Bad Guy Go-To Dude: Jake Busey on Crazy Eyes, Swingers and More

Swingers was about his circle of friends, getting his father a part in Point Break and the kinky, kinky sex of Crazy Eyes.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


We figured Jake Busey would have a cool angle on the indie dramedy Crazy Eyes. The film stars Lukas Haas as Zach, an aimless drinker who obsesses about a girl (Madeline Zima), with whom he likes to “struggle f***.” It’s what it sounds like. Busey plays his bartender friend Dan Drake who tries to steer him onto a more constructive path. Talking about Busey’s memories about his own classics and life with his dad Gary led to some really interesting gossip about films like Swingers, Point Break and Lord of the Rings. Jake even opened up about his sobriety and family.


CraveOnline: There’s a tradition in the indie world of movies where people talk about relationships. Does this reflect the life of young actors trying to make their way?

Jake Busey: Well, I don't know. I would imagine there’s a lot of people that may or may not get caught up in the lifestyle that Crazy Eyes depicts. I know that that was based on a true story that lasted somewhere around a month for the director and I didn’t deal with that as a young upstart actor for sure. I went out and had my fun and went to bars and I had my gang of folks paying dues. Actually, they already made a movie about my friends and I when we were in our early ‘20s. Two of the guys in my group, in my gang, they weren’t working as much as a couple of the other guys in the gang. So they wrote a movie. They said, “Well, if we’re not going to get cast in a movie, let’s make a movie.” It was called Swingers, sort of a picture of a life of young actors in town. Swingers was a little closer to what my real experience was. Crazy Eyes, whoever’s experience that is, I’m telling you what, that was one heck of a ride.


You didn’t want to be in Swingers?

I was busy working. When they made Swingers I was working on a film. I believe I was doing Twister at the time. So yeah…


Did you ever tend bar when you were struggling?

You know, I never did. But believe me, I’ve been to plenty a bar [Laughs] but never tended a bar, although I suppose I could.


Have you ever had friends like Zach?

Yeah, I have. I’ve had a couple friends that I had to help get back on track.


What do you tell them?

Usually, “It’s time to slow down.” It’s time to slow down because living like that is not going to last too long before you’re in the morgue.


Do you consider Crazy Eyes a comedy?

I did when I read it. We did have plenty of moments of humor on the set. Yeah, we had moments of fun and I think there’s moments of levity. I think in any situation where there’s darkness, there has to be humor within the character’s lives. I think people find humor even in the toughest of times. It’s a coping device so I think there’s a couple times where the characters make jokes and just trying to deal with their own insanity, their own moments of feeling lost.


What’s your opinion on struggle f***ing?

You know what, I didn’t quite understand it. I do know where it came from. I do know where the motivation was and the inspiration on the part of the director. I find it very interesting and I found it very foreign. It’s not something I ever experienced.


What did Adam Sherman tell you about it?

Well, he showed me the clip from a film. He showed all of us a clip from a film that was one of his favorite movies. It was this very big, long very rambling struggle f***ing scene. They don’t actually f*** as much as they just kind of wrestle, but there’s sexual intent.


What movie was it from?

I don't think I should say. I think in honor and respect for Adam, I think I’ll keep his secrets secret and let him say where he gets his inspiration.


How about your last scene in the bathroom?

Yes, that was intense. To be honest I forgot about that scene. I think it’s one of those that was so intense and I did it because it was the script and part of the character’s struggle. At the time, Adam was able to actually make me find humor in the moment in sort of a macabre way. I have yet to see that. I’m actually afraid to see that.


What is it like when an Adam Sherman calls you for a little indie film he’s doing?

Well, my manager called me and sent me a script and said, “Would you like to do this?” I read it. I liked it. I thought it was true to form. I thought it felt like it was authentic in its origin. To me that’s really important. I like showing the gritty truthful dark side of humanity. We’ve all got those places that we call on. I think this movie perhaps depicts those.


How did Funny or Die approach you for “FDR: Dragon Whisperer?”

I loved it. I loved the fact that they asked me to be a part of that. That was really great. We had a lot of fun. We did that last week. It was just a fun thing to do. I do love Funny or Die, the whole website. It has so many hits on all those skits that are great, so it was nice to do that.


Is it rewarding to have something go up immediately after shooting it?

Yeah, that was great. That was really great.


Was 1996/1997 a breakthrough year for you with The Frighteners and Contact?

Yeah, it certainly was. Also in there was Starship Troopers so those were big breakthrough years for me.


After The Frighteners and Contact did you get a lot of bad guy offers?

