The adjective “chiseled” is used pretty capriciously to describe handsome, male lead actors, but Scott Haze is actually chiseled. His face is almost beset by impossibly high cheekbones and the paleness of his skin and eyes make him seem as though he may in fact be carved of marble. It’s a little bizarre when first encountering him in the flesh; his good looks are more alien than the hot guy next door. Visually you can roughly understand how his innate physical intensity could be twisted into the malnourished body of a psychopath, but this only explains the outer layer of Mr. Haze’s transformation into the character Lester Ballard in James Franco’s film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel Child of God inspired by the real life serial killer Ed Gein.
A narrative surrounding Mr. Haze that has blown up on the Internet, which sounds apocryphal, but is true, is that in preparation to play Lester (who has a fetish for necrophilia and a family of dolls), he retreated to the caves of Tennessee and lived for three months in isolation eating only one fish and apple a day with no contact to the outside world except for an Ipod of Eminem. (It should be noted that I did let this man into my house).
Malerie: Tell me about your background. What led you to become an actor?
Scott: I grew up playing sports a lot. I thought I would be the next Michael Jordan. All I did was play basketball and look up to Jordan and Bird and Magic and the acting thing happened out of pride. I was walking down the hallway, I went to a boarding school in Virginia and I had just gotten out of soccer practice and my girlfriend was like “ you should audition for the play, but you could never do that.” I said I could do that and she was giving me a hard time, so I went in and auditioned for this play and ended up getting two roles, one, which was a maid so my first part was as a woman.
Growing up I was fascinated with the movie Basketball Diaries. I found all these parallels with Jim Carroll who wrote the book. I was on the basketball team and my basketball team was kinda crazy and he wrote in a diary at the time and I wrote in my diary all the time, so I thought to myself, whoever this actor is, he is doing this on screen and I am living it. I could do that! And I found a real passion for it performing in plays, so that is how the whole thing came to be.
What was your first acting gig?
My first paid acting job was as a character in a dinner murder mystery. People would arrive at this costume party and no one knew who the killer was. I went all out. I went off script. I remember I sat on the side of the road pretending my car had broken down and then showed up at the party asking to use someone’s phone and the other actors had to improvise around me. The director encouraged me to be more and more creative and gave me a lot of free reign to evolve my character. It may have been the most fun I had as an actor because I took it very seriously and would devise these massive, elaborate stunts.
Do you find you're more prone to inner dialogue and self-examination given that you are a storyteller?
I examine myself quite a bit. I’ve always been introspective. I always played guitar growing up. There was a moment after high school when I was in the Conservatory for Music and all I played was blues guitar. A teacher of mine handed me this book and it said Segovia on it and I didn’t know who Segovia was, or his music and then I started to realize that it wasn’t what I was interested in doing.
Intuitively I knew what it took to be an athlete, to be some of my childhood heroes like a Michael Jordan, or a Magic Johnson, and I had this crazy insight to know I did not have the Michael Jordan in me. It was too hard and the music they wanted me to play, I didn’t want to do, and when I was acting in the play as Billy Bibbit, which was my first role outside of high school, my trajectory fell into place.
Starting off, were the characters you were drawn to strong, leading male roles? Not necessarily macho, but films with high stakes?
Most actors are drawn to the DeNiro and Pacino roles early on because those seem the most fun to do. Men have a thing where we want to be the hero. To be doing the right thing up against evil. In a crime drama, you can live out that fantasy of being a cop who is trying to do the right thing against all the odds in a corrupt world.
Do you find you’re perversely drawn to the anti-hero?
A lot of the poetry I grew up reading was Rimbaud. I was fascinated with him as a poet and as a young actor you get introduced to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino movies early. That is what you aspire to be. You want to play those guys. The movie I’ve watched the most in my life is probably Taxi Driver. There was a period when I would put that on every night to go to bed because the score in that film is this beautiful jazz, so you could sleep to that movie. People thought I was crazy because it is such a dark story to be dreaming to Travis Bickle.
Do you think there’s a relationship for you between competitive sports and acting?
