A DISCUSSION WITH LEO FITZPATRICK BY CASEY DORAN
I had a two and a half hour conversation with Leo Fitzpatrick recently. The thing I loved about interviewing Leo was that he wasn’t short about anything and offered more insight than what I had originally asked. Originally known for Kids, a story I didn’t want to have him retell for the hundredth time, I attempted to bring out more specifics of his time in this era.Now 43, seemingly unimpressed with what he has accomplished in a field he doesn’t necessarily identify with, he owns an art gallery between LES and Chinatown in New York, bringing a community of lesser-known artists together, instead of obsessing over popularity.Skateboarding at a young age seemed to lead to everything else Leo would end up being involved in. There are tons of interviews with Leo, but not a lot of them touch on the specifics of his skating, something I also did not really accomplish. We only got through about half my questions but the insight he brought was extremely inspiring, especially a story about having sleep paralysis in the room Gram Parsons died in.
If that bike hadn’t been stolen out of your back yard when you were a kid, you probably never would have skated?
Where I grew up in Jersey, it wasn’t too rough. It was very low middle class suburbia, but if you ever had anything nice, it would get stolen. A skateboard was just something you can bring inside. It just made sense and I never turned back. This is what I do now. This is my personality. I played little league and I was on the swim team but skateboarding was for the weirdos. This is where I belong.
I’ve never seen footage or anything. Were you in any videos, even 411VM or anything?
No, I’ve been in some magazines. I was in Transworld, Thrasher (and Big Brother). I was medium level good. I had small sponsors but not anything big. I don’t think the idea of going pro really crossed my mind. I just enjoyed doing it and the culture of it and I think I got into it at a really sweet time period. It was still evolving and tricks were still being learned. It was still growing. One kid maybe had a video camera but it was the old school style, with the VHS tapes and that shit was heavy. He was lazy and he didn’t wanna drag it around. It wasn’t about filming. It was about going out with your friends. There was a lot of freedom with that. It’s kind of crazy now that we live in such a cancel culture era and I’m glad I didn’t film half the shit I did as a young kid. It’s just being dumb… but you learn from your mistakes. You’re gonna be stupid and you’re gonna do dumb shit. I knew everything was kind of a wrap around the Jackass era. A lot of fucking dumb kids were trying to be on Jackass and really hurting themselves. I’m glad that, by then, I was too old to participate in that stupidity. When I was young and stupid, the things we were doing were a lot more innocent. We didn’t have these heroes that were shooting themselves. I did grow up with Big Brother, then CKY which lead into Jackass. You have to be mindful of fucking up, which kids are going to fuck up. There’s just an extra pressure there. We’re all lucky to survive childhood and to grow into adults, if you were lucky enough to do that.
Skateboarding is so popular now. What’s a disappointing part of the progression of skateboarding?
It’s weird because as a skateboarder, you’re supposed to be all accepting. You don’t judge gender, race, etc but you’re going to judge the Olympics? Isn’t that part of it being a weirdo thing? Some people are in the Olympics. Who the fuck cares? It’s petty to hate on someone that you don’t know.Skateboarding is, like, a global community of people. At a certain point, if you went to Japan, England or Spain and you were wearing Vans and you saw someone else wearing Vans, you’d know they were a skater. A Fugazi T-shirt or some random music reference or whatever, well you’re one of us. You’re into the same shit. Now with Instagram and the internet, everything is so available, it almost becomes disposable. You don’t have the same sort of allegiance to certain bands or certain things. You only have to be in it for five minutes. You don’t invest yourself into it because there’s so much of it. The internet is a great resource but it’s also a huge distraction.
I know you lived with Berra and Koston at one point. What do you think about all the Steve Berra criticism?
I’ve known Steve since I was eighteen. I’ve talked to him about it. He says he gets legit death threats. They might be from fifteen year old kids, but who wants to get death threats? The Berrics, I was there from the beginning before it was a website when they just built this thing out in the valley. It became really well-known and when you become that well known, you become a target and people are gonna hate on you. I’m really good at not getting along with people and just ignoring them. That’s how you handle it as an adult. It’s not about talking shit and I’m gonna fuck you up. I’m not going to participate in that. I’m just going to do me and if I’m not feeling what this person is about, I’m not going to waste my energy hating of them. I’ll just not recognize them.
