Christian Slater | A Ceaseless Twinkle, A Homeward Bound Heart

Via Issue 192, Gettin' Around

Written by

Gregg LaGambina

Photographed by

Kurt Iswarienko

Styled by

Dolly Pratt

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The tulips along Park Avenue pop like mute fireworks of red and orange against the backdrop of a sky so blue, it looks carefully painted like the ceiling of a cathedral. A brief memory of winter floats by on the cool air in a flurry of white and pink petals from a nearby cherry blossom tree.

The sidewalks are crowded with parents and baby strollers and dogs that might be smiling. It’s April and New York City is in full bloom.

“Did you see it? Unbelievable.”

Christian Slater isn’t talking about the weather. He’s talking about the Knicks. Tugging on the brim of his orange and blue cap—purchased at Madison Square Garden the night before— Slater is still animated with the glee he felt watching the Knicks make an improbable comeback in a playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers, scoring eight points in less than 30 seconds to win the game.

“I’ve never seen anything like it! I’m a fan for life now.”

A similar utterance was likely heard in the lobby of any theater brave enough to screen the pitch-black high school murder-suicide comedy Heathers—in which he co-starred with then-flame, Winona Ryder—at the onset of the 1990s. With that one performance, Slater burst onto the scene with such charismatic force, he didn’t just manage to survive an onslaught of ceaseless and unimaginative comparisons to his idol (Jack Nicholson), he crashed through them. By the end of the decade, Slater had cemented his own unique persona into the pantheon of our most beloved actors by sheer force of personality and the willingness to work, a lot.

VERSACE jacket, shirt, pants, and shoes and talent’s own sunglasses.

With a string of films from the still underrated and still underseen Pump Up the Volume (1990) to the Quentin Tarantino-scripted, Tony Scott-directed True Romance (1993), and his performance alongside such heavyweights as Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in 1994’s Interview with the Vampire, Slater became a bona fide Hollywood star at last, with a signature style, comparisons be damned. With an arched eyebrow and his breathless existential soliloquies, Slater was arguably an early pioneer of the emerging “everything is bullshit” Gen X gospel that would come to define the decade. To this day, when he wants to, he can still summon that voice, in a silver-tongue delivery that could inspire an actual angel to commit crimes.

“When you’re a kid, you’re just trying to figure your shit out, right? And the fastest way to find out who you are is to first know who you’re not,” says Slater, reflecting back on those early star turns, as we settle into a corner booth at a lunch spot near his home alongside Central Park. “That’s one of the things I love about being an actor. I get to try on a lot of different personalities. I love what I do, and I love being on a set. And, you know, slowly, over time, I think I have formulated a better idea of myself and what I want to do.”

VERSACE jacket, shirt, pants, and shoes.

Slater has never stopped working. His list of credits is long, including all the hits and misses that come with the territory, especially for an actor who loves to work as much as he does. He’s become an accomplished voice actor, essentially begging to be cast on the beloved cult animated series, Archer. He played an arrogant alpha-male writer that briefly, yet memorably, appeared in Fleishmann Is In Trouble with Claire Danes.

More recently, Slater enjoyed channeling his inner ogre for the series, The Spiderwick Chronicles. Based on a series of popular fantasy books, the limited series tells the story of the Grace family who return to their opulent ancestral home, only for the children to begin to suspect that the estate is being visited by boggarts— apparitions, that might not be apparitions after all. The show has more complexity than the usual fantasy fare, exploring single motherhood and adolescent mental health, which is what drew Slater to the role.

“I love fantasy and sci-fi,” says Slater. “I thought these were tales from a hundred years ago, but it’s this guy Tony DiTerlizzi who wrote them 20 years ago. I had lunch with him and he’s just a regular guy who’s into Dungeons & Dragons and I thought it would be a lot of fun. I liked the biracial family situation, the mental health issues that it was dealing with, and I loved the character I was playing. As an actor, it’s rare that you get the opportunity to play a 1000-year-old ogre.”

