I didn't know quite what to expect before meeting Christian Slater. Over his career, Slater has sure earned his reputation as a "bad boy" (a term he uses), from his on-screen roles in "Heathers" and "True Romance" to his past, off-screen troubles that, kind of surprisingly, the now 44-year-old Slater does not shy away from discussing. The Slater I met with at a Soho hotel in Manhattan seemed humble. He's an actor who knows he's made some mistakes (and knows that a stigma still lingers), but who also knows how important it is for him to be co-starring in a Lars von Trier movie.
Oh, yes, that controversial Lars von Trier movie: In "Nymphomaniac" (which has been divided into two separate films for theatrical release), Slater plays the father of a woman named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), whose sexual evolution is told in flashback -- detailing her sexual origin from youth until her experiences as a mature woman. (Stacy Martin plays Joe as a young adult.) For Slater, this was an opportunity to work with one of the most interesting directors in the world, and, yes, an opportunity to hopefully do more work in film in the future. (A role that the still youthful-looking Slater had to convince Von Trier that he was old enough to play.) This was, as Slater puts it, an opportunity to enjoy the roller-coaster ride without being on the roller coaster.
In a sometimes serious, sometimes loose conversation, Slater looks back on his career -- reflecting fondly over films such as "Heathers" and "Pump Up the Volume." Also, Slater, a lifelong Trekkie, reveals his understandable man-crush for Benedict Cumberbatch.
I'll admit, I've never thought about your name associated with Lars von Trier before.
He does pick interesting actors to be in his movies. Did he come to you?
This presented itself because my agent was in Denmark doing some kind of seminar about Hollywood ... and he took the trip out to Lars' studio and met with his people -- and I think Lars -- and talked about this movie and this project and he threw my name into the hat, really. I think they said, "Hm, wow, we didn't really think of him, but that could be interesting. Can he play a father? Is he old enough?"
That's a good point. I still kind of think of you as 25.
Yeah! I know! Weird! It's funny, so, to get this sort of opportunity to play a man and a father was thrilling.
Were you worried you didn't look old enough?
You know, when my agent told me that was one of the concerns they had, I took it upon myself to steal some of my wife's makeup and I put some dark circles under my eyes and sent them a photo. And that's when they said, "Oh, okay, we'll hire him."
That has to be a nice feeling though -- that you had to apply makeup just to look old enough to play a father.
You know, I had to do something because I think it is so hard for people to maybe get over that particular image. Certainly, you're right, I've been in this business for so long ...
You don't want to send them a picture from "Young Guns II."
Yeah! Yeah, exactly. So, to rip that up and tear those pictures up and try to recreate and do something new and morph myself into something else is really challenging. I mean, it's really challenging. So, when this part presented itself I was thrilled to get that chance. And then after meeting Lars, I felt safe and comfortable in his hands to really do whatever I could to help him convey whatever image he was trying to convey.
Maybe "struggle" is a strong word, but has it been a struggle to get these kinds of roles?
Oh, struggle, man. Struggle. No, it's hard. Nobody wants you to -- it's just hard. It's hard to break out of people's preconceived notions of who you are.
What do you think those preconceived notions are?
I think it's "bad boy." You know, a lot of labels get attached to you from an early age -- mistakes that you made and hurdles that you have to overcome. And it's hard to get filmmakers or studios or studio executives to take that leap of faith and take that sort of risk. I mean, it is a risk, you know? I've had to do -- which I've been grateful for -- but I've had a lot of wonderful experiences in going to London and doing theater. Those have been some of the best, most fulfilling experiences that I've gotten to have -- and they've been wonderful. But, with theater, it's definitely a fleeting thing because you have those moments -- and it's not film. It doesn't reach a mass audience or a mass market. You invite people to come see it, but, still, it's not as helpful as doing something like [film].
How do you convey to people that the "bad boy" stigma is from a while ago? Can you just say that?
Look, I don't know necessarily how it works, but I think you just maintain a faith and belief. I mean, acting is what I love to do.
And being in a Lars von Trier movie should help ...
