Jeremy Allen White

by N.P. Train

Actor and New York Native Makes His own Path
Jeremy Allen White orders a Jack and ginger at his East Hollywood dive. It’s a red-lit bar on the ground floor of a Super 8 Motel. He knows the bartendress, a 50-something Russian; sassy, cold war accented, and slightly elegant with upswept hair. She probably doesn’t know White is an actor, but she’s conscious to charm him more than his drinking companion. Near the end of the evening, she’ll offer White a free hot dog. Her philosophical stance is that after 10 PM all hot dogs should be free. “Something I learned in Old Country,” she says. But to be frank, we’re not dealing with weenies. This East Hollywood dive is the occasion for drinks and dialogue about White being a budding indie star with a humble disposition. And like most young stars, his “normalcy” and “disinterest” will only reinforce his stance on the high ledge of culture should he reach it. Just you watch.

It’s not a very big step, although White is still mostly only known to the mainstream as a cable TV commodity. He’s been playing Lip for three seasons on Showtime’s Shameless. But if you’re into this kind of shit—like movies and stuff—you may have seen him in 2008 in Afterschool as a drug-dealing weirdo with weird hair. Screened at the Toronto Film Festival, the film got some cred despite its slow pace and cast of creepy prep schoolers. Foosball anyone?

White isn’t actually a pretentious New Yorker, like you’d expect for someone who quit high school to act full time. On the off-chance his picture is taken by someone who recognizes him, he assumes, “It’ll probably end up nowhere.” But like a New Yorker, he speaks bluntly. On his “acting education” at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts: “I went there six months and hated it. It’s probably because it’s in Queens.”

On La Guardia Arts: “They act like they’re Tisch or Yale and they wanted to keep their kids in the program like a conservatory. I didn’t like it.”

On the Professional Performing Arts School: “I asked the Dean if he’d let me do an internship at a casting office. He said ok. So I just did that instead of act for them.”

Not that White thinks teaching the craft of acting is impossible. It’s not. It’s just that he was a teenager and like most teenagers, he “thought [he] could find [his] own way of going about it.”

Insolent, impudent, or not, like the man whose name emblazons the side of the school he quit, White’s own way of “doing it,” has actually been pretty okay. Especially those three new films for 2013.

White plays the homeschooled kid hazed by his sick parents in the Farrelly brother’s latest film, Movie 43, to be released in January 2013. White says, “Basically, the Farrellys told Naomi Watts and Liev Schrieber they could fuck around with a 16-year-old kid for a day and they’re like ‘Yeah we’re in, why not?’” Being duct taped to a pole in your underwear is rough, but people sympathize and remember a victim.

In the upcoming You Can’t Win, White plays the guy who teaches Jack Black, the 1920s railroad bandit/writer (not the voice of Kung Fu Panda), how to jump trains and pick pockets. Based on Black’s autobiography and starring Michael Pitt as Black, the film augurs plenty of train chases, gang shootouts, and horrendous jail abuse scenes. This is perfect for checking the box on the literary film.

Then there’s Shoplifters of the World. Based on a true story, the film is about a young man in Denver who, on the night the English band The Smiths broke up, held a radio DJ at gunpoint and forced him to play Smiths songs for 24 hours. White is the kid with the gun and a chub for Morrissey. It should be amazing fun, White assures me. Sounds like it!

But White isn’t all pistols and wood. Before we part ways, he tells me he’s wondered if dropping out of school was the right move to make. But after a second of consideration, his voice perks up and he tells me, “My friend Ezra, who’s also an actor, he and I were at a film festival and an organizer offers to introduce us to Benicio del Toro. We nervously turn him down, saying we couldn’t possibly bother him, but he insists. When we meet del Toro we’re just gushing on and on about how massive fans we are and how we love his work, you know, word vomit. Del Toro says: ‘One thing you guys need to know is study, study, study, study.’ Then Ezra and I walk away, we turn to each other and say ‘Man, fuck that guy.’”

[Ed.’s note:] With a certain kind of man’s conception of what “fucking Benicio del Toro” would look like, we whole-heartedly agree with Jeremy Allen White and his friend. Should one or the other of them do some fucking to Benicio any time soon, we hope there’s a camera there, that it is shot on 35mm widescreen and that there are subtitles. Then we’d totes watch that flick.