You were in CKY2K?
This kinda ties into the whole Steve Berra thing. Around that time, I met Steve through this guy Ted Newsome, who was the editor of Transworld Magazine. I was at Sundance, and for some reason, all these random skaters were there. Bam, Ted and Mike Vallely were there. That was my comfort zone so that’s who I was hanging out with. I didn’t want to do press. I just wanted to hang out with Bam and do dumb shit. We had a few rental cars and that’s when we were just destroying rental cars. You get insurance and just destroy them. We were flying into these snow banks and destroying the cars. I was only in it for a second but it kinda goes back to the east coast brotherhood. I think Bam was into me because he was into making movies. I’m sure he was interested in filmmaking and what I could offer him in that, like I might have some inside information, which I didn’t. Skateboarding videos and like, Spike Jonze, made filmmaking seem possible. I can make my own skate video and if I independently distribute it, I can make money doing that. That’s why Bam started doing those CKY videos. It was great promotion and eventually lead into Jackass.
CKY2K (2000) Kids Era Do you think Kids (1995) could be made today? I know people were suspicious of Larry Clark and there was a lot of other issues people would have. I think there’s a million reasons why it couldn’t be made today. I wanna say Harmony put it best. “The reason why Kids wouldn’t happen today is because Jennie could just call Telly and tell him he has AIDS.” Oh! That’s actually pretty clever. The whole chase wouldn’t go down. As far as the sex, and all that, I feel something like Euphoria makes Kids look so tame. It’s like have sex, smoke weed, and hang out. (If it came out today), I don’t think it would have the same kind of shock factor either and skateboarding is a different thing now. I don’t even think it could have been made a year later or a year before. It was just that very special summer. Everything just worked. I agree. I watched Mid90s yesterday and it just made me realize it could only have been made at the time it was made. I really liked Mid90s. I thought that was a good representation of how I grew up. I didn’t grow up like the character in Kids. I grew up like the kids in Mid90s. I related to that movie more than I relate to Kids. I was sixteen when I made it so my mom had to sign off on it and the reason she did was because she knew it was all true. She knew this is what we do and obviously she had to meet Larry. She wasn’t trying to candy coat what we were up to. She was working all the time so she couldn’t be around to stop me because she was busy working, but she was aware that this was real shit that was happening.I would say if my kid was ever hanging out in the park, he better be skateboarding. If you’re just smoking weed, that’s not enough for me. You can’t just sit there and style out and smoke weed. You gotta be putting in some work.It’s weird to have done Kids and I don’t hold anything against it. It’s been so long, and it almost feels like a different lifetime ago. I guess it’s cool that people still watch it, if they do, and get something out of it. If it can still work after all this time and people still enjoy it, then that’s a pretty good film. To that point, somebody uploaded it three months ago on Youtube and it already has a couple hundred thousand views. It’s definitely weird. I look so different now and the thing that gets me is my fucking voice before they recognize my face. Like, “oh, you’re that guy because of the fucked up voice.” It’s still crazy to have been part of that, because I never actually was that guy but I was that guy by default. Everybody else was fairly similar to their characters, so it was weird for an already socially awkward kid to be put in that position with no real guidance on what to do after. It was just back to normal life. It came out and it wasn’t really being celebrated. People were just like, “that was fucked up! That was really fucked up what you did.” I didn’t do shit! It was a movie! I believe that was on purpose to blur the lines between real or fake. The cast never did interviews. We were never the face of the movie. It was always Larry and Harmony doing the press.I think the next time I’ll watch it is with my kid, and that’s going to be fucked, in ten years or whatever. I gotta show him before some of his friends do. I don’t think he really knows I’m an actor. He doesn’t know that part of me. The best thing about doing The Wire was that I was no longer considered the guy from Kids. I’ve done a lot of movies but that one just stood out so much that that’s all I would ever be known for. Acting was never my driving force, so it was never something I ever really put out there. I still do it occasionally but not really.
