Speedway To Stardom. – Interview – movie review

Dennis Hensley


Any young male hustlers who work Los Angeles’s Santa Monica Boulevard should be in bed by this time on a Saturday morning–someone’s bed, anyway. They’re certainly not still carbo-loading at the Yukon Mining Company, the 24-hour diner known for its colorful late-night gay-for-pay clientele. In their stead are two guys in blue jeans who are certainly fresh-faced and foxy enough to pass for hustlers–which is a good thing, because they do just that in their new film, Speedway Junky.

Perhaps new isn’t entirely accurate, for it’s been three years since Jesse Bradford and Jordan Brower took to the streets of Las Vegas to film writer-director Nickolas Perry’s tough-and-tender coming-of-age film. Bradford, who turns 22 on May 28, has since gone on to turn heads as Kirsten Dunst’s guitar-playing beau in the gay-friendly cheerleader comedy Bring It On; 19-year-old Brower, best known from the sitcom Teen Angel, has since wrapped Texas Rangers with James Van Der Beek. But news that Regent Entertainment is finally steering Speedway Junky into theaters (opening July 20) has brought the pair together again to talk about their adventures in Sin City.

A riff on themes from My Own Private Idaho–a kinship underlined by out Idaho director Gus Van Sant’s role as executive producer–Junky casts Bradford as Johnny, a runaway and wanna-be NASCAR driver who gets stranded in Vegas on his way to the East Coast. Brower is Eric, the vulnerable gay hustler who–along with cocky “buy”-sexual Jonathan Taylor Thomas–teaches Johnny the ins and outs of hustling, then falls in love with him. Along for the ride are Daryl Hannah as Eric’s ex-showgirl mother figure and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen as a white-trash tourist Johnny longs to get busy with.

“I just loved the look of the film, the character portrayals, all the young talent, and I thought Daryl Hannah gave a real tour de force performance,” says Regent’s Keith Sky, who discovered the movie at Outfest, Los Angeles’s gay and lesbian film festival, and worked for almost two years to secure distribution rights. “And the chemistry between Jordan and Jesse on the screen is very exciting and sexy.”

Together again at the Yukon, Brower and Bradford still exhibit strong chemistry, though the two haven’t talked much since the film wrapped (“I should have called you more,” laments Brower). All the same, the actors share the kind of bond that comes from living through the stone nightmare. “I’ve never been on a movie where more stuff went wrong,” says Bradford. “So it’s great that people are finally getting to see it.”

You shot this movie on location in Las Vegas. What was that like?

Bradford: We worked so hard–a month and a half of night shoots. All our locations kept falling through. [Some [nights] we’d find a spot and we’d go, “OK, this will have to do now” [whether we had a permit to shoot there or not]. It shouldn’t have to be like that.

Your sitting in front of the Donut Queen was a happy accident?

Bradford: No, the Donut Queen was one of the few locations that we actually nailed.

Love the Donut Queen.

Bradford: You could say that lady [in the scene] was the doughnut queen.

This scene was right when Johnny gets into Las Vegas, at the beginning of the movie, and Jordan’s character, Erie, and his friends are hanging out in the parking lot–

Bradford: –and I was kinda talking her into letting me do, like, some yard work or something.

And Eric sees you talking to her, assumes you’re a hustler, and comes over to give you some tips on picking up tricks. How old were you at the time?

Brower: Sixteen.

Bradford: Eighteen.

What appealed to you about the project initially?

Bradford: It’s edgy. I wanted to do something kinda edgy, dirty–like, freaky. A lot of times, if I do an independent film, it’s because I really like the character. That’s a pattern I’m noticing in my career: The more mainstream stuff, I’m geeing hired to play me; independent stuff will give me the opportunity to try [different] stuff. And I liked Nick, the director. He sounded like he knew what he was doing.

Jordan, what got you to play Eric?

Brower: They lived on the street. I got to play that, and I thought that’d be kind of fun. And the script was good. It seemed like it’d really happen in real life.

I like how Eric tells Johnny about how he knew he was gay in the film, saying he always knew because he kept trying to kiss all the boys in the second grade.

Bradford: [To Brower] Yeah, I think you played it light, and it worked. We’re just friends at that point, and you’re just telling a funny story. You’re almost laughing about it.

Did you have any reservations about playing a gay character?

Brower: I thought, As long as I don’t have to kiss any guys, then I’ll be OK. Because I have too many friends in Texas. If they’d have seen me …

You do almost kiss. Your friends would have given you a hard time?

Brower: Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t be able to go back to Texas.

Where are you from?

Brower: San Antonio.

When did you start acting professionally?

Brower: Walt Disney was holding open auditions all through Texas for this movie The Big Green, about soccer. And I was at soccer practice and [heard] there was a movie audition in town, so I went. Open audition, packed with people. And I just got lucky. It’s crazy–I was 14, I didn’t know anything about Hollywood. I was a kid growing up, watching TV, you know, young and naive, and I fell into something.

That led to the ABC show Teen Angel, which was big with young girls. Did you ever get any gay guys sending you letters?

Brewer: Yeah, occasionally. It was really flattering.

Then how did you get the role of Eric in Speedway Junky?

Brower: I just went on this audition, and they literally called back two hours later and told me I had the part.

Bradford: Nick always said that we were the ones that he wanted for the roles. When he wrote the script, he was picturing us. [Producers] Randy [Emmett] and George [Furla] were looking for bigger names.

Well, they did get Jonathan Taylor Thomas from Home Improvement.