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There is no comeback if you’ve never gone away. Yet, if you were to pinpoint a moment in Slater’s career when he reemerged with all of the bristling, hands-in-the-air, revolution-inspiring speeches that made him such a star to begin with, it would be his Golden Globe-winning role on the four-season surprise hit, Mr. Robot.

“That was unbelievable,” Slater says, about working with Rami Malek and becoming close friends with the eventual Oscar-winner. “It was a wild journey to be on that show with him. He’s a great actor and such a lovely guy. I love his mother. His brother is also great. I think when we started that show together, we were both on the same page from day one. Rami and [Mr. Robot creator] Sam Esmail were essentially complete unknowns, right? It’s a risk to work with somebody who’s an unknown. It’s always a risk because you never know how things are going to go.

So, when the show took off and became so successful, I was like, ‘Guys, this doesn’t happen very often. This is remarkable.’ I hope I helped to elevate their appreciation and gratitude for all the attention and acclaim that the show was garnering at the time. Because I’ve had highs, I’ve had lows, I’ve had shows, and I’ve had no shows. I’ve been all over the place in this business. That was a really special time for all of us be working together. And even after all of his success, Rami hasn’t changed. He hasn’t become an egomaniac or an asshole. He’s the same guy. We had a great time on that show.”

SANDRO coat, sweater, pants, and shoes and talent’s own sunglasses.

Outside the window, the city is practically demanding us to praise the beautiful day it has made. With our attention turned toward the sidewalk, thinking about his move back to New York after a long and winding stint in Los Angeles, I ask him a stolen question from a novel no one reads anymore. Can you ever really go home again?

“Yeah, I think so,” Slater says, without pause. “I left New York when I was 16. We were living in the Manhattan Plaza on 43rd and 10th, which was subsidized housing for artists. Alicia Keys lived there. Larry David. All these aspiring talents were in this building, and we’d see interesting people all the time. But at some point, it just started to feel like the city was closing in on us, you know? We had a nice little two-bedroom place on the 24th floor, we had a great view, and it was affordable. When the high-rises started to come up, we just decided, ‘Los Angeles is good, right? We could get a pool and a backyard.’ So, my mother found us a house in Sherman Oaks. I was already working. I think I’d already done The Legend of Billie Jean (1985), and maybe The Name of the Rose (1986), by the time we moved out there.

“Looking back, leaving New York felt great at the time,” he continues. “I’m just not an LA guy. I just never really felt at home there. I didn’t feel like I fit in or ever felt comfortable. It’s just a weird town. Maybe because it’s just too inundated with show business—driving up and down Sunset Boulevard and seeing all the billboards and who’s doing this and who’s doing that. It just wasn’t for me and what I’ve come to discover is you definitely can come home. I mean, I am so much happier being home. This place is just so rich with stuff happening all the time. I grew up on the Upper West Side, which is where we have a place now. I can walk two blocks away and see the building I grew up in when I was five years old. It hasn’t changed at all. It looks exactly the same. I love it here.”

At the mention of Larry David, we inch ever closer to the main topic at hand. But not before a brief aside about Slater’s appearance on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (“The Hot Towel”). His character—affectionately referred to on a random Reddit thread as “the caviar whore”—is given the full Larry David treatment, after he is caught at a cocktail party piling spoonful after spoonful of the black fish eggs on far too many crackers without ever stepping away from the appetizer table. Slater plays it straight, menacing even, while learning a bit about comedy from one of its mightiest purveyors.

SANDRO coat, sweater, pants, and shoes and talent’s own sunglasses.

“I was such a fan of that show,” he says. “I mean, who wasn’t? I was in Los Angeles for some reason, basically exercising, walking around the exterior of the golf course there on San Vicente Boulevard, and Larry David pulls up in a Prius. He was visiting friends in the neighborhood, or something. A friend I was with forced me out of my comfort zone, and I went over to tell him what a big fan I was of his show. ‘Oh, really? OK, OK,’ he said, but you could tell he was thinking about it. Eventually, I guess he saw me as this caviar psychopath and wrote me into that episode.”

