Ryan Phillippe Online

Ryan Phillippe knows all about being down and out in Los Angeles. In 1992, he was released from his contract with One Life to Live after the soap refused to let his breakthrough gay character evolve, instead packing him off to divinity school. So Phillippe headed for California and the promise of a miniseries. Instead, he ended up in a TV movie about killer bees. And worst of all, in that great big freeway L.A., he was carless, a situation painfully underscored by having to live in a friend’s garage. “I would either take the bus or skateboard to auditions — from Hollywood to the Valley, in Southern California’s 98 degrees,” he recalls. “I would show up super sweaty, get there soaking wet. I learned the more you try to calm yourself down, the more you sweat.”

For about six months, he and a couple of other out-of-work actors, Breckin Meyer and Seth Green, would engage in sleepless nights of rebellion, petty vandalism, and envy — “just going out and being punks,” recalls Phillippe. “We would break into malls at night, and stuff I can’t talk about. We’d go on top of buildings and unplug things. Stealing posters from the bus stops. We were 18, 19 years old. We didn’t have money, so we couldn’t go to movies or have good dinners. It’s so strange to think about it now.” He pauses, looking out from several days’ worth of blondish stubble and one of the hottest faces in Hollywood. “We’d hear about people like Leonardo [DiCaprio] who were doing so well, and we were like the outcasts. We’d hear about their parties and how glamorous they are. We weren’t really into that, though.”

That was then and this is now. Phillippe appeared for his interview at a kitschy Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica in deep cover, his glamour buried beneath a beige wool cap and dark sunglasses. He’d driven his own cream-colored ’66 Ford pickup. What’s he got to hide? As Sela Ward gushed in the movie 54, “The body of David and the face of a Botticelli.” And that’s positively sedate compared with the breathless reviews his famous pout and golden rivulets get on some of the thousand Web sites dedicated to him. Leo would understand.

“I think I got drunk here once,” he says, settling into a semi-private booth. Those days are far behind him. He and his old partners in crime have each had their share of success. They’re now working together on a sketch comedy group, Meyer having appeared in Clueless and co-starred with Phillippe in 54; Green having achieved fame as Oz on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and as Dr. Evil’s son in the Austin Powers movies. But Phillippe’s rise was the most spectacular. He survived the bad reviews of 54 to star in Cruel Intentions and Way of the Gun. Next, he has the lead in the thriller Antitrust, in which he plays programming star Milo, who sells out his idealistic friends to work for cyber-emperor Gary Winston (Tim Robbins), only to uncover his plot for digital domination.

Like every new Hollywood success story, Phillippe has his own production company, Lucid Film, which has a first look deal with Intermedia. In fact, the 26-year-old former punk is now quite the mini-mogul. He’s optioned the novel White Boy Shuffle,, a racial satire by Paul Beatty, and hopes to develop it with Will Smith’s production company. Apart from Antitrust,, Phillippe will co-star with Sigourney Weaver in Company Man, about a plot to overthrow Fidel Castro. He can also afford not to work and plans to give himself that most ostentatious of Hollywood accessories — a breather from acting — so his wife, actress Reese Witherspoon (Election), can do some work after delivering their daughter, 14-month-old Ava. “I’ve taken some time off since Reese took so much time having the baby,” he says. “I go to the office three days a week, and I spend two days a week with [Ava].” The couple hopes eventually to move out of L.A. and raise their daughter on a farm, perhaps in Tennessee, Witherspoon’s home state. It’s a long way from stealing bus stop posters.

Phillippe points out that he was never really Hollywood. He grew up in New Castle, Delaware. His dad is a chemical technician at Du Pont; his mother ran a day care service at home. “My mom had 12 kids from 7 a.m. to 6 or 7 at night,” Phillippe recalls. “She did it so she could stay at home. One income and four kids of her own doesn’t get far. We weren’t poor, but there wasn’t really an obvious way for me to become an actor.”

But that was what he dreamed about. Though his high school didn’t offer drama, Phillippe read books by acting guru Uta Hagen. One day a woman spotted him in a barbershop and put him in contact with an agent in Philadelphia. That led to a string of modeling jobs, and by the time he finished high school, Phillippe was determined to try his luck in Manhattan. “I didn’t really have a choice in my mind,” he says. “The prospect of doing anything in front of a camera and getting paid was exciting to me. I didn’t care if it worked out or not. I knew I needed to try it.”

He jumped at the first role he was offered — a gay teen on the soap One Life to Live.. “It was 1992, before Ellen, before Melrose Place,” he recalls. “Soaps are a powerful way to reach people who live these sheltered, closed-off lives. I got some amazing letters when I did that role from kids who had never seen a gay teen on TV.”

