The Times- Metro section 13 May 2000
Two decades ago, poodle permed John Bongiovi sneered at his peers who joined the Navy. Now the renamed rock god and bona fide movie actor is ready to go to sea for his country. Martyn Palmer waves his off.
Malta is not a place I would recommend anyone to spend their vacation," remarks JBJ. The reason for his animosity towards the package tour hotspot? His latest foray into celluloid, the Second World War thriller U-571.
The filming of this tale of a submarine crew trying to capture a Nazi u-boat was, apparently, rather trying. Working in a giant, often freezing cold water tank, coupled with hours of waiting around for camera moves to be prepared, is enough to test anybody's patience. But while his co-stars (Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Keitel and Bill Paxton) would be twiddling their thumbs waiting hours for the chance to deliver two lines of dialogue, Jon would be hard at work on what he calls his "day job" - writing songs for the new Bon Jovi album.
"We were out on these row boats night after night for seven weeks," he recalls. "And the actors would moan and say 'oh man, we're wet and miserable'. And I'd say 'you think this is tough, come to India and start a tour sometime or turn up in Columbia when there's civil unrest and a guy's just been assassinated. This is a breeze.'"
Jon was sneered at when he decided to take up acting six years ago but he has proved critics wrong in a quietly impassive way. By choosing independent films such as Moonlight and Valentino over obvious star vehicles, he has built up a surprising degree of credibility.
"It was hard work when I started. I was another rock star who wanted to be in a movie. And you know what's funny about this rotten miserable business? For the past six years they've been telling me to kill my music career and concentrate on films. Now, they tell me 'man, if you have a hit record it's going to help your movie career. You know, Jennifer Lopez, Will Smith, all of those guys, look at them.'"
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, Bon Jovi are releasing Crush, their first new album for five years, in two weeks. And the band are embarking on a 50-date world tour - including shows at Wembley Stadium - to promote it. For the rest of the year at least, the film career is on hold.
"I personally think this is the biggest album I've ever made," he says. "It's bigger than Slippery When Wet, it's bigger than New Jersey. I feel like a 21-year-old with a new record deal."
In the not too distant past, the masters of stadium rock would embark on mammoth 250-date expeditions across the globe, lasting for many months at a time. Not any more. Jon has other people to consider. Apart from his wife, Dorothea Hurley, whom he met in high school in the New Jersey suburbs where he grew up, there are also the couple's two children, Stephanie Rose, seven, and five-year-old Jesse James.
Ask him if he's looking forward to going back on the road and he replies: "Not at all. I couldn't care less". The novelty, after years of trailing around one city after another, has worn off.
Though in the past the family have travelled with him, things will be different this time around. "It's not fair to them. They've got their lives, their friends and you know, they should be allowed to be kids."
There are other side-effects of rock-star status that could cause a problem, such as the attention from female fans. Jon must have found himself surrounded by beautiful women in his time, I suggest.
"It counts for a lot that Dorothea and I have been together that long," he says. "Because believe me I've not been a saint. I've had my periods but in the end he realisation is, it ain't worth anything. It's all to her credit that she allows me to run off and join the circus. I'm sure I would walk out if she were the kind of person that said 'you have to stay at home'. I couldn't deal with that. I need freedom but I have to afford her freedom, too.
"She's independent and doesn't feel the need to call me five times a day and wonder what I'm doing," he continues. "She is comfortable enough with who she is. We've been together for 20 years, since I was 18, and we have been on this rollercoaser ride together."
Born John Bongiovi, to a family of third generation Italian immigrants - Dad was a hairdresser, Mum a former bunny girl - Jon knew from an early age that he wanted to be a rock star.
"My home town (Perth Amboy in New Jersey) was very blue collar. There were two ways to go, one was to work in the factories and the other was to join the military. Four of us hung out together while all the others joined the Navy. And I pursued a career in music. I had blind faith and naviete in my corner. I said that I wanted to be a rock 'n' roll start."
After hooking up with guitarist Richie Sambora, drummer Tico Torres, keyboard player David Bryan and bassist Alec John Such (who has since left), Bon Jovi won themselves a recording contract with a formula which American radio found impossible to resist. Their first albums, Bon Jovi (1984) and 7800 Fahrenheit (1985), both went gold. Then their third, Slippery When Wet (1986) went ballistic, selling 15 million copies, and the fourth - New Jersey (1988) sold another 12 million. To date, they have album sales of 80 million.
So when the lead singer first decided that he wanted to act, he didn't have the courage to tell the rest of the band. After all, just as they were reaching their commercial peak, Bon Jovi - the band - were nearly blown apart by the attendant pressures.
