The man once known as Dirty Steve reminisces about his formative youth, and having to step into the role of his own father
Dermot Mulroney has been a prominent film force ever since making his big screen debut in Young Guns as Dirty Steve. This summer, he stars as Bryan Bowen, head of the soccer obsessed Bowen family in Gracie.
Gracie tells the story of a teenage girl who must fight for her right to play on the boys' high school soccer team. At the same time, she is dealing with the lose of her brother, a star soccer player in his own right and the only protector she has. Based on Andrew and Elizabeth Shue's own tragic lose of a sibling, Mulroney stars as the head of the fictional Bowen family. He is so consumed with his sons' ability to play the sport, he fails to recognize his own daughter's potential as a breakout soccer star.
Dermot recently sat down with me at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California, to talk about his role in Gracie. The following is our very candid discussion about the film, his take on the classics of his youth, and where he stands on parents paying their children to make soccer goals.
To set up the interview: Trevor Heins does a segment on the MTV2 show Wonder Showzen called Beat Kids. In Gracie, Trevor plays Dermot's youngest son. Out in the hallway, right after the junket roundtable interview, I had this short exchange with Dermot:
Have you seen Wonder Showzen, and are you familiar with Trevor Heins' role on that show?
Dermot Mulroney: No, what are you asking me? I don't even know what you are talking about. I miss everything.
Then, a few short minutes later, we were sitting in a hotel room by ourselves. This is how the conversation went down:
Dermot Mulroney: God, I have been spewing lies all day. The truth is, Andrew cobbled this movie together from the help of one of the fifty states, from a couple of his siblings, a couple of business partners, Gatorade, bubblegum. Amazing. It's all true. Gordon Sacks came in. Seriously. A state. A sports drinks. And investment bankers. He put this all together with no experience whatsoever.
Well, first of all, they didn't tell me I was going to be talking to you today.
Dermot Mulroney: Great. We'll just fly by the seat of our pants. But don't ask me about that TV show with Trevor in it. I don't know what that is.
Its called Wonder Showzen. Trevor dresses up like Hitler and goes to downtown New York, and asks people on the street the most off the wall questions.
Dermot Mulroney: No way.
They don't mention that in the press notes.
Dermot Mulroney: That's what I did. I went to the next room to try and look this show up.
During the whole movie, I couldn't quite place him. It was distracting. Then when I got home, I remembered that he was on this messed-up kid's show.
Dermot Mulroney: I didn't know about it, because I don't watch a lot of TV. If you asked me about Grey's Anatomy, I wouldn't know anything about it. Or Melrose Place. I just didn't know too much about it. They're talking about American Idol, and I just don't know. I'm the wrong person to ask about popular culture. Or present day television.
This might come off as a little embarrassing for me, but this is the first time I've ever been star struck, sitting here at a table with Dirty Steve.
Dermot Mulroney: There we go. Now we're talking.
When I was a young teenager, he was my favorite character in any movie at that time.
Dermot Mulroney: That movie is so good.
To this day, I still recite lines from that movie.
Dermot Mulroney: I know what it was with that movie. There hadn't been a good western in a long time. I was twenty-two when I made that movie. Keifer was younger than me. It was amazing. Two or three years ago I saw the movie straight through, instead of just catching five minutes on cable, or something, and it's still amazing. It certainly stands up. I researched it at the time. That movie is as close to accurate on that story, the Lincoln County war, as you will ever see. John Fusco, who wrote and executive produced it, just wrote a damn fine script. All those lines, nobody made anything up. That was all written down. All about the chicken, and the greaser, and the spirit world. The whole thing. You are not alone. That movie was a cultural phenomenon. It did something no other movie had ever done. It had a trailer in the movie theaters before the movie was done being shot.
I remember that trailer. It was all done in grainy sepia tones, with the cast shooting at the camera.
Dermot Mulroney: Postproduction was about eight weeks. And they released the videocassette about six weeks after the movie was out of the theater. Which is normal, now. Now they are using a movie's release just to promote the DVD. That's basically what theater movies have become. But these guys just had this marketing brainstorm. Back in 1988, when it came out. There was this saturation of this film right then. And I think it coincided with the day of the year of that decade when every single American family finally had a video cassette player in their home. It literally happened that Young Guns was the movie that was available, and you plugged it in and watched it twenty times. And it is so quotable. Another guy about your age, maybe just a little younger than me, comes up to me last night and just starts rolling off the lines. It's so easy. It's amazing. That, and Living in Oblivion, especially working on a film crew.
