Monday, June 13, 2005


From:Source document

Skeet Ulrich is an actor who's so sparky, he's making casting directors' Rolodexes spin like Catherine Wheels

As far as we know, actor Skeet Ulrich doesn't have a sell-by date tattooed on his torso, but he's whipping through movies with the speed of someone who thinks his talent might curdle at any moment. This spring, the twenty-six-year-old stage vet can be seen as a pro ballplayer who has a fling with Winona Ryder in Boys, as a con with a sister on death row (Sharon Stone) in Last Dance, and as a smart-ass taught to change his ways by teen witches in The Craft. He has a pivotal role alongside Faye Dunaway in Kevin Spacey's hostage drama Albino Alligator, scheduled for a fall release, and the lead part of a faith healer in Paul Schrader's upcoming film version of Elmore Leonard's novel Touch. Directors Wes Craven and Richard Linklater have already signed him up for their next projects. We thought we'd better talk to fleet Skeet on the phone - pronto.


GRAHAM FULLER: "Skeet Ulrich" sounds like an aging bebopper or a character in a spaghetti western. What's your real name?

SKEET ULRICH: Brian. I was nicknamed "Skeeter" in Little League because I was small and fast, like a mosquito flying across the outfield. But I remember watching some TV movie when I was around thirteen, and there was a girl named Skeeter in it. I was like, "Whoa. I gotta change my name to Skeet."

GF: Where did you grow up?

SU: In a small farming town called Concord, outside Charlotte in North Carolina. It's a pretty big town now.

GF: What was your upbringing like?

SU: Kinda hectic. My mom's been married three times; my dad has been married a lot. I didn't really see my dad that much. But it was pretty stable.

GF: When you were a kid, were there any signs that you'd want to be an actor?

SU: Not that I remember, though my mom would probably beg to differ. I think when someone becomes an actor, people say, "Aw, you could see it in him when he was little." But I think you can see that quality in every little kid, just because they're free and love to play. [woman comes in, gives him food, he thanks her] That's my girlfriend. Wonderful cook. We had a dinner party last night and she made this cheese tortellini with prosciutto and peas and mushrooms. It was soooo good.

GF: Lucky you.

SU: So we have leftovers. Anyway, as a kid I used to pretend I was, like, John Denver, of all people, and play the guitar and sing "Take Me Home, Country Roads."

GF: Good God.

SU: Yeah, exactly. But other than that, I don't remember ever thinking about acting. I don't even think I knew what it was. The first movie I remember seeing was Dr. Zhivago; I was probably six or seven. But then, when I was a marine-biology student at [the University of North Carolina] Wilmington, I got into doing extra work. I liked it, and I didn't want to be a professional extra, so I joined the school theater. The first play I did was The Diary of Anne Frank, then I did some Ibsen and Shakespeare. For some reason, I got a brochure from New York University and the only program [in the drama department] that you didn't have to audition for was David Mamet's. Mamet believes that acting's all about will, not talent. I got into that program and he was my first real acting teacher.

GF: What did you learn from Mamet?

SU: How to personalize things and stay really simple. But acting's more complex than that, so I don't use the techniques I learned at NYU much anymore.

GF: At what point did acting become a calling for you?

SU: I think the first time I got a taste of it. There's a lot of reasons that you can think of to say why you act, but I can only say that it just felt good. At the same time, it felt really painful. It's still troubling and stressful to me, thinking about how to do certain scenes and exposing yourself when you do them.

GF: The press is already labeling you as a teen heartthrob even before you've had a film out. From your perspective, is that a hindrance or a help?

SU: Neither. Whatever labels are being pinned on me have nothing to do with me. I think people could justify labeling me if they saw a pattern in what I do, but right now that's impossible. As for being a magazine pinup, that's the machine - it's really not me. They could say I was the next Max Perlich, but it'd still be me.

GF: Interesting choice: Max Perlich is a unique character actor, but he's no heartthrob. By the same token, do you think that being who you are is going to limit your opportunity to do character roles?

SU: I'm sure it will. But then again, I don't know, because all of the film roles I've done have been interesting character roles, other than the one I play in The Craft. That one has a little more of a pin-up orientation, but it was still fun to play because I had to make a switch in the middle of the movie from being a guy who starts out a high school asshole and is turned into a babbling Romeo by a spell.

GF: Do you think you're already at a stage of transition?

SU: I've just done a movie - Albino Alligator - with Viggo Mortensen, who's an actor I idolize. He influenced me in a way that has helped me move toward getting lead parts instead of supporting parts, merely through his presence. So now I tell everyone, as a joke, that I'm entering my Viggo Mortensen phase. [laughs] I think a lot of it has to do with just growing up. I don't want to play young kid parts anymore, or be in a movie in which everyone else is an adult and I'm the doe-eyed sympathy puppet. And I think in some ways, that's what I am in Last Dance and Albino Alligator.

GF: Are you somebody who likes a let of direction?

SU: I like a lot of very pointed direction. Ambiguity in directors is a hard thing to deal with. I had one tell me, "Play the scene like you're sitting on the roof of the car looking down at yourself." And I was like, "I have no idea how to do that." I love feedback, I like to know when I hit something. Usually you know yourself, but you like to see that smile on the director's face that dad never gave you.

GF: I Was wondering, actually, if acting answered a need in you for approval, especially as you grew up without a strong paternal presence.

SU: Probably. I think I'm extremely vulnerable and that in some ways I seek out rejection. Never feeling like you're getting that pat on the back from dad is probably at the heart of that. I'm working through it, which is good. As an actor, I think you want to keep your demons to some extent, but you also have to exorcise them so you can use them instead of them using you.

GF: Have you and your dad reconciled?

SU: Yeah, thanks to my girlfriend. I saw him again, which is great.

GF: What's your girlfriend's name?

SU: Leonora [Scelfo].

GF: And she's an actress, too?

SU: Yeah, an amazing actress.

GF: How long have you been together?

SU: Eleven months. It's so great. We have these two little dogs. Actually, one's not so little. He's about a hundred pounds and he's a year old. And then we just got this little Australian cattle dog who's adorable.

GF: What do you aspire to in your career?

SU: Feeling happy with my work, feeling a sense of realness about it. There's no monetary unit or award that will compensate for that. Having people in the business say, "You do good work," is part of it, and so is knowing that it's true in my head - that I do do good work. Of course, you always want that feeling now. I've just started [the new Paul Schrader movie] Touch, and I've got more of a sense of that feeling than I've ever had before. For example, I did some intense scenes where my character, who's an ex-Franciscan monk, gets stigmata and heals Tom Arnold's character, and they really worked. It's a great part - a part I'm completely terrified of.

GF: And you've got two more films lined up after that. You've got a pretty full dance card.

SU: It's a fun one, too. I get to play a killer next [in Wes Craven's Scary Movie].

GF: Maybe some young actors will soon be saying, "Hey, I just got the new Skeet Ulrich movie." How do you feel about that?

SU: Wow. I guess I'm a little charmed. I don't know - it sounds completely foreign at the same time. I guess I never thought that this would happen so quick. Well, actually, at the same time, in some ways I thought it would.

GF: It's a promising moment to catch you at.

SU: Ultimately, it's a pretty confusing moment. But thank you.