Getting Lowe down ... but not too dirty
ROB Lowe has always had the ideal American face. It looks plastic but it’s real. It’s the face of a cherub, a cherub who filmed himself having two separate threesomes (in one of which he wasn’t the only dude) and got away with it, back in the days when things like that were still considered mildly embarrassing. It’s the face Michael Jackson’s surgeons always seemed to be chiselling their way towards.
Placed on the cover of an autobiography, Lowe’s face threatens the kind of skin-deep entertainment you get from one of his movies. He became a star in the 1980s, the blandest decade in the history of American film, and his performances in those homemade pornos were by no means the most wooden of his career: he was the kind of actor who, to portray a tortured saxophone player, simply messed up his hair and walked everywhere with a sax around his neck.
So it’s a bit of a surprise to hear people talking as if Lowe’s autobiography has substance. It’s even more of a surprise to discover they’re not wrong. The blurb writer who hails Stories I Only tell My Friends as ‘‘ a major publishing event’’ goes a bit far. But Lowe has solid instincts as a memoirist: he knows what sort of things you’ll want to hear, and he’s more perceptive and thoughtful than you expect someone who looks that good to be. He recounts his early childhood in a series of rapid fades, which is a shrewd way of fastforwarding to the showbiz stuff without missing any essentials. His parents separated when he was four, a trauma he evokes with some effect. His teen years in Malibu are packed with cameos from past and future stars. He plays baseball in Martin Sheen’s back yard with Charlie and Emilio; makes home movies with the Penn brothers; dates a girl whose father turns out to be Cary Grant.
We’ll have to take Lowe’s word for it that he was unpopular at school, especially with the ladies. But at 15 he got cast in a halfsuccessful sitcom. This failed to impress girls who knew him, but girls who didn’t were suddenly interested. Mobbed and palpated at a publicity appearance, the young Lowe gets an insight into the hollowness of fame. ‘‘ If you really knew me,’’ he thinks, ‘‘ you wouldn’t like me nearly as much.’’
The book’s centrepiece is a detailed account of Lowe’s work on his first feature, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 adaptation of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. It wasn’t a bad film to debut in, with Coppola directing and co-stars including Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze and Diane Lane. (Dillon won the hotly fought contest for Lane’s affections.)
Come to think of it, Lowe’s account of the film’s making is a lot more interesting than the film itself. He has an excellent memory for detail. His big breakdown scene required him to cry on cue for take after take. He did so. Then the ineffable Coppola strolled on to set and announced it was time for the closeups: Lowe had blown out his tear ducts on wide shots.
After the cast scatters to make other films, Lowe pays a telling visit to Cruise on the set of his breakthough film Risky Business. The old fraternal spirit has waned. ‘‘ Tom has a new perspective on his acting style, telling me, ‘ I want to spend time hanging with you but Joel [his character] doesn’t.’ ’’ Is Lowe taking a wry jab at the great man here? It seems distinctly possible, unless Cruise really needed the Method to help him dance around in his Y-fronts and go toe-to-toe with the guy who played Booger in Revenge of the Nerds.
If the whole book had the intensity of the pages about The Outsiders, it would be one of the most interesting actors’ autobiographies of recent times. But Lowe covers nothing else in quite the same detail. Writing about his videotaped menages, he’s decidedly stingier with behind-the-scenes anecdotes. He does explain, though, how he managed not to notice that one of the female participants was underage. The bar he met her in, you see, had a doorman who was hyper-vigilant about checking IDs.