He’s Up, He’s Down, He’s Up Again : After a rocky year, Christian Slater regains his footing with the new teen Angst tale, “Pump Up the Volume”
“I’m going do-o-o-o-o-wn in a blaze of glory!” Christian Slater was wobbly crooning at the top of his lungs, “Take me n-o-o-o-o-w, but know the truth. . . .”
Sitting in a Westwood cappuccino cafe, sipping black coffee and chain-smoking Marlboros, the likable young actor couldn’t resist singing along to the Jon Bon Jovi hit from “Young Guns II,” which was blaring over the cafe sound system. After all, Slater is one of the stars of the current brat-pack Western.
But what really has Slater revved up is his other new film, “Pump Up the Volume,” a bold celebration of adolescent Angst which casts Slater as the fiendish wizard behind a rabble-rousing pirate radio station. Following in the footsteps of such teen-anarchy classics as “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Over the Edge” and last year’s “Heathers,” (which also starred Slater) “Pump” is one of those rare Hollywood films which captures kids’ wildly jumbled emotions without dismissing them as sex-crazed maniacs.
“That’s what I loved about the script--the writing was so real,” says Slater, an affable 20-year-old with a handsome, open face and a self-deprecating sense of humor. “It was a fascinating character to play, because I was really acting like Superman. I was meek and mild on the outside, but a hero on the inside.”
It’s no wonder Slater had a soft spot for a heroic role. In real life, he’s been singing the blues so much he’d easily swap all his rock-star dreams for a session with Frank Sinatra.
“I really love his song, ‘That’s Life,’ ” says Slater, firing up a fresh cigarette. “If I had a theme song, that would be it. It’s perfect--at least it’s the perfect song for me.”
Remember the lyrics? The guy who’s sky-high in April, shot down in May? Each time he finds himself flat on his face, he picks himself up and gets back in the race?
If you want to talk about falling flat, just ask Christian Slater. By the time he turned 20, he had won praise acting opposite Sean Connery in “The Name of the Rose,” Jeff Bridges in “Tucker” and Winona Ryder in “Heathers.”
But away from the set, his life was spiraling out of control.
Last December he was arrested after leading sheriff’s deputies on a wee-hours chase that ended with Slater’s car crashing into two telephone poles. Slater was sentenced to 10 days in jail and placed on five years probation after pleading no contest to his second drunken driving charge in two years.
People who worked with Slater doing publicity for “Heathers” say he was constantly chaperoned because “we never knew what he would do next.” Allan Moyle, who directed Slater in “Pump Up the Volume,” added: “Christian drank a lot every night, but hey--he was 19 years old. He never drank on the set--he was not a problem for us at all.”
Still, by the time he landed in jail on his second drunken driving offense, Slater knew he was in trouble. “It was a horrible experience,” he says quietly, staring at his coffee. “You look at yourself and say, ‘Why am I being so self-destructive?’ My values had really gotten a little messed up.
“I was cruel to my friends. I did all sorts of unproductive things. Who knows--I could’ve gone down that road even further, to real self-destruction. I could’ve wound up dead.”
Slater says he sought treatment for alcohol abuse and now wryly announces: “I’m retired from drinking.
“I just looked at the people I’d hurt or neglected and all that stuff piles up until you finally say, ‘Whoa!’ Drinking is a disease. It’s a degrading way of life--and it took me to hit emotional bottom to overcome it.”
Slater knows he has a rocky road ahead. But he’s relishing the praise he’s receiving for “Pump Up the Volume,” a daring film about a shy teen outsider who uses a pirate radio station to inspire his schoolmates and overwhelm an oppressive high-school principal.
“It’s been nice to hear good things about the movie,” he said, regaining his good cheer. “And it’s good to be able to enjoy it. I could have everything in the world and it wouldn’t mean anything if I wasn’t able to be happy. Now that I care about myself, I can care a lot for other people too.
“I guess you could say I’m working on my self-esteem and my courage and on how to learn from situations.” He smiled wanly. “And that can keep you pretty
Allan Moyle’s phone rings constantly and a string of messengers keep knocking at his door. Moyle keeps busy these days too. Wandering around his house, he’s still a little punchy after flying back from Atlanta, where he pulled an all-nighter doing script revisions on “Love Crimes,” a Sean Young and Patrick Bergin film being directed by his old friend, Lizzie Borden.
But the amiable 42-year-old filmmaker is happy to talk about “Pump Up the Volume,” a movie clearly close to his heart--and a picture that could revive his career. A Canadian writer-director who got his start acting in Off-Broadway plays and low-budget films, Moyle arrived in New York just as the cultural turbulence of the late-'60s was reaching its peak.
“I came from a very small town in Canada and suddenly being in New York was like being in Rio at carnival time,” he said, savoring the memory. “It was very intense.” For a time, Moyle worked in a psychiatric hospital “where I blended right in with the general population.” After moving back to Canada, he began making docudramas and low-budget features, influenced by maverick filmmakers like John Cassavetes and Andy Warhol.
In 1980, Moyle got his big shot--and flopped. He was hired to direct the much-ballyhooed “Times Square,” a bungled, implausible portrayal of teen runaways on the lam in New York, adorned with a noisy, uninspired rock sound track.
“I had a rotten time,” he acknowledged. “And I just figured I wasn’t combative enough to be a director.” In fact, after he’d finished writing “Pump,” Moyle needed some persuading to climb back into the director’s chair. “I just needed to feel comfortable and happily my producers were eager to help. Best of all, we reached an agreement--a pretty radical one--that if we couldn’t find a dynamite kid, we wouldn’t make the movie.”