There is something to be said about the physicality certain roles require. To play Lester Ballard, I had to lose a lot of weight. I had to train for the part like an athlete has to train. I kept talking about Kobe Bryant when I was doing press for Child of God because there are times when I wanted to eat whatever I wanted to eat or not go to the lengths to prepare for this role that I knew I had to and was capable of doing and I would always think about Kobe Bryant taking an ice bath. There is a gratification that comes when you can dig your teeth into a situation, or a character, or a role. Like an athlete you can adopt that kind of dedication. Of course, not every role requires that kind of discipline. It is always different, but there are some elements of the athletic process, like learning a dialect that requires that kind of focus.
Is there a rush with a performance that is so punishing?
Some of the guys I know were on 90210, but for whatever reason certain directors see me and I get asked to do crazier roles, but they are parts that challenge and fulfill me as an artist and as a human being. Am I drawn to the crazier stuff? Maybe....
I think that there is something innately fascinating about a guy being ostracized from society and never shown love. What that does to the human mind and the human body or how his spirit tries to negotiate those circumstances.Were there any visuals in your mind, or hallucinations when you played the part of Lester Ballard?
Good question... I do not think I hallucinated, but I do know that one of the things I tried to prepare for is being alone for that amount of time. You start to have conversations with yourself. I remember driving down skid row and watching the homeless talk to themselves. There is a relationship I created with these stuffed animals in the movie that around the premise that you make friends with what surrounds you, or what you can relate to, so I created this imaginary relationship which was a real friendship with the animals in the movie. Tom Hanks in Cast Away is a real thing, being isolated that long you start talking to things that aren’t there. It’s like when you are in the bathroom for an extended period of time and you read things like the shampoo ingredients. There is something that happens to you psychologically where you find new ways to entertain yourself and make a human connection by any means possible.
Talk to me more about your preparation to play Lester Ballard. You lived in the caves of Tennessee in order to prepare for the role. What was that like?
You know it’s funny, I haven’t really talked about it. The caves are an interesting thing.... Whenever countries have been at war, most people, when they lose their shelter, they retreat to caves. In the novel Lester’s house burns down and it seems like the natural place to go to. It may seem wild-- here is this guy that goes and lives in this cave; is he Batman? Is he trying to isolate himself and be creepy and live in a cave?
Is it actually a survival mechanism?
There is one thing I did not know about living in a cave, which I had to learn the hard way. When you have bats in a cave, they don’t like fires because they are mammals and the smoke really pisses them off. There is a learning process. I open, think a lot of people have been fascinated by my story of that I’m ready to walk through. That is what luck is and of time I spent in a cave, because it does seem really weird, but course there are crazy things that do happen-- certain things it's one of those things that needed to be done. Or if it didn’t, you cannot perceive or predict. it happened anyway....
What is your relationship like with James Franco? Do you have any private rituals that you do before and how did you meet?
I was doing a play at the Stella Adler Conservatory and had come to see me in the play. This was many years ago, Stella Adler is at the corner of Hollywood and Highland in LA, this was before the Kodak theater was built, so there is a big empty field over there where the oscars are now, and he came up to me after the play and said I really love what you did. We started talking and I knew of him because I was about to do a play with Margaret Madell who directed James in The James Dean movie which had just come out and he was getting a lot of acclaim, so I asked him what it was like playing James Dean. We had a conversation in a parking lot and that’s where I met him and that’s the genesis of our relationship. We became friends and he has been an ally, a brother, a mentor, and a massive collaboration- especially in the last five years our relationship has really taken off.
When was the last time you cried while watching a film?
I cry all the time. I cry a lot while watching documentaries.
More real life than fiction?
Not to say that if I saw Old Yeller, I wouldn’t cry again like I did when I was a kid. Sincerely though, the last time I cried during a movie was watching the dailies of my documentary I am directing about the philanthropist, Charles Mulloy, who is literally changing the face of Africa. He legally adopted 2500 kids and has saved over 9000. There is a moment that brought tears to my eyes and chills from the footage. A moment, which I can’t spoil; you’ll just have to wait and see the film....
Photography & Text: Malerie Marder
Styling: Romina Herrera Malatesta
Groomer: Sonia Lee @ Exclusive Artists using Murad
Photographed In: Santa Monica, CA USA