FLAUNT APRIL 2001

 

 
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JERRY FRESH

He's been known as "the fat kid" in Stand By Me, the guy in that bug movie, Joe's Apartment, and now a tomcat in his latest offering of the same name.  But he still doesn't mind being asked if he was "the fat kid in that movie."

Jerry O'Connell is one popular guy at Dukes, a small diner on Hollywood's Sunset Strip.  The waitresses call him by name, and two young, attractive women ask to take his photograph (with them of course), and more than a few female heads turn to catch a glimpse of his blue eyes, while he devours a stack of banana pancakes.  He's on an adrenaline high having just flown back to the West Coast from a weekend in New York where he hosted Total Request Live on MTV to the delight of hundreds of screaming young fans.

O'Connell, at the age of 27, has amassed some 18 films including Joe's Apartment, Jerry Maguire, Scream 2, and Mission to Mars, since his debut in Stand By Me in 1986.  His latest celluloid offering, Tomcats (by Gossip and Rosewood writer Gregory Poirier in his directorial debut) is the story of a group of single guys who've vowed to never cross the marital threshold, which according to the handsome actor, is "almost autobiographical."

Jim Turner: Tell me about your new movie Tomcats.
Jerry O'Connell:  It's basically about six guys who are tomcats, who swear they'll never get married.  For me it was what I refer to as N.A.N., no-acting necessary, because I am a 27-year-old single guy, living in the heart of Hollywood, stumbling distance to the Skybar.  The guys make a bet, last bachelor standing wins.  The money is properly invested, and what was sort of a meager amount soon becomes 800,000 bucks.  It comes down to me and Jake Busey, Gary Busey's son, who is hysterical.  I don't know if you've ever partied with one of the Buseys, but I definitely suggest it before your partying days are over.  Anyway, I come up with a scheme to get him married off by getting in touch with one of his ex-ex-ex-girlfriends, who's portrayed by Shannon Elizabeth.

She got big fast after American Pie.
She got big real fast.  I was really excited to work with her, but not nearly as excited as my 15-year-old cousin and his entire high school of 600 students.  I could win the Nobel Peace Prize and my cousin couldn't give a shit, but do a movie with Shannon Elizabeth...I knew that's when I had to sign on to do this movie.  I go to work on Monday morning, and they say, "Okay Jerry, we're going to chain you to the bedposts and our lovely actress is going to come around and whip you...annnnd 'Action!'"  And I get paid for it!  So, I definitely wanted to get involved in this project.  I'd just come off of Mission to Mars, which was directed by Brian De Palma - and I don't want to say I was bored, but I had the itch to work with people my own age, and definitely the itch to kiss a lot of cute actresses.

So you enjoyed the research for Tomcats?
Oh, it was the best!  I have to tell you, I don have an adolescent view about doing lovemaking scenes with Shannon Elizabeth.  I really do get genuinely excited for it.  I really got into it.  And then I was abruptly interrupted by the director going "Cut!" and opening my eyes and being surrounded by fifty fat guys holding microphones and lights around me.  She'd scurry off to her trailer saying, "Okay, see you tomorrow."  I'd be like, "Wait, what about the scene?  Didn't you feel any sparks?"  I have to learn to differentiate my set life from my real life.

You write screenplays as well.
I came out to L.A. to do a television show called Sliders with this secret desire to write.  Here I am from NY Film [New York University's Tisch School of the Arts], and I felt like I'd sold myself out by moving to L.A. while all my friends were living in New York trying to get their independent movies off the ground.  I really think that sort of independent scene doesn't hack it here in Los Angeles - it's not a town about making an independent movie.  My agents weren't really into any of the scripts I was handing them, so I thought, I'm going to write a script that will shut these guys up.  I wrote a script called First Daughter, about the president's daughter going to college, and the Secret Service hiring a young, rookie Secret Service agent to protect her in school (unbeknownst to her), and she falls for him and finds out he's been lying to her...anyway, I wrote the most marketable script.  It sold in like an hour, and that's when I gave in to living in Los Angeles.  That's when I said, "Maybe I should get a dentist out here.  Maybe I'm not about New York.  I am kind of a pretty boy, maybe I should stop thinking about taking Sundance by storm.  My script is "in Development" as they say.

What do you do when you're not writing scripts?
I go to the Santa Anita Racetrack a lot.  Recently I went there with my brother (actor Charlie O'Connell), and we're at the Turf Club and we were having a really good day, winning a lot of money, and Mickey Rooney was there.  He was by himself, and he was like, "C'mere.  what do you think of this race?"  We sat with him for the rest of the day and we did really well, won a lot of money.  We were walking out, and he said, "what do you guys do?" And I told him I was an actor.  He said, "Remember something.  There are two types of people in this world:  People who are in show business, and people who want to be in show business.  don't ever forget that."

 


Jerry - "...I was very hyperactive and had all this energy, and
I was always being scolded for an inability to concentrate."


