Nick Stahl was twelve when he starred opposite Mel Gibson in The Man Without a Face (1993), as a fatherless boy who reaches out to a man Stahl's character was the best thing about the movie, a kid who taught his superficial and loveless family a lesson about misleading appearances. Now eighteen, Stahl has continued in his own footsteps: In July's teen thriller Disturbing Behavior, he was a lonely stoner bent on escaping cheerleaders. Even when the seemingly perfect clique succeeded at converting him to their robotic ways and Stahl's character abandoned his reefer and army-surplus duds for milkshakes and loafers, he seemed out of place among the hunky boys and pneumatic girls next door. Stahl is too pale and skinny and his face reveals too much personality for him to blend seamlessly with the beautiful kids that Hollywood is now cranking out by the dozen.
Stahl says he was baffled by the aesthetically driven marketing of this film, which plastered every other billboard in L.A. with his airbrushed face alongside those of costars Katie Holmes and James Marsden. ("The poster made us all look alike!" he marvels.) But the actor seems determined to ignore the emphasis on physical beauty that actresses have always endured and that is now increasingly felt by their male counterparts. Stahl declares, "I try to avoid the sweet-ass roles. I don't consider myself anything of the kind, and there's no point in pretending I am."
Later this year, Stahl gets gritty. In Terrence Malick's much-anticipated World War II epic, The Thin Red Line, he plays an Iowa farm boy stuck in the battle of Guadalcanal and coming to terms with the reality of killing. Although he acted in the film with John Travolta, Sean Penn, and Nick Nolte, Stahl reserved his awe for the experience of working with the famously reclusive Malick: "He's such an intriguing person. He can be quite abstract, but when he's filming he's incredibly acute. It wasn't like any other film I'll do, I'm sure." Stahl has no fears of seeing his face on billboards for this movie, which is set for a holiday release. "I imagine the marketing will have to be more complex, there are so many characters and story lines," Stahl says, then pauses. "I'm curious to see how they package this war flick under the Christmas tree."
do not disturb
With a new thriller costarting Katie Holmes and an upcoming war flick with George Clooney, Nick Stahl is suddenly hotter than ever.
By Sarah Goldsmith
Producers wanted a fat kid to play Gavin, the resident head-banging outcast of this month's thriller Disturbing Behavior. At 5'10" and 130 pounds, Nick Stahl was hardly a shoo-in. He wanted the part but wasn't about to start stuffing his face to get it. "It's not that I'm vain," he says. Still, Stahl, 18, did a screen test; when he didn't hear anything, he was convinced he was out of the running. "I was sure I didn't get it," he says.
In the end, the extra baggage was not an issuethe part was hisbut when Stahl was getting into character, he found that Gavin's personal style clashed with his own. "He was into heavy metal and dressed in rags, kind of a Whitesnake look," says the soft-spoken actor. "I hate that kind of music, but I had to learn to like it." Stahl's taste leans toward artists like Sarah McLachlan and Björk. As for clothes, his self-described style is "nothing very distinctive, just Texas casual."
The Texas influence comes from Stahl's hometown of Dallas, where he started acting in school plays at age four. He made the giant leap to films at age 13. And what a debut. He played opposite Mel Gibson in the 1993 drama The Man Without A Face. Gibson's ultrarelaxed on-set attitude had a significant impact of Stahl. "We were filming this scene on the beach and there were these sand crabs crawling around. Mell asked me, "Do you like crab?" and then he reached down and popped one in his mouth and crunched it up," Stahl says. "After that point there was no anxiety." Stahl continued to work with Hollywood's finestat 14, he costarred in Safe Passage with Susan Sarandon, and this December Stahl can be seen playing a naive soldier in The Thin Red Line (with ER's George Clooney). Perhaps it was these steller credits that prompted Stahl's Behavior costar, James Marsden, 24, to admit, "I wish I had what Nick has when I was 18," he says. "He's a real talent."
