By Joan Tarshis
Photos by Richard Reinsdorf
“I’m not a tough guy,” stresses Tom Sizemore. “I have this tough guy persona, but it’s just acting.” I agree. He’s not a tough guy; certainly not in his recent roles. In Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, Sizemore comes across as tenacious, a hero that can be relied upon. And that, in my eyes, makes
him huge; a huge, good guy.
Sizemore explains his position: “I’m certainly not like Michael Horvath (his character in Saving Private Ryan) or Danny McKnight (Black Hawk Down). They have outright courage. As an actor, I try to capture their greatness, to get as close to their essence as I can. In real life, I’m just like anyone else; insecure, vulnerable, and making it up as I go along.” The result? Hollywood’s greatest directors desire to capture his feelings and put them on film.
However, to take his side, Sizemore may be confusing his roles in film with his image in America’s tabloids. He spent the ’90s as checkout-stand fodder; his marital problems and drug addiction made good copy, but the exploitation of his real life has little to do with the man himself. Sizemore’s qualities have more in common with those onscreen characters than he knows. He’s open and honest, a straight-shooter - a true oddity in an industry ripe with nay-sayers.
Never scared to speak his mind about anything or anyone, his blunt honesty and absence of pretentiousness is refreshing. “Hollywood is a small town,” he says, in his Canadian hotel room where he is about to wrap a lead role in Stephen King’s Dreamcatchers.
“People talk shit and there are shit-talkers galore. That’s why I don’t go out. I live on top of a mountain in Benedict Canyon. I have everything I need in this house. I work out in my gym. I paint. I suck, but I paint. I’m working on a screenplay and a TV series called ‘Trims’ about a barber.” And he’s got his girl. A woman with a reputation as notorious and misunderstood as his: former Hollywood Madam, Heidi Fleiss.
“We’ve both gone through our own hells, though mine can’t compare to three years in prison. You know [the district attorney] offered her a deal if she’d give them the names [of her clients]. But she didn’t. She took it on the chin,” he says proudly. And in my eyes, that makes her a good guy, too.
As a kid, Sizemore venerated the bad guy roles in the movies he watched. And it was the meatiness of these characters that inspired him to see if he could “pretend” to be as bad. After earning his Master’s Degree in theater from the University of Temple in 1986, Sizemore moved to New York City, where he waited on tables between jobs in the theater. His voice clouds over when he recalls his waiter’s career. “I worked in the Transit Authority dining room on the 44th floor of the World Trade Center,” he says. “It was difficult watching the destruction on TV. I thought as I watched it: this is going to be a post-traumatic stress-creator and I’m going to feel helpless. I had a friend who was supposed to be on Flight 11, but his mother wanted him to visit her one more day. I thought he was dead. He didn’t want to talk about it and I haven’t watched CNN since.”
Sizemore’s first break came when Oliver Stone gave him a bit role in 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July. Soon, this role was followed by more prominent roles in the early ’90s, including Guilty by Suspicion (1991) and 1993’s True Romance and Striking Distance. The next year, he garnered an even larger role as Bat Masterson in Kevin Costner’s star-heavy bio-drama Wyatt Earp. Later that year, Stone, one of the first directors to recognize the scope of Sizemore’s dramatic range, gave him his first standout role as Jack Scagnetti in the contentious Natural Born Killers. Since then, Sizemore has scarcely had time to catch his breath. In 1995, he had roles in Devil in a Blue Dress, Strange Days and the celebrated crime classic Heat, directed by Michael Mann. His first leading role followed in 1997s The Relic, Peter Hyams’ special effects thriller.
At 38, Sizemore has been candid about his drug use for years and still credits father figure and friend Robert De Niro, among others, in helping him get sober. “When I was shooting Witness to the Mob [the 1998 TV drama], Bob told me I had a choice of him taking me to a rehab or a jail.” He chose rehab and since being sober, he has counseled teens that are involved in substance abuse. “I really don’t talk about this anymore,” he says. “Not because I’m hiding anything. It’s just boring to rehash again, don’t you think?”
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SMOKE - Spring 2002
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