Edward Furlong: Melancholy Baby
Eighteen-going-on-thirty, Edward Furlong talks about having had a rough life, not having done drugs, never having gone clubbing with Leonardo DiCaprio, and having gotten in Before and After, "such a great part that you don't even have to act to look great on film."
It's early on a rare-fine California morning. An archer, bow poised precisely, draws back his arm. A whir rips the air. By his satisfied look, he's scored a palpable hit. A moment passes before I notice he had no arrow to release; he made the whirring sound himself; there's no target. I notice then that the archer is a well-known entertainment lawyer. On the knoll not far from him, well-dressed dog owners gaze vacantly, Prozac-calm, as their big, unruly pooches bark, snarl and lunge at a tiny terrier. There's more noise than bloodshed, but the sangfroid of the dog owners is dead weird. As if to put a fine point on it, wind shivers in the trees.
Welcome to the dog park on Mulholland Drive, a spot well-known to West-side Angelenos for casual celebrity-spotting and the place Edward Furlong has insisted on for our hookup. I thought at first of nixing this location. Too precious and too distracting. Then again, pinning down a meeting time with Furlong was like trying to play tiddlywinks with quicksilver. Anyway, the ambiance of the park begins to work on me. Here's a place to imagine what might happen if Michelangelo Antonioni remade 101 Dalmatians.
Up pulls a dusty black SAAB ragtop with Edward Furlong inside. Best known so far as the kid with the great haircut in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Furlong is currently the focus of industry buzz for his performance in the new Barbet Schroeder movie Before and After, in which he co-stars with Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson. Just 18, he has survived such post-_Terminator_ dross as Pet Sematary II, Brainscan, and the more ambitious but equally trying American Heart and Little Odessa. Thanks to his ability to rise above bad or lachrymose material, and to a look -- all cheekbones and slight, androgynous body -- that sets him up perfectly to play ravishing boy-men/changelings, Furlong is, like Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the young actors to whom moviemakers turn when they need an actual performance.
I note immediately that Furlong, terse and radiating a whatever attitude, emits offscreen the same sort of bereft, piercing, street-kid melancholy that makes him so watchable on-screen. Hard to imagine him smiling, much less skylarking: for one reason or another, his soul is already shredded.
Furlong begins by apologizing for being late -- "We had to find a toy for Frances," whereupon he introduces his excuse, a canine of dubious pedigree, boundless energy and killer charm, who, Furlong explains, was named in tribute to the character played by Kathy Bates, his screen mom in A Home of Our Own. Furlong then mumbles an introduction to his other companion, a petite, dark-haired woman I guess correctly to be Jackie Domac, his much older and much gossiped about companion of the last few years. Jackie, who is thirtyish, goes about arranging sliced fruit and napkins on the out-of-the way picnic table we choose, and then makes it apparent that she is not there to hover over Furlong, but to keep a watchful eye on Frances, whose leash is immediately swiped by two of the hellhounds from the nearby knoll.
"So, Edward," I begin, "are people telling you you're getting a big head for someone so young and relatively green?" I have, in fact, heard that since Furlong received better reviews than Vanessa Redgrave, Maximilian Schell and Tim Roth for his role as the son of a dying mother and brother of a violent gangster in the clinically depressed indie Little Odessa, he's gotten a groove thing going with himself. He says, shrugging, "I've never had anybody say that to my face, because if I did, probably I'd kill them. With Little Odessa, for instance, the other people in it got really good reviews also, but it was my first film where I really got great reviews. That didn't make me go, 'I'm just the greatest.' It makes me try harder next time. But, you know, it can be hard sometimes not to seem like it's gone to my head. What stops me is that I just think, 'It's my business. It's just what I do as my job.' Anyone else can say exactly what they want about me. I can't control that."
Is it really so clear, I ask Furlong, what's business and what's personal in Hollywood, where temptation is everywhere? "First of all, I'm totally with Jackie, totally," Furlong says, staring off at Jackie and Frances playing tug-of-war. His gaze makes it totally clear that he totally thinks he means it. "If a woman ever gives me the eye, I'm as sullen as, well, as sullen as the leather jacket you're wearing. I've always liked women, but the thought that I might do something about it, might let that go to my head, never even crosses my mind. It's hard to tell in this business when people are being sincere or whether they just want to get close to you because you're well-known. I can usually tell right off, though. That can make you seem kind of standoffish, but I don't go around thinking, 'Oooh, how can I be an asshole today?' And if I am an asshole, who gives a shit? Everybody can be an asshole sometimes. I hope I'm not, but if i am? OK, well. That's for Jackie or someone close to me to decide. But, as for the press? Most of that's pure bullshit."
Much of the bullshit -- or truth, however you want to look at it -- surrounding Furlong started early and stemmed from the turmoil of his home life. Self-described as "half Mexican, part Russian, and just American," he was one more lower middle-class kid from a splintered Southern California family, busier sneaking into theaters to see movies than sneaking into starring roles in movies, until the Terminator 2 casting agent discovered him hanging out at the Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena. When the money and praise from James Cameron's opus kicked in, a custody struggle between Furlong's mother, whose house he'd moved out of, and his aunt and uncle with whom he then lived, heated up. Long since settled (in favor of aunt and uncle), the case got Furlong labeled in People as "Problemo Child," which is like blaming the victim, but the label stuck.
For sheer gossip value, his relationship with Domac, his stand-in on T2, picked up where the custody battle left off and kept tongues wagging. Furlong muses, "What people say about us doesn't matter. Either you love some-one or you don't. Age has nothing to do with it at all. I live my life like I want to live it, not for anybody else. Jackie and I are nobody else's business. I don't care what other people do or don't understand."
Given his own family problems, does he feel any kinship with Macaulay Culkin, whose family warfare has recently been making magazine covers? "Everybody's situation is different, but I feel sorry about what happened in his family," Furlong asserts. "It seems this stuff happens with a lot of movie kids whose careers just blow up like that. If you blow up too much, it's bound for disaster. Anybody's family can be fucked up, whether you're an actor or not. When you're in Hollywood, you just hear more about how fucked up someone's family is because people just want to make up stuff and make a huge fantasyland out of your life. Again, bullshit. A lot has been written about me. My life wasn't any Brady Bunch, that's for sure. I had a really tough life. But that stuff is all behind me now. It's been said, Steve, you know?"