If someone were to make a 20 Feet from Stardom-type documentary about actors, they'd be smart to talk to Jake Busey. We spoke with him earlier today about his role in Robert Rodriguez' From Dusk till Dawn: The Series and were surprised by how honest he was about how his career didn't exactly go the way he was expecting. After all, some of his earliest jobs were in high-profile films from directors like Robert Zemeckis, Paul Verhoeven, Tony Scott and Peter Jackson.
Unfortunately those films were also high-profile disappointments, from a box office perspective at least. Movies like Contact, Starship Troopers and The Frighteners have gone on to live long, great lives on home video, but as Busey told us, being in a movie that takes a decade to become a cultural hit doesn't exactly give you a career boost.
He was very open about how hard the acting climate is today; how when everyone can look at the Kardashians and decide they want to be famous, it makes it a lot harder for actual actors to break through. So if you're the type of person who has lamented the movies Hollywood makes these days, or how reality TV is creating a bunch of fake celebrities, chances are Jake Busey agrees with you -- the only difference is he actually works in the industry audiences passively complain about.
But for as jaded as someone like Busey should be about the current entertainment industry climate, he didn't sound bitter about anything. He was just very realistic about how the job isn't what it used to be, and how the one thing that's sort of reenergized his enthusiasm for acting was landing a role in From Dusk till Dawn. On the series he plays a professor who happens to be knowledgeable about a certain ancient culture that isn't exactly human. His next episode airs this week (April 15 at 9 p.m. EST on El Rey Network), and is a pretty big one for fans as this is the first time we go inside the iconic Titty Twister bar from the original film. And considering Busey's character wasn't in the first movie, that should give you an idea that the show is already starting to carve its own path.
Movies.com: Do you feel the movies you were a part of early on in your career, like Contact and The Frighteners, simply wouldn't get made today?
Jake Busey: I think that none of those films could be made today and still work. First of all, Jodie Foster came out of the closet, so nobody would believe the love story with Matthew McConaughey. Joking aside, one thing I miss about movies today is a lack of originality, and it's because of the economy that means studios won't green-light a story that hasn't been proven because they just can't financially afford the risk. They have to make movies that they know are going to make money, and so they copy each other, and everything is chasing Marvel comics, and it's becoming increasingly rare that anything big at the box office is an original property.
I should have been a million-dollar player, and I could have been, but things just didn't work out that way because I was in all these movies that were supposed to be huge, but for one reason or another they fell flat. The Frighteners was a Halloween-timed movie, but they released it in the summer on the night of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Georgia. It's just not something people are going to go see. Plus no one knew who Peter Jackson was at that moment, and the film was kind of two movies in one. It was a comedy and a horror film, which today could work, but not only was the release date off, back then people couldn't get the concept of having a movie that was funny and scary.
Contact did very well, and maybe it could be remade today, but it was such a brave new concept that if you remade it, since everyone already knows the concept, it just wouldn't work.
Movies.com: Contact is such an optimistic story about humanity and sci-fi is so doom and gloom these days that it's difficult to imagine a modern Hollywood studio making it. At least not in the same spirit.
Busey: Well that spirit was Carl Sagan. He just loved astronomy and his whole vibe on that movie was one of positivity. He loved space exploration because of the exciting new things that could be found. And in entertainment, I think that's something the old Star Trek had. They didn't always run into Klingons or the Borg. If you look at the new stuff, whatever alien they come in contact with ends in a war, and it wasn't always that way. If you look at the Shatner series, he was banging green alien chicks and searching space. It was a different thing.
Movies.com: If you were starting out today, knowing how the entertainment industry is now, would you still choose acting as a career?
Busey: I don't know if I would have made it in today's market. I don't know. When I was starting out and 18 years old, I had a lot of energy and I was hoofing it on the pavement. It was analog, man. I had to drive 30 miles to pick up my scripts. Now they're just e-mailed to you.
