Graduating CAN be a tough transition for any kid, but young fans of Drake Bell, erstwhile costar of Nickelodeon’s “Drake & Josh,” are in for an uncultured shock at his resoundingly R-rated “College.”
“I wasn’t doing it specifically to get an older audience,” he says in his air-conditioned trailer on the set of the upcoming holiday TV movie “Merry Christmas, Drake & Josh,” a belated present to fans a couple of years after the show’s end. “I was doing ‘College’ just because it was fun. But the kind of movie it is, I hope it will bring in that [older] audience because that’s something a bit lacking right now. I’m fine with 6 to 16; I need some 18 to 25.”
Not that the 22-year-old Bell is scoffing at his younger fans; he has pointed out in the past that the Beatles’ audience grew up with them and followed them into uncharted waters. That’s an apt comparison, considering the Fab Four are the most dominant influence in the mop-topped actor-songwriter’s music.
“Acting’s tough. Music is your creation, your baby,” he says. “If you’re on a successful show, it’s like, ‘Good job, executive producer and head writer!’ If you sell 2 million records, you wrote that album, you toured, that’s your accomplishment. I mean, if I was winning an Oscar . . . but I don’t see that happening any time soon.”
His wry smile signals he knows the golden statuette is not likely to come his way for “College,” an “American Pie"-style romp in which he and two other high school seniors get swept up in the carnal carnival of a weekend at a hedonistic institution with fewer books than bacchanals.
“I didn’t go to college, so I at least got to experience the party part rather than the academic aspect,” he says. “It was fun, just to get to hang out and party for two months. That’s what the movie really was, and saying some dialogue in between. It was like watching ‘Animal House’ but in real life.”
Bell has won three Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards for favorite TV actor, but one gets the distinct impression he’s prouder of the songs he wrote and performed for “Drake & Josh” than for his acting on it. Having learned the basics of guitar from the Who’s Roger Daltrey while the two worked on a TV movie together nine years ago, Bell released his solo debut independently in 2005, followed by the major-label “It’s Only Time” in 2006. He says he drew inspiration for an in-the-works conceptual double CD from the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and “Magical Mystery Tour.”
“There’s a whole movie I’d like to shoot alongside it that we’re writing right now,” he says. “It’s a ‘Princess Bride'-'Romeo and Juliet'-type story with monsters and pirates with big beards. It’s very Jellyfish and Jon Brion, Harry Nilsson’s ‘Popeye’ soundtrack. That type of music with a Michel Gondry look to it.”
Apart from his simply growing up, Bell says his thinking has been rearranged by a serious car accident three years ago that nearly killed him. He mentions that recently a friend was in a crash and wasn’t so lucky.
“People deal with loss every day and it’s such a hard thing,” he says quietly. “I’m just so thankful I’m here and I’m back. In the hospital, they didn’t know how I was alive. It really just makes you love every day and want to experience so much every day.”
But rather than leaving it there, Bell suddenly opens up:
“And you know, after going through an accident like that, it’s so hard watching, like, ‘TMZ.’ Get real. Start doing something to help somebody. Really? You’re just going to go chase somebody in a car and take pictures of ‘em and glorify the lives of people who go out and party?
“I watch Miley Cyrus gyrating on stage, doing her thing, and I’m like, ‘8-year-olds! That’s who you’re playing to! Eight-year-olds!’ What is that 8-year-old going to think is appropriate at 13? What is that 13-year-old going to think is appropriate at 16, when she’s a big girl and can drive and get drunk and get in an accident with seven of her friends in the car? People don’t understand what this stuff leads to. It’s crazy.”
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Where you’ve seen him
At age 10, Drake Bell memorably told off Tom Cruise in “Jerry Maguire.” Since then, he has become a tween favorite through Nickelodeon’s “The Amanda Show” (1999-2002) and its spinoff, “Drake & Josh” (2004-07), a kids’ sitcom in which he starred with his good friend Josh Peck (“The Wackness”). Earlier this year, Bell starred in “Superhero Movie” and has appeared in two John Cusack movies, “High Fidelity” and TV’s “The Jack Bull.” He also wrote and performed songs for “Drake & Josh” and has released two albums, “Telegraph” and “It’s Only Time,” with a third, psychedelic conceptual opus in the works.