Interview by Paul Salfen
Jim Belushi has had a long and interesting career that seems to get longer and more interesting with time, which is an anomaly in the entertainment business. Of course, Belushi came out from under the large shadow of his late brother, the legendary John Belushi, but became a star in his own right on TV, in film, in music, and in business. He’s added another title now, too: farmer. He started Belushi’s Farm in Oregon and it’s another success. His other, of course, being the constant brand association with House of Blues with fellow Blues Brother and HOB co-owner Dan Aykroyd.
This week, on the eve of his 65th birthday, Belushi reminds us why we love and miss seeing him on the big screen, playing a lonely trucker named Bear in Katie Says Goodbye. This emotional independent film debuted at Toronto Film Festival and made its Texas debut afterwards at the Dallas International Film Festival but now the rest of the world can see it in theaters and on demand this weekend.
While Jim’s role is small, it makes an impact and the film is important to him and he wants to help get the word out. In between promoting everything else he does, Belushi made time to discuss the film, his music and comedy appearances, the farm, and where else you’ll see him soon. As he says when he calls in with that unmistakable voice, he’s “livin’ the life, buddy!”
AMFM Magazine: Obviously you don’t have to do any movies that you don’t want to at this point, but when this came along, it must have really caught your eye.
Jim Belushi: Well, the most attractive thing about it was [writer-director] Wayne Roberts. He’s quite a brilliant writer and director and, you know, it’s tough to take a gamble on a first-time director, but on the other hand, it’s one of those kind of situations of magic can happen. And I love the character. I loved that the relationship was such a unique relationship that I really wanted to be part of it.
AMFM: Bear isn’t just a one-dimensional character. We see a couple of sides of him throughout the film.
JB: Yeah. Not a lot of screen time so you can really show that the love is more important to him than anything. That connection with this spirit – this beautiful girl…they just fall into each other’s circle and help each other.
AMFM: And that was a tough final scene for you guys to do as well I’m sure.
JB: Oh, God. I got knocked out cold. Poor guy was trying to protect his girl, you know, like a daughter to him, like a sister. And I’m sure the guy drove through the whole country and couldn’t wait to get back to her and just share time and talk. Poor lonely guy there out on the road and his wife’s gone and they really gave each other what they needed. You know, not be able to protect her – out in one punch. So ironic, so sad.
AMFM: Olivia Cooke must have been so fantastic to work with. We’ve talked to her here, of course, and we’ve seen her in some other performances and she’s definitely one to watch for sure.
JB: Oh, absolutely. She’s just got a way about her. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – wow, what a great movie. And she did a Spielberg movie [Ready Player One]. She was a delight to work with.
AMFM: You’re seeing her at work right in front of you and I know you saw something special.
JB: Yeah. I mean, you know, different situations work differently. When she came to the set where we were shooting, we were just…quiet. We got into our positions. There was not a lot of chitchat, not a lot of talking. She kind of got lost in her girl and I got lost in Bear and the director would talk really quietly and then it would be action. And so it was highly focused and I really enjoy that deep intensity of focus.
AMFM: I’m sure you’re glad this is finally coming out, too because it played Toronto and then it came out at the Dallas International Film Festival and now finally the rest of the world gets to see it.
JB: Yeah. I think we did that movie two years ago, maybe? I’m so happy for Wayne and everybody that was part of this, too, that people have an opportunity to see this quite masterful piece of art.
AMFM: You had mentioned that with first-time directors, you never know. But what was it about him that was really special in the way that he worked?
JB: Well, because he wrote it. I mean, he knew these characters inside out and when we did a lot of prep work on it and we did a lot of talking and I wrote out a long history of Bear’s life where he was, what his wife looked like, almost like one of those Pinterest things. And those discussions with him were just terrific. And so we basically created this character together with his guidance, you know, and my input, my imagination that we molded this piece of clay into Bear. So when we were on the set, he knew the guy that I was playing so he knew how to make him come out if missing stuff. It was just, we just a deep relationship with the director, the writing was beautiful.
AMFM: I know that some people will finally to see this on the big screen, but most people will likely get to see it at home. But if they can find it on the big screen, why do you suppose that is so important to experience it that way?
JB: Well, I chase magic. I love magic and all the magic of improvisation. I have an improvisational group and we perform a lot – not for a lot of money but just for a lot of magic. And I’m in a band. And when you can find magic in acting, you’re fully engaged and time stops. And I really believe this film has magic in it and if you’re a pure magic chaser, you’ll go to any little theater if you get a chance to see some magic.