Also, for an actor starting out there's a lot of work you have to do on your own that used to be handled by protocol by the studio or your agent or producers in the business. But now because of digital capabilities, actors are expected to do all the research on their own, to identify what they want to audition for, to put together all their own breakdowns. And the audition market has gotten highly competitive because there's just so many people that want to be famous. So if you look at TV, everyone is on TV now. Hell, when giant actors like Glenn Close are doing TV and all the unknown actors are just super good-looking, it's a tough market.
Movies.com: How did you come aboard From Dusk till Dawn: The Series?
Busey: I gotta give a big shout out to Robert Rodriguez for bringing me on, because he was the only one who would hire me. I couldn't get a job. I had an agent that didn't do much work for me. I would say he was... not proactive, that he was used to having a client who made their phone ring because people wanted that client. What I needed to start my comeback trail was to have an agent who was proactive. I was at the premiere for Machete Kills, and I just walked up to Robert Rodriguez. I'd met him years ago, and we'd been living parallel lives working with a lot of the same people but never together, and I said, "Dude, this was amazing, you gotta put me in the sequel! I really want to work with you. We met in 1994 and we haven't worked together, this is crazy!" And he said, "You know, I will keep that in mind."
I find out a month later that he's got his own network and is putting together this TV show, so I get an audition. I was brought in to read and did a Skype session with those guys in Texas, and I thought I did okay, and was really worried because I wanted the role because I really connected with it. I just hoped they'd hire me and had such a crazy mix of emotions going in my head for the next day or two. When my agent told me that they made the offer, I lost my voice because I screamed at the top of my lungs for like a solid minute. I was so elated to be a part of it, to get hired.
Robert really started me on my comeback trail, and really has helped me to get back on the scene and back working where I love being and want to be. I couldn't be more thankful of him and his team. I couldn't be happier. I've got a beautiful daughter who is almost two, I've got a wonderful fiancée, I've got my health, I've got a great job and I'm going off to do a Texas Rangers miniseries that I'm on. I'm just so pleased.
Movies.com: What was it like making Starship Troopers? Was there an awareness of the satirical side of it?
Busey: It was like we are so fortunate and so thankful to be there. Every day we were excited to go to work, even though we were making little money and working difficult hours, we were happy about it all the time. And we knew we were making the next Star Wars. And we couldn't have been further from the truth.
We were totally convinced we were making the next Star Wars. It was going to be dark and heavy. We'd all read the novel and thought it was going to be like James Cameron's Aliens. Then when we went to see the movie and it was all glossy and bright and shiny and full of pretty people, I was like, "What the f**k is this?"
We were all totally floored at what the final product was. At the same time we loved it and thought it was great, but man. For me now, looking back, I think, wow, that's a different movie than we thought we were making. It's great in its own wonderful way, and it's such a unique film, and so many people are die-hard fans.
Movies.com: It's held up better than a lot of films. It's become retroactively smarter than anyone realized at the time.
Busey: I agree, but unfortunately that doesn't do much for an actor's career. All they're concerned about when they're hiring you is what you were in six months ago. They don't care the movie you did in '97 is now a cult classic. Nobody gives a s**t. But you know what? I am truly thankfully I am a part of an American - even though Paul is Dutch - an American movie that has its own place in history now. And that's cool because I've done a lot of movies that have come and gone and nobody sees them, but Starship Troopers is a part of our culture, and that's an honor and it's really cool. When I have short hair, people yell "Starship Troopers!" at me!
I've worked with a lot of the greats, just never at their greatest moments. What I mean by that is Starship Troopers wasn't RoboCop and it wasn't Total Recall, you know? It didn't do huge at the box office. I worked with Peter Jackson, but it was before Lord of the Rings. I worked with John Milius, but it was after Apocalypse Now. The list goes on. I've been in some number one movies at the box office, but not any that lasted for a month. I haven't had anything that was giant. I've always been a sort of sideline guy. The world needs sideline guys. I'm fine being second banana, being third on the call sheet. You've got the leading guy, the leading girl, and then me and it's a good place to be. I hope I can continue to do that.
Here's a clip from this week's episode. It actually doesn't feature any of Busey, so you'll have to catch the episode for him, but check it out. And remember, From Dusk till Dawn: The Series airs on April 15, 9 p.m. EST on El Rey Network.
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