Starring on Broadway in a revival of That Championship Season, Jason Patric is immersed in personal touchstones. At 44, he’s middle-aged in a play about the struggles of being middle-aged. Season was written by his late father, Jason Miller, who earned a Pulitzer and Tony for the play and a year later earned an Oscar nomination for his role as the priest in The Exorcist. He’s co-starring with Kiefer Sutherland, with whom he co-starred in their breakout film, The Lost Boys, 24 years ago. And just as his character, the cynical drunk Tom Daley, leaves no opinion unspoken, Patric was similarly uncensored in his conversation with Vulture. For this largely uncut Vulture Transcript, he spoke openly, honestly, and bitingly about his career, what he sees as the corrosive secret to being a Hollywood star, and the last stage actress he worked with who was “lazy and arrogant.”
Tell me about your character, Tom Daley.
Tom has had a bit of a rough time, drinking issues, has not fared as well as he thought he would. This is someone who’s had great failure, great pain and anguish. These teammates, they’ve never been able to capture that moment they had twenty-some-odd years ago and now they’re going into the terror of middle age, so I can identify with all those things.
You’re feeling the middle-age pinch?
It’s not so much the age itself as I feel fine. It’s the idea of it being halftime. You got half left, it forces you to look back at your life whether you like it or not. It can be a disappointment. You can relate it to these guys and their careers. I mean, men typically exercise their masculinity through what they do, their sense of virility manifests itself through work. Or not. So I can look at men I know, businessmen, and take my past and relate it to his.
So this play is about being middle-aged. Have you been reflecting on your life?
I was reflecting on that when I was 21, so I don’t think I just hit that sort of bump; I mean, now it’s reality. I certainly have not had a conventional career. My choices have not been much different than the average actor. The opportunities that were presented to me — I chose a different path. At a very, very early age.
What kind of choices?
I chose not to become a movie star for movie star’s sake at a time when there weren’t a lot of movie stars and that opportunity was presented to me. After the success of something like Lost Boys with Kiefer, I didn’t choose to keep making those movies. I mean, I made Rush when I was 24 years old. Shocks me when I look back it. I mean, 24 … kids are still in high school these days. Before I did Narc, I hadn’t worked in three years. I just didn’t find things I wanted to do. I had just produced Your Friends and Neighbors, which was exhausting and good, and I didn’t find anything worth working on for three years. That’s suicide in this business because you have to remain in the forefront of people’s minds and certainly onscreen, but I didn’t care about that. Early, the movies I was interested in, people’s work is what propelled their career. That has changed vastly, immeasurably. It started to change when I started and now it absolutely makes no sense of difference whatsoever. Doesn’t matter if you have talent. Doesn’t matter what you’ve done before and, frankly, the people with a lot of talent don’t give a shit if they make crappy movies for money because it’s actually more respected than their better movies.
What star-making roles do you turn down?
There are a lot of rumors. Look, you become very popular for turning things down until you are no longer popular for turning things down. And either way it doesn’t matter, because you’re not working, you can say, “Yeah, I turned that down,” but so what. You’re still on your couch. It really doesn’t interest me. If I’m not going to see movies, why do I want to be in movies? I’m not going to see them, and unless it’s about keeping your fame up there … and I’m not addicted to it like 99 percent of every actor in Hollywood, even our 65-year-old so-called legends are so addicted to remaining stars that they’re in the kind of movies that would not be toilet paper in their classics. I don’t have to name them.
I read that you turned down The Firm and The Passion of the Christ.
I turned down some incarnation of The Firm years ago, but that would make it seem like I turned down the big hit movie. No, the movie’s a hit because Tom Cruise is in it. The shitty script that I got was not going to be a hit with me in it. Trust me. I don’t know where that Passion of the Christ thing came from, but it’s not true. But it means if it’s on the Internet, it must be true. Mel Gibson wanted me to play his part in Braveheart, so maybe that’s where that connection is, I don’t know. I never found out about it until after the fact. He wanted me to do it. The studio wouldn’t make it without him in it, his first major directorial thing, it was expensive, so that’s what happened. I found out afterwards, so I couldn’t really be mad about it. Wow, that sort of would have been nice. Too bad. I thought it was good, but he was too old for it, which he would admit too. But you know that’s the way it goes.
Tell me about this play your father wrote.
We were poor and he wrote that and it took us out of being poor, and so I was very young when it was massive hit here, both financially and critically, and then it sort of became something that was always around. Ten years later he made a movie version that wasn’t very successful. And he had done it several times. It’s about America, man; it’s about ideals falling apart. It’s so relevant now. The play, coming out of a bad war. Factories are closing in all the small towns. Politicians are doing smear campaigns, losing ideals, leaders — very similar to what’s going on. It was ahead of its time, language, sexual content; it feels fresh and new.
What was it like after your father became famous for his play, growing up in that environment?
It happened overnight, the Tony, Pulitzer. And he was nominated for an Oscar in The Exorcist. This coming from a guy who was cashing $3 checks; it was a lot and it was also something he couldn’t handle. He never hit, not unlike the guys in this piece, who never attained the glory at their height, over twenty years ago. My father never touched the moment of those two years. Those awards, that acclaim, the critical and artistic crystallization of his whole life was like boom, that was it, and in a lot of ways he never wrote another play. He never wrote another play. He did a monologue, Barrymore’s Ghost. But that was it.
What’s it been like working with Kiefer, 24 years after you guys did Lost Boys?