Now, what is Living in Oblivion?
Dermot Mulroney: Living in Oblivion is a great movie. It's with Steve Buscemi. Catherine Keener. Its Peter Dinklage's first significant role, I think. It's just an amazingly funny movie about making a low budget film. Ever film set I go on, I hear about that one. I play the cinematographer in it, so...It's just a ludicrous film, and everyone in my industry knows every line.
You were talking about knowing Elizabeth Shue before you made Gracie. Is that one of the reasons you came onto this film?
Dermot Mulroney: Yeah, we made a movie called The Trigger Effect, which is a pretty good movie, too. I don't know if it holds up. I've been doing this stuff for so long, I don't know if some of the stuff that was good then is really kind of dated now. It might be. It was that blackout movie. Where the electricity goes out, and everyone starts to panic. A white flight type of movie. We got to be really good friends during that period, but of course everyone goes their separate ways. We saw each other a bit, over the years. She got married and had a kid. I had a kid. Now our sons are friends because of this movie. Davis, I just barely knew at that time. I got to be great friends with him. That was a draw for me, sure. I respect her a great deal as an actress. I think she's one of the best. For sure. And in all honesty, I knew that her brother had died. And I knew about that story. I knew how much that had affected her life. I didn't know Andrew. But her brother Will died in an accident. I just always remembered that she had a big lose in her past. When the story came around in script form, I was drawn to it just for that reason. Because of what she went through, and what her brother's lose meant to her. Additionally, I love soccer. It fit into my schedule. I like Davis a lot, and I like his take on the film. When I was talking to him about whether I should do it or not, it just seemed like the thing to do. I'm glad it came out as well as it did. I think people are really going to enjoy it.
Do you have a boy?
Dermot Mulroney: I do have a son. He's almost eight years old.
Does he play soccer?
Dermot Mulroney: He plays a little in school. I'm going to get him into a little two-week camp this summer. Maybe he'll get more interested in it then.
The subject of paying kids for goals came up in the roundtable with Elizabeth Shue. Davis gave away that Elizabeth pays their kid three bucks a goal.
Dermot Mulroney: (Laughs) That's so funny. I'll tell you what. I'm glad I've been given the idea. I'm going to pay him for goals. That's the way to do it. He's an individualist, my son. He likes skiing, surfing, skateboarding. That's really hot right now. I need to get him on some team sports. These east coast kids all grow up on sports teams. It's hard to do out here because California is more about free will, and its mellower. Its different than the culture I grew up in.
Coming from a movie like Gracie, where it's a struggle to get the job done, and just becoming the soccer player for this girl...Do you agree with this idea of giving the losers the same trophy as the winners? Like they do now?
Dermot Mulroney: Yeah, I heard of a soccer league that doesn't even keep score. It seems to me that whether the parents are keeping score or not, trust me...Those kids are keeping score. They know how many goals they scored and how many goals the other team did not score. It's just so nobody's feelings get hurt. And, yeah, like you said, everyone gets the same type of trophy. I don't care one way or the other, but to me it seems like a natural thing. Competitiveness is natural. The reason why it exists, is the same reason we have molars and we have hair on our heads. We evolved. Its survival of the fittest. It's in our primordial make-up. Competition exists for a reason. However you celebrate that so people's feelings aren't hurt, is one thing. But competition is always going to exist. So you can either stick your head in the sand, or keep score with your son's soccer game.
Watching the movie, there's a scene towards the end where you all go out for pizza. For me, that was my favorite part of playing any sport. Maybe because I'm more into food, or something. Do you remember doing that?
Dermot Mulroney: I do. I didn't play on the football team, but we were the biggest supporters in high school. And that was our routine, to always go to the Pizza Hut. And we would hang out in the parking lot. And try to make time with the girls. I think, in our movie, the scene was longer. My two sons goof off while she is trying to stay in her competitive headspace. Most movies you end up shooting more than you use. But in this case, the scene was originally intended to show how serious about the sport she was. That she had not only caught up, but surpassed her brothers in competitiveness. Truth is, food is wrapped around sports just as much as anything else. You go to these stadiums and they have advertising for everything. People go to the baseball game just as much to eat as they do to watch the actual game.
