Arts & Culture Blog
Before the Carmel Art & Film Festival, Tom Sizemore Spoke to the Weekly
October 12, 2011
A gravel-voiced slab of a man who looks like a blue collar George Clooney, actor Tom Sizemore's been the go-to actor when a director wants gravity and will, and not necessarily charm and beauty, a guy who gets the job done, especially military jobs. Sizemore has had roles in more cool movies—guy movies, especially—than most actors would fantasize landing in: Blue Steel, Born on the Fourth of July, Point Break, True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Strange Days, Devil in a Blue Dress…it gets better…there was Heat in 1995, alongside DeNiro and Pacino (guys who don't need their first names anymore); he played Sgt. Mike Horvath in 1998's Saving Private Ryan, of which nothing needs to be expounded; Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor (see all the military roles?), and numerous TV and indie film gigs, mostly stacked in recent years, like last year's guest spot on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
A career like that, among the swarms of armies of actors crawling all over Hollywood, is rare. So it came as a shock to find out that the whole time he was feeding his stellar career, Sizemore, 49, had been feeding a mean drug addiction, too, one which careened him off the road of success and into a Hollywood crash-and-burn tragicomedy of jail, public scandal and a sex tape (it got that cliche). This wasn't supposed to happen to someone like him. He wasn't one of those vacuous, attention-starved spectacles who you know you'll soon be seeing their mugshot. He was our guy. But there it was on TV and on the internet—his mugshot.
Things looked bleak when in 2007 he appeared in a reality TV show called Shooting Sizemore, about his struggles with drug addiction. Then things looked surreal and sad when he, and his former girlfriend Heidi Fleiss, the former Hollywood Madam, appeared on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. But it also looked hopeful, too, because despite the cameras and the medley company of Dennis Rodman, Mindy McCready and former Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr, he was in rehab, in the hands of a professional.
Sizemore has a new film, White Knight, which will be screened at the Carmel Art & Film Festival 4pm Sunday at the Sunset Center. In an twisty and passionate phone conversation to promote the film—a conversation in which he ambiguously interchanged, in talking about mistakes, the personas of himself and the role he plays—Sizemore told the Weekly earlier this week that he was sober now: "Two years and 109 days," he said.
This is what else he said.
Tom Sizemore. Thanks for talking with me. How are you?
I lost my voice last night. I was shooting on this movie, 513. A lot of shooting. I’m gargling salt water so I can talk.
Your film, White Knight, it looks screwball but it seems also to have a political angle. What's it about?
It's a comedy about the Ku Klux Klan. Ha ha ha. It’s a really simple movie: Love is redemptive. There’s such a thing as that. The character I play, Leroy Lowe, is the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Mr. Lowe has grown up in a world of hatred. Over the course of the movie, I’m imprisoned with my best friend, who dies. Now I’m forced to [share a cell] with a Mexican man, Emilio—Hector Jimenez is the actor. I’m being tortured by the warden, [actor] Stacy Keach. He treats me like dirt. It's screwy, like Raising Arizona. [Kevin Farley, brother of late comedian Chris Farley, is also in the film.] The warden has an office maid, Madalena [Olga Segura]. The first time I see her I go "Holy shee." We never speak in the movie but start a romance through notes. But I can’t speak or read Spanish and she can’t read or speak English. I tell Emilio, “I got a note from her.” Bragging, you know? He says, “What’s it say?” “Well, I can’t read Spanish.” He says, “I can.” Emilio's a nice man, a kind man. given another opportunity, I would have liked to have been his friend. I'm still a young man, 45, and though I’ve made mistakes, like lynching, I could, in fact, start over in life.
How did you prepare for this role?
I don’t like watching myself, at all. I put on 15 pounds and had patchy baldness for this movie. I’m not the most attractive guy. “Oh my God, I look like a fat fucking pig.” It worked in this respect. That's [director] Jesse’s [instinct. I was drawn into this off-the-wall world. It's a simple truism: Love is redemptive. I recognize the errors of my ways. Most people are born in the lower classes or ghettos, and feel trapped there. There is a way out and it’s education. I don’t know, I’m not a sociologist. But one way out is love. I believe this. If you want to make sacrifices, for the greater good, diminish your own...corral your own selfish desires to the things you think you need, to understand other people. I’m being more philosophical than I meant to. The way the world is now, there’s so much strife and uncertainty, especially here in America. I don’t think we’ve had a more uncertain time in my adult life. In acts of kindness, coming to middle ground, we may not get exactly what we want, but we get what we need. A lot of times those things are very different. To find out what one needs, perhaps one need to suffer or lose those things you thought you wanted. When [Leroy] goes to prison, he finds he needs simple human kindness in his life.
Have you had any interaction with the KKK or other supremacist groups before?
No. Nothing you haven't had, watching it on TV. I read about them. I grew up in Detroit and my parents were liberal. I was never subject to any type of white power crapola, thankfully. It is a big blight on our country. Growing up in Detroit, I couldn’t help but feel the lines of segregation. I was born in ‘61 so I was very much a young boy when bussing was instituted and saw how vehemently the white community, not just Boston, was opposed to the integration of the junior high schools and high schools. I remember feeling very scared. I was seven in ‘68 when he riots broke out and National Guard tanks were in the streets. Twelve firemen were killed. Really tragic and awful. Over race. I remember being really frightened and trying to avoid any interaction with African-Americans for a while. I felt out of sorts. I took that idea and turned it on its head. Let’s say I embraced that. I started Leroy that way. That was my way into it. The fear [and] confusion I felt when I was told by my grandmother not to go past 6-mile, that my [black] friends in grammar school couldn’t be my friends anymore. That’s the starting point. Can you excuse me for just a moment? [He takes another call.]