AMFM: Speaking of, I was going to ask about the comedy group as well as The Sacred Hearts and Blues Brothers to see what’s going on with all of the live magic.
JB: Oh, we’re on the road. I got two gigs this summer with The Blues Brothers, I’ve got a show with my band in Dallas, doing a corporate gig, then I’m down in New Orleans the week after with my comedy group. We mainly do corporate events and big casinos. And the comedy group will do big performing arts centers. Oh, it’s so fun, man. It keeps me bumping, alive.
AMFM: And how cool that you that you and Dan are still getting to do The Blues Brothers. What a deal House of Blues turned out to be, right?
JB: Oh, yeah. I saw Danny yesterday. He’s a really special man.
AMFM: We always ask people their Hail Mary Moment – the moment in their life or career where they just had to go for it and it worked out for them. What do you suppose that was for you?
JB: Well, the Real Hail Mary was “Saturday Night Live” because John had been on it before me and then he had passed in such a [pause]international way. I was asked to do “Saturday Night Live” and everybody told me not to do it and I was like, “Pretty good Hail Mary, I’m going for it.” Yeah. I mean, I was Second City. Danny was Second City. Gilda [Radner] was Second city, John was Second City. Bill Murray was Second. Tina Fey, Amy…I mean, there so many Second City actors that you know, fed “Saturday Night Live” and I’m a Second City guy and I was like, it’s a natural progression for us. So yeah, he was my brother, but you know, I’m a fan, I’m going for it. I mean I only did two years. I wish I had two more years, but I was like a freshman, sophomore. I was just getting going. I was ready to go on a third and fourth year. You see a lot of those guys; they’re on that show for eight, twelve years. You know, it takes you a couple of years to get it, but I was just grateful for it. It was one of the best experiences of my career and glad I did it. I would’ve been really bitter if I didn’t do it.
AMFM: You’ve done so many fun movies that people just absolutely love seeing you in. What is the movie that people just stop you and they always want to talk to you about?
JB: Oh, Mr. Destiny, K-9, Curly Sue, The Principal, Red Heat. The one I’m the most proud of is Salvador or About Last Night… and one of my favorite movies that not a lot of people saw was with Tupac Shakur called Gang Related. I love that. It was so dark and the character was so dark and was one of the first bad guys I got to play, which I loved.
AMFM: What’s coming up next?
JB: Belushi’s Farm. I’m into it full time here and put together a reality show actually around growing marijuana. It’s going to be pretty cool.
AMFM: Oh, that’s great. Well, that’s the kind of reality show that we need.
JB: Right? It’s going to be like The Blues Brothers – there’s going to be music, there’s going to be mischievousness, and a mission from God –‘cause this plant has all that. And I’m on the mission – really on the mission, that narrative of the medicine. But I’m going to think I’m going to educate the audience through my education.
AMFM: And when do you think we’ll see that?
JB: Probably January. I start shooting next month. I was actually down in Colombia for two weeks at night. I shot down there. It reminded me of doing Salvador – guerilla shooting. It wasn’t scary. It was just really shooting, like pick up and shooting, moving from set to set with no trailer, no makeup. Just shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting.
AMFM: And now people can buy from Belushi’s Farm.
JB: Only if they are in Oregon, but people can’t visit the farm like a winery. It’s agricultural land. But I’m all over in Portland, Salem, Eugene, Bend, and Southern Oregon get, and that’s helping them. I go back and forth from LA because I’m an actor but I got a family, too.
AMFM: But business is good!
JB: It’s just blowing up. The whole industry is blowing up. I’ve got live feed cameras and the girls are just blushing with green right now, just loving the sun. It’s a very interesting time. It’s like the dot com days – things are moving so fast.
AMFM: But will we see you on the big screen or small screen in an acting role? This made us miss you.
JB: Yeah, thanks. There’s a few projects in the works. And there’s one that’s really interesting to me, but it conflicts with my harvest. I’m like, “Agh, it’s right in the middle of my harvest and they’re like, “Are you an actor or a pot grower?” Well, I’m a little of both. I’m a Gemini. I do two things at once.
Katie Says Goodbye is in theaters and streaming now.
For all things Jim Belushi, visit www.JimBelushi.ws.
For more info on Belushi’s Farm, visit www.BelushisFarm.com.