 

 
 
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You've had a movie almost every year since you were 12-years-old.
 I started in that movie Stand By Me, which is still an unbelievable film.  I knew it was an unbelievable film when we did it.  I was taking this film theory class in school, and had this English professor who said one day, "Today we're going to be watching this film called Stand By Me, done in 1986, directed by Rob Reiner."  I was like, Oh my God, I can't believe they're  going to show this movie.  For an hour and a half, the entire class analyzed the film.  I wanted to raise my hand and say, You know guys, I was there that day when the "Biblical rain scene" was filmed, and I remember Rob Reiner screaming at the top of his lungs because he was so pissed off it was raining, so I think you guys ought to calm down a bit.

Do you get tired of people remembering you as the fat kid in the movie?
I really can't get tired of it, you know?  I know a lot of actors don't like to talk about their earlier body of work, but it's such a great movie.  I think it's fabulous.  Am I un-proud of it?  No, how could I be?

What's it like growing up in the public eye from ages 12 to 27?
I'm a little different than a child actor.  I lived in new York, and neither of my parents worked in the industry, my mom was a teacher, my dad was in advertising.  They were very artsy, and they were sort of '80's bohemians living in a huge loft in Chelsea, and there was a really cool movement during the '80's there with all these wacky performance artists and stuff, and my parents were into all that.  When Stand By Me came out, I was in JHS-17 Public Junior High in New York, and those guys could really give a shit about whether I was in a movie or whether I had a buzz around me in L.A.  But When I finished high school, I thought maybe I should try this acting thing.  My brother and I were always involved in performance type stuff, but strictly extracurricular at that point.  When I did Stand By Me, it wasn't like I was a bad kid, but I was very hyperactive and had all this energy, and was always being scolded for the inability to concentrate.  When I did the movie, I realized that my behavior was not only allowed, it was encouraged.  I realized at a very early age that this might be the business for me.  But I had to go to college to appease, specifically, my mom.

 

You directed a few episodes of your TV show.  Are you interested in directing more?
In the final season, I got to write and produce some episodes, but I don't like to produce or direct.  After you've been spoiled as a Hollywood actor, you really get used to things like A) Kissing actresses, that's a big plus.  You can't do that as a director, and if you do, there's some sort of lawsuit saying you can't; B) You come into work in the morning and someone combs your hair, someone shaves you, they make you look pretty.  You come onto the set, you get to hang out and be funny with everybody.  You do a scene and you go back to your trailer where you have a two-hour break and you get to sleep.  A very pretty assistant wakes you up and you go back to the set and be the funny guy again.  It's literally like being paid to be the life of the party.

So you're happy being an actor?
I've really started to like - and I know it will be made fun of - but I like acting since I did Tomcats.  during a 15-hour work day, you get to laugh the whole time.  There was such a youthful energy on set, all these cute girls, the director Greg Poirier is a young, mid-30's, really funny and talented guy.  I'm not really good at a lot of things, but I am pretty good at doing comedy.  It is legitimately like hanging out, but the food is free, and you are paid an outrageous sum of money to do it.  We were shooting in Las Vegas for two weeks, and that took a substantial chunk out of the money I made to do this film.

Goodbye per diem...
It dipped a little deeper than my per diem!  I definitely took a hit.  We were gambling in the movie, and the nice thing about that is that you're using prop chips, fake chips.  We would work from four am until four p.m., the hours the casino would let us film.  At four p.m. I would swear I was going to sleep, and you find yourself saying, "Well, I'll play a couple of hands of blackjack, it's only four p.m.  I'll go to sleep at eight p.m."  you look at your watch and now it's midnight, and a couple of the crew come down and say, "Let's get a couple of beers," and before you know it, it's three a.m. and you have to be at work in an hour.  You think, I have to go back to my room and drink some coffee, or I'll have to go to work drunk.

So this movie is autobiographical?
Yeah.  It definitely was.  Here I am, 27, certainly not getting married anytime soon.  I can't keep a plant alive for more than a week, I don't know how I could last in a relationship for more than that.

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Doesn't being an actor help in meeting girls?
I'm not going to lie to you.  I definitely love it.  People coming up to me is definitely starting to happen more and more. I genuinely enjoy it.  A lot of actors don't like it.  They think it's an invasion of privacy.  Oh my God, it's so much fun.  Can you imagine having some hot woman come up and ask if you would sign an autograph, and you say, "No, I'm sorry, I can't."  I know lots of people who would say that.  I think it's because they start to believe the people they surround themselves with, the Colonel Parker syndrome.  It's ridiculous, and I think those people aren't having that much fun with what they do.  I'm sorry, but I'm on a little bit of a high after doing the MTV thing this weekend.  I'm a little excited about what I do today.  Talk to me in about three months of unemployment and I'll be sitting here in my underwear saying, "Oh Jesus, what's going on...I want to go back to New York...this is bullshit...I should have stuck with the stage."

-Jim Turner
photographed by Trevor O'Shana

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