Because “Pump Up the Volume’s” pivotal scenes feature its hero, alone in his darkened basement, preaching to the teen faithful on his pirate radio station, Moyle knew he needed a genuine actor--someone blessed with both stamina and charisma. “I was really worried about spending nine weeks with some kid I couldn’t stand,” Moyle said. “I won’t name names. But pick a lousy teen comedy actor and imagine what could’ve happened.”
Enter Christian Slater. “I had lunch with him and he was so witty and sexy and mysterious that I knew right away we could stop looking,” said Moyle. “He’s a natural. He’s not into all that deep method-acting stuff. He brought a lot of humor and freshness to the part.”
The character Slater plays is a tongue-tied loner who finds solace--and ultimately finds himself--in the cloistral world of his pirate radio broadcasts. His raffish monologues, which mock authority, offer spiritual advice and eloquently ponder the mysteries of sex, were inspired by a pair of Moyle’s early heroes.
“I wanted a marriage between two of my favorite outsiders--Lenny Bruce and Holden Caulfield,” Moyle explained. “I learned more from one Lenny Bruce album than any course I ever had at university.
“I wanted to make a movie that had an edge to it. I like all those John Hughes movies, but I always thought they were a little too--well-- pink. They could’ve been tougher. When we were doing ‘Pump,’ I kept pleading with my producer, ‘Please, can’t we just offend 10 or 15% of the audience?’ ”
Moyle chuckled impishly: “I have to admit I’d be secretly gratified if some people get upset and say, ‘I’m not gonna let my kid see that movie!’ ”
It’s refreshing to see that for all his hard-earned maturity, Christian Slater can still act like a kid. Roaming around Westwood, he spied the “Young Guns II” theater marquee and immediately dragged his visitor in the opposite direction, convinced it would be hopelessly square to be seen near the theater.
Earlier that afternoon, while being interviewed, his mouth suddenly dropped open. “Whoa!” he said, fumbling with a fresh cigarette. It quickly became clear what had happened--he’d spotted a pretty girl walking down the street.
Slater’s reputation as a budding ladies man was cemented by no less an authority than his mother, who told Rolling Stone last year: “I think girls are Christian’s major hobby.”
If you believe what you read in his publicity files, Slater’s been romantically involved with Winona Ryder (his co-star in “Heathers”), Kim Walker (a star of TV’s “The Outsiders”) and Samantha Mathis, his co-star in “Pump Up the Volume.”
Slater insists his amorous activities have been exaggerated. “I’m a pretty faithful guy,” he insisted. “If I have a girlfriend, as I do now, I stay away from other girls. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to observe the beauty around me--I mean, I wouldn’t be human. But I’m just not capable of cheating.”
Perhaps worried that this pronouncement sounded wildly old-fashioned, Slater hurriedly added: “Now if I don’t have a girlfriend, then things are different. Anything goes!”
Despite reports that Slater and Mathis were inseparable during the making of “Pump,” Slater downplayed talk of romance. “What we really did was go back to her trailer and read together. It was new for me, ‘cause I’ve never been much of a reader. But it was really fun. We’d sit around and read books like Ann Rice’s ‘Interview With a Vampire’ together.”
Slater also laughed off reports that visitors to the “Pump” set were instructed not to speak to him--or look him in the eye for fear of ruining his concentration. “Nah,” he says. “That’s a lot of malarkey. I don’t go crazy doing these parts. I’m not gonna rape some 13-year-old girl ‘cause that’s what my character does in some script.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I know it’s only a movie, so I try to keep things in perspective. I don’t beat myself up. In fact, I have the most fun when the camera starts rolling, ‘cause I just try myself and enjoy doing my job. I figure I’m lucky being able to do something that I love.”
Still, he admits he was intimidated having to work--at age 15--opposite the incomparable Sean Connery in “The Name of the Rose.”
“Oh, geez, it was the worst,” he says, gulping down some coffee. “I love that movie, but it was just hell making it. All I remember is that I was freezing, feeling incredibly scared and insecure, and standing next to Sean Connery thinking, ‘How in the world did I get here?’ ”
Slater wagged his head. “The first night I met Sean I was trying to act so relaxed and I immediately knocked this huge glass of red wine right into the man’s lap.”
Slater rolled his eyes. “I think from that moment on my body just went into shock for the rest of the movie.”
Even though Slater has starred in a few clinkers along the way, like “Gleaming the Cube,” his sweet disposition has won him a loyal fan club.
“He’s just a doll,” says Denise DiNovi, who produced “Heathers” and now heads director Tim Burton’s production company. “He doesn’t have that arrogance that a lot of teen actors get. He’s very humble, incredibly professional and very sensitive to other people. A lot of actors have charisma or great looks, but Christian has an incredible intensity level that separates him from everybody else.”
He even has a sturdy sense of humor. When reminded of how critics poked fun at his Jack Nicholson-impression in “Heathers,” Slater took the ribbing in stride. “You’d think after all the press I got that I would’ve at least heard from the guy,” he said with a laugh. “But no-o-o-o-o. Not even a friggin’ phone call. What’s he--too busy to call?”
If there’s one aspect of moviemaking Slater hasn’t learned to handle, it’s the geeky outfits his characters--especially the kid in “Pump"--have to wear. “Geez, my clothes were just awful,” he groaned. “My tank top was so loose it was hanging below my nipples half the time. And those bowling shirts--ughhh! Were they ugly!”
So wouldn’t you know it that Slater’s next film, “Prince of Thieves,” casts him as Will Scarlett, one of Robin Hood’s band of merry men. Slater is excited about the part. There’s just one tiny deal breaker--those 12th-Century Sherwood Forest duds.
“I definitely want to stress that. I am not wearing any tights! Make sure you put it in the story so I get the message across. You read it here--no tights!”
Slater flashed a lopsided grin. “No kidding. If you see anyone wearing tights in that film, it ain’t me!”