Do you have a daughter?
Dermot Mulroney: No, just the one son.
If you did have a daughter, how would you react to finding her with a much older man, about to get it on in the front seat of your stolen car? I thought your character let them off a little easy in the actual movie.
Dermot Mulroney: I don't know. That was a tough one, too. It might have a little more to do with the time and space of the movie. It was a little frustrating for me to play that part. Just to usher him away, and the guy sort of scuttles off into the dark. If you ended up making the film about what the father did to the guy that is messing around with his daughter, then you are off track. In reality, if that were me, it probably would have happened a little different. I'm sure I wouldn't do any more than give him a stern talking to. But, you know, that unfortunately is not a situation that I'm going to have to find myself in. But then, who knows.
There's no love scenes between you and Elizabeth?
Dermot Mulroney: No. Isn't that a shame.
Was that Davis' decision?
Dermot Mulroney: No, I was lobbying for it all along. But then I realized it was a little awkward to be lobbying to the actress' husband about having a scene like that. I had to drop the ball on that and go with the script.
There's a scene you have in the hallway of Carly's high school, where you drop to your knees and, after having said your lines, you say something about your knee giving out. The moment seemed so real, I was wondering if that was improvised, or if that line was always in the script?
Dermot Mulroney: Yeah, that was written in the script.
Davis, the director, said it wasn't in the script.
Dermot Mulroney: Oh. Well, maybe I added it. But I think it was always in the script. Davis is very forgetful. It was just a tiny little story point that my character's soccer career was ended by an injury. So, you could see why he was putting so much pressure on his kids to perform athletically. That was meant to be in contrast to how he treats the girl in the family, who he doesn't give any time to. In sports. Later on, when we are watching the home movie, I do say something about that being before my injuries. Actually, I do know for a fact that that was in the script. And it was Davis that had added it. Just to add another subtle layer. I like that in scripts, where it doesn't have to be explained so much. You just take it for its little meaning and then you add it up later on. But I must have delivered it very, very well.
Can you talk about your experience playing soccer before coming onto the project?
Dermot Mulroney: Yeah, Carly played no soccer. That shows you how much she accomplished leading up to shooting the movie. But I grew up in a family that played soccer. Two older brothers, a younger brother, and a sister. We all played. And that was in the late 70s, through grade school and high school. I'm actually playing the role that my father played. That of the soccer supporter on the sidelines. When I got this part, I called him right away and said, "Hey, guess what? I'm more or less playing you." It was one of the things that I liked about the movie. I already loved the sport. I hadn't played in years, really. Other than kicking the ball around with some little kids. It all came flooding back to me, too. Even my soccer abilities. In the six weeks that we were shooting, I got better. I was around people that were constantly working on the ball, and around soccer experts as well.
So, you didn't use a double?
Dermot Mulroney: No double for me, but I don't have that much soccer playing in the movie. But we would have pick-up games, and we would play soccer at lunchtime. It was pretty fun. But Carly worked her tail off to get to where she was. She was starting from zero. She had never played. It was like a boot camp.
Was it ever tense on the set, when Davis and Elizabeth would get in an argument about the way the film should be going?
Dermot Mulroney: To be honest with you, I never saw too much conflict of any sort. Just from being told, I know they had differences of opinion as far as what should be shot and so forth. But, I've got to say, that script was really well developed by the time that we were looking at it. So, a lot of those decisions had been made and hammered out well in advance. The only strain I ever saw was whether we were going to get the day shot, as close to the time we had. That was our biggest challenge. At the end of the day, things can get pretty tense if you don't get the coverage you need. You have to have the scene shot in time. But as far as being husband and wife, they got along remarkably well.
Having played soccer when you were younger, was doing a movie like this a little more exciting than some of the films you've done in the past?