And, look, I only have my agent to thank for it. He's the one who threw my name out there. And then Lars was the one who was willing to kind of take that risk and be that director who was willing to give an actor an opportunity and a chance. And all I wanted to do was just everything I just possibly could to show up for it.
Do you look at this as a comeback?
I mean, I've always worked. And I've always tried to do good work. And I've loved a lot of the people that I've gotten the opportunity to work with, but I think working with somebody like Lars is very special and very unique. And I think as an actor, I'm addicted to it. It's like, I kind of don't want to do anything else other than work with a director that I respect.
There are a lot of actors who do that. Bill Murray ...
Sure. "I have a private number, call me and if I'm interested ..."
Well, you've done one now.
It's certainly a wonderful, maybe new foundation for me. I feel like that is definitely a place to build from. Like, I'd love to be able to continue to go and find interesting characters and things that I can immerse myself in and scare myself with and take some chances with. I mean, I think that's what it is to get to be an actor. We take chances and we take risks and we don't care if we fall on our faces and we try to push the envelope as much as possible.
I'm going to put this out there: "Pump Up the Volume" was 15 years ahead of its time.
Oh, wow. Thanks.
It's about an illegal radio broadcast, but it's basically what the Internet became.
Right! It's true, right.
I don't know if you ever think about that movie.
Without a doubt, that is one of my favorite movies that I got the chance to do as well. I mean, I was a kid and I did "The Name of the Rose" and I did "Heathers," I did "Pump Up the Volume" -- I mean, I got the chance to really do some special projects. They were special to me. So, it's been a wild life. It's a roller-coaster ride. I think, for me, I have to sometimes make sure I'm not riding the roller coaster. You know, I can watch the roller coaster, but I can't get in the cart. Otherwise I'm in serious trouble.
Do you feel you used to be in the cart?
Oh yeah. Sure, sure. Sometimes you get in the cart and you go on this crazy ride and you're sort of a part of it and you have to be able to step off the ride.
You mention that slate of movies. Even your first movie, "The Legend of Billie Jean" -- back when people thought you were actually Helen Slater's little brother -- is still played once a week on cable. I would imagine that can be difficult for someone who is young.
Sure. You know, life is a wild journey -- there is no doubt about it. This business is very tricky. Navigating through it is very tricky. I think one of the best things that I've been able to do for myself is get out of Hollywood. Moving away from the epicenter of a lot of the chaos and craziness is very helpful. Living in Miami and having some distance and separation between me and Sunset Boulevard is wonderful. Really good.
I am still surprised every time you pop up for that cameo in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country."
I know you're a "Trek" guy, why have you never done a larger "Trek" role?
You know, it comes down to the guys who are in charge and timing and working those things out. I would love to do something on "Star Trek" or "Star Wars" or any of those types. I mean, working with J.J. Abrams would be ...
So you like the new "Star Trek" movies.
It's different. I think it's good. You know who I really love right now? Benedict Cumberbatch. That guy -- I started watching that "Sherlock" show. He's my man-crush. There's no doubt about it.
I think you just gave me a headline idea.
Oh, I did? Oh shit.
"Christian Slater's Man-Crush is Benedict Cumberbatch."
But isn't that okay? I mean, the guy is great. I love him and I'd love to work with him. He's wonderful.
He has a good humor about himself. I've interviewed him before ...
For "Star Trek," actually.
Oh, good. That's nice to hear!
No, not a dick.
Not a dick! Fantastic! So good! It comes through! You can see, the guy's performances are genuine and real. The BBC and the shows that they do are so good. Are you a fan of "Doctor Who?"
I've never watched it. I know people love it.
I wasn't a "Doctor Who" fan until my son, actually, turned me on to it. This actor, Matt Smith: great! If you're into that sci-fi stuff or whatever, it's really excellent.
It's intimidating because the show has been on the air for so long.
Like when there's a new Doctor?
Yeah, you can. It starts fresh. You'll see! You've got to check it out. Just watch the first episode, you'll love it.
I will wind up doing it now, just so I can say. "Yeah, I didn't watch it until Christian Slater talked me into it."
[Laughs] You'll love it, dude.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.