Even through those lean years, people knew there was something different about Phillippe. “When we used to go places, people’s heads used to flip for the boy,” recalls Breckin Meyer. “Seth [Green] and I refer to him as ‘The Boy.’ He’s a pretty boy — I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s like Brad Pitt. It was, ‘I think I should know that guy.’ But he has this confidence: ‘I know who I am.’ Period. That was before he was a movie star. When he started getting famous, he started noticing it more. Most people, when they start getting famous, see it and they like it. He doesn’t take to it. He would like to be wallpaper.”

But Phillippe could never be so inconspicuous. When he won a part in White Squall, a 1996 seafaring disaster movie with a bevy of other handsome faces, he stood out. Soon, he started getting called for more auditions. Instead of going for commercial roles, though, he chose to do a series of oddball indie movies — Little Boy Blue, Greg Araki’s Nowhere, and Billy Bob Thornton’s pot opus Homegrown. “When I was young, I was driven by ‘I want to be famous,'” he says. “Then over time you realize that’s bullshit. I went through this transformation where I wanted to try something different as an actor.”

And then he went through another transformation — or perhaps a cold splash of Hollywood reality. “You make a bunch of independent films and no one goes to see them,” he says. “It got to be depressing. I could barely pay my rent. You start to balance the whole creative side with the business side: The more people that see you, the more likely they are to put you in another movie.” Maybe Leo was onto something.

That’s just the kind of mass exposure Phillippe knew he’d get when he took the role of a cocky jock who gets offed in I Know What You Did Last Summer, the 1997 Scream-alike teen slasher flick. The night before he left for filming, he was invited to Witherspoon’s 21st birthday party. “I had just broken up with a girl,” he says. “I was miserable. I got an invitation to [Witherspoon’s party], but I didn’t think she would know who I was. My friend convinced me to go because they would have free drinks. We had the same publicist, and it turned out that she wanted to meet me. I had to leave the next morning, but we spent the next five weeks on the phone with each other.”

The buzz around Phillippe grew deafening in 1998, when he was cast in the lead role in 54.. But studio suits objected to his on-screen kiss with Mike Myers (playing club impresario Steve Rubell) and the rampant drug use. Much to Phillippe’s dismay, the studio ordered extensive reshoots. “They were uncomfortable with the drugs or any sort of homosexuality,” he notes. “But that’s what 54 was about. It was inspired by gay clubs in Brooklyn. If you remove those elements, it just didn’t make sense to me. It wasn’t the movie I thought I was going to make, but every [actor] has had that experience.” When I mention that people still talk about the film, he interjects, “What? ‘I just saw this horrible movie!’ I’m completely comfortable with it being bad. Everyone has made a bad movie.”

To avoid that pitfall for Cruel Intentions,, Phillippe lobbied his girlfriend to take the role opposite him. “The director and I begged [Witherspoon] to do the movie,” he recalls. “The part was nothing she hadn’t done before, but selfishly, my part was so good I wanted a good actress to play off.” She was won over, and their romance flourished despite working in such close quarters. “We’d been together for over a year, so it was really easy,” he says. “I did have my time when I was no angel. But now I just want to keep my girls happy — my wife and my baby.”

His friends agree that the private Ryan is the real one. “You’d never see him at a club,” says Meyer. “He’s always had a core group of four or five friends, and it’s never needed to get any bigger.” That gang of young Hollywood stars — Witherspoon, Meyer, and Green — spends much of its free time in a tiny pool shed (affectionately known as “the shit shack”) in the backyard of Phillippe’s L.A. home, which he’s spruced up with a tin roof, cable, and a minibar. “He’s happiest sitting at home with his baby playing video games,” says Meyer. “For Thanksgiving, he cooked the whole dinner. He called his mom and got recipes. He cooked the whole thing for Reese and her parents. It’s the little things that make him happy.”

And despite the hard-won success, he still finds reminders that fame is relative, even in Hollywood work. To morph from pinup to geek in Antitrust, Phillippe, with co-star Rachael Leigh Cook, called on several Silicon Valley start-ups to do some on-site research and character studies. He quickly learned that techies don’t worship at the altar of celebrity. “They saw me and Rachael come, and they didn’t care,” he says. “In fact, they seemed annoyed. We were getting in the way of their work. Hollywood is so much about who you’re with, what you look like, where you’re going to dinner. They have a whole different way to evaluate people. I loved that.”

But the rest of the world isn’t so indifferent. When the interview is over, Phillippe puts on his wool cap and sunglasses and slips back undercover, in the cloak of anonymity only celebrities need.

Source: Paper Mag