He continues, “What I discovered working on that show, is that less is more. I was very excited to be on it and I wanted to prove myself, so there are outtakes of me shoving caviar in his face, trying to force him to eat a cracker. Look, I tend to be the type of actor who needs to be reined in at times. I like to give as much as possible. You might as well go for the extreme at the beginning. I think I was just too excited.”

This brings us to Slater’s latest project. It’s hard to mention Larry David without talking about Jerry Seinfeld, or vice versa, considering they are responsible for conspiring to create one of the greatest sitcoms in television history. And this bright colorful day keeps bearing fruit, because it just so happens that we are here to discuss Unfrosted, Seinfeld’s feature film directorial debut for Netflix, in which Slater nearly steals the show by doing very little.

The film chronicles the entirely fictional great pastry race between Kellogg’s and Post Cereal that didn’t take place in Michigan in 1963. It’s the entirely untrue story of the invention of Pop-Tarts. And, if anyone can assemble an ensemble to tell a tale this tall, it’s Jerry Seinfeld. Unfrosted boasts a cast that features Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, Jim Gaffigan, Hugh Grant, Bill Burr, Peter Dinklage, and of course, Slater.

Our hero plays Mike Diamond, a milkman from Friendly Farms, whose ominous presence haunts the entire film, from beginning to end. Mike Diamond is everywhere, even when he isn’t. Seemingly the chief spokesperson for Organized Milk, Slater’s Diamond hovers near every frame of the film, a lingering threat weaving his way in and out of the background as the all-star cast fall over themselves in pursuit of the perfect Pop-Tart.

SANDRO coat, sweater, pants, and shoes and talent’s own sunglasses.

Leaning against his bright white truck, dressed in his pressed white uniform and matching cap, he coldly observes as Kellogg’s and Post-fight to near death in their race to create the famous breakfast treat that doesn’t need milk. With his livelihood on the line, the Friendly Farms delivery man seeks to enlist support from the likes of Tony the Tiger, portrayed by Hugh Grant, whose astonishing commitment to the role is another of the movie’s highlights.

In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Grant and Slater sit separately at a bar, in mutual despair. With a few stools in between them, Slater eventually sidles over with a full glass of pure white milk and delivers his lines to the sad, drunken tiger like he’s a heavy from an old mafia film. Everything appealing about Christian Slater is right there in that scene—the subtle threat that trails behind his words, the sense of impending danger, that voice, and the way he leans into Grant ever so slowly.

“That was very early on in the shoot,” shares Slater. “It’s Jerry Seinfeld, the great comedian. And Hugh Grant. I mean, there’s an element of nerves and anxiety in that situation! The one thing I really wanted to make sure of was that I didn’t try to be funny. I wanted to take it as seriously as The Godfather. Luca Brasi, that’s the sort of guy I had in mind. But if I had tried to be funny, it wouldn’t have worked. I’m already in this outfit, holding a full glass of milk, and part of some milkman mafia—to try and do anything on top of all that would have made no sense.

“Respecting the writer is always a priority of mine,” he adds. “He’s obviously a brilliant comedian and every line and every punctuation mark is there for a specific reason. If you say it exactly the way it’s written, then it works.”

It’s difficult to stand out from such a strong ensemble cast, but days after seeing Unfrosted, Slater’s milkman still lingers in the imagination. His quiet torment of Kellogg’s and Post might just be the unwitting anchor in Seinfeld’s over-the-top, untrue, and near madcap telling of the birth of the Pop-Tart.

“Mike Diamond is based on the Mike Diamond plumbing trucks that drive around Los Angeles with that weird cartoon plumber guy on the side of the truck with a very tight-fitting white outfit,” Jerry Seinfeld explains, over email, about his choice to cast Slater in his first film as a director. “I always thought it looked weird to have this guy come over to do your plumbing, but anyways that’s where we got the idea for this character, and we wanted someone who looked like they’re up to something all the time. Christian Slater is perfect for that. He just has that twinkle in his eye where you’re wondering what he’s thinking. He’s always up to something a little shady.”