If anything, though, Jon now believes that his decision to look elsewhere for new interests saved the band from oblivion. His first taste of the film world came in 1988 when he wrote the Golden Globe-winning (and Oscar nominated) soundtrack for Young Guns, a hip western featuring Emilio Estevez.
"When I went off and did Young Guns the band were sitting around by themselves going 'Christ, he's written all these songs by himself, it's a successful record. Are we going to stay together?' And there was Richie going 'hey what about me? I'm the guitar player, I co-wrote Livin' on a Prayer. How come nobody is talking about Richie Sambora's world?'"
They were right to worry. By 1991, Jon was disillusioned with the way things had turned out. "We had an organisation that was eating itself from the inside out. All of a sudden we were in merchandising meetings and had accountants talking about investments and it was like 'man, what does this have to do with anything?' We didn't want to be a corporation. We wanted to be a rock band, but then we became this multimillion dollar business and that just shattered it.
"So yeah, there was a point when we could have gone under. The worst time was 1991. I was even going to see a shrink because I was so messed up. But I couldn't find the guy's office and I showed up 45 minutes late for this hour-long appointment. I sat down ready to spill my guts and after a couple of minutes he says, 'well, your time's up, after all you are running late'. That was a real low."
Instead, Jon devised his own brand of therapy. He went out on the road with one of his heroes, Southside Johnny, and had a thoroughly good time rediscovering his musical roots.
"It helped me get back to the spirit of what it was that made me want to play in the first place. You know, sweaty guys in a van driving up and down the coast and stopping off somewhere to play music. The camaraderie - playing for the sake of playing.
"And playing alongside Southside and those other guys made me realise how much I took my band for granted. Especially Richie, who is such an under-rated guitarist. And it made me realise just how much his friendship couldn't be replicated by just anyone. Our problems in the band were never 'I don't like him and he doesn't like me'. It was all that external stuff. So we let go of the machine - the managers, the merchandisers, the lawyers. We fired everyone we could."
Back on board with the band, Jon was still thinking about acting. "I got myself an acting coach but I didn't tell the band about that for more than two years.
"And it was another year after that that I went for my first meeting with a director who was interested in using me. I got to his office, sat there for 45 minutes and didn't go in. I walked away. I got scared."
In his first role, in Moonlight and Valentino in 1995, as part of an ensemble that included Gwyneth Platrow, he played little more than a male sex object but he did it well enough to win an award (The Motion Picture Club gave him their Premiere Performance Award). Then came The Leading Man (1996), Homegrown, No Looking Back, Little City and Row Your Boat (all 1998). All have been small budget, independent pictures.
Nowadays, his relationship with the rest of the band - and in particular with Sambora, who is married to actress Heather Locklear - is better than ever, he says. "You know we are all doing our own things. Tico is a great painter. Who would have known that? It was hard for Richie. It was like 'is he Mr Heather Locklear or is he his own man? But he has found ways to express himself, he has his solo albums, he has his life with Heather and he's in Bon Jovi. When we started work on Crush, I came in with 30 songs and said 'here's the album boys'. But he didn't get scared by that. He then collaborated on 30 more and now it's about half and half. He is his own man and so the relationship is better."
Bon Jovi's movie career's looking pretty healthy too, and the forthcoming U-571 will see Jon make the jump from carefully chosen indie pics to full-on blockbuster. Directed by Jonathan Mostow (who made the Kurt Russell thriller Breakdown) it is unashamedly big budget and shot to the top of the American box office taking $15 million in its first weekend. Although McConaughey has the main role, Jon, as am ambitious navel officer, gets plenty to do. It took nearly six months to film, and although some of his scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor he remains upbeat.
"This is my seventh film and I feel much more comfortable and confident in taking on a role in a movie that a lot of people will see. And I also felt that though it's a thriller, the dialogue is rich and the characters are well drawn. Jonathan gave everybody the opportunity to be a personality and not just stereotypical navy guys."
On this side of the Atlantic the film is likely to attract the attention as another example of Hollywood hijacking British history. U-571 is the story of how an American submarine, disguised as a German craft, sets out to capture the Enigma, the Nazi's war-time coding machine from a stricken U-boat in 1942. Capturing the Enigma was vital to stop the U-boats destroying Allied shipping in the north Atlantic. The film, says Mostow, is "inspired by real events". In fact, it was the British who captured the first two Enigma machines and the Americans didn't get their hands on one until 1944,
For all that, it is a good thriller and Jon - shorn of his trademark locks ("No, I didn't cry when I had my hair cut.") - performs well alongside veterans such as Keitel.
He is, though, still learning when it comes to acting. "Absolutely. In the music business I'm the director, the producer, the star and the marketing man. In the movie business I'm the bass player."