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At first glance, Israel Broussard doesn't look like the kind of guy who drives a Ford Ranger and enjoys off-roading. His hair styled into a pompadour, the 18-year-old actor looks like he just stepped out of a #menswear Tumblr wearing Marni pants and a Louis Vuitton shirt. In other words, he's, like, so L.A. Which is a look he seems to have adopted from his breakout film, Sofia Coppola's latest heist-meets-party flick The Bling Ring. Broussard plays misguided newbie Marc, a character based on real-life teen convict Nick Prugo, a member of the spoiled Valley-based burglar bunch who knocked off the homes of Tinseltown socialites—everyone from Paris Hilton to Orlando Bloom—just to (literally) walk in the shoes of their fashion icons.
However, as tempting as it is to draw parallels between Broussard and his character, it wouldn't be fair, as it quickly becomes clear that the Mississippi native, a boy who spent his childhood playing with possums, is still adjusting to his own celebrity.
"I don't mean to sound like a diva, but do you mind?" Israel quietly asks Cedar Pasori, the photographer, as he walks out of the frame and turns the computer screen displaying the photos she takes out of his line of sight. He smiles shyly and walks back into position. "That's better," he says, his southern charm peeking through his inevitably developing Hollywood facade.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
Yeah, I grew up in Mississippi. I was there for 13 years and then when I turned 13 I moved out to L.A. I've been out there for 5 years now.
Did you move in to the Oakwood?
That’s a requisite question!
That's the cliché of acting, I guess. No, I didn’t move to Oakwood, but I am very familiar with it. I hang out there every now and again. They’ve got a nice pool, but there is way too much drama in Oakwood for any one to handle. All the moms gossiping and what not, I don’t do that. Homie don’t play that!
Did your whole family move out with you?
Kind of. My dad came out with us at first, but he had to work. He is a computer programmer, so he had to go back to Mississippi. For the first three months, it was myself, my mom, my older sister Aubrey and my little brother Keller. And after the first couple of months, my sister stayed behind in Mississippi and then it was myself, my mom and my little brother. When I was 15, almost 16, my Mom let me off the leash and allowed me to do my own thing. I've kind of been out there alone for about two years.
You lived alone when you were 16?
Well, I lived with a family friend. She was in a movie I did, Flipped. Her name is Pat and she also plays the judge in The Bling Ring. Yeah, she is a very nice lady and would help me out every now and then. And now that I have a truck, I go out on my own. I spend a lot of time in Burbank.
Did you finish school in L.A.?
Actually, I was in elementary school in Mississippi and, when Katrina hit, my mom put me in home school. So ever since sixth grade I've been home schooled, which was interesting. [Laughs.]
Did Katrina have a big impact on your life?
Looking back, yes. In the moment, we were having fun; it was a big storm. We didn’t realize at a young age how catastrophic it was, which is a good thing, I think. If it was like, “Oh, no, we need to run for cover,” we would have been scared. But yeah, when Katrina hit is really when my life started turning.
I feel like I can be myself in L.A.
I got out of elementary school, which I was not digging anyway, because I didn’t have many friends there. I got to spend more time with myself in my own mind and not getting ridiculed by them. It was nice. As far as damages, we got a lot of wind damage, but not much water, except from the coast.
What is the biggest difference between living in Mississippi and L.A.?
I feel like I can be myself in L.A. I feel like Mississippi is a little close-minded; not all of Mississippi is, but just the part that I came from. They really don't get outsiders.
What part are you from?
Gulfport, but I lived in a small town outside of Gulfport, Saucier. I mean, the people there a lovely, you ride bikes, but it just wasn’t for me. So when I moved out to L.A., I felt relief and I felt that a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I could just really focus and—this is going to sound conceited—I could really focus on me and not really have the time for what everybody else thinks. There are so many people out in L.A. and there is no room for judgment. Of course there is some, but people are a little more selfish in L.A., which could be a good thing.
Your definitely need a open mind for your character in The Bling Ring. Speaking of which, how was walking in heels?
[Laughs.] I grew up with three sisters, so I got used to being around them and all of their worries about fashion and what they are wearing. I grew up hearing them say, “Oh my god, my feet hurt!” And there I was as a kid running around with no shoes.
I had a lot of support from Sofia and the whole cast because it was kind of hard for me to step in bright pink heels and walk the runway. But yeah, the heels took a lot of courage for me to put on. I am glad I did because I expanded myself as an actor, and I feel like since The Bling Ring I have had a better understanding of people and what goes through everybody’s mind.