Leo and Harold Hunter in Kids What’s the biggest piece of inspiration you’ve carried with you from Harold Hunter? Thats a tough one. There’s definitely particular scenes of him that stand out. One thing I thought was awesome about Harold was that he was cool with everybody. I don’t think he really had any enemies. He was cool with rollerbladers, ravers, punk kids, hip hop kids and blah blah blah. He was accepting of everybody. His energy and personality, you almost felt like he was the mayor of Washington Square Park. The inspiration might be just to be welcoming to everybody and see what they bring to the table until they prove you wrong. I never saw Harold judge anyone. Weirdest Larry Clark experience? He’s not that unpredictable. He never put me in an awkward position or anything. There’s one thing that always boggled my mind while we were shooting Kids. “Hey man, I know it’s your birthday.” He just gives me a packet of bacon. “I know you’re really into bacon.” He just gives me a fucking raw thing of bacon. What’s fucked up is growing up, we were dumb poor so we always got shitty gifts. My family always gave food too. I’d get pigs in a blanket for Christmas. I would always get wack food for gifts because we didn’t have shit. So, here I am, working on a movie, it’s my birthday. Maybe I’m going to get a big party at a big night club or some shit. But I’m getting a packet of bacon for my birthday from Larry Clark. That was pretty peculiar and weird. I don’t know where he came up with this thing that I liked bacon. I definitely like bacon, but it wasn’t something I told everyone like, “bacon’s my shit.” Besides that, everything was pretty normal. There’s a lot of parallels in the making of this movie and Gummo. One thing being a lot of the parents read the scripts and didn’t want their kids in it (at first), like Quim Cardona’s mom. Personally, I think Gummo is a way better movie than Kids. I think they’re different but Gummo showed that Harmony was his own person and had his own vision. The other day I was watching Mister Lonely so I texted Harmony. “This movie is so fucking great. Thank you for making it.” I just like doing that type of shit. He’s like, “wait til you see the next one.” Damn, they’re still giving him money! I feel like the world needs more Harmony Korines, more Todd Solondz, more Gaspar Noé, just weird people that aren’t making mainstream movies. Gummo is kind of like Kids, where you could have only made that in that stretch of time, but Harmony continues to do it which is insane. Like, maybe you could have gotten away with that fifteen years ago, but not now, but he still does, so that’s genius in itself. So, similar to Gummo, some people thought it was a documentary. In Kids for example, the guy with no legs on the bus and the subway performers. How much of this was real? Kids is about 97% real, 3% improvised. It was all written out. Even the guy with no legs was written out. They had to find that guy. The subway performers; that was written out. That kid was casted. The one scene that was kinda famous that wasn’t written was the four kids smoking blunts on the couch. Javier, Nick, Gary and Lavar Mcbride just happened to be in New York and just showed up on set and that’s what they were doing. Larry’s like, “turn a camera on this shit.” Larry has to tell people that we didn’t give them weed. We didn’t supply anyone with weed. That’s the last thing you wanna do with a movie is to get people fucked up because then they can’t perform. They were just doing that and it turned out to be this magical moment. Other than that, there was so little that was unscripted. I think everybody was playing it pretty safe because they already knew it was going to be controversial just for what it was so they didn’t need to necessarily push it.In Gummo, there’s still really uncomfortable moments where you’re like, “this is fucked.” It really treads the line between exploitation and filmmaking. Harmony’s great at that. I can’t think of another filmmaker that pushes so many buttons and gets away with it, especially in this day and age. You need people that aren’t afraid and have their vision to do what they want to do. He’s aware of it. He doesn’t want to piss people off. He just wants to do things the way he wants to do things. He’s not necessarily trying to provoke people (on purpose). (On acting in general) The only reason I continue to act was because I felt bad that I had this opportunity to do something that other people wished they could do their entire lives and I was just throwing it away. It was like, damn I’m really an asshole if I don’t do this.Do I think having a life outside of acting brings more to acting? Definitely. Living a life that doesn’t just consist of being an actor will always bring more to whatever character you need to play. If you’re just in acting class all your life, you’re not out living. If you’re not out living how can you know anything?