Bradford: He was in Hawaii, I heard at the time, and they sent him a script. He cut his vacation short to come out to do the movie.

Did you have a good time with JTT?

Bradford: It’s not that he wasn’t open to talking, but mostly–

Brower: –he kept to himself.

But was it fun on the set, watching the guy from Home Improvement talking about sex and drugs?

Bradford: I liked watching him smoke a bowl. That was my favorite part. I think he pulled it off.

Did you do anything fun while you were in Vegas filming, or were you working all the time?

Brower: By my recollection, we would work all night, and around about, you know, 6:30-7 A.M., when the sun came up, that’s when we got off work.

Bradford: We’d get back to the Hard Rock Hotel and go out to the pool and order drinks and wait for people to start showing tap around the pool. And then we’d be in bed by like 11 or noon.

Did you guys gamble?

Bradford: We weren’t old enough [to gamble], so it was kind of tough. I didn’t have a good enough fake ID to pull it off much, but every once in a while I got away with it. A little blackjack, a little slots. The thing I don’t like the most about Vegas is the whole Big Brother thing. No matter where you go, they’re watching you.

People have been watching you since you were a baby. Your first job …

Bradford: When I was 8 months old, I was a baby in a Q-Tips commercial.

And when you were 13, you worked with director Steven Soderbergh. I have to say, I’m a huge fan of that film, King of the Hill. Have you been in touch with Steven since he won the Oscar for Traffic?

Bradford: We’d spoken, but we hadn’t seen each other, literally, since I was about 14 until just recently. [I visited the set of Ocean’s Eleven,] and it was cool because probably 30% to 40% of his crew is the same that worked on Kilt of the Hill. So it was like family reunion time. Brad Pitt and George Clooney were working that night, but they were on the other side of the room [from the crew]. So it felt like I was watching TV. It was like they were almost two-dimensional, because they were far away. They were goofing around and, like, being stupid.

What’s your favorite memory of making Speedway Junky?

Bradford: One of them was just hanging out at Daryl Hannah’s house one night. She had this place in Malibu, and [to Brower] it was you and me, and my girlfriend at the time was visiting. We had, like, hung out at Venice Beach that night.

Any souvenirs you kept from the shoot?

Bradford: I got these jeans from the movie that I’m wearing now. They’re nice and worn-in now, and I wear them all the time. A pair of sneakers. It just happens I was there at the right time when the wardrobe lady was giving everything away. I got a mess of clothes, man. And some crazy, crazy, crazy experiences. That was the hardest gig I’ve ever done. I’ve done 17 movies, and that was the hardest shoot I’ve ever been on.

In preparing for your roles, did you talk to any street hustlers for real?

Brower: No.

Bradford: Johnny wasn’t about hustlers, [although] he became about it. [He wanted to be a race car driver, so] I was researching NASCAR. I became a NASCAR fan over the course of that shoot.

Do you remember the first time you knew what a gay person was?

Bradford: I actually do, because my family has a basement apartment that [my parents] used to rent out. And we rented it out to a gay guy named Vincent. I just kind of remember my parents explaining it to me one day. I think I said something like, “Why is Vincent kind of like a girl?” That’s obviously not true about all gay people, but it was about Vincent.

Did you get to know him once he moved in there?

Bradford: He used to take me to this hot dog joint. And he had old VW bug. He was a cool guy. Not to mention the fact that my first agent was gay and the fact that I’ve been in this business for my entire life, which means I’ve been surrounded by gay people my entire life, because so much of this business is gay. I don’t know–I’ve always felt completely comfortable around it, personally.

Do you have gay-friend actors that are in the closet?

Bradford: No. I have gay friends, and I guess I have gay friends who aren’t really out, but I can’t really say that any of them are actors that everybody knows.

Were there kids in your school who were out?

Brower: When you’re that young in school, you don’t know. I think once you get out to L.A.–

Bradford: There were a couple of kids that were bi in my high school. A lot of girls that were bi too.

As actors, how much do you worry about staying in shape?

Brower: I break out a lot, and I smoke a lot of cigarettes, so I need to sort of be aware of that stuff.

Bradford: I think that part of this business is selling yourself as a piece of meat–that’s definitely true. Looks matter. Right now I’m playing a swimmer. I shaved my chest for the first time in my life about four days ago.

What happens to this swimmer?

Bradford: Well, the movie’s like Fatal Attraction. Erika Christensen is [like] Glenn Close, and Shift Appleby is the girlfriend. And Erica comes to town and tempts me, and I fall for it. I can’t resist, and then she turns into a psycho. She tries to destroy my life.

Jordan, you recently worked with Dawson’s Creek’s James Van Der Beek on the film Texas Rangers [scheduled for release early next year]. Who do you play?

Brower: I play James Van Der Beek’s younger brother, and I’m just in the first 10 minutes of the film. I die in his arms.

What do you guys hope that people will get from Speedway Junky?

Brower: Entertainment.

Bradford: I think one of the key things the director was going for with Speedway Junky is the buddy theme. It’s like a buddy movie about a gay guy and a straight guy. [To Brower] I think if your friends in Texas see it and don’t beat your ass and [instead] go, “Hey, you know, man, those gay people are all right,” I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s something people can take out of it. Hopefully, not that many people still need to come to that realization, but I feel like there are some, and that being the case I’d like to see maybe a couple of them go see it, and understand it.

Hensley is the author of the novel Misadventures in the (213).

COPYRIGHT 2001 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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