Tom Cruise’s trainer just called me up to say congratulations and asked if I need to work out. I have reclaimed my life. It’s no secret I’ve had my share of problems. For two year and 129 days I’ve been free and clear of [drug] use. When I was going through this [rehab] process with Dr. Drew, I was starting to like myself again. Using drugs was to obfuscate my life. Mr. Lowe keeps making these mistakes, from self-loathing and regrets. Terrible thing to feel. It’s regretful what I did with my own life. I’ve had time to get better and feel better. People will give you a second chance if you’re honest about it. Show that you’re a good father, employee, son. That kind of feeling was overwhelming because I wanted that second chance so badly. I wanted to imbue [that feeling] in this character. The movie is really lovely in a lot of ways. It seems silly, but it really is.
Did you use elements from your real life in this character?
I was so ashamed in a lot of ways and at the same time wanted to enter…I wanted to work again. It was tough in the beginning, reintroducing myself to people. It’s become easier, doing [TV series] Hawaii 5-0. I’d worked with people during my problems who [told me] "You have no idea how different you are." I’m not hopeless, helpless, or addicted. I’m an addict and always will be but I’m in recovery. I use this with Leroy. He’s hopeful about life because of his love for this girl.
Do you have special insight into what Charlie Sheen is going through? Yeah, I kind of know what he’s gong through. My self-immolation, if you will, was not so public. I wasn’t the highest paid actor on TV and never put on a display. I know Charlie. I have not spoken to him, so this is just conjecture. I can imagine he wants to fix it. What do you think?
I don't know enough about that world you guys live in, the celebrity acting world, to understand what goes on there...the pressure, the demands.
The pressures and demands are, on my best day, extreme. You don’t really know they’re extreme. When your life seems to careen out of control, what was manageable becomes unmanageable. Like a quarterback in the NFL who has knee injury: He’s going to play in a wounded state. I think people don’t understand [addiction] unless you’re one of them. And I’m one of them. I have an addiction, a disease. [Before] I didn’t believe all that jazz. But it is a disease. It can only be treated with the 12 steps of AA and being with other people who have the same reality, and sharing strength and hope. You have to figure out why you’re doing these things to yourself. Self-esteem. It made me feel better about myself, interesting, omnipotent. I know I was scared more than anything else, at being an adult, an actor, things I wanted, and I got them. A lot of actors who do well, you’re in a different world. You’re around these fabulous people and now you’re one of them. A lot of people don't feel fabulous and compensate by drinking. Aaahh. You let me ramble. You're not supposed to do that, because I will ramble.
You were fine. Interesting stuff. So, what are film festivals like for you? They’ve been really good for me. I didn’t want to go to any of them. For some reason I don’t want to be praised, it’s weird. But to go in front of those [film festival] people has been very cathartic as a person and as an actor. Everybody wants to be liked, for God’s sake. I hope Charlie can put the pieces together and stay off of drugs. That’s the base thing he has to do. Get your life healthy again. Find your optimism, of just being here. If you put your hand in a flame and get burned and you pull your hand away. I leave my hand there. I can’t explain it. I've enjoyed [film festivals] this last time around. I’m a huge fan of Mr. Eastwood’s. It’s a real honor. I’m enjoying this conversation too, and I was dreading it this morning.
I don’t know. Because of all the mistakes I’ve made..."will he like me?"
Really? What’s the most common and/or annoying question people ask of you?
“What were you thinking?” And I don’t know what to say except I wasn’t thinking. Not thinking well. It was clouded with narcotic use. I know what people want to know. It’s receding, though. I’ve accepted that there were mistakes made. That I made mistakes. Most people don’t have that malady. "Why would you sabotage it." That’s a good question. I didn’t know how to stop doing [drugs] until I put myself in the hands of a doctor who treats that.
Which role is most like the real you?
Sgt. Mike Horvath in Saving Private Ryan. Seemingly simple. SImpler man than me and tougher man than me. Just trying to do the best he can. When I’m doing my best in life, that’s what I’m like.
You seem to play a lot of military roles. Why is that?
I have several family members who were in the armed forces and I was brought up patriotically. My grandfather on my mother’s side, who we lived upstairs from my first 12 years, talked about how we Americans were free: People die when you fight for something. Respect the flag, your elders, your servicemen, they are fighting to keep us free. My grandfather was a patriot and I idolized him. And he loved being an American. He was a migrant farmer who came north to work in factories until Pearl Harbor. On my mother’s side I was the first to go to college. It meant so much to my grandfather that I went to college. It proved to him that if you’re honest, you work hard, that you will be given the oppotunity to make your life better. The movies I’m attracted to, my grandfather was telling us [those] stories as a boy.
What are you working on currently?
513 with Michael Madsen, Taryn Manning, an ensemble cast. It's a really cool crime movie. I’m going back to Hawaii to resume a recurring role in Hawaii 5-0. I’m back on the team and this time I’m going to stay on it. If I have anything to say about it, I will. Finally, in the bottom of the ninth, I got a base hit. I just want to be on the team. I know people want to know about my mistakes.
I can tell you that for me, your mistakes are so not as interesting as your movies. I think your body of work overshadows your mistakes. I think you’ve given so much to people through your movies and your acting. Probably more than you know. And they’ll remember that. [Choking up.] Thanks a lot. Thank you. That’s really kind of you to say. Thank you.
It’s true. I believe it.
Thank you, sir. Thank you.
Thank you, Tom Sizemore.