Bully (2001) POST-KIDS You got arrested during Bully? It was the wrap party for Bully, I wanna say. A bar opened for us and everyone was doing shots or what not. I was just drinking beer. We literally finished at 5 AM, so everyone started drinking at 5 AM. Now, it’s like 8:30 AM, and some people were saying, “let’s go jump in the ocean!” The girls went in in their underwear and no tops. For some weird reason, because I was drunk, I went in fully clothed. Some people who were walking their dogs saw us and called the cops. The cops called us out of the water. There were two girls who were with us that were grips on the movie. One of them kinda wasn’t as feminine, so the cops were giving her shit about her appearance. “Why do you look like a boy, blah blah blah.” I was like, “fuck you, man, who the fuck are you?” They arrested her first and I was like “fuck you! We’re all going down!” or something, just being wild. I just went to the drunk tank for a while. It wasn’t that big of a deal.That film set was so nuts, that getting arrested wasn’t a big deal. Brad Renfro had gotten arrested the day before. Brad was a bad drug addict. Larry Clark had to go to Kentucky or wherever Brad lived to drive him to Florida to sober him up, cold turkey. Brad, when he got to Florida, was somewhat sober, but he’s still a bad boy. The day before shooting, he finds this coke dealer to go jump on a boat to go do coke out in the ocean. They’re stealing this boat. They’re such geniuses, they forgot to untie the boat from the dock. They just put it in full throttle and the boat goes about five feet and gets stuck and some local hero jumps on board and holds them down until the cops get there. That was how the movie started.I know a lot of the actors were having sex with each other and couples would swap. They were kinda living their characters a little bit. I just kind of got to watch it from afar. What you see on screen is only half the story.
Leo in the back of his gallery, where he was for the second part of the interview. Tell me about the research you did for the character you played in Storytelling? I had auditioned for five parts in that movie. I got a handwritten letter from Todd Solondz. “I really like you. I think we’ll work together in the future. There’s just nothing in this movie for you.” I had never gotten a hand-written letter before. That’s a great way to be let down.Originally, they wanted to find a person with cerebral palsy to act in this part. He wanted this very specific type, because cerebral palsy ranges. Everybody is affected differently, so he had a very specific thing in mind. “We think you can do this as an actor.” I don’t even consider myself an actor so it’s weird when people think you can do things you’ve never even contemplated. So, they set me up with a coach who was a kid who had auditioned for the part. He was really into filmmaking and had cerebral palsy. I would basically go to his physical therapy sessions a couple times a week, and just kind of hang out with this guy. I don’t think I ever figured it out, and I think it’s the one movie I would take back. I don’t think I was good in that movie.I play a lot of people with disabilities. That’s sort of my M.O. My own agent, who I worked with for fifteen years, once asked me if I had ever been deaf because of the way I talked. “You know me! Don’t you think that would have come up in the last fifteen years?” I’ve been in speech class, and I know I have a weird voice but I’ve never had to relearn to speak because I was once deaf. That’s not what my voice is about. It’s just some weird Jersey shit.I can’t turn down the silent, strange weirdo parts because you don’t have to learn any dialogue and that’s great. You just show up and look weird. I’m not doing Shakespeare but I’ll do Law & Order all day. The reason I bring up Ice-T is the day my kid was born, I had to do a Law & Order. You don’t know when your kid is going to be born. You just book jobs and think it’s going to work out. So, I go from the hospital to Law & Order. Ice-T asked “how old is your kid?” “I don’t know, like five hours.” I played a silent, non-verbal character. I couldn’t turn that down. It was just too easy. Cool, I just had a kid and I need a check. All I have to do is look crazy, and I do look crazy because I just had a fucking kid! I don’t take offense to any of that. I don’t even necessarily care about my acting legacy. Do you have any real life conditions, like the ones you’ve played, to any extent? I grew up in a lot of special education classes and was always in school-appointed therapy, speech therapy and mental therapy. I went to a school for kids who got kicked out of school. I’m sure if I was a kid now, they could find something. Back then, you were just considered a trouble maker. Those things definitely existed. I was in class with a lot of autistic people, but there just wasn’t the terminology for it yet. I loved all