Actor Billy Kay wants it all, and right now
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor
|Billy Kay, 17, who plays the street-smart Gary in the new film "L.I.E" and is in the cast of TV's "The Guiding Light," says he should be playing adult roles on the big screen.
Lot 47 Film
In "L.I.E.," an independent film by Michael Cuesta premiering today, Billy Kay suits the street-smart New York kid Gary, whose age is not specifically defined. The film's title refers to the Long Island Expressway in New York, somewhat of a path to nowhere in director Michael Cuesta's vision.
"Gary's not in school like the rest of the kids, but he's youngish," Kay said of the character. Kay was in the Islands recently to talk about the film, his acting, his future.
A self-described "oddity," Kay said he's an old-movie buff who's "big on drama, depth and good acting." He counts Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando among his favorites, and admits he's "getting a little sick and tired playing only kid roles. You either gain experience or notoriety from doing slasher films."
On TV, he plays Shayne, a somewhat rebellious 15-year-old, on CBS TV's longest-running soap opera, "Guiding Light." "I'm young enough to play 15-year-olds but not quite old enough to play someone 30, though once I played an 18-year-old," said Kay.
Age, he said, often prevents him from achieving success or earning his stripes. Like, who takes kids seriously in Hollywood?
He hoped to land the role of Howie (Paul Franklin Dano got the part) when he auditioned for "L.I.E." "I got the sides (portions of the script, relating to his character) but I didn't know the story," he said. "Michael Cuesta, the director, made me read for Gary, who originally was to be a black or Hispanic character. He liked what I did and booked me two days later." And changed Gary's ethnicity in the process.
Director Cuesta, who co-scripted the movie with his brother, Gerald, is largely known for his success in TV commercials but has made the transition to the big screen, albeit with an indie film with a modest budget of about $1 million.
But Cuesta has great expectations for the film, which projects a compelling message but may suffer somewhat because of its lack of a mainstream star and its off-center theme of aberrant behavior, even if nothing explicit is seen or done, merely implied.
"They are two separate media, and movies are more difficult because it takes longer to realize your vision," Cuesta said, comparing commercials and film. "I'm not used to that, coming from commercials, but I find the end rewarding, though the process is unnerving."
He also said he does not condone those who pre-judge something they have not seen.
Cuesta grew up in the environs of the Long Island Expressway, the setting for Howie's journey of discovery, and consequently is exploring what he knows best as a filmmaker. "It's the suburb I know and I felt I couldn't do a film like this in the big city. The highway was part of my growing-up period and it evolves as a character in our story. Some parts of my life I heard from my bedroom window, and this is reflected in the film."
The film involves a pedophile, Big John, portrayed by Brian Cox, "but it's not a story about pedophilia. Big John symbolically seemed to be the worst situation a boy like Howie can get involved in; if Howie can overcome this, he comes of age."
Casting fresh faces, by design, enabled Cuesta to reflect the experiences of innocents on the verge of discovering some of life's experiences.
Kay "had a sexy confidence that was important in the part of Gary," said the director. "His technique makes or breaks a scene; he was very resourceful in front of the cameras."
As a tot, Kay appeared in "Three Men and a Baby" ("No, I wasn't the baby; I was a toddler in a stroller or something"). Because of a show biz mom (she was one of the children in Broadway's original "The Sound of Music"), he was exposed to entertainment for most of his life.
"I want to make films; I have scripts in the works," said Kay. "I want to get the respect in the business that I deserve at this point; a lot of people look at age and that's the one thing I despise. When people come to me and say, 'But you're so young.' If you have a mind in your head and a dedicated spirit, and if you're doing something great and have the skill, you should be rewarded, no matter what your age. With fame, you wield a lot of power, because you have the people on your side ... I don't want to be a star, really. But I want to be known; I want to produce my own works someday and earn some respect, period. If the public wants to make me the next Brad Pitt, I wouldn't argue. I look up at him; he does what he feels is right and he has a beautiful portfolio with totally different emotions. You go from an 'Interview With the Vampire' to 'Fight Club' to 'The Mexican,' and you see the range of his work."
As for the theme of pedophilia, Kay said that the discomfort is something that works for the movie. "People not wanting to think it happens, what goes on behind closed doors ... this is a very touchy subject matter and the movie approaches it well. It's not gruesome; it gets to the point of explaining what it has to explain, but it doesn't overshadow and overpower."
"L.I.E." has been shown at the Sundance Festival and has snagged its share of orchids so far: a best director nod at the Museum of Modern Art competition, best film at the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Los Angeles.