Eric Stoltz is only looking forward
Political teen comedy “Class Rank” confirms Eric Stoltz is more director than actor.
Even if you’re not a child of the ’80s, you know Eric Stoltz’s work.
Back then, he was the star of movies like “Mask” and “Some Kind of Wonderful,” a streak that continued into ’90s with films like “Pulp Fiction” and “Jerry Maguire.” (He was also famously cast as Marty McFly in “Back to the Future” but was replaced by Michael J. Fox just a week into production.)
In a way, the experience helped him find his true calling behind the camera. For the last 15 years, he’s helmed episodes of “Glee” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”
“I don’t really see myself as an actor anymore,” he says. “I think of myself as a director at this point. I do enjoy acting. But, honestly, I rarely look back at anything I have done in the past. I am too busy and interested in what is happening right now to care.”
Having experience in front of the camera helped shape him into a director with not only more empathy but expertise for what the work takes on the other side of the lens. It takes “extreme patience” and the ability to “speak the very different language” of actors.
“In all of the years I was acting, I can count on one hand the directors that actually spoke a language of acting that was helpful,” he says. “Most of them were very technically adept but were kind of afraid to talk to the actors.”
His latest project finds him back in the movie world with “Class Rank,” a comedy about two high schoolers trying to take over the school board, out May 11 in theaters and On Demand. Stoltz came onboard when producer Sandy Stern sent him the script, and he found something many high school comedies struggle to achieve: a story that’s both charming and smart.
“It was very politically active in an unsuspecting way,” he says. “I love all the characters, as odd and as gruff as they are. I felt compassion for all of them, and that’s a very rare quality in a script.” In the film, a high school student who needs a little help getting into Yale tries to get another student elected to the board to make some policy changes to help her. The message, Stoltz says, couldn’t be more timely. “I want young people to think, ‘Why don’t we run for office? Why don’t we try and change the world? Why don’t we try and con the system?’” he says. And there’s a lesson for the adults too: “Perhaps older people might think, ‘Why don’t we fall in love? And smoke a little pot? And let’s guide the kids as best we can.’”
Whether it’s acting or directing, Stoltz feels like he’s been doing what he loves for nearly four decades. “Sometimes it is easy, and sometimes it is hard,” he says of show business. “I do consider myself an enormously lucky fellow. I love what I do. And I get to make a living doing it. And I just pinch myself every morning. It is a great life.”
“Class Rank” is a rare high school comedy with charm and smarts.