A lot of actors hate Hollywood and say they didn't sign up for the pressures of fame, but you seem comfortable with the industry and the idea of celebrity.
I take it day by day. Everybody has judgment. I try not to judge and I keep an open mind because everybody has different thought processes. Everybody is just a little different than everyone else, so you just have to learn to accept people for who they are. It doesn’t mean you have to be their best friend, but as long as you can accept them, then you are good.
Do you feel like you have to weed a lot of people out of your life who are only latching onto you because you're a successful actor?
Did you ever feel discouraged by castings and auditions?
There were a couple roles since I have been acting that I didn’t get, which I was kind of bummed about. I felt like I dealt with so much rejection in elementary school that when I got to L.A., I just didn’t care and so I didn’t even pay attention. Now, when I go on auditions, I do the audition or I do the meeting and then I drop it and don’t ask about it. If they don’t hire me, I'm moving on, and if they do, then sweet, that’s good. But I feel like worrying about it only makes it worse.
Now that The Bling Ring is on an international stage, how are you dealing with your big break?
I haven’t noticed much of a difference besides going on the press tour and traveling and getting new clothes. But I am still me. I’m still just the jeans and t-shirt Israel that sits outside and hangs out with friends.
What do you like to do for fun?
I don’t have any hobbies. I love music. But honestly, I like to sit outside and think. I like the fresh air and the noises. I hang with friends, I go paint-balling, I skateboard every now and then. I am slowly getting off of that, though, so I don’t break any bones again.
Again? You broke one once before?
Not while I was skateboarding. I have sprained my arm skateboarding, stopping on a graham cracker in a bowl. Why there was a graham cracker in a bowl, I don’t know, but I was pretty upset. But I was a wild child so I broke a lot of bones.
What do you do in Mississippi? Is there a lot of mud involved?
[Laughs.] Yeah, it’s funny. In January, I drove my truck home to Mississippi. Actually, this was New Year's. Anyway, my friend Nate was like “Yo, let’s go mud riding!” Because he has his truck and I have mine, I was like, “OK, yeah let’s go do it!” We got in the car—I got in mine, he got in his—and he started blasting music and backing out of the driveway. Then I plugged in my phone to blast music and back out of the driveway, too.
I ought to make a public apology. I posted a picture of a possum on my Instagram and it was gruesome, so if that was too distasteful, I apologize.
Looking in the rear-view, he was still backing out down the dirt road, and I thought, “Well I want to back out into the road, too.” So, as we were picking up speed, he slammed on his breaks all of a sudden. So then I slammed on my breaks trying to avoid him. I turned my wheel and just fish-tailed it and went straight into a swamp. My truck was teeter-tottering in the ditch. It took us an hour and a half to get it out.
You're here right now. So I'm assuming you got out OK.
[Laughs.] I was fine, but my truck and my wheels were completely messed up. So I try not to mud ride since then. But hey, there isn’t much to do in Mississippi. I don’t know if that is just because of me. I just didn’t belong; I don’t fish or hunt or things like that.
For the most part, we just screw around and shoot possums that come for the cat food. Actually, I ought to make a public apology. I posted a picture of a possum on my Instagram and it was gruesome, so if that was too distasteful, I apologize. That is just Mississippi as it is.
So you went from mud pits to the glitz of The Bling Ring. What was it like filming that?
That was all new to me. I had to get in to fashion a little bit. A lot of the clothes I wear are pretty fancy. I was spending way too much time in the fittings. The stylists would be like, "This is Balenciaga and this is Dior, not Du-wah.” [Laughs.] I found it interesting. It was a whole new world for me, and I got to tap into it, and now I feel like I understand the classic L.A. lifestyle.
The portrayal of L.A. kids is pretty dead on in the film.
It was fun. The fact that these kids did it was kind of moronic, but you have to understand that everyone does something stupid and they were just living in the moment. They weren’t robbing these people in their minds; they were going to hang out in Paris [Hilton's] house.
Trying to be cool.
Yeah. The fact that they put it on Facebook, that was dumb, especially when they knew they had heat on them. But at the same time, everybody has that problem of posting statuses and pictures on Facebook. Everybody sees it. People need to understand that what you put as your status, there is no expression in that, so people are going to read it and get their own take on you. Even if what they read into it is not what you mean, they're still going to run with the impression they get. That is how rumors start and that is how cyberbullying starts, because people are too careless on Facebook.
What was your experience like with the cast?