those kids. These kids are the genuine weirdos. Like, you guys think you’re acting weird spray painting your hair, wearing army jackets? This dude is way cooler than you. I’ve just always been attracted to people who are themselves and aren’t trying too hard. UNRELATED Drugs compared from the 90s until now. Not that party drugs could really be safe, but with Fentanyl and everything now, you have to be more careful with it. I’m just glad I aged out of doing drugs and partying like that. It’s a risk/reward thing and to me the reward isn’t enough to risk it. I would imagine it sucks to have to test your drugs and look around the room to make sure no one is dying before you take a bump. That’s the opposite of partying. That’s stressing out. When we used to do drugs, the worst thing you would get is a sinus infection and that’s just because the drugs were cut terribly. I don’t judge people for doing drugs. I just feel bad for people who get some bad shit and die. That wasn’t the intention.I live near Tompkins Square Park in New York and just in the last week, somebody wearing fucking flip flops kicked a needle and it poked their skin, then somebody found a needle in the kid’s playground. I don’t even want to pick that shit up to throw it away, with Fentanyl and all this shit. God forbid a kid picks it up. Let’s talk about jacking off in the nineties, pre-iPhone. I think there was a nice innocence to the way I came up. There wasn’t all this crazy porno shit. I can’t imagine somebody trying to figure out their sexuality right now. So, this is the most basic thing. If I live in a small town in Ohio and I watch Euphoria, I’m like “why isn’t my life like that?” I want my life to be like that so I’m going to try really hard to make it like that. That’s really difficult stuff. It’s not easy to have a life like Euphoria or like, pornography. It’s fantasy and it’s not meant to be real. I’ll take my nineties porno over today’s porno. I’ll take a paper mag. I like asking people what they would do in hypothetical situations. What would you do if Tommy Wright III pulled up to your crib and started begging for mercy? How would you react to that? Begging for mercy? I’d help him out! He’s Tommy Wright III! I saw some shit. I feel like he needed money or some shit. How is this guy not paid? He’s a legend. I don’t know the music industry but if I was Jay-Z or somebody, I would put Tommy on a song. Like, I wanna share that shine with this guy because he’s a true original. So, yeah, if Tommy Wright III showed at my house asking for mercy, I’d be like, “make a record first.” During the five minute break, I was kinda talking to that box that’s on the wall behind you. Oh yeah, he’s good people. You ever heard of Chopper Read? Anyways, Dustin Dollin once had the pleasure of meeting him. I was talking to him about it. Dustin bought him a drink and he was talking, then when he’d finish the drink, he’d stop talking. He puts another drink in front of him and he starts talking, then when he finishes that one, he stops talking again. This is what you have to do to talk to the guy. You keep buying him drinks, otherwise he won’t talk to you. Maybe this is motivation for my interviews, moving forward. It’s hard to just talk about yourself.
My piece, Leo on Zoom Premium (2022) GALLERY, CURRENT Link: ‘Kids’ Star Leo Fitzpatrick: Opening a gallery is like building a skateboarding team A thing with your gallery is you value a cool show, substance, treating your artists right versus making a huge profit. You don’t mind breaking even if you have to. That’s not even an option. That’s not a decision. That’s the way… it works. I would love to make money. I just don’t. I think even the biggest galleries lose a lot of money and they just hide it better. The gallery can feel like a selfish endeavor. Why do I do it? It’s like a form of therapy. I like to be busy. I just don’t think its necessary to the world. I don’t know if I’m changing anybodies lives. It’s not that difficult to do interesting things. It just costs money and sometimes you have to be willing to lose money to do interesting things. Maybe the money will catch up later. To drive to be profitable from the beginning is kind of insane. That’s not where my head is at. Again, it goes back to my kid. If in twenty years, someone tells my kid, “hey your dad did that gallery!” or “I went to that gallery.” My kid knows I did this thing and that makes me stoked. That makes me happy. There’s a different kind of success that’s not about making a shit load of money. Other things can count as success. Yeah, my kid seeing me bring a painting on a bus to my gallery, and I bring him too. We’re all in this together! This is art handling! It’s showing that you don’t have to be glamorous to be successful. I may have taken a handful of Ubers with my kid but it’s generally subway or bus. “Can we take an Uber?” “No, we take the train to Coney Island.” That’s part of