestly, I think the best thing for me and for my performance is that I didn’t see Volcano until after we wrapped. You never want to get another performance in your head when you’re trying to give your own. Some of that stuff Cain was doing in Volcano, the slow creep of the lava, the explosions of ash, that was amazing. If I had seen that, I may have tried to copy it. That’s when people watching would have said, “Hold on, wait a minute, this is too familiar.” It wouldn’t have fit what we were trying to accomplish with Peak. My biggest challenge was also kind of my biggest asset, in a way. I’m playing a volcano in a little town in Washington State. What’s that like? I’ve seen movies about Volcanos in Hawaii or Pompeii, but I’ve never really seen this kind of “suburban volcano”. It was a tough character to create but in the end, it was really mine to own. That’s a rare thing for an actor. It’s something I’m grateful for.
How did it feel starring alongside two Hollywood A-Listers in Tommy Lee Jones and Pierce Brosnan? Was that intimidating for you, even as volcanos?
Cain: Tommy Lee Jones is a real intimidating dude. He’s rough around the edges, for sure. We didn’t have the best relationship on set. I guess it’s more fair to say we didn’t have any kind of relationship at all. He was pretty standoffish. Looking back, I think that was partially by design. I think he’d be offended if you called him a “method actor”, but he takes his work seriously. As he should. His character in Volcano was out to, you know, stop the volcano. He was supposed to hate me. I think that he felt as if he and I were paling around on set between takes than it wouldn’t look authentic on screen. We didn’t have a lot of personal interaction. It’s fine. We aren’t close by any means, but I’ll see him now and again at awards shows and events or whatever and its cordial. He actually sent me a nice card when I got married this fall. That was nice of him. (Cain recently married longtime partner Jacob Davis, a production assistant for MGM).
Dante: I really lucked out with Pierce. He’s a real actor’s actor and just a really good guy on top of that. He’s not afraid to take and give criticism or tips or anything like that. Going in, I knew he kind of had this reputation as a pretty boy, maybe a diva, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. I remember a scene where I was supposed to really turn the heat up on him, spray him in the face with ash, and I was obviously easing up on him. Right before the last take, he hit me with that big Pierce Brosnan smile and said, “I’m James [Bleep]ing Bond. I can take it.” I unloaded on him! It ended up being the best take we did. We worked together a few years later. I did some work as one of the Swiss Alps in The World is Not Enough. He and I are pretty close.
In this setting, you two obviously show a great admiration for one another. You get along amicably. There was a time, and to a certain extent I think there’s still this notion of a rivalry between the two of you.
Dante: People always want to make that a thing. I think— We were promoting our movies. We were trying to get eyes on the work we were proud of. It wasn’t a personal thing. We aren’t the meteors from Armageddon and Deep Impact, you know? I mean, those guys hated each other. Cain and I competed. We want to succeed, but not at the expense of the other’s failure. Or who knows, maybe you really do hate me? (laughing)
Cain: Oh I can’t stand the guy (laughs). No, the tabloids, I think, kind of ran with that angle when those two movies came out. Some of the headlines were just too easy. Low hanging fruit, you know? “Volcano blows a lid at Dante during Oscar After Party…”
Dante: “Volcano claims that Dante’s Peaked…”
Cain: It was all just so ridiculous. Dante and I actually had a few scenes together in Emmerich’s 2012. John Cusack and I share an agent, and he kind of put the whole thing together. We had a lot of fun doing that movie together.
What’s life been like since those movies came out? Pardon the expression, you’ve both been relatively dormant over the past decade or so.
Cain: It was tough for a while. You definitely get typecast in this town pretty quickly.
Dante: Right. I mean, after I did Peak I just kind of wanted to leave that headspace for a little while. I wanted to do a comedy. I’ve always wanted to do buddy cop movie, something like Beverly Hills Cop or Lethal Weapon. Something a little more light hearted, a little less serious. But I didn’t get a script that wasn’t looking for an “active volcano” or “jagged mountain” for a long time after that after Peak.
Cain: For about 10 years after we wrapped I went through the same thing. I couldn’t get an offer that wasn’t just reprising the same role again. I was fortunate where I made enough money from Volcano that I could kind of do what I wanted for a while. I traveled. I wrote. I directed a few episodes of CSI, which was a great experience.
Dante: I worked on Broadway for a while. That was great. I think if you spend too much time on the lots of MGM and Sony and those types of places you kind of forget why you ever wanted to be an actor in the first place. I’m much more interested in stories that move me more than a quick paycheck. I think that’s just a perspective that comes from age.
Looking back now, twenty years ago, what’s your fondest memory that came out of making those movies?
Cain: You know, I’ve done dozens of movies. Volcano is the only movie that people remember me for. I used to kind of resent that, but I really get a kick out of it now. People will still stop me on the street and ask to take pictures. It’s something I’m really proud of, creating a character that people still identify with. Every once in a while I’ll get a picture in the mail of some little kid dressed up as Volcano for Halloween. It’s not something I ever could have imagined 20 years ago
Dante: People still ask to hear my recipe for “frog soup”. People really loved that line. You know, and I don’t know if this ever happens to you Cain, but people will stop me and ask for a picture and we’ll get to talking…and I realize that they think I’m you. They’ll run off with their pictures and say “I can’t wait to tell so and so we met Volcano!”
So now you’re wrapping up Twin Peaks, both of you in the title role. What can we expect from this reboot?
Dante: I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people. It’s a totally new story but it’s tonally the same. We’ve had a lot of fun doing it. I’d like to get specific but…
Cain: David would kill us if we said anything more.
Dante: He’d probably kill you, too.
Ever the acting professionals, the two of them pause for a bit, deadly serious for just a beat before they bust up laughing, little plumes of smoke pop and burst above their heads. Before long, I’m laughing right along with them. They’re a joy to be around. Someone get these two a buddy cop movie.