Dermot Mulroney: Yeah. It was more exciting because I had already played soccer. Now, I have to be honest. There were eleven guys on the soccer team. I was the twelfth guy. So, I wasn't like a top player. I don't want to give you the impression that I was some star player. I was not. But, I did play enough that I really did understand the game. I was already friends with Elizabeth from another film we'd done years ago. In fact, in honesty, I knew what her family had gone through when her brother died because I was friends when that happened. And she let me in on that. I was turned on to the script for a number of reasons. As I said before, I came from a soccer family, so I was playing a version of my father.
When you saw the film, was it like you were looking at your father on screen?
Dermot Mulroney: It was, but we didn't have stands. We would be standing on the sidelines when we were playing. My actual visual image of him is different than being up in the risers, on the side of the field. But he did make every game I can think of. He supported the team, and a friend of the family was the guy that ran the league, and the coach. So it was really part of our culture. It was an early pocket of when soccer was just kicking in. It wasn't happening everywhere. Now, its nation wide.
Did you ever see your father get so upset that he ripped apart a goal?
Dermot Mulroney: No. Nothing like that. He was always a pretty levelheaded guy to begin with. But I was a referee on the weekends, just to make pocket money, when I was a teenager. For the little league teams. And there was that classic stereotype, of the hotheaded parent. I defiantly saw that. People cursing on the side. You now how they have yellow cards and red cards in soccer for infractions? I would have to card the parents, and send them to their car. I remember having to do that for real, because the one guy just wouldn't stop with the profanity. He was yelling at his own kid, and the whole thing. That was happening way back when. We talk about that now, with parents and their kids being in little league. But that stuff was happening back then, too.
You are also a musician. When did you have time to squeeze the sport in?
Dermot Mulroney: When did I get that all done? I was a busy kid. In my opinion, that's the reason I was the twelfth kid on the soccer team. Because every Thursday afternoon, I had to skip practice and go to my cello lesson. I was doing that at the same time. I was one of those busy high school kids, for sure. I have three brothers and a sister, and we are all musicians and athletes. We did everything. Looking back, I don't know how it all got scheduled out.
How difficult was it to play this role?
Dermot Mulroney: Well, for me, I'm a father myself. And there were kids all over the set. And I'm also acting with Carly and her younger brother, so, beyond the fact that it was a family based story, we were portraying members of that family. And that family was around the whole time. There was no avoiding that. The environment we were working in was really family-oriented. Working with younger actors, it happens almost automatically. Here I am working in my early forties with a bunch of teenagers, around a table. It is very realistic when you are in that situation.
A lot of people say, "Don't work with family." Do you think that theory is a lie now? Would you ever work with your own family?
Dermot Mulroney: Sure. I have one brother and a sister-in-law that are screenwriters. I would defiantly work with them. I can't see how it would go terribly wrong. And this is one example of how it goes terribly right.
You recently worked with Lindsey Lohan in Georgia Rule. Young Hollywood gets a lot of criticism these days. What is your take on that?
Dermot Mulroney: Carly is a great example of how to do that right. And Lindsey is as well. I had a great time working with her. She is really talented and beautiful, and charming. Most of my scenes in that film were with her. I haven't seen that movie. I have busy since it came out. But we stay in touch a little bit, and we've remained friends. I'm sure she did a really great job in that movie. I know other people have had a different experience working with her. But I didn't experience any scandals, or anything like that when I was on the set. I just made sure to keep true to my story.
Do you have a take on the criticism that young Hollywood receives?
Dermot Mulroney: Well, you know, it's not really my position to dole out advice to anyone. But, certainly, you can see how it was done wrong by other people. Whether its just staying out too late, or getting involved in extra curricular activities. I can tell you this. Carly has a really smart head on her shoulders, and when you see her future films, you will see the result of good, clear-cut thinking.
When Young Guns came out, didn't the group of actors that were in that movie receive some of the same criticisms?
Dermot Mulroney: That's a good point. I started when I was very young, and especially that film got a reputation for being bad, or stepping over the line. I think we only had one arrest in that cast. But, for me, that was something I grew out of. And I think that probably is true for a lot of those other guys. Some of whom I come across. I saw Lou Phillips recently, and he has twins. Everybody grows up, absolutely. It also depends on the types of parts you do. In Young Guns, we were all in Santee Fe. We were cut loose on this town. Its 1988. And we're all under twenty-five. Of course it's going to be a mess.