the experience of going to Coney Island. You know how much shit you see on the train to Coney Island?We’ll probably wrap the gallery up in another year or so. The writing is on the wall. I just can’t afford to keep losing money but I don’t think it will be viewed as a failure. It will be viewed as an experiment. Some people will think it was a terrible experiment and some people will think it was a great experiment. I can’t let the idea of making money necessarily dictate whether or not I do things. That’s also kind of why I don’t give a shit about acting. I could move to L.A. and try to be on a TV show or something but my life is a little different. I think people do see that and understand it, and respect it. In the long run, it will make sense. It doesn’t make sense day to day. Not to talk about obituaries, but when you think about somebodies life being broken down into sentences - he did this and he did that that but these things could be ten years apart. A lot of sentences opposed to one sentence: “Oh, Leo Fitzpatrick did Kids then he disappeared.” or “Leo Fitzpatrick did Kids then he did this, then he had an art gallery for no fucking reason, then he DJ’ed for no fucking reason.” That kind of makes more of a fuller story. What do you look for in the artists you book? The art world is baseball and there are teams and people have star players and blah blah. I’m still skateboarding. I don’t give a shit about the art world or what’s happening in the art world, per se. I just like to do what I like. Certain things speak to me and certain things don’t. It has nothing to do with popularity or what’s good or what’s trending. I’ve been doing it for a long time so I know what’s good and trending. I know what’s popular or not but I’ve never let that persuade me in one direction or another. It’s what I think is interesting at the moment. It’s kind of selfish. It’s a weird business model just to be like, “oh, you’re a taste maker. Oh, you know what’s interesting.” I swear doing a show at my gallery is bad for your art career. That’s how I feel when I talk to artists. You probably shouldn’t do this. I’m not going to sell art. I never sell any art. My biggest hope is for you to get another show out of this. I’m more of a therapist for art-adjacent people where I can make people feel comfortable and that kind of thing. People who wouldn’t show in the art world will show with me because they know I’m kind of one of them. I don’t know if I work in the art world yet. If this collapses, I’ll just go back to curating shows at bars and pizzerias. That’s what always made me happiest, not working for a gallery. You can either worry about being a businessman or you can start a business.The IRS sent me a letter the other day and I was like, “put that in drawer of things to deal with later.” You can’t get blood from a stone. This is a money losing business from day one. I’ve never made a dollar from this gallery. If anything, I bank off the fact that I lose money. That’s my write off, it’s like, I lost thirty thousand dollars last year. It’s sweat equity or whatever. You put in two years of yourself for nothing and maybe it will be worth something later on. Now i’m totally talking shit. I don’t know what I’m talking about. No one ever knows what they’re talking about. That might be a good way to end the interview. I think it's a perfect way to end it. Unless you want to talk about sleep paralysis. Yeah, I’ve had that. I don’t know when this started but whenever I was in L.A. and I had a day or two by myself, I would go down to Joshua Tree and I would sleep in the room where Gram Parsons died. Everyone thinks it’s room 11 but it’s room 13. I would just go down on a solo mission, on my own. One night I went down and I probably drank a six pack or a twelve pack, whatever. I was kicking it in the hotel room and I eventually fell asleep. I’ve had sleep paralysis before. It’s not a new thing to me, but this was the longest I’ve ever had it. A half hour or something. I was awake but I couldn’t move, blah blah blah. Eventually, I had to calm myself down to move again. You know how you have to talk yourself out of it? It could have been three minutes but it felt like thirty. It felt like a lifetime. It was four or five in the morning and I got up. I was like, “well you got what you came here for. You wanted the Gram Parsons experience, there you go. That was Gram pinning you to the bed, motherfucker.” I’ve never been back since. Nothing is going to top that experience. I don’t believe in religion but I have this weird soft spot for ghosts. Ghosts are cool if you’re down with them. Like, “you’re welcome in here. Fuck with me but not too much.” That’s what I feel like was happening. There was an energy in the room.That’s definitely the longest interview I’ve done. I hope we chipped away at something. Also appearing on THESUNISFLAT.ORG
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