Despite his experience in mainstream movies, Stahl still felt it was difficult to work on Disturbing Behavior because box-office expectations are so high. "There is a lot of pressure when you have to appeal to millions of brains," he says. The Stepford Wivestype thriller tells the story of a town where parents are resorting to surgery to control their wayward teens. Gavin teams up with his friend Rachel (Katie Holmes) to try to persuade fellow student Steve (Marsden) that they must do something before another kid ends up on the operating table. Stahl felt he related to Gavin's rebelious nature on a deeper level. "I put a lot of what I've been through into Gavin, you know. We both had not-so-great high school experiences." Holmes, 19, on the other hand, who attended an all-girls Catholic school, had a little help from the director, David Nutter. "He drove Katie around to some rough neighborhoods so she could get a better feel for her role (as a tough girl)," says Stahl. "She really wanted to get it right."
Although their characters are closely involved in the movie, Holmes and Stahl didn't see each other off the set. "Katie was usually gone with her boyfriend," says Stahl. And when was his last date? Stahl scratches his head, trying to remember. "I haven't been on a date in a while because I'm busy. Yeah, that's it, I'm really busy," he adds with a coy smile.
These Interviews are from 2001:
The man behind the menace
Actor Nick Stahl looks for the good side of his sexually confused character in Bully
By Bruce C. Steele
Based on the book by Jim Schutze, the film Bully casts actor Nick Stahl as Bobby Kent, a real-life suburban Florida bully with a fascination for gay bars and gay pornographyand possibly an unrequited attraction to his best friend, Marty, who bore the brunt of his violence. Bobby is the latest in 21-year-old Stahls impressive, ever-growing résumé of "confused youth" roles, which also includes parts in the teen thriller Disturbing Behavior (1998), the much-buzzed-about upcoming indie drama In the Bedroom, and the latest from iconoclastic gay director Christopher Münch, The Sleepy Time Gal.
Himself a son of suburbia (outside Dallas), Stahl sat down with The Advocate to talk about playing Bobby"more challenging than any role Ive done," he saysand about the harsh realities of growing up in a place where conformity is the one rule kids dare not break.
How much research did you do into the actual incident?
Stahl: As much as I could. I read the book, and right when I got into Florida, my driverthe guy who was picking me uphe took me around this area that it happened. He went to high school with the actual guy [that I play in the movie, Bobby Kent]. So he was able to take me down to the neighborhood that he grew up in, which is remarkably generic suburban. It reminded me of where I grew up, in that they all seem to be similar, you know? It's just outside of the cityits just a lot of strip malls and things like that. So I was able to get a visual of what the character was seeing day to day. Otherwise, I pretty much just went on my own [instincts]. It was a true account, but, of course, the dialogue was fictionalized. And so I just sort of took it upon myself to try to give some depth to the character.
Youre physically different from the real Bobby, who was first-generation Persian-American, and he was this big guy doing steroids.
Yeah, the guy was massive. He looked like Stallone or somethingjust this big blockhead, and he looked a lot older than high school. I was small for my age growing up. But I recognize that pushing other kids around and bullying is not really about physicality. Where I grew up there were kids who were much smaller who would push around big guys. Its really psychological. I mean, the character to me was really about fronts, you knowthats why it was such a challenge for me. There was just this really broad front to him.
By that you mean how he presented himself, how he wanted other people to perceive him?
Oh, yeah. Everythingthe way he moved and the way he talked to kids and to peers and to girls, and everything. And then hes got this side of him when he was with his family, with his fatherwho was a pretty strict disciplinarian had him taking piano lessons, you know? So there were two pretty polar opposite sides to him.
What was the casting process? How did director Larry Clark and you get together and decide that you could reinterpret this character in the way that you do?
I expressed my interest [in playing the role], and then I guess I read for it after that, like, maybe a week later. I just say "hats off" to [Clark] for giving me the opportunity, because I think it took a lot of imagination on his part. It was pretty bold of him not to go the stereotypical route. I guess he recognized that it was more psychological bullying. That gave me some security going into the movie that I would have some freedom to do what I wanted to do.
The very first shot of the movie is Brad Renfrowho plays Martydoing gay phone sex for money, which is something that Bobby has set up. Whats going on there?
