What’s the secret to Matthew Modine’s success? If you ask him, it’s his wife of almost 40 years, Caridad Rivera. “There are a lot of bad-boy actors I worked with and was friends with over the years — Mel Gibson, Nic Cage, Sean Penn,” Matthew, 61, exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “But when they went off to do their bad-boy behavior, I’d say, ‘It was fun hanging out with you — I’m going home now!’ I don’t stand in judgment of them, but with the stability and strength Cari’s given me, sometimes I don’t even think I’d be alive if I hadn’t met her.”

Cari also helped Matthew stay strong through the ups and downs of his long career, from ’80s triumphs like Birdy and Full Metal Jacket to his 2016 comeback in Stranger Things and new Sundance Now thriller, Sanctuary. Says Matthew, “She’s the greatest partner and friend a person could ask for.”

Julian Schnabel Exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles, America - 21 Feb 2008

Scroll below to read our exclusive Q&A with Matthew!

Your character in Sanctuary, Dr. Fisher, seems like he was a lot of fun to play.

Great fun. People that are psychopaths don’t really believe that they are. They believe everything they’re doing is perfectly sane. So I like the idea of one running a sanatorium filled with other psychopaths. It’s not uncommon for people in positions of power, like politicians or heads of corporations, to have a lack of empathy or other traits of what a psychopath has.

You’ve done so many high-profile projects. Which had the biggest impact on you?

Recently, no question, Stranger Things. I got to travel all over the world doing publicity for Full Metal Jacket, but the global phenomenon of a successful Netflix show is different than anything I’ve experienced. It gave me another generation of young fans.

You’ve been in hits like Pacific Heights, but turned down others like Top Gun. Why?

On a trip to East Berlin, they took me to a monument for a million Russian soldiers who died in this area fighting Nazis in World War II. I was upset that I hadn’t been taught that in school. When I read the script for Top Gun, I felt it was perpetuating this idea that Russia was evil and we had to triumph [over them]. Life wasn’t that simplistic, so I felt that it was perpetuating false information.

'Stranger Things' Netflix TV series premiere, Los Angeles, USA - 11 Jul 2016

You took another military film, Full Metal Jacket, not long afterward.

The thing I loved about [director] Stanley Kubrick is he never presents the audience with a moral point of view. You can’t look at it and say it’s an anti-war film. You just have to decide for yourself.

You also turned down Wall Street and Back to the Future. Why?

I love Oliver Stone, but he wouldn’t give me the script to read, and I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to do a good job. It’s one of the regrets of my life. On Back to the Future, they had just replaced Eric Stoltz, but wouldn’t tell me why, and said I had 24 hours to make a decision. I’d never heard of Robert Zemeckis — that was stupid because he’s an amazing director. But I can’t imagine anyone but Michael J. Fox in that role. He’s just so charming. I love Michael. He’s a friend, such a kind man.

Do you have any other actor friends?

Liam Neeson is probably my closest acting friend. I bump into [Birdy’s] Nic Cage every once in a while, which is always interesting because there’s no one like Nic! Allison Janney and I worked together a few times when we were young, and in a new movie called Breaking News in Yuba County. She’s wonderful and kind — a true artist. I’ve worked with Jennifer Beals a few times; she’s so beautiful and spiritual.

Birdy - 1985

You’ve been nominated for two Golden Globes (for And the Band Played On and What the Deaf Man Heard), and won one with Short Cuts’ cast, but your career’s had its ups and downs. Why stick with it?

Where else could I get the opportunity to learn and experience life from so many different angles? I’ve flown a B-17 in Memphis Belle. I sailed an America’s Cup yacht in Wind. I got to learn about medicine doing And the Band Played On from Don Francis, who helped discover that HIV was a blood-borne disease. It’s not about a bigger house or more cars, it’s about telling stories as truthfully as you can.

Was there a moment that put you on your path?

Yes. I’d watch movies and think everything was real until I saw a film about the making of the musical Oliver! and realized they were actors. So in sixth grade I started tap dance lessons in Orem, Utah. I joined the glee club in seventh grade — singing and dancing seemed like the coolest job in the world. My father was a drive-in theater manager, so we’d move every two years or so because they were tearing them down — the land was worth more than the drive-ins.

Where did you live?

A lot of homes! I was born in Loma Linda, California. We had a theater there surrounded by cherry trees. Then we moved to Imperial Beach, California, surrounded by tomatoes and watermelons. That influenced me [to become an environmentalist] — walking to school through the orchards. Then we moved around Utah. The big moment was when Robert Redford made an appearance at the theater for Barefoot in the Park. I met him and he was super nice and cool. I moved to New York City at 18 and studied acting with an amazing teacher, Stella Adler.

You talked about your wife, Cari, 64. How did you meet, and what’s your secret?

In New York City, I worked as a chef at a wonderful health food restaurant, Au Natural. She ordered a dish to go. I told the waiter it wouldn’t travel well and said I’d tell her so — I was a very cocky young chef! — and there was this beautiful creature. I said, “How many do you want?” [Laughs] I’d been in a few relationships and wanted someone to be friends with. What’s most important is to have a partner you share interests with, who challenges you, who is smarter than you. Then the physical side is a bonus. I hit the jackpot and got both!

Caridad Rivera matthew modine

What are your kids, Boman, 34, and Ruby, 29, up to?

Cari’s given me two beautiful children. Boman is directing and working on two original screenplays. Just before the lockdown, Ruby was in New York [acting on] a CBS show called God Friended Me. She’s doing a lot of music now, which makes me happy. She’s an extraordinary artist.

Any grandkids yet?

No, not yet! One day, yeah … I hope!

For more on Matthew, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!