Eric Stoltz: Shhh Don't Say Anything
When he's not avoiding questions with a cagey "no comment," Eric Stoltz has a lot to say about fantasizing over his Little Women co-stars, what he and girlfriend Bridget Fonda thought of a recent Movieline profile of Charlie Sheen, and why he doesn't mind getting naked on the big screen.
In 1988, as we strolled alongside New York's festering East River, I dogged Eric Stoltz, then 27, about his relationship with Jennifer Jason Leigh. In vain. For hours, all I could get out of him was "Jennifer who?" and "No comment." Until finally, he tossed me this morsel: "I lost my virginity when I was 19," he said. "To Ally Sheedy." Tenacity--and temerity--paid off.
Six years later, I meet up with him again, this time perched on a wall in New York's festive Washington Square Park. The 33-year-old actor is on a publicity break midway through filming Rob Roy in Scotland. His bright orange hair is long, augmented by four layers of ingenious extensions applied for his role in the Highland adventure. "They did a good job, huh?" he says. "Is your hair real?" Eric Stoltz is uncomfortable with the interview format--unless he's asking the questions.
"I'd prefer a really short article about me," he says. "Like maybe two paragraphs, with no quotes. In my mind, I've already said too much."
No journalist worth his Macintosh can accuse Stoltz of saying too much. Sure, he told a New York Post "Page Six" reporter, covering a Killing Zoe party at the Tunnel nightclub, that he has two small children and a wife named Jennifer whom he'd met five years earlier when she was bartending at the club. But that was "too much" only in the sense that it was the absurd fabrication of an artful dodger. A retraction appeared the next day, not apologizing for shoddy fact-checking, but reproaching the childless bachelor for having "such a strange sense of humor that nobody gets his jokes" and for making up tall tales for the local press.
I say God bless him. I get his jokes. I enjoy his tall tales. In fact, I wouldn't have it any other way. "It makes it more fun than the usual go-see-my-movie bullshit," he says. "Facts are always the least interesting parts of stories on actors.Usually, the punctuation is the most interesting thing. Although I hate the parenthetical. The ellipsis is my personal favorite..." (Which is not surprising, given the elliptical nature of the guy.)
We meet at high noon, apt timing for a confrontation. We meet at the arch, apt setting for one so inclined. Indeed, Stoltz had alarmed his publicist earlier by telling her that we were going to spend the day copping heroin, as a colorful raison d'etre for the location. But Washington Square Park was virtually dealer-free, thanks to the intermittent rain--dope traffic, like highway traffic, is slippery when wet. Stoltz seems in a good mood. He's an engaging conversationalist--witty, well-spoken and a well-spring of Weltanschauung--but he's also a cagey bastard. Badgered on one subject, he'll shift to another.
"You'll create something out of nothing," he says to me.
"One has to with you," I say.
"Exactly. But it works well."
"Actually," I say, "I like nothing."
"I like nothing too," he says. "I think nothing is underrated."
"Which, of course, is the nature of nothing," I say. Then, out of the blue--or gray, in this case--I ask, "How long have you been with Bridget Fonda?" They have been a hot item for a while now. "I think she's very cool."
"Well, I don't know her, but I like her work. Um..." I clear my throat and hesitate. "Um. In a relationship with someone do you have to respect her professionally?"
He looks pained. It was probably too personal too soon. "It seems I have a hard time being attracted to someone unless I respect what they do on some level. Otherwise, I would feel disdain for them. Which is not always pleasant in a relationship." He pauses, then adds, "Sometimes it's fun though."
"So how long have you been with Bridget?"
"I'm not gonna talk about Bridget."
"You can say 'No comment.'"
"No comment," he says.
"What do you think of Jim Carrey's remake of that movie you made with Cher, Mask?" I ask, lightening up.
"I haven't seen it," he says, laughing, "but I'd be interested to see his take on my character."
"His interpretation, I believe, is green."
"I'm amused thinking about a few years down the line when the two movies get mixed up at the video store," Stoltz says. "People go in to rent this Jim Carrey wacky comedy and end up with a drama about a kid with a big head!"
I told him I'd just seen a screening of Pulp Fiction. "It's one of the best movies I've seen in a long time," I say. "Of course, I haven't seen any movies in a long time. I know we're here to talk about you, but can we talk about John Travolta for a minute?"
"I'd rather talk about him," Stoltz says eagerly. "You know, you grow up with the image of John Travolta being super cool--_Saturday Night Fever_, Brian De Palma, handsome young god... he, in reality, is a very silly man. And I mean that in a good way. He'll walk around the set talking in little weird voices, making people laugh. He's just..." Stoltz searches for the right word, "...strange. And kind as hell; he's the nicest guy on the set. I never expected him to have a whacked-out sense of humor."
"It doesn't surprise me," I say. "But what does amaze me is what a good actor he is, especially in Pulp. That whole date scene with Uma Thurman..."
"Uma! Oh my God!" Stoltz interrupts. "Can we talk about Uma Thurman? On smack, in a black wig, knocked out on the floor, oozing blood, foaming at the mouth--and she's still a goddess. And what makes her a goddess is that she's probably smarter than... well, certainly than anyone in this park."
"Present company included?"
"Yes. She's an incredibly bright woman. And I find that enormously appealing."
Just then, as I'm about to ask why he's so often cast in drug-related roles--as he was in both Pulp Fiction and Killing Zoe--we're approached by two confident black youths wearing identical T-shirts and carrying clipboards. "Excuse me," the male says, grinning, "would you like to buy a raffle ticket to fight the antidrug war in New York? Dollar donation, $500 first prize."
His question, as presented, was masterful in its power to pose further questions. Whose side had he actually invited us to join? Were we being asked to battle the troops opposed to drugs, or align with those fighting the problem? Was he simply offering us chances in a raffle or unloading the entire lottery? Or, was the whole thing just a ruse to peddle dope? But since Stoltz, of course, prefers asking to answering, I sit back and wait.
"An antidrug war?" Stoltz asks. "You're fighting drugs? You're not selling them?"
"Nah, I'm done with that," the youth says. "I'm three years clean already."
"That's amazing. Did you deal at all?"
The proud kid nods. "I dealt for about a year."
"When you were a dealer," Stoltz asks brightly, "were you a friendly dealer?"
The guy laughs at the odd question, but gives it some thought. "Ehh, depends who I dealt with, you know? Lotta times you get a wise one, know what I'm sayin'?"
"Yeah. So did you carry a piece?"
His friend had been put in jail for carryin' a piece, he says.
"Oddly enough," Stoltz says finally, after we paid our dollars and took our chances, "I play a heroin dealer in a movie."
"Oh yeah?" the guy says, with only polite interest--he'd actually been a dealer.
After they move on, I ask Stoltz what he'd written on his raffle stub so that the antidrug foundation could contact him if he won. "I wrote my number," he says. "I really think I've got a shot at the $500."
"You were so interested in those two," I say. "Have you ever done heroin?"
"No, I haven't. But I've filmed a person doing it so I could see how it affected him physically and imitate it, for Killing Zoe. It was completely voyeuristic and educational and it didn't endanger my own health."
"What do actors snort as cocaine in movies?"
"It's like a crushed up B vitamin," he says. "It's awful."
"Wasn't there a lot of real cocaine use in the industry when you started?"
"Oh yeah, in the '80s. Fast Times at Ridgemont High was one giant party movie. I remember people going to certain crew trucks to indulge. That doesn't happen anymore. On movie sets."