There were a lot of different things going on with these two kids: Theyre best friends, they grew up together, and in the actual account in the book, kids who knew them talked about this strange sort of sexual tensiona kind of ambiguous sexualityto their relationship. And one thing in this part of the country that really separated it from where I grew upor at least what I saw growing upwas, theres a real hustling aspect to the kids in these suburbs. Like, Marty and Bobby had this kind of hustle set up in gay clubs, where they would go and Bobby would make Marty get onstage and dance, and guys would pay to see him dance. And the phone sex. And also the girls in the movie, Bijou Phillips's character, you know, was busted in real life for this teen prostitution ringthere was this sort of white-collar pimp who had these young girls and palmed them off for money.
Bobby mentions that in the movie, but you dont really know whether hes just making it up or if its true.
Right. Apparently it was true. But I think [his saying] that also goes hand in hand with his [need to maintain his] superiority over Marty and him trying to secure his place socially in making Marty do these things.
Theres a lot of watching going onBobby likes to watch. In that first scene when they pick up the girls and Marty's having sex in the back seat and Bobby's getting a blow job, Bobby really looks like hes more interested in whats going on with Marty in the back seat than he is in whats going on in his own lap.
That was actually shot [to show that Bobby was] looking at Marty. The way they have it edited, it looks like Im looking at [Martys girl Lisa] in the eyes, at [actress] Rachel [Miner].
Oh, its pretty clear that hes watching what Martys doing.
Hes a real voyeur, I guess, in that way.
It's also interesting later that that scene is repeated in flashback when Lisa has decided that she needs to kill Bobby. Shes thinking to herself, and in the movie they show that shot from her point of her viewBobby watching her and Marty have sex. That really underlined for me the point that Lisa feels like she needs to get rid of Bobby not just because Bobbys a bully but because hes competition with Marty, and Marty will not give her his full attention as long as Bobbys around.
Bobby and Marty aren't having sex, but its like a love triangle. Like Bobby is the competition.
There is that, yeah. I mean, she was a girl who was just really unhappy just growing up there. And it is sort of a competition. She also sort of projects a lot of her problems onto [Bobby]. He was a mean guy to Marty, but I think her own problemsthe competition [for Martys affections] and her own sort of family problems and all that stuffwere just as much of a factor for her wanting him killed as it was caring for Martyif not more so.
Bobby plays into that triangle thing too. In a scene where Marty's sitting outside the shop that Bobby has opened, where Marty gets a job, theres a skater girl who comes by, and Marty tries to pick her up. And Bobby comes out and screws it up for him by telling the skater girl about Martys relationship with Lisa.
And its certainly not out of Bobbys loathing for Lisaor his trying to protect Lisa and Martys relationship. Its about Bobbys trying to control Marty.
Bobby doesnt like to see Marty with someone elseunless he can watch or join in. Hes jealous.
Oh, yeah, for sure. I think when youre that age and you have all these problems, you look at other kids and for some reason, other kids seem to have it figured out and you dont. I think that every kids got problems and, you know, no one has it figured out. Thats kind of the illusionthat someone else might have a step up on you. But, yeah, he wanted to control, really, every aspect of Martys life.
I think hes got some real sexual questions, and hes really insecure about it, and it makes him react stronger and angrier. He does have some real issues with Marty and maybe with other guys. I think theres a part of him that enjoys going to the gay clubs, and thats what hes really trying to push down and cover up.
So why does Bobby wash his hands all the time?
Well, hes got some real obsessive qualities, you know? That was just one more aspect to his real obsession with facade and image. All of suppression kind of just comes out in that way.
What do you think is going on with his father? That hes trying to please his father and thats one of his issues?
Definitely. His dad has a real influence over him. Bobbys dad was actually Middle Eastern, so there was some of that cultural influencea real family bond and pressures to succeed and live up to [expectations].
Something thats not even in the movie that kids have to deal with are religious pressures. And that would probably be something that was true to real-life Bobby, since his family was Muslim...
...living in Hollywood, Fla. Gotta be hard to follow religious tenets in that situation.
Yeah. His father almost had Bobbys life mapped out for him. And that was also interesting to me, was that Bobby on the outside was a very together kid: he had straight As in school; he was pretty much at the top of his class. That was definitely a lot of added pressure.