Yeah, yeah. In fact, unfortunately, The Frighteners and Contact, I did so well playing a bad guy that I’ve kind of been labeled a bad guy in a lot. So having any opportunity to play a character that’s not a bad guy is pleasurable to me because I’m asked to play a bad guy so often. I’m just not that guy. Sort of like I did well at some auditions playing this really creepy dude when I was in my early 20s, and then I kind of became Hollywood’s bad guy go-to dude. That’s all well and good but playing Dan Drake in Crazy Eyes was a nice departure.


Have you been pushing against the bad guy typecast a lot?

Well, let’s say you would see me in a lot more big movies had I done movies that I’d been asked to do playing bad guys. Now that I have a child on the way, I think that you’ll probably be seeing me play more bad guys. If that’s what’s going to put bread on the table, that’s what I’m going to be doing.


We’ve heard the stories about the tough shoot of Starship Troopers. Was there any fun on that?

Oh yeah, Starship Troopers was one of the best experiences of my life and I made some lifelong friends. In fact, working on Funny or Die with Casper was great. Next weekend I’m going to a party at Dina Meyer’s house. I speak with Denise every now and then. I miss talking with Seth Gilliam. We had a really good time but I don't think he wanted anything to do with me after the movie was done shooting and I don't know why.  I thought we got along really great. It was a life changing experience, that’s for sure, in a good way. It’s too bad that you can’t repeat that.


You worked on Straight Time with your father. Were you around when he was doing Buddy Holly Story or Point Break?

Yeah, I was on the set of The Buddy Holly Story and I visited Point Break. I actually got him that job. I auditioned to play the surf kid Grommet and they didn’t hire me, but while I was in the room actually auditioning, the casting director, right after I did my scene, the casting director asked me what my dad was up to. My dad had sort of taken a break from Hollywood and he hadn’t been working. He was going through some drug issues and all sorts of strange things. He hadn’t been around so the casting director asked me, “What’s your dad up to?” I said, “I don't know.” So he said, “Yeah, your dad would be great for the role of Angelo Pappas.” So I got my dad that gig.


Were you aware growing up of the legend of Gary Busey?

When The Buddy Holly Story was released and he was nominated for an Academy Award and he became a household name, that was pretty much the indication. I was seven years old and we couldn’t go anywhere. That was before cell phones and Twitter and the internet so even without the mass media social accessibility that we have today, back then it was still hard to go anywhere. I think because of it I got a little bit of a jaded view of the world from a young age. It wasn’t until I was 16 and out on my own and doing my own thing in the world that I got humbled a few times and realized that I was just like everybody else.


What were some of those humbling experiences?

I remember working on an off road racing team. I got very interested in Baja racing for motorcycles. Then when I was around 16 or so a lot of the older kids in the neighborhood, a couple other friends of mine, they were getting these off road trucks, these Baja racing trucks. It’s a great easy transition from motocross to going to those trucks which are now called Trophy Trucks. So I started working on a team that was based out in Riverside and they didn’t know who I was or could give a damn really. Then when they did find out, nothing changed. It was interesting for me. I was spending a lot of time with regular blue collar folks and not in the Hollywood scene with all the glitz and glamour that we see in People magazine and all that. I kind of got to see like all right, I’m not going to get moved to the front of the line at the restaurant or whatever, so I wasn’t treated special like I had been. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew my dad and of course everyone knew his whole story. Being that I grew up there, you still get treated with this weird mini royalty thing. It humbled me and now I do things that I feel like I’m kind of on the outside as far as the Hollywood thing goes because I don’t go to lunch in Beverly Hills and I don’t carry a dog around in a purse. I have no idea what Paris Hilton is up to. I still race motorcycles. I’m kind of different in that way I think.


As a seven-year-old, what were your impressions on the set of Buddy Holly?

Well, I grew up on film sets so that was probably the 10th movie set I’d been on. My parents brought me to my first film set when I was two months old. So for me it was a very fun experience and when I see the movie, I still get emotionally overwhelmed. It was so impacting. The people who made the film became lifelong friends. I actually worked with the director, Steve Rash hired me, I did a film called Held Up. Jamie Foxx was in that movie. I shot that up in Canada and I happened to be in Canada and we were talking. He said, “I’m doing a movie over there pretty soon in about a month.” I said, “Well, put me in it!” He said, “All right, well, I’ll send you the script.” It said I was going to be a cop. My agent said, “Are you sure you really want to do that?” My career at that time was kind of on the fast track and it was a small little role, I was a cop alongside Barry Corbin. I thought if I get to work with Barry Corbin, I don’t have to go home, I can stay in Canada, keep working and get to work with Uncle Steve, it’d be fantastic. We still get together and go to dinner once every few months. They live in Pennsylvania but they have a place here in L.A. Steve did the American Pie [straight to video] sequels. He just did a movie, Crooked Arrows.


When I talk about The Frighteners and Contact, did you sense you were on the frontier of visual effects in those movies?

