Christian Slater: Clean Slater
Still beloved by teens, but yet to carry a major hit, the reformed Christian Slater makes his bid for breathing room with Tony Scott's True Romance.
Christian Slater is lying through his teeth. "Nah, I don't want to go over to say hi," he says in the crackly foghorn that occasionally cuts through his usual slick delivery. "That would just make me feel self-conscious, you know?" It's Ridley Scott, huddling at the next table with Harvey Keitel, who has Slater swirling the ice in his glass of mineral water and battling his own impulse.
"People always tell me they think I'm 30 pretending to be 22," he explains, avoiding glancing toward Scott, "or the other way around. They expect me to act ballsy. But I'd never just go up to someone whose work I like and disturb a meeting." After a beat, he adds, "Although I did just work with Tony Scott..." Spiky-haired in jeans, sneakers and an Armani shirt with the tails out, Slater summons one of those slit-eyed, you-can't-touch-this looks that prompt meltdown in a pretty fair cross section of moviegoers. "Nah," he concludes. "It's their meeting, you know? It's business."
Slater's sexiness on-screen is a given. Likewise, his promise. Now that he's 23, though, one has to be increasingly suspicious about where he can take his Nicholsonisms, the hipster's cockiness and the smack-eyed leer. Is he the real thing or just a borrower, a four-cent-a-page photocopy icon for an era that confuses Brigitte Bardot with a big-haired, pouty beauty in blue jeans ads, and that reduces Ray Charles to a shill for sugar water? What exactly is Slater--whose screen presence reads: I know plenty--hiding?
Before Scott and Keitel made the scene, I had been witnessing the unveiling of the new Slater. Sober, struggling with monogamy, career-minded, post-cool. All this from a guy who, when we met earlier for a Movieline story (June '91), had only recently led cops on a high-speed, booze-injected West Hollywood car chase that left his Saab soul-kissing a phone pole.
Few would fault Slater for getting more serious about business at this point. It's now-or-never time for vaulting the chasm between teen idoldom and grown-up stardom. Slater's been spoiling for the role in the movie that will channel that rude boy juice into one tumescent, career-minded pop. Out of such turns as playing Sean Connery's sidekick in The Name of the Rose and Jeff Bridges's son in Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Winona Ryder's bad-boy lover in Heathers and Marisa Tomei's sweetheart in last winter's Untamed Heart, Slater can count only Young Guns II and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in the hit column. Now he's up at bat again, playing a guy who talks to Elvis in Tony Scott's True Romance.
Slater lazes back in his chair, glancing sideways to see whether Scott and Keitel will acknowledge him as they leave. Who can blame him for walling up his face when they slip away? Hey, I tell him, maybe they checked him out and thought: I couldn't bother him. It's business. He cracks open a wry grin and serves up his most blase shoulder shrug.
STEPHEN REBELLO: I'm thinking about how everybody used to like movie rebels who tangled with the law. What's a rebel to do in the safe and sober era?
CHRISTIAN SLATER: Lie. [Laughing] No, no, I don't know, really. All I can do is just try and be myself. It's true that the guys we used to idealize seemed so romantic when they were doing stuff like getting arrested. It was really romantic, unless you were that guy.
Q: Since you were that guy, do producers and studio bosses keep an eagle eye on you?
A: Naw, nothing like that. If I wanted to drink, I'd have a drink. Nobody can control anything like that.
Q: How do you keep a lean, hungry edge?
A: [Laughing] Well, I quit smoking for seven weeks. The worst seven weeks of my life. I was crazy. It was hell for everybody around me.
Q: I keep hearing you're a pretty different guy from the one I met a few years back.
A: I remember I made mention to you of being tired, going from project to project to project. People were saying relax, take a breather. So, that's exactly what I did. I took a lot of time off after Mobsters and although I did something I had never done before, which was to direct a play, The Laughter Epidemic, it felt like a vacation. It wasn't to prove I could direct. I just wanted to put something together with some friends for The Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Period.
Q: You impressed me before as somebody who almost needed to give himself hell between projects.
A: Yeah, well, this time it fell good to slow down. I didn't beat myself up or go crazy that I wasn't working. I suppose it comes down to getting to know a little bit more about myself, finding out what I'm about.
