Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Steve Zahn

The Path of Zahn

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Steve Zahn is one of those rare actors, like Owen Wilson or Walter Brennan, who seems to exist outside of cinema, as if he doesn't notice or care that there's a movie going on around him. He's always exactly in the moment.

The same goes for real life. During a recent visit to San Francisco to promote his newest film, Sahara, Zahn received a call from his wife back on their Kentucky farm. The plumbers were having some sort of problem and were going to charge extra.

"They think you're an idiot and they see you live in some big-ass house, and so what are you gonna do?" Zahn fumes, declaring that the problem is actually an easy one and that he could fix it himself if he were there.

But moments later, he's laughing a rich, wheezy laugh while recalling the fun he had on the Sahara set. Zahn co-stars with Matthew McConaughey as treasure hunters who seek a lost Civil War-era battleship in the African desert, and specifically its secret cargo.

The energetic Zahn, 36, seemingly never runs out of steam. In high school, he was active in drama club while also playing all-conference football. "I was extracurricular guy," he says. "I got good grades. I just told jokes and got through class."

With this down-to-earth quality, Zahn prefers to avoid special effects extravaganzas in choosing his movies. "You subconsciously know when actors are pretending to the air. It's just this fake video game."

Not so with Sahara. "I love being in this movie. Yeah, we got CGI, but we use it the way it should be used -- to extend the scene. If you have dunes, and you can't get enough of them, you add a little bit more."

To get even more realistic, Zahn and McConaughey worked with Navy SEAL trainer Harry Humphries (Black Hawk Down), learning how to use guns and to react without any hesitation.

"We would do exercises for hours in the middle of nowhere," Zahn says. "At first we were like sixth grade girls. 'Hey, whoa! He hit me in the head!' It was embarrassing. At the end, we were doing the whole thing. We would just walk at a crouch. And he would call out 'magazine change.' And without moving anything, you would flip it to the next guy and he'd catch it. We just wanted to look like we knew our s---. And we did."

March 16, 2005

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