Joel Schumacher’s 25th-odd film, Twelve — the movie version of young author Nick McDonell’s 2002 novel about rich, lost Upper East Side kids — opened over the weekend, featuring Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts, and 50 Cent. At Sarabeth’s on the Upper East Side, the tanned, lean, laid-back septuagenarian maker of eighties classics St. Elmo’s Fire and The Lost Boys (as well as a couple nipple-heavy Batman films) spoke with us about coming full circle back to rich brats in his movies, why he identifies with Crawford’s character in Twelve, and why comparisons between Twelve and Gossip Girl haven’t made him any more a watcher of the show than he already was. (In other words, he wasn’t.)
You just ordered penne with nothing but oil, spinach, and butter. Is that how you manage to look mean and lean at 71?
Filmmaking is very grueling physically. Everyone I work with is younger than I am. You’re out on the beach in the freezing cold or rain shooting all day. I always tell film students, “It’s not all blow jobs and sunglasses.”
Hey, you just gave us that quote a couple of months ago!
But it’s true! It’s [this culture of] recognition before accomplishments, which is basically what Twelve is about: I red carpet, therefore I am. These kids feel they’re expected to misbehave.
So you live alone down on Lower Fifth.
I’ve destroyed the roller coaster of extraordinary love life. Some people aren’t the marrying kind. I was in a monogamous relationship from 1979 to 1984, which probably saved my life.
You had this real latchkey upbringing in Queens with no dad and a single working mom, sitting in movie theaters and riding your bike around the city by yourself.
By the time I was 7, I’d ride my bike over the 59th Street Bridge. You’re alone, you have a flat tire, no money; it’s getting dark, you’re fighting off predators.
Creepy people, they’d come up to you on your bike and say, “Hey, little boy, you must be tired, can I put your bike in the trunk and ride you home?” I’d say, “Go fuck yourself.” I looked innocent but I wasn’t.
I was rewatching St. Elmo’s Fire and Lost Boys and thinking about how cool their aesthetic is. So punk-preppy-pop.
Back then, teen movies were made without much care for the camera work or art direction. I thought, Why couldn’t a youth movie be like an A movie and have great clothes and great apartments and good jobs? But the reviews of St. Elmo’s Fire were scathing. Someone said I should be thrown out of the Director’s Guild for it. The funny thing is, the movie is nostalgic and bittersweet today.
Similarly, Twelve got a horrible reception at Sundance, with the audience laughing aloud at, not with, it. And I have to say, I thought it was kind of conflicted between a Heathers-type black comedy and wanting us to feel for some of the characters. But I really didn’t feel for any of them.
It’s not necessarily to like the characters in a movie.
But even in a black comedy you have to be with someone, even in an antihero way.
The book is from a privileged world, and I serve that. And as for the reaction from Sundance, the only people who write are haters!
That’s not always true. The film-festival crowd has been raving about The Kids Are All Right for a year now.
That’s a charmer! Our movie’s not designed to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling.
But it’s conflicted, it doesn’t know if it wants to be a black satire or have you feel sorry for certain characters.
Well, life is conflicting, and I want the film to be what it is. After you’ve made 25 movies, everything will have been said about you, good and bad. So you just keep going.
You’ve always idealized young male beauty. In St. Elmo’s you had Rob Lowe’s glistening muscular body playing the sax. In Lost Boys, Jason Patric and Corey Haim hang all over each other, even though they’re brothers.
I get this question because I’m gay. How about Demi Moore and Ally Sheedy? How about Julia Roberts in Flatliners? The women are ignored in my films.
Twelve opens with this lingering shot of Chace lying face down in his boxers.
Those are the first words from the book. Plus, Elia Kazan was straight. I think you should look at Streetcar Named Desire [with a highly sexualized Marlon Brando] and Splendor in the Grass [ditto Warren Beatty]. Yes, I do objectify people sexually in my movies. Where’s the harm? They still have to act.
What was it like working with all these young kids on this movie?
Fabulous. These kids were beautifully behaved. The girls cooked for the main cast every night at their apartment.
Did you join them?
I love all of them and we text each other a lot, but I learned a long time ago you can’t be their friends. You have to be there for them as a director.
What do you think of these kids walking around New York these days?
The girls all dress like hookers. Short skirts, hot pants, very high heels. They’re expected to dress that way or they won’t get guys. And the boys wear T-shirts and baggy shorts and flip-flops. The girls wanna be hot and the guys wanna be cool.
Do you identify more with the boys or the girls?
I identify with White Mike [Chace’s character in Twelve] because I lost my parents young and, back in the late sixties when I was in fashion and working for Halston, I’d walk around the city at night on drugs like a ghost. I was shooting speed. I had blankets over my windows and went out around midnight and would walk around in the freezing cold, with some adventures along the way. I was in another world, what Joan Didion called, ‘You’re out there where there is nothing.’” But I’ve now been clean and sober nearly nineteen years.
Were you aware of Gossip Girl when you started working on Twelve?
Yes, but that isn’t why I hired Chace. I met him through an agent and I’d never seen Gossip Girl and I wasn’t interested in watching it.
Have you ever?
When I decided to work with Chace, I watched one episode, but Chace came in only at the end. When I met Chace, I noticed he had a really deep gravelly voice, which a lot of young people don’t have. And that’s very important for an actor.
Twelve feels like an R-rated Gossip Girl.
I’m sure it will be called that. The one episode of Gossip Girl I saw was very old-fashioned, the girls with bows in their hair. Maybe Gossip Girl helped us get a green light on this movie.
Are you okay with people like me comparing Twelve to Gossip Girl?
I have no choice over what people think.
You think you’ll watch Gossip Girl more now?
No. I don’t watch a lot of TV. I’m not home a lot. But when I do watch it, I like true-crime shows best.