No. I had no idea that we were on the frontier of visual effects. There had already been big movies like Aliens and of course Star Wars. There was already lots of visual effects going on so it felt more like oh, this is how they do that stuff. Oh, this is what a blue screen is. Oh, okay. So I didn’t feel like I was one of the frontrunners of making it. I felt like I was sort of getting a fantastic education in how things are done. But then looking back on it, I realized Peter Jackson was pretty much a pioneer in some groundbreaking stuff and there was a lot of stuff that was omitted from The Frighteners just for length. Unfortunately John Astin’s role was tremendously cut down. He had an incredible character with an incredible amount of stuff in that film, and it was just all hacked out because it was not executive to the plot.


Too bad he couldn’t do his three hour long movies back then.

Oh, I know.  I think there was an initial cut of The Frighteners that was four hours and it was just awesome.


Did you by any chance go out for Lord of the Rings since you’d worked with him?

No, I didn’t have that opportunity to read for Lord of the Rings. I was in New Zealand two months before they started filming and he took me on a tour of the facility. I signed a three page nondisclosure agreement. I wasn’t allowed to talk about anything I saw because it was so insane. I saw all the miniatures for all the mineshafts and the Gollum, his place, and Mordor, you know how they approach Mordor with the big wall, that whole set. I saw all this clay and creature stuff, everything. It was incredible and then Peter and I sat and talked in his new movie theater that he built. It was nice to visit with him but he didn’t bring it up. He didn’t ask me if I’d like to be in the movie at all and I didn’t ask him. I didn’t want to feel like the needy child saying, “Please, please.” I figured if he wanted me in the movie that he’d say, “Would you like to be in the movie?” I didn’t want to be ostentatious by saying, “Put me in your movie.” It didn’t work out I guess.


One movie I really liked was S.F.W. Was that an interesting little guerilla style indie movie?

I look at Crazy Eyes as the 2012 version of S.F.W. I think culturally for me, where my career is, what I’ve gone through and the style of filmmaking, the type of actors. S.F.W. is about a hostage that was held hostage in a 7-11 and Crazy Eyes is about a dude who’s got a bad problem with partying and chasing women. So one might say, “Gee, they’re nowhere near alike.” Although their stories are completely different, the vibe and the social commentary, what the movie is as to where culture is and how they reflect I think are very similar to me. The dark independent vibe that S.F.W. had, it had a lot more in the black humor thing just in the sense that Cliff Spab was a smartass kid. I think there’s some humor in Crazy Eyes and it was about these guys, much like in S.F.W., they’re living on the darker side of life. Cliff Spab was like a “hey, f*** you” to the world kind of a guy. I think that Lukas [Haas]’ character in Crazy Eyes, he’s sort of saying, “Hey, f*** you” to the world because he doesn’t know how to deal with it and he’s escaping with drugs and alcohol. So to me it’s been 20 years and it’s time to do another gritty independent film.


So S.F.W. really stuck with you?

Oh yeah, absolutely. It really did and my character in S.F.W., there was a lot of stuff on the cutting room floor. So when you look at the movie, you may say Jake had a little part in that movie, but actually I was there a lot and did a lot on the film. But every movie that you’re in, a lot of stuff gets cut out if you’re not the main character. You cut around to serve the story.


What didn’t we get to see?

Lord, I have no idea. That’s 1993, man. I don’t remember that far back.


What was it like working with The Asylum on Nazis at the Center of the Earth?

Well, you know, The Asylum is The Asylum. It’s cool. It’s a good film school. Truly that’s what it is, is a film school. All the crew and everybody there, everyone’s very eager to make a movie and learn. Not everyone knows what they’re doing at all times because they’re learning and that’s fine. That’s a good thing.


Can you help, with over 20 years’ experience?

I offered to help when I could, yeah. I tried to do what I could to help polish a turd.


Are these upcoming movies – Sparks, Don’t Pass Me By and Play James Play – major roles or supporting roles or cameos?

Sparks is just a cameo.Pass Me By, cameo. Play James Play is a cameo as well. Play James Play will be interesting. I got sober. I stopped drinking about a year and a month ago. In Play James Play I play a guy who has eight months of sobriety and he’s in a sober living house. The lead character is in the middle of detoxing and going through a really hard time. So I have a scene with him where I sort of have a sit down talk with him in the lunch hall and tell him everything’s going to be okay kind of deal. It’s interesting. It was a cool character for me to play. I liked being able to, again, play a guy that’s not the bad guy. That film was somewhat of a favor to a friend of mine who was producer on it. He asked me if I would be in it so that they could get some more money for their financing. So for me it was an opportunity to play a scene and be a character I wouldn’t normally get an opportunity to play, and I helped him out.