--> Dave Matthews Because of Winn Dixie
February 2005

The cast of "Because of Winn-Dixie" includes an 80-year-old Oscar winner (Eva Marie Saint for "On the Waterfront"), an Oscar nominee (Cicely Tyson for "Sounder"), a multiple Golden Globe nominee (Jeff Daniels) and an up-and-coming 11-year-old starlet who's going to be in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (AnnaSophia Robb).  As diverse as they all seem, the actors all wanted to be in the movie, in part, because of Dave Matthews.

Although it's directed by well-respected Wayne Wang, and although the book it's based on won the Newberry Honor and is on The New York Times bestseller list, it's the chance to co-star in the first major movie with the front man of the Dave Matthews Band that really got them all together.  "My mom and dad listen to him all the time," says Robb, who plays a girl who adopts a dog and names it after the store she found it in. "Oh sure, I know who he is."  "Wasn't he extraordinary?" says Tyson, who plays a wild-haired hermit in the film. "I didn't know it was his first time acting in a big role like this. He's so talented."  And Saint says, "I didn't know about him, and when I said, 'Somebody by the name of Dave Matthews is in it,' and my 14-year-old grandson played me all his music. He gave me the lyrics, because those lyrics are not that clear with any rock -- is he rock? -- well, I read the lyrics and he's such a poet. He did so much with that little role."

Dressed in a blue shirt and dark suit with a trimmed goatee and looking a lot less scruffy than he does in the film, Matthews tells Zap2it.com he has held out for years before committing to a major movie. He did a small part in "Where the Red Fern Grows" and wrote songs for "21 Grams," "Mr. Deeds" and "Matrix Reloaded," but never played as large a role as this ex-con pet shop owner who befriends a girl and her dog.

"I've been reading scripts for years and years, and this felt right," says Matthews, who first vowed he'd never play a musician in a movie. But, the role was written for a musician. "Wayne [Wang] thought that I would be good for the part. I'm not sure why, but one thing would be that I could play the guitar. And at the time that he met me, I was unshaven. So those are two things that I had."  The film was ensemble enough so that he didn't have to carry the picture, and the story had a lot of heart, so if his music colleagues criticized him he could just say, "So what?" At least he didn't have to play a musician. "That would be nauseating," he smirks. "How sickening would that be?"

While filming, Matthews was working on music for a new band album which he's now completing. "I think the overall IQ of our records is gonna go up ever so slowly," he quips about his latest work which is being arranged by Eminem's producer Mark Batson. One of the songs he was kicking around is the "Butterfly" song which he plays for Robb. He didn't want any of his public style to come through, so he ad-libbed this new ditty.  "It would just make the whole movie go, [makes plop noise], and come to a grinding halt right there," Matthews says, if any of his popular songs or style were easily recognized. "So I tried really hard to make it seem like it was inspired by insecurity, or nervousness, that he started singing this song that he obviously had written for this little girl. For him he sort of exposed -- wrong word -- divulged himself to her."

Matthews laughs, and adds that being a new dad of 3 1/2-year-old twins also helped inspire the tender song. He says he particularly enjoyed working with father of three children, Jeff Daniels, who plays the preacher and Robb's father in the film. Daniels, who's known for bringing a guitar to the set, says, "I've always been a huge fan of his music, but I never wanted to impose on him and ask for a jam session or ask him how to do this or that with music."  Another challenge was working with a baby pig, a goose, a few cats and dogs and a parrot that stood on his shoulder. "The bird and I really kind of got into a whole weird thing, it got a little creepy," Matthews smiles wryly. "It would pull the hair on my beard, and it would go into my ears, it had this little black tongue, it was grooming me, it was awesome." Someone suggests the bird was looking for parasites. "He probably found some too," says Matthews.