When you see Lou Diamond Phillips, do you still have an urge to yell, "Mexican!" at him?
Dermot Mulroney: No, no...We buried the hatchet long ago. We're good. We're good.
What was it like during that period of time, as compared to the tabloid scene that we have now?
Dermot Mulroney: I kind of support the tabloid scene. Not certainly if it is damaging to their health, or the people who are reckless driving. Not any of that stuff. That's not good for anybody. But in terms of the bad press, Lindsey doesn't really apply. She is an accomplished actress. In the short time that she has been doing it, she has proven herself a good actress. But these other "It" girls, partiers, or whatever...The more tabloid space they take up, the better it is for legitimate actors. These guys who get their picture taken with their kid on a swing in the park. I'd much rather see someone coming out of a night club then see someone's baby crying in a grocery store. Because someone snapped that picture. I think every page that is given over to Paris Hilton is a page that is not being used against someone else. They are the target, but they are the market for it right now. Whatever fascination there is for it exists. Part of the box office for Georgia Rule is there simply because Lindsey's known as a personality as much as she is for being an actress. So, it's lucrative, too. People are making money on her image. Do you know what I mean? They are going to that movie because of her tabloid image. I don't say that in any way, shape, or form to take away from her talent. Because her talent is very evident. Especially from an actor's perspective, working with her. It's no joke, she knows what she is doing. She is really talented. You'll probably just include the part where I cut her done. But you and I will both know what I said.
You don't have to worry about me. I transcribe everything that is said. I don't cut and paste conversations.
Dermot Mulroney: Honestly, I support her and her creative life.
How is it different than when you were coming up, and that whole group of actors you were associated with in the 80s?
Dermot Mulroney: I see what you're saying. At that time, there wasn't the same rabid press. The celebrity culture was something different. Picture it this way. I started in Hollywood right after the Brat Pack peeked. Demi Moore...
Everyone from St. Elmo's Fire...
Dermot Mulroney: Yes, everyone from that movie. And The Breakfast Club. There were a couple of films that created this group of young actors that seemed to come out of nowhere. And so there was this void. They had some press about parties, and staying out a lot. And hanging out in Malibu. The Hard Rock cafe had just opened. If you can picture those days. 85-86. I came out here towards the end of 86. That little wave of young actors had dipped back down. They all went their separate ways. Then a couple of years later I'm in Young Guns with Emilio, who was one of them. And Charlie Sheen. Lou Diamond Phillips was coming off of La Bamba. And so forth. I was just the tail end of that group. I always miss these peaks. Obviously, there's one right now. Mostly with these young women. Some are known for their acting, but most of them are known for their nightlife. It's always been an element. It's just so much more intense right now. It's because of money. You have an industry of paparazzi, and tabloid photographers. It's just through the roof. The amount of money you are paid. If you get the right photograph of somebody stumbling out of a bar, there's your year right there. There's a hundred thousand dollars. Anyone can live on that in a year. It's amazing. It pays, and it ends up reflecting back into the box office. These people are more interested in someone like Lindsey because of her tabloid fame. They are going to go and spend money at the movie theater. That economic equation wasn't in place back in the late 80s, early 90s. So, it is much different now, because people are actually making money off of it.
Do you think you'd ever consider doing a role on TV?
Dermot Mulroney: I have to consider that almost every year now. They come a-knocking. I've said no most of the time. At all times. Mostly because I love film so much, and I want to play a different character every time. It's not so much about getting stuck, but you have to rely on yourself to keep playing the same character year after year. As I told you at the beginning, I don't even know anything that's on right now. It would be hard for me to pick a good series. Instead, I stay out of work wondering where the next job is going to come from. That's getting a little old. I don't know if I'm getting any closer to joining a series.
Well, they're still going to make two Deadwood movies. Maybe you can hit Davis up for a cameo.
Dermot Mulroney: You know what, I'm going to go find him right now and bring that up to him.
Wouldn't Dirty Steve have been alive during that same era?
Dermot Mulroney: Absolutely. That's a great idea.
Well, thank you for talking to me.
Dermot Mulroney: You bet, I'll see you later.
Gracie opens June 1st, 2007.