I had not seen him in over twenty years, and about a year ago he called me and we had some drinks because he wanted to talk … he had just finished a show and he said I want to do some good stuff, I want to do some different stuff, good stuff that pushes me. He just wanted to talk to me because he said you always make unique choices. That made me laugh. And he wanted to talk about theater. We had a night talking, drinks, and I said yeah, well, if something comes up I’ll let you know, and eight months later I was like, You know what? Kiefer might be good in this thing. This year it will be like 25 years; we haven’t worked together in 25 years.
So what’s that like?
We were 19 years old back then, so we’re men with full lives behind us now.
What about your mutual tabloid fame. You dated Julia Roberts right after he did, just after she was supposed to marry him, and then you two took off for Ireland.
All that stuff is made up, if you even go back there to all the archives you’re never gonna see any comment by me. It’s not like today, where Jennifer Aniston says this happens and Angelina says that and people give quotes. I don’t give quotes about anything. And everything that happened was all fake and bullshit and let them give quotes about whatever they want. Obviously people are gonna ask. They had a relationship that ended and I was with her for a little while and it ended. They’ve both been subsequently married several times and I think they’re fine. But we never had any issue, even back then.
Do you guys ever goof about it now?
Oh yeah, we look at it is as a goof because we know all the bullshit of the tabloids and how all this is created and people Do. Not. Care. About it. The truth is, I don’t know these editors of these magazine, so they honestly think we care about Brangelina? We don’t. Not just me, nobody cares. No. Body. Cares.
So you and Kiefer working together is not a problem.
We had drinks last night and he said that was one of the best summers of his life when we did Lost Boys. Twenty-five years ago. This project, there’s something very circular about it and the whole idea of it and life. Talk about it being half time and looking back over your life, well, all of a sudden this piece of material, which is great, I can see in a uniquely new way, because it’s presented by all these people and wow, 25, a quarter-century later there’s Kiefer and now he’s playing my brother. Something interesting about it as far as the cosmos go.
This is your first Broadway show since you did Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Ashley Judd and Ned Beatty.
I said I wasn’t coming back to Broadway unless I had more input and creative control. Look, you get to do Tennessee Williams on Broadway every twenty years of your life. And I loved playing the role and I loved the majority of my cast, but I had issues with the producers, I had issues with the director. I loved saying the words and working with most of the people every night. I didn’t like my leading lady. Ashley is just a lazy and arrogant actress. Let’s just leave it at that.
Are there any actors who’ve made interesting choices whom you admire?
God bless [Johnny Depp], he’s made interesting movies and choices; he’s done what he wants to do and then he got very fortunate that he got a movie [Pirates of the Caribbean] that people didn’t think was gonna work and it’s worked even further. If I harbored jealousy against other actors I would be much more competitive in the fame field, because that’s where that stuff really manifests itself. “And I need this and I need this” — I’m not that way. People think, Oh, Jason, he’s dark or he’s bitter about the business. I’m not; if I was, it would be hidden like all the other guys are hiding it, trying to fucking step on each other’s heads. Those are the people who are really that way as they’re smiling. As opposed to someone saying it like it is.
I’m not saying you have to have ideals. People don’t have to have artistic ideals. I mean, who am I to say that they have to, who is anyone to say. I respond to them. I respond to artistic ideals. The writers that you like, the musicians that you like, the writers, the directors. You’re responding to an aesthetic but also to an ideal. But I’m telling everyone else to do that. Because they can go fucking see Avatar. Why would that bother me? I don’t care. You know? But I’m definitely not on a soapbox looking down on that stuff.
So you live part-time in Santa Monica and part-time in the West Village. What do you do in New York?
So many good bars are disappearing so it’s hard to do that. Noth and I were talking about that, the gentrification has just excelled to a point now that it’s really hard to find the New York people think they heard about or read about — or for us, the one we experienced. I go to the park a lot. I have a dog, half Australian Shepherd and half pointer. I take my dog down to Washington Square Park a lot.
What was it like growing up with Jackie Gleason as a grandfather?
I didn’t grow up with him. It’s just one of those things. I never talked about my dad growing up and I never talked about my grandfather growing up, certainly as a young actor because I wanted no nepotism whatsoever. I just didn’t want a paragraph written about me that had nothing to do with who I was; it was just genetic circumstance. I only saw him a handful of times in my life. He’s had as much effect on me as he’s had on you. He has nothing to do with me or my bloodline; I’m not a thoroughbred or purebred dog or something. Really, it has no bearing whatsoever but really it looks good in Us magazine. He was just more of a hermit.
You were talking earlier about the evils of reality TV and bad pop culture.
This Lady Gaga is absolutely preposterous. This is, what? You take a shit in a Cuisinart and put some pasties and get Auto-Tuned and look who I am. Well nothing, you’ve been marketed, that’s all. If I was a musician maybe I’d get angry about it, but it’s just like, what? Again, just turn the page.
So you’re known as this ladykiller: You’ve dated Julia Roberts, Christy Turlington, a bunch of others. You ever plan on settling down?
I’ve been dancing so long, I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t know, I’m not against the idea. Again, it’s like these guys in the play entering middle age. You say, well, what stopped me from this, and was it the other person, or was it in me? And I don’t have the full answer for that. I was never really settled in being an actor, what I wanted to really do in my mind was think, Okay, let me settle that first because then I’ll do this. Because if you get married and have kids you should shovel shit for them, you really should. When I was 25 or 35, “shoveling shit” in my parlance would mean doing really crappy movies, intentionally making crappy movies I didn’t want to do. I mean, I had some that came out crappy, but it was never the ideal.
As you’re in middle age, what kind of changes do you think you want to make to yourself?
Try to be less rigid with things, but at the same time that’s hard because I don’t think enough people stand for things. I guess you have to learn to sway a little bit but still keep the strength of that tree, those roots.