The girl who called herself Crystal has the kind of angelic baby face you’d expect to see on a TV family show. With her close-cropped dark hair, full lips and dark eyes, she has the fragile beauty of a flower forced into bloom. But her pale skin shows red welts that run along her chest, just above her blouse.
Only 19, she said she’s been on the streets for the past few years, working as a prostitute, doing drugs, getting into fights and hanging out with a gang of bikers who nicknamed her the “heavy-metal mistress.”
Crystal has dreams of being a movie star, which is why she’s working as a Hollywood extra on the set of “Out of Bounds,” a thriller that’s been shooting around town for the past two months. Much of the action is set in the after-hours atmosphere of the L.A. rock scene, with several rock clubs, including the Stardust Ballroom and the Dirt Box, used for sequences depicting drug buys, brawls and chase scenes.
On a recent afternoon, the Stardust was packed with 350 extras, many of them actual street kids, runaways and punks who were happy to pick up extra cash playing themselves. It sounded like this was where the real action was, as the kids nonchalantly talked about their scrapes with cops, unhappy love lives and how they struggle to keep equilibrium amid the chaos of street life.
“It’s Holly- weird, that’s all,” Crystal groaned. “You see the fags on Santa Monica Boulevard, the whores on Sunset and the heavy-metalers on Hollywood Boulevard.”
But what about the other Hollywood, where they make movies? “Oh, sure, I like it,” she shrugged, pleased that as an extra, she’ll make roughly $35 for an eight-hour day’s work. “I’m really into acting. I’ve been in ‘Moonlighting,’ a couple of rock videos and I used to work as a model for Teen magazine. Some guy even stopped me on the street the other day and offered me $500 to do a movie if I’d take my clothes off and stuff.
“But you gotta be careful about those things,” she said. “When I take those jobs, I always give them a fictitious name, ‘cause I don’t want to see my real name on the screen, especially if I’m doing something in a real short skirt that shows a lot of skin.
“See, people will look you up. A friend of mine gave her real name and address and some guy looked her up and beat her and raped her.”
If you gave Crystal’s story a few more dramatic twists and turns (and a slightly less tawdry love life), it would fit quite snugly alongside the plot of “Out of Bounds,” a $9-million Columbia Pictures action film starring Anthony Michael Hall and Jenny Wright and directed by Richard Tuggle (“Tightrope”). Due out this July, the movie follows the misadventures of an Iowa farm boy, played by Hall, who arrives in L.A., picks up the wrong suitcase--one filled with a cache of heroin--and suddenly finds himself the target of both the police and a sadistic killer.
Waiting for a new scene to begin, Crystal and her pals were sitting at the edge of a crowded dance floor at the Stardust Ballroom, which serves as the teen hangout in the film. The kids were decorated in outrageous hairdos, gaudy outfits and metal-and-leather paraphernalia. It was unusual to see heavy-metal warriors mixing with punks--a potentially volatile mixture rarely seen on a real club outing. Yet the exotic melange gave the film set the menacing look of a Halloween party where everyone had come dressed as a character from “The Road Warrior.”
“I really wanted to capture the L.A. underground scene--where the runaways come, where the real low-lifes go and where the clubs come and go very fast,” explained Tony Kayden, 39, a veteran TV writer who was brought in to write the film by executive producer John Tarnoff, who had the original idea of doing a “fish out of water” tale set in the L.A. club scene.
“I was always a fan of the punk scene and all the bands, like Suicidal Tendencies, the Gun Club and Tex and the Horseheads,” said Kayden, a likable character who owns a pet wolf. “A lot of the kids in the film are loosely based on characters I’d see hanging out around town.
“There’s a very strange, transient sub-culture here made up of kids that come to L.A. for one thing and end up going in a totally different direction. A lot of the kids aren’t really even punkers. They just think they’re supposed to dress that way, so they gravitate toward other kids who dress the same way. In a way it’s all a fantasy. A lot of kids that look like punks actually play softball on the weekends and have jobs working at neon art stores.”
Kayden acknowledged that the film makers have been forced to make certain compromises along the way. They, for instance, have opted to use performances by bands like Siouxsie & the Banshees and Tommy Keene, which are already signed to major record company contracts, instead of more raucous local favorites.
“The studio has a concern that a lot of people from the Midwest could go see this film and we don’t want to turn them off entirely. But still, look around,” Kayden said, pointing to a trio of skinheads who were stretched on their backs on the dance floor nearby, seemingly in a coma. “It certainly doesn’t look too scrubbed up, does it?”
In fact, the crowded set full of punk extras had such a strong air of authenticity that a visitor on hand one afternoon kept checking his watch, saying: “I almost thought it was 1 a.m. and we were just waiting for the next band to come on.” Another visitor, John Kalodner, a veteran A&R; executive at Geffen Records (there to see his artist, Tommy Keene, perform in a scene), was so wary that he arrived wearing a miniature stun-gun strapped to his side.
