| American Beauty
by Colin Crummy
Attitude Magazine, March 2006
Photography by Greg Gorman
Having cut his teeth as a child actor in Hollywood, Kevin Zegers formally graduates to the school of serious acting with his new role as troubled hustler Toby in Transamerica.
There comes a time in every young Hollywood star's life when they've got to leave Disney franchises about basketball-playing canines behind and get real.
For Kevin Zegers, the 21-year-old Canadian who is best known for playing opposite a dog with extraordinary dunking skills as shy kid Josh Framm in Disney's minors-oriented Air Bud franchise, that time has finally come.
In Transamerica he plays Toby, a New York hustler with an appetite for pills whose life changes when a mysterious woman, Bree (played by Felicity Huffman, Lynette of Desperate Housewives fame), bails him out of jail for $1 and agrees to take him to Los Angeles. What Toby doesn't know is that Bree is a pre-op male-to-female transsexual - and his long-lost dad. Now, that's getting real.
With Transamerica and Brokeback Mountain in the same year, why do you think Hollywood has embraced the sexual outsider?
It's less clichéd than it used to be. It used to be a big deal to talk about these subjects. It's something that people have learned to realise exists, even if they don't accept it. Once people realise that it's not just people in big cities who are gay, or are transsexuals, or have issues with who they are, it becomes much less of a cliché or a naughty thing to say - to tell a gay cowboy story or a story about a transsexual woman and her street hustler son. These two movies aren't about that. Brokeback Mountain isn't a documentary about being gay; it's a universal love story. Transamerica isn't a documentary about transsexuals, it's a love story about a family connecting and that's what people are enjoying.
What kind of research did you do for the part?
I went to Toronto with my manager [Paul Nicholls] and he showed me the hustler neighborhoods where kids sell themselves. So I went in there and sold myself for $350 and proceeded to run off as fast as possible. It was a cool learning experience because it was much more civilised than I imagined. I thought the whole film would be scary for me to do so getting that stuff out of the way before you start alleviates being uncomfortable when you're on set.
How did you come up with a $350 fee?
He started out with $200 and I said I would only do $500 because I don't do this very often. He said the most he had was $350. I said I'd take it. And then I said I was going to the bathroom, exited out the backdoor and ran off.
Your character is very subtly played, especially for a messed-up teen. Why did you decide to play it like this?
That was the difficult part. For it to work and for Bree's character to come across, Toby needed to be very observant and quiet and most of his actions and reactions come through his physical actions. We definitely decided that for Felicity's character to work we would [have] to play down the drama and the extrovert in Toby and make him more introverted than the Felicity character. I didn't want to play the token pissed-off street kid, so to have a new take on it is something I wanted to accomplish.
The director, Duncan Tucker, said that on location in rural, 'red state' America, cast and crew had to tell a few white lies about what they were filming to get local help and support.
We had no money so we'd have to get changed, get our hair and make-up done in churches and public bathrooms. We were in churches having to lie through our teeth about what the movie was about because it's certainly not the most wholesome all-American movie. Although when people see it they say the overwhelming feeling is of family.
You're just finished filming your new movie in London.
Yes, Elton John and David Furnish produced it with Mel Gibson's company Icon. Sharon Osbourne is in it, too. It's a romantic comedy called It's A Boy Girl Thing, like a younger version of When Harry Met Sally with a twist.
[Note from cpps90: It's A Boy Girl Thing completed filming in November 2005 in London.]
Are we friends with Elt and Dave then?
Oh, yes, David was on set every day and when we were in London, they were kind enough to welcome us to stay with them. My girlfriend and I were planning to go to the wedding but my sister was having her baby in Canada at that time. I'm actually seeing David this weekend, he's back in town and we might go to Vegas, see Elton's show because I haven't seen it yet. My girlfriend got on very well with Elton and David.
[Note from cpps90: Kevin Zegers and girlfriend Marisa Coughlan split up in early 2006, shortly after this interview. Also, Kevin's younger sister Katie gave birth to Brady Pepper Zegers in Jan 2006. Katie's twins Chloe and Mallory were born in 2004.]
'Transamerica' is released by Pathe on 24 March. Visit www.transamerica-movie.com