With little more than two episodes of "Touched By An Angel" under his belt, 15-year-old Salt Lake City native Patrick Fugit found himself being flown to Los Angeles to meet Cameron Crowe and read for the lead in "Almost Famous," the writer-director's autobiographical, rock 'n' roll road picture that fictionalizes Crowe's days as a underage journalist covering a Led Zeppelin tour for Rolling Stone -- which had no idea he was just a kid.
Crowe cast a wide net seeking just the right teenage actor to play William Miller, his alter ego who as an unabashed fan must maintain objectivity while spending weeks on the road with his favorite band.
Fugit almost didn't get the part because Crowe's office lost his audition tape. But after the tape was discovered, the director's production company footed Fugit's bill for two out-and-back day trips to L.A. ("I thought that was like, VIP treatment," the actor beams. "Really cool!"), and this inexperienced teenager began to realize he was in the running for the lead in what may be the most anticipated movie of 2000.
"After I heard I had a call-back, I turned into an obsessed fan," he remembers. "I rented all (Crowe's) movies and I was like, my God, he's brilliant!"
But having been born in 1983, a full decade after the movie takes place, did he know anything about the music Crowe would be casting him to adore?
"I thought Led Zeppelin was one person," he says. "I was into the Grateful Dead 'cause their T-shirts had skeletons on them, but it had nothing to do with their music. Basically my musical interests -- well, I think I had a Chumbawumba CD. Really embarrassing. (But) Cameron gave me everything from those times. You name it and I have it now."
Fugit says it hit him that he'd probably gotten the part after he was fitted for a "really silly" costume during his last audition. "I was wearing Adidas shoes like Bruce Lee used to wear and really, extraordinarily tight jeans, and corduroy bellbottoms. I looked ridiculous," the rather reticent kid smiles. "I think everyone kind of knew, basically, they wanted me for the part. But they didn't tell me, so I was still just really nervous. I was sitting around in wardrobe going 'Are we gonna do some scenes or something?'"
Nearly two years later Fugit is 17 years old and a good eight inches taller than he is in the movie as he slides onto a well-appointed dining room chair in a suite at the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton to talk about the movie.
|Q: Was it easier or harder to be playing a character based on a guy who is saying "Action!" and "Cut!" a few feet away?|
A: Oh, it was definitely easier. I mean, William is his own character. But working with such a huge director -- I mean he's basically a legend -- how can you not throw in some Cameron personality traits? It made it easier because you could just ask him what he thought, what he felt like when this or that happened. It was all part of his direction that he could relate to me what he was thinking when he was that same age.
|Q: At the time Cameron was writing for Rolling Stone it was so unusual for a journalist to go on tour with a band. Did he give you any sense of that?|
A: Oh, yeah. The whole (movie) experience for me, of course, was brand new, so I'm positive that played a huge part in me getting the role, just because I was so wide-eyed. It was my first time in Los Angeles, my first movie, my first starring role. It was all just crazy. I could definitely draw from my movie-making experience and put it into William.
|Q: After playing somebody who was a natural interviewer, and after working for Cameron Crowe, on whom your character is based, is it especially frustrating for you to hear insipid questions from reporters at these press junkets?|
A: Yes! Two days ago we did the whole television thing (five minutes each with reporters looking for sound bites). Every time they'd come in, first question: "What made you think you'd want to do this movie?" (Sarcastically) Uh, maybe because it's Cameron Crowe, and it's a movie, and I'm trying to be an actor, and it's a starring role! Sometimes they ask the dumbest questions. The television people are totally unoriginal.
|Q: What was the best tip you got from Cameron Crowe about being an interviewer and being on the road with a band at 15?|
A: Most of his direction was just like, you know, "these people are your idols, they're gods to you." Towards the middle of the movie, William doesn't want to be on the road. He just wants to go home. He's seen them sell girls for beer and he's seen his idols depleting. (And now) you just do not want to glorify them or make them look cool, because that's what they want you to do. But it's so hard not to when you're on the road with your idols, and they're all accepting you and there's girls, and free food, and free plane flights and everything.
|Q: The movie seems to be kind of a critique of the way music journalism is so fluffy today. Did that come up at all during filming?|
A: You know, I thought I'd get into Rolling Stone magazine (as research), so I go to buy one. Christina Aguilera was on the cover! I was like, f**k it! Then N'Sync was on there, and the Back Street Boys. It's just like, grrrr!
|Q: I'm sure when Crowe first told you that you had the role, you just went through the roof. How soon afterwards did it sink in that there was an entire, major motion picture hanging on you.|
A: Almost immediately. When I read the script, I thought, OK, this is going to be a six-month shoot at least -- and it turned out to be way more than that -- and I was thinking to myself, all I've ever done was like two days' shooting for "Touch By An Angel." I mean, I can do fine in a two-hour casting audition when I'm jazzed and hyped to be there, but how am I gonna do this for six months? How am I gonna stay consistent throughout? Am I gonna do what they want for like the first quarter of the movie and then stink towards the end? Can I pull this off? And actually what helped was the six weeks of rehearsal. Without that I would have been just dead.
At the end of that six weeks I could recite the entire script from my memory. We had subtext all plotted out and we just worked on building this character William. Three weeks into rehearsals I got to meet (co-stars) Kate (Hudson), and Billy (Crudup), and Jason (Lee), and Frances (McDormand) and the whole cast, and when we got down to the end we all had such good chemistry that we could predict each other's moves. We could jam and rap and even improv for like whole scenes.
|Q: Did you improvise a lot on the set?|
A: Oh, yeah. There's lots of the movie that's improvised. Let me think -- I saw it my first time just two weeks ago, and I couldn't pay attention because it felt so weird. Then I saw it Saturday night with Kate -- all the back stage stuff was improvised, and there was so much that didn't make it into the movie.
|Q: Was it still weird the second time or could you separate yourself from it and just enjoy the movie?|
A: The first time it's just surreal. You're going, "Oh my God, my nose! Kate, do you see that zit? Do you see how big that thing is?" And she's like, "No, where? Do you see my zit?" Then the sex scene comes up and you're like (puts his hand in front of his eyes and peeks between his fingers). But the second time around, both Kate and I cried when we were supposed to cry and all that, basically all the way through. You know, you could just sit back and watch it as a movie.
|Q: Speaking of the sex scene, did you ask Crowe whether he actually lost his virginity to three groupies, like in the movie?|
A: Oh, yeah. I asked him that. He said, "I was so panicked I couldn't remember if it was three or four!"
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