Actually, most of the extras were docile and well-behaved, though it was impossible to keep nearly 350 young punk types quiet for very long. When the kids grew restive after lengthy delays, an assistant director would pick up a megaphone and bellow, “Quiet please! We need absolute silence for this scene!”
When the noise level subsided, he turned to a crew member in amazement: “They listened!” Then he began to count aloud, “One . . . two . . . three. . . . Usually the noise begins again at about six.”
If the motley crew of extras didn’t give a few unsuspecting visitors a fright, Jeff Kober certainly did. The film’s key villain, he had spent most of the afternoon shooting a fight scene in which Hall smashed him in the face with a break-away beer bottle. The intense young actor wandered around the set between takes, his face still caked with fake blood. He twirled a revolver in his hand, nervously clicking the trigger every few steps.
“You know, directing this movie is like being on speed,” Tuggle said during a lunch break. “You go home at night and you still can’t unwind. Having all the blood around affects everyone. You look into their eyes and they begin to look a little wild at the end of the day. There’s a lot of tension; it just mounts like crazy before we shoot each violent scene. It’s good that we have such a good stunt coordinator, because he’s got to make the action as scary as possible and still make sure that the actors don’t get hurt.”
Actually, there were several minor incidents, mostly away from the premises. A pair of extras were suspected of shoplifting a bottle of booze in a liquor store.
Several days later, when the crew was shooting a club scene at the Dirt Box, another extra was booted off the set for drinking and being disruptive. An hour later, he was still sitting on the sidewalk a block away, smoking a joint, the street lights reflecting off the grease in his spiked hair.
“I was just drinking a beer and they got mad,” explained the disgruntled extra, a local musician who said his name was Bruce.
“The whole thing is ridiculous. They’re just selling stereotypes to Middle America. I’m 26 years old and I’m running into kids who are 16 and they’re saying, ‘What a . . . poser.’ Of course, what do they know? All these kids are doing is stuff they saw us do in punk movies five years ago.”
Bruce’s pal, Maylon, who was crouched nearby, flipped open a beer. “I want to be a serious actor too, but I always get nervous in these auditions,” he said. “I had a little part on ‘Hunter,’ and I got so freaked out that I couldn’t even read my lines. In fact, I ended up losing my part to some jerk in a big orange wig with a big butterfly tattooed on his cheek. It was really embarrassing.”
“Listen,” Bruce said, “the great thing about these jobs is that you can look as stupid as possible and the movie people think, just because that’s the way you look, that that’s the way the scene is.”
“Come on, Bruce,” Maylon said, whacking him in the shoulder with his beer. “How can you take this all so seriously? This is Hollywood. It’s all pretend. We’re just atmosphere. They gotta do something to make the actors look better.”
Anthony Michael Hall Interview No. 1:
After being on the set most of the day, a reporter introduced himself to Hall, who was standing by himself at the edge of the dance floor.
“So, you’re doing a story on the movie?” Hall asked. The reporter said he would like to interview Hall.
“Why?” Hall said. The reporter was curious about Hall’s role. He told Hall the movie was especially intriguing because it deals with L.A.'s underground teen subculture.
Hall stared at his feet. “You’re right,” he said. He fell silent. “Excuse me,” he said, and walked away.
The focus of the most attention on the set is Hall, who, at 17, already is a Hollywood teen stalwart, as teen stalwarts go. The film represents a potentially important career move for Hall, who, until now, had mostly played comic roles in such John Hughes films as “16 Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Weird Science.” (He’s also in the current cast of “Saturday Night Live.”)
On screen, Hall is a gifted comedian, as comfortable playing a brat as a vulnerable loner. Off-screen, he’s even more complicated. Once a gangly, freckled little kid, he’s blossomed into a slender, six-footer who has the mischievous air of an ‘80s Holden Caulfield. (He calls everybody “Dude.”) It’s obvious from the awed reaction of young women on the set that he’s also emerged as something of a heartthrob.
Unfortunately, few of these qualities surfaced around outsiders. In fact, on the set here, Hall seemed determined to play a different part entirely-- enfant terrible. With a grim, intense expression frozen in place, you almost got the impression he was trying to pass himself off as a baby-face Robert De Niro. He kept his distance from most of the cast, rarely spoke to crew members and treated visitors as if they were carrying the plague.
He seemed particularly allergic to cameras, at least any that weren’t preserving his performance for posterity. When Gov. George Deukmejian visited the set, Hall refused to make an appearance as long as any news teams were on hand. Later that day, when Hall saw a video crew, hired by Columbia to document some behind-the-scenes action, filming a discussion he was having with Tuggle, he exploded, shouting obscenities and demanding that the crew keep their distance. Several days later, when an “Entertainment Tonight” unit arrived, he insisted they leave the set, even though they weren’t scheduled to interview him.
This attitude didn’t endear him to his co-workers, who like most crews, form strong opinions about stars on the set. Crews are normally intensely loyal and protective. But when a star is distant or disagreeable, the crew rarely disguises its feelings.