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Slater’s quiet show of force, emerging from his milk truck throughout the film, unannounced, to whisper into the ears of mascots, or lament the waning appreciation of his undying devotion to the dairy business, wasn’t lost on the film’s writers either.

“A lot of the writers became obsessed with him,” adds Seinfeld. “They thought, ‘This is a series, a Mike Diamond milkman series.’ We don’t get to find out anything about his life. But they were obsessed and wanted to use that character and get to know more about him.”

This will be received as great news to Slater. Sounding as obsessed as the writers Seinfeld describes, I share my enthusiasm for Friendly Farms and its mysterious guardian of dairy, Mike Diamond. I, too, want to know more.

“Maybe we’ll get a spinoff,” Slater says, with some genuine excitement. “I’m always hoping for a spinoff! My Archer character, that would be a good spinoff. The character I did from Fleischmann Is In Trouble—that could work too.”

As we await the murmurings of an Untitled Mike Diamond Project that droves of people will demand after seeing Unfrosted, Slater mentions a new trailer is out for his forthcoming film, Blink Twice, the directorial debut from Zoë Kravitz. The film sees Slater join Channing Tatum and Kyle MacLachlan for a vacation-gone-awry mystery-thriller that Slater has yet to see but feels good about. Especially when you consider how long he’s known the first-time filmmaker.

DOLCE & GABBANA shirt, pants, and shoes and OMEGA  Speedmaster Chronoscope 43MM, Steel on Steel watch.

“I was friends with Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet back when she was doing A Different World, I think,” recalls Slater. “They were dating, they got married, and, well, Zoë! I held her when she was barely three months old, and now she’s directing me and telling me what to do. It was great! She ran the set beautifully and just has a natural, wonderful instinct for it. It was really exciting and thrilling to be a part of it.”

From a post-production studio, Kravitz is putting the finishing touches on her film which is set for a late-summer release. She sounds equally as excited about their collaboration, heaping praise on her (not-quite) former babysitter.

“I obviously don’t remember being held by Christian as a baby, but I do remember him holding these scenes down!” says Kravitz. “Christian is one of the most giving and caring actors I’ve ever worked with. He’s so curious, playful, and of course, mischievous. When he is on camera, he just lights up the screen in the way only a handful of iconic movie stars can.”

DOLCE & GABBANA shirt, pants, and shoes and OMEGA  Speedmaster Chronoscope 43MM, Steel on Steel watch.

With our conversation winding down, and an alluring breeze passing through the room from an open doorway, I ask Christian Slater one of those lofty conversation-ending questions. I ask him about where he’s been, how he feels right now, and where his work might take him next. Is a life as neat as that? Can you make plans? Does your own past really inform your future? Back in the city he loves, with a four-year-old daughter and his wife mere blocks from this table, the answer arrives in his body language before it even has a chance to become words. Sitting upright, getting ready to take leave of this place, you can see it in the way his energy returns. He wants to go home.

“Well, I’m not like when I was younger. I’m no longer suffering for my art. I’m not torturing myself unnecessarily anymore,” he admits, candidly. “I’ve been sober for 18 years and I’m excited about the opportunities that I have, and I want to make the most of them. But I’m also excited about my home life.

“You know, I used to be a guy who was always thinking about what the next thing is,” he continues. “What’s the next job? Where am I going next? What am I going to do? Now it’s more like, ‘Let me do a job, but let me go home.’ I want to spend as much time at home as I possibly can, which I never really did before. It’s a happier place for me now. Work was always great because it was an escape from what was going on in my life. Now? Home feels more real and authentic and a safe, loving place to be.” 

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Photographed by Kurt Iswarienko

Styled by Dolly Pratt

Written by Gregg LaGambina

Grooming: Kumi Craig at The Wall Group

Flaunt Film: Pierce Jackson

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Flaunt Magazine, Issue 192, Gettin Around, Christian Slater, Omega, Loewe, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Sandro, Prada, Gregg LaGambina, Kurt Iswarienko, Dolly Pratt, People