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US Magazine November 1994

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US Magazine November 1994

US MAGAZINE November 1994

Interviewer: Steve Pond

He is a movie star, to be sure, with more than twenty films under his belt and two more due out shortly: Murder, in which he plays a lawyer defending a convict on a murder charge, and Interview With the Vampire, in which he has a small role as the interviewer who uncovers the story of the vampires Louis (Brad Pitt) and Lestat (Tom Cruise). But the tales of reckless behaviour that swirl around young Hollywood, tales about Slater a few years back, have dissipated.

"He's a very un-starry star," says Neil Jordan, who directed Slater in Interview. "He's an incredibly professional actor and an extraordinary no-bulls --- kind of a person. It's strange, because he's got this voice of professionalism that seems to come out of the 40's. He doesn't seem of his time. Guys like Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves, they seem to come from a different world from Christian."

Tales of actors who rescue themselves from the perils of Hollywood's fast lane are almost becoming a cliche, and sobriety hardly guarantees success in other endeavours. But Slater is making sober career choices, too: Taken together, his roles in Interview and Murder demonstrate an eye for audience-pleasing parts likely to develop both his dexterity as an actor and his already formidable mainstream appeal.

"Its a real movie," Slater says. He's talking about Murder, in which he plays a young lawyer who defends a prisoner accused of murder (Kevin Bacon) by alleging that three years of torture and solitary confinement on Alcatraz turned him into a killer. The movie is based on a true story, and Slater calls it "an adult, mature, real film. Some of the other films I've done haven't felt like real films when they have come out."

Coming from Slater, this is high praise. "He's much too critical," says Marc Rocco. "I think the last film he liked of his all the way through was Pump Up The Volume. He's always beating himself up over his work, when there's no way he can change anything."

Obviously, Interview With the Vampire is a real movie, too. After Phoenix's death, says Interview producer David Geffen, "I had a conversation with Neil Jordan about who we should get to replace him. And we both agreed it should be Christian." Adds Jordan: "After writing the script, I saw the interviewer as being more naive, but Christian brought a great toughness and cynicism and streetwise smartness to it. In many ways he's like the audience, because the audience is sitting there saying: 'Your're a vampire? Tell me about it.'"

He was always around show business. "I had a little theater in New York when Christian was going to school," say Dan Lauria, who played the father on The Wonder Years and became something of a surrogate father to Slater. "After school, Christian was always hanging around the theater, painting flats, hanging lights, cleaning the toilets, doing all the stuff theater people do."

He started acting at the age of nine in a road company of The Music Man, with Dick Van Dyke. He did lots of theater, from Nicol Williamson's production of Macbeth to the Radio City Music Hall version of A Christmas Carol.. His first big movie was the 1985 flop the Legend of Billie Jean, in which he played little brother to Helen Slater (no relation). Then he made The Name of The Rose with Sean Connery.

In 1989 he played the cocky, anarchic psycho in Heathers; the following year he played a brash, fast-talking, underground DJ in Pump Up The Volume. The movies weren't huge hits, but they made Slater a star and sealed his image; sly, sharp and devislish, a Nicholson for the 90's. (He admits to borrowing from Jack for Heathers but says he was playing his dad in Pump ).

He drank, ingested illegal substances and drove fast. He made bad movies: Gleaming the Cube, Mobsters, Kuffs.. He cleaned up, relapsed, cleaned up again. "When I met him," recalls Rocco, who at the time was making Where The Day Takes You, a low-budget film about wayward teens, "he was switching the focus in his personal life. He had gone through some trouble, and he told me he'd like to do something to pay back whatever he felt he needed to pay back." Slater played a cameo in that film.

He then made Untamed Heart, a break-through of sorts. "I told him I was going to make him do the opposite of what he'd done in all his other movies," say director Tony Bill, who found Slater "considerably more multifaceted than the roles he'd chosen in the past" Adds Bill: "I wasn't going to let him be a clown or a smartass. I was going after simplicity and honesty. And I told him that he could open up his career to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor, not a teen idol or a smart kid."

After he took the role, Slater repeatedly watched kinescopes of Jack Palance in a Playhouse 90 production of Requiem for a Heavyweight. Playing a painfully shy and withdrawn character, Slater kept himself in control. "It made for an interesting life lesson for me," says Slater. "I found that when I am calm and at peace, I can really have a great time. There wasn't a lot of the malarkey that usually goes on on the set. Everything seemed to be really, really simple."

Now as he prepares for the release of Murder and Interview, Slater seems ready to embrace that kind of simplicity even further. He's made it through the initial flurry of activity that establishes stardom and image, making 20-odd movies in 10 years. Now it's time to ease into the rest - presumably, the bulk - of his career.

"I've spent a lot of my career playing guys that were off-the-wall or hiding something," he says. "I think you'll find in the future I'm attracted to more romantic, realistic films. I guess I'm more interested in playing straight-up, heroic guys."

Quickly he clarifies this. "I don't want to play a boring, bland heroic guy. I want to play somebody that can be a hero, but also has some passion to him."

"Christian's only 25," says Lauria. "That's what most people don't realize. He's five or six years behind guys like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. I don't thing anyone's seen the best of Christian yet. As he gets more comfortable with characterizations, and as people allow him to step away from his image, they'll begin to see what he's capable of."

Adds Marc Rocco: "I think he's at the point where he's more interested in being an actor than a movie star. But he'll always be a movie star, because even when someone else is at the center of the screen, Christian has a presence that makes you look at him."

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