The crew frequently referred to Hall as either “the Brat” or “Anthony Michael Moron.” When he was filming a scene in which he hit his adversary in the face with a beer bottle, Hall came over to the camera, looking through the lens as the stunt coordinator demonstrated the proper throwing motion. Eyeing the young actor with obvious distaste, one crew member grumbled: “Gee, I wonder if he learned to do that in a movie magazine.”
Even Tuggle paused and took a deep breath before offering his opinion of Hall: “Young actors tend to be more emotional than veteran ones,” he said diplomatically. “The positive side of that is that they’re really giving a lot. The negative is that they often get carried away with their emotions. But when Michael’s really cooking, it can be exciting. I almost don’t want to calm him down, because you lose a lot of the energy of the performance.”
Even though Calendar was told that Hall was “happy” to speak to us, he was noticeably uncomfortable.
Anthony Michael Hall Interview No. 2:
Hall was standing in a far corner of the dance floor, near a long bar. He took an electric fan that had been blowing cool air across the room and turned it around so it blew air in his direction. “So, what do you want to talk about?” he said.
“Well, what made you interested in the part?” the reporter asked.
“I dunno, just the idea of it, you know, the situation,” said the shy star, his head down so low that his chin almost touched his shirt. He fell silent. “Well,” the reporter said. “Wasn’t there anything special that attracted you?”
Hall shrugged. “It’s a weird thing to talk about myself,” he said, watching the reporter take notes. “You’re writing this? . . . See, I really don’t like to talk about what I do.”
Hall stared at the floor. “I just don’t think it’s necessary to explain acting. It just is what it is, you know.”
“Would you rather talk about music?”
“Sure,” Hall said. “But what’s that got to do with the movie?”
“I don’t get it,” the reporter asked. “Why are you taking this so seriously? It really seems like you’re kind of uptight about all this.”
Hall winced. “Listen, Dude, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but I really don’t like doing this, OK? I just feel like, my work should speak for itself.”
He fell silent again. “I’m sorry,” he said, offering his hand. “I just can’t do this, all right?” He shook hands, stood in front of the fan for a few seconds and then headed for his trailer.
Hollywood has come a long way from the days when starlets like Lana Turner hung around Schwab’s Drug Store waiting to be discovered. The look has changed--you can substitute punk hairdos for the old tight pink sweaters--but the dream remains the same.
Susan, a 6-foot blonde who’s somehow squeezed into a deliriously skimpy black lace dress, was just passing the time on the set, waiting for her real break. “I went in on this interview for a picture called ‘Amazons From Mars,’ and they called me in for this,” she said, making it clear that she felt considerably overqualified for her role as an punk-club extra in “Out of Bounds.”
Susan said she’s actually a singer, but cheerfully admitted that she’s had a “major career change this month.” She’s already come close to at least a Big Break. “I got a TV offer to play a lady wrestler,” she said. “They wanted me to be a female Hulk Hogan.”
The part didn’t materialize, but Susan hasn’t given up hope. “There are other things happening,” she said. “See, Pia Zadora’s husband saw me in a coffee shop. . . .”
Nearby, a girl with buzz-short orange hair was standing with a guy in long, greasy, black dreadlocks, watching Hall and Wright prepare for a scene by the bar. “Hey, I know one of the girls in this movie,” the orange-haired punkette said. She looked around and pointed to Wright. “That’s her, over there.”
“Hey, she’s the star of the movie,” he said. “God, that’s incredible,” she said. “She used to come into our store all the time. I think she used to be a model.”
“Wow,” the guy said. “You know her?” The girl wagged her head. “Sure, she’d remember me.”
“Great!” the guy exclaimed. “Introduce me.”
Most extras thrived on this close-up view of Hollywood in action. But many, their attention spans frazzled by MTV, complained about how slow events unfolded on the set.
“All they do is tell us to sit down on the chairs and relax, even when there aren’t any chairs,” said April, 18. “But still it’s OK--it’s more fun than staying at home.”
It’s no wonder April wanted to get away from the house. According to April’s older sister, Crystal, her current boyfriend had been “messing around” with April too.
“I’ve had enough,” she said, tapping her fingers on a pack of cigarettes. “Don’t worry, I know how to take care of myself. I do a lot of damage when I fight, especially with punkers. I beat the . . . out of this girl who called me a . . . and a . . . .
“See, I came home one night and she’d thrown my clothes out the window and she’d hung my dog from the top of the front porch ‘till he died. So I found her and put her in the hospital--broke a bunch of her ribs.”
Crystal insists that her unruly past is behind her. “I’ve had it with all that stuff,” she said. “I worked the streets for 2 1/2 years. I made $1,000 a night, but I’d spend it all on shoes, a mink coat and lots of food. But I got totally mistreated. The guy that took care of me took all my money and he was always into drugs. It got too heavy for me.”
She shrugged. “I’m not into drugs anymore. Maybe once a week I’ll have a hit on a joint, but nothing stronger. I’m much happier, and I’m free. It’s nice to not have to look over my shoulder, always worrying about the cops. That’s why this work here is so good. This acting stuff is definitely the life for me.”