Of all the kids in the movie, Bobby is really the one who has it together, despite his behavior toward his friends. He does his homework, starts a business, and all the other kids just have sex and do drugsand plot to kill Bobby.
Yeah, its a real strange paradox. Thats what I was hoping would come across, because by the end Bobby seems almost like the better kid, you know?
Larry Clark thrives on that kind of moral ambiguity. Not so Mel Gibson, who goes more for the black-and-white. At what point did you find out that Gibson had removed the gay content from the book on which your first movie, The Man Without a Face, was based? You were only 12 when you shot that film.
I dont knowmaybe a few years after I did the movie. Id heard stories, and then I started to sort of piece certain things together about [Mel], you know? I was completely ignorant to it at the timewhich I think was good, I guess. Not that it wouldve have made a huge difference at the age of 12. But it was strange to find out.
+++ IFC Rant Magazine - July/August 2001 +++
Nick Stahl: Trapped in L.A.
Written by Anthony Kaufman
"I'm not a big fan of the ocean," says Nick Stahl. "I'm sort of a land creature." And yet, the soft-spoken young actor has been swimming in Los Angeles' coastal capital - Hollywood - since roughly age 10. First there was a pair of TV movies, and then came his breakout role in The Man Without a Face alongside Mel Gibson at the mere age of 13. The fact that he stills lives in L.A. but longs for his land-locked home of Dallas suggests Stahl's current conflicted state as a sought-after rising thespian: industry vet at only 21, but ready to try something different.
Indeed, Stahl is taking on new challenges: this summer, he plays the sick title character of Larry Clark's killer Kids redux flick Bully, and in the fall, two stunning family dramas - Todd Field's In the Bedroom and Christopher Münch's Sleepy Time Gal - will solidify Stahl's unique up-and-comer status. Before 2001, Stahl's most memorable screen time came in his cutesy roles of pre-adolescence, an "evil brain-sucking preppy kid" in the teen flick Disturbing Behavior, and as a dying soldier in Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line. "In the past few years, it seems that there is more content that I can relate to in the smaller films,"Stahl says of his recent journey into indie-land.
Bully may be the biggest stretch, however. Based on actual events, the film tells the story of Bobby Kent (played by Stahl, with menace and charm), a seemingly mild-mannered college-bound Floridian teen who beats and pimps his best friend and rapes his friends girlfriends, and is then murdered for it. "I was a bit intimidated by the character,"Stahl recalls. "All I could do was just let go. I was never an angry kid growing up, but I definitely witnessed kids like that. All I could do was just try to give in to that anger and let it out."
In Sleepy Time Gal, Stahl is son to a single mother dying of cancer (Jacqueline Bisset). "I grew up with just my mom, so I could connect in that way," he says. And for In the Bedroom, Stahl plays another collegiate-type with a bright future "who is blindsided by love," he explains. "Before Nathalie [Marisa Tomei] comes along," Stahl continues, "he was just a kid who had things figured out, then he becomes confused, a bit baffled, by his next step."
Stahl's own next steps are uncertain as well. He'd like to work with British director Ken Loach because, he says, "his movies don't follow any particular formula," just as Stahl himself rejects a formula life. "There's definitely pressures in this town to do things a certain way," he says. "I'm glad I went through that stuff. I had a publicist when I was younger and I don't have one now and I don't want one. I'm glad I went through that, saw what it was, and now I can say I'm doing things in my own way."
Article from 1999.
+++ Teen Magazine - September 1999 +++
|Nineteen-year-old Nick Stahl's worked with so many Hollywood heavyweights -- including Mel Gibson in his film debut, The Man Without a Face -- that superstar status is bound to rub off on this talented boy. And after impressive performances in last year's chilling thriller Disturbing Behavior with Katie Holmes and the war drama The Thin Red Line with Sean Penn and John Travolta, it's a pretty sure bet that juicy roles will continue to come his way. Nick says he hasn't plotted that far in his film future (even though he knew he wanted to be an actor when he was just 4), but admits that he likes a lot of variety in his characters. "I'd just like to do a role completely different from the last one," he says. Nick just finished filming All Forgotten, which is based on a Russian novel, but you can catch him later this month in Sunset Strip with Jared Leto. |