Q: What did you find out so far?
A: I think I've reopened a lot of doors that I had closed. I had no idea, for instance, that I had a problem with selfishness. It had to be pointed out to me. I took the time to develop a personal life and I realized my personal life is too important for me to jeopardize anymore for a movie. I've tried to be a little more vulnerable. I mean, I've always been vulnerable, but didn't want to show it. I'm learning that having all the answers and being in control is not necessarily the greatest thing.
Q: Are you in a new relationship, or still in the house in the Valley getting closer to the same woman, Nina?
A: Yeah, yeah, she's still part of the deal. I don't really like to talk about it because, you know, it's a part of my life that I would like to try and keep separated from this business. I'm actually looking for another place now.
Q: Fan trouble?
A: [Nodding] Let's put it this way: if I don't have to go somewhere anymore, I usually won't. It was very strange because when I made the decision to start looking for another home, all of a sudden, people started coming by a lot more than ever. It was like God trying to send me a message: "Time to move on." Right across the street from me is an apartment complex with a lot of children. So it's usually pretty sweet stuff, like a 16-year-old girl who might go to school in the neighborhood asking me to sign a picture. Ringing the doorbell. That gets a little disturbing because I'm a late sleeper, too.
Q: So, you've cut down on clubbing? Friends of mine used to see you sometimes at Gaslight.
A: I haven't been to Gaslight in God knows how long--or anywhere else, really. We've been having dinners over at my house and inviting nine or 10 people, like twice a week. I've been finding out how many good friends I have. We sit down and watch old movies. I'm really into Spencer Tracy right now. The movies he made with Katharine Hepburn and Boys Town, which is a little hokey, but the greatest. I only watched half of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because it genuinely scared the hell out of me. But I looked at it going, "Hmmm, I wonder if Jack Nicholson watched this to play The Joker," because there are some very similar traits.
Q: How about finishing this sentence: "The toughest thing about monogamy is..."
A: [Laughing] Just doing it. I mean, it's really tough. I'm doing my best with it, dealing with it, and it is really the only way to go today, truly. That whole sex thing, how it was in the '60s with free love and all, those days are gone, come to a screeching halt. It might have been nice to be around then. But I'm not in this relationship because of the time period we're in but because I really am enjoying it and working towards having something good in my life.
Q: Any regrets about not making a play for a co-star recently?
A: That's too tricky a question. I won't answer it.
Q: Okay, so you've buttoned down some, but have you done anything irresponsible, like trading in that Saab from the high-speed police chase for a Maserati? How about getting tattooed?
A: [Laughing] I'm not driving the Saab today, but I still have it. Let's see, irresponsible... well, I got a place in New York. I really wanted it and I spent a hell of a lot of money to decorate it, I'll tell you. That was a little outrageous. I went a little crazy. Anyway, I'm trying to spend as much time in New York as possible. Oh, yeah, I bought a silver-grey Porsche. But a tattoo? No, not yet. I thought about it, though, for the movie I just did, True Romance, just having a drawing done or something, but that didn't pan out because the guy that was gonna tattoo me ended up having to check into rehab.
Q: What's the dominant emotion among you and your peers these days?
A: Suspicion. You're never really sure what people's agendas might be. If you are somewhat successful in this town, it's rare you're gonna meet people who want the same types of things that you are striving for. You tend to be a little bit more cautious, maybe sometimes even a little more closed off than you might normally be because you don't want to reveal anything. It's tough. One of the great things for me is that the people that I've met, the ones I told you I have coming over for dinner, are real friends, you know? I don't sense any hidden agenda, I sense we're just having a good time. There is great relief in all of that.
Q: What's the most bogus concept about young, happening Hollywood?
A: The whole "young Hollywood" thing doesn't bother me. I mean, I am young and I am in Hollywood. Better that than "washed up" Hollywood. Doing all that out-on-the-town glamour stuff is kinda fun. What's hilarious to me is that somebody would actually take my picture while doing it. That really kills me. But, I mean, come on, do I have a bad time going to see Bonnie Raitt or Frank Sinatra or going to a screening? Unfortunately, that's not the only part of the business--there's also the suspicion and that kind of thing.