First off, Emma Watson. I hadn’t seen any Harry Potter films, so I had a little basis for what she was like, but I wasn’t sure. When I met her, I gave her some space. That first week was the trying-to-get-to-know-each-other-week, so that is always a little awkward. But we did this mock break-in at the end of the pre-production, and we all got in a van and went to somebody’s house. It was somebody that Sofia knew and they knew it was going to happen. We jumped the fence and broke in and stole a list of things. As we were doing this, we tried to be sneaky. But then Claire fell through the window and Taissa went to the fridge and started laughing. We kind of just forgot what we were doing, and I think that is when it hit all of us, and that is when we all connected and realized that these kids were just having fun.
But everybody was great, Taissa is amazing, Katie is very intelligent, and Claire is classic L.A. Claire is crazy. I learned a lot of L.A. slang. Dope.
Tell me about the greatest thing you learned from Sofia Coppola.
The best thing that I learned, and this is very simple, is to jump up and down to get the blood flowing before the scene. You look stupid as hell doing it, but it really works, and it really gets the energy flowing. Even for a depressing scene, it works.
I’m kind of bummed that I am not working with Sofia anymore because she gives you a lot of freedom and makes you feel comfortable. My mom used to tell me there is no such thing as a bad drawing or bad art, and that is what I saw in Sofia. She was very open. Sofia looks at art in a different way and she doesn’t try to explain it. I am an awful explainer, but Sofia taught me that that was OK; you could still tell a story without filling out all of the details.
Your mom sounds like an artist. What does she do?
My mom is a woman of all trades. She used to teach bible study in a women’s prison and she used to be a missionary. She is very spiritual, but very open minded and, I don’t mean to offend anyone here, but she isn’t a religious freak. She has done everything from sell make-up to working in finance. Right now, she is building farm and handling all of those finances along with being a mother and dealing with me. I learned a lot from her and my stepdad. I had a good upbringing, even though I didn’t like it when it was happening. [Laughs.]
I am an awful explainer, but Sofia [Coppola] taught me that that was OK; you could still tell a story without filling out all of the details.
How did acting fit into your life then?
I fell in to acting. It was music that I wanted to get in to because my dad was a drummer. I played guitar. It was my sister Aubrey who wanted to act. She wanted to be a Disney star. Her and I were very close growing up. We did a play audition in L.A. and I kind of just tagged along for the ride and I didn’t audition for it, but I got the part and Aubrey didn’t. She got another part in another play eventually. Then we did another one and the same thing happened, I got the part and she didn’t.
So you just started acting because you thought, "Why not?"
Yeah, it was something to do. I actually hated doing the plays. The first one I hated was about Helen Keller. It was me and a bunch of older people. Again, I didn’t fit in.
My sister heard an ad on the radio for this talent agency called ProScout and they were doing interviews. So my parents took us and they said, “OK, this is it, you guys aren’t going to get picked. It’ll be done, kill the dream.” But then I got a lot of callbacks and Aubrey didn't get any.
Was she bitter? Is she still trying to act?
She was at first, my sister can be a drama queen sometimes, but 15 minutes after her breakdown at this ProScout convention, she was completely fine and supportive. I don’t know how she made the turn around that quick. Now, she is happy and married and has a baby on the way.
She's not acting anymore?
No, she tried to get in to it and it wasn’t her thing. She is still trying to figure out what her thing is, but until she does that, she is content. And there is no more sibling rivalry over this.
You mentioned your dad was a drummer. Was he a professional or was he in a band?
I don’t know much about my dad. He was a drummer for a living but he wasn’t in a rock band or touring or anything like that. I think he played for the local bars and churches as well. My dad passed away when I was four, a young age. I know a little bit about him, but not all the finer details.
So playing the guitar was like walking in his footsteps?
Yeah something like that. Growing up, I didn’t get much attention and because of that I was seeking it, so being the drummer in the back wasn’t my thing. I had to be in the front as a guitarist. I didn’t want to be a singer, I wanted to be a guitarist.
I followed that dream a little bit; my friends and I started a band when I was, like, 11. It was on and off. It was just jam sessions and it wasn’t even music, honestly. Eventually, we had some songs and we played at a BBQ place, and we won third place in a competition.
What was your band called?
At the time it was Surrender the Philosophy and our hit song was "Cockroach Suicide."
That sounds like a screamo band.
[Laughs.] Yeah, it was like a mix between My Chemical Romance and System of a Down. We had some good times, but since I was acting, I kind of let them do their own thing and they started going on another road.
Would you ever pick up a guitar again?
Not in a band, but maybe I'll do something in music one day. I'm just having fun acting right now.