Christian Slater grew up in show business. The 41-year-old is the son of an actor father and an acting agent mother, a circumstance that has prepared him for a life of handling the media. Maybe a little too prepared.
"I get this question a lot about my past," he said, seated in a booth at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "I actually wrote some things down. They're on my iPhone. Could I just read it? It's just easier."
The actor, the star of Fox's "Breaking In," which premieres Wednesday, launches into a lengthy reading about the "maturity that comes with experience," learning from mistakes, and not letting those become the "legacy of your future."
Slater's new show, in which he plays Oz, a self-assured smooth-talker who heads up an oddball crew of geniuses and high-tech experts, is his third prime-time series in as many years. To say the least, he would like it if this show made it to a second season.
"You have to try on a few things in order to find the right fit," he said. "It's a process. And I feel like this certainly is about as close a fit for me as it could possibly be. This character, this guy, this environment, what these guys are doing ... I love it. I love it."
Still, he insists he's not feeling extra pressure this time — or, at least he's not consumed by it.
"With the other shows, it was like all eyes were on me," he recalled. With [NBC's "My Own Worst Enemy"], I couldn't walk down the street without a bus going by with my face on it. They promoted the crap out of that. This one feels right."
And perhaps, given Slater's earlier brushes with the law, the prospect of losing another television show really isn't a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. Beginning in 1989, Slater had a series of legal run-ins that included charges of drunk driving and a conviction for assaulting a girlfriend. He's also struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and at one point was forced into rehab.
Slater was an embattled celebrity before such behavior became fodder for the 24/7 celebrity news cycle. He's just glad that his troubled past is that — in the past. The father of two shuddered to think if he were experiencing those problems now.
"It would be a Howard Hughes-type of situation," he said. "I would just become a shut-in, I suppose. People are so under the microscope now … once you've made a mistake, it's an unrelenting thing that you will continually have to communicate about, write things down about because we all want to have a clean slate; we all want to get the opportunity to not be held accountable for things we did years ago.
"I don't want to put myself on any kind of soapbox because at the end of the day, I'm an actor," continued the actor who rose to fame in the 1980s and '90s with movies like "Heathers," "Gleaming the Cube" and "True Romance." "I put on a costume. I show up for a job. My focus right now is 'Breaking In.' "
The new Fox series is a single-camera comedy that makes being nerdy somewhat cool in a "Big Bang Theory" sort of way. For Slater, a hit would bolster his TV career, which, after watching NBC nix 2008's "My Own Worst Enemy" and ABC doing the same to 2009's Jerry Bruckheimer-produced "The Forgotten," could use a lift. (Having one of television's most popular shows, "American Idol," as a lead-in won't hurt.)
Slater's enthusiasm about the gig is impossible to miss. His distinctive eyebrows perk up when talking about it and he's already concocting storylines for next season — when he'd like to direct an episode or two. The mood stands in stark contrast to his previous endeavors, he said.
"'My Own Worst Enemy' was a show that didn't decide really what it wanted to be," he said. "I knew that from the get-go. But you jump aboard and you roll the dice and take a chance. You hope things stick. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. With ["The Forgotten"], as great a producer as Jerry Bruckheimer is, I think it's hard even for him to sell a show that ends in a funeral every episode. He's good. We're both good. But that's a tough premise. But again, it's Bruckheimer, I'm not going to say no. When he calls, you do it."
As optimistic as he is about "Breaking In," Slater is all too aware of the realities of the business. He need only look at the silver ring on his left hand that reads: "This too shall pass."
"All structures are unstable," he said. "For me to delude myself into thinking I'm invincible at this stage in my career would be absurd. There's no rhyme or reason to what works and what doesn't. It's really up to the real Oz."