Personality Complex is a regular feature of Complex's Pop Culture channel, where you'll be introduced to rising stars of film and television.
If you've kept up on the film festival wire, this narrative is familiar: Actor Scott Haze spent three months living in the mountains of Tennessee to prepare for his role as Lester Ballard in Child of God, James Franco's film adaptation of the famous early Cormac McCarthy novel. It was necessary. Inspired by real life murderer Ed Gein, Ballard is a dispossesed psychopath who goes from losing his family and his property to losing any and every grasp on himself. He finds himself a serial killer with a necrophilic kink who takes solace in cave life, existing outside the social order.
It takes a peculiar kind of person to force himself into extreme isolation, subsisting on the smallest amount food a day, for the sake of a role. A man whose screws are maybe a little loose, and whose social ties are non-existent. But Scott Haze, despite all evidence to the contrary, is not that guy.
He's the kind of guy whom you can knock back a few beers with during an NBA game. The kind who considers James Franco a friend and plays NBA 2K with Mark Foster, of Foster the People. The kind whose biggest source of inspiration is Kobe Bryant (and yes, the Black Mamba is partly the reason why he chose such method acting). He's just a nice, talented guy, who just happens to have the discipline of a monk.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
What was running through your mind when you were in isolation?
Have you ever been at the doctor’s office, where you’re staring at the wall for a long time and you start to notice a very boring painting that all of a sudden becomes fascinating because you have nothing else to do? You don’t have Internet access, or the numerous things that you normally have in life to occupy yourself, so you invent things and talk to yourself. I made friends with these things that were not there.
Like Cast Away?
It is a lot like Cast Away. A lot like Cast Away.
A few weeks ago, James Franco told me to meet him at a warehouse near Downtown L.A. When I got there, we ended up playing naked paint dodgeball with a bunch of models, with masks on.
How did you meet James Franco?
The first time we met was in the back of the Stella Adler lot on Hollywood and Highland. The parking lot doesn’t exist anymore. This was way before the Kodak Theater was built. James came to see me in a play called Beach Play and he approached me to tell me he liked my performance. I was preparing to do a play at the Actors Studio that Mark Rydell was overseeing, and I knew James had just finished shooting the James Dean movie which Rydell directed, and we got to talking. That was in 2000, 13 years ago.
James saw me go through a very dark time in my life. To be really transparent, he saved my life and I’m forever grateful. I cannot put my loyalty to him into words. I have his back forever. No matter what it is, I’ll be there for him. He’s my brother, and I love him.
And what you guys do when you're not filming together?
James doesn’t stop creating, ever. So when we aren’t filming, I’ll get a text about doing something wild if he’s in town. A few weeks ago, James told me to meet him at a warehouse near Downtown L.A. When I got there, we ended up playing naked paint dodgeball with a bunch of models, with masks on. It was James’ team versus my team, with a massive film crew there to film the night’s activities. James’s paintings lined the wall of the makeshift dodgeball arena and he didn’t mind if the balls covered in paint slammed into them. It was a blast.
Speaking of your collaboration with Franco, you once mentioned that the only music you took with you while prepping for Child of God was Eminem. Why?
It was an instinctual thing where I felt that I wanted to grab this iPod and take Eminem’s music with me. It was nothing more than an instinctual thing. That’s what kind of happens with me as an actor. I don’t necessarily even understand what I’m doing.
Did his music put you in a certain mindset?
It’s an imprint on me. It’s not that I couldn’t live without Eminem; it was more like, there is something in the music that I wanted to have the accessibility to listen to.
What led you into acting growing up?
I was born in Dallas then I moved to Allen, Texas. But then I got sent to boarding school, where I started to get fascinated with actors like Al Pacino. There was a week when I saw Scarecrow and The Godfather. That same week, I auditioned for the school play. I was with my girlfriend at the time, and I said, "I could do that." She went, "Yeah, right." I booked the two leads in the play.
What happened that you were sent to boarding school?
I was a troublemaker. I was always in the middle of some sort of crazy activity. My friend Jim Parrack is in Child of God, and we grew up together. Back then, we would watch old movies and go reenact them at a Blockbuster or a supermarket. We’d end up getting in trouble because you can’t reenact movies. People think you’re crazy. But we loved it. We were acting out our heroes. At that point, I wasn’t thinking I’m going to be an actor. I just loved cinema.
What’s one scene you remember doing with your friends?
There is a scene in Carlito’s Way when Pacino is in the bathroom. He’s screaming, he’s in this huge shootout. He thinks the criminal is still outside in this pool hall, and he’s in the bathroom screaming, "I’ve reloaded!" I remember being in a pharmacy bathroom screaming that and my buddy Jim was outside. Then I busted out! [Laughs.]
And we watched Basketball Diaries a lot. Jim was like, "You play basketball. You should watch this movie, Basketball Diaries." There is a scene with Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg and they’re like, "Somebody stole my ring from my locker, motherfucker." Jim and I would run around Allen, telling random people, "Somebody stole my father’s ring from my locker, motherfucker!" And they’d go, "What?" We were young stupid kids.
Where was the boarding school you went to?
I went to The Miller School of Albemarle, just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. As a kid, I really loved the movie Toy Soldiers starring Sean Astin and Lou Gossett Jr., and when I found out they filmed that movie at the Miller School, I was excited to go there. Life there was kind of like the movie: the Brotherhood amongst the guys, the pranks, and the crazy things we did. Minus the terrorist attack.
How did being in boarding school change your perspective on life?
There was a learning curve there for sure, in terms of how to behave. I would always find myself getting demerits and cleaning pots and pans in the kitchen to work them off. Some of my favorite memories were during my two years at Miller. I was captain on the basketball and soccer teams. I excelled at the guitar and played so much music.
In retrospect, the education was great, even though I hated it at the time. The bond you have with your friends at a boarding school is special, and I’ll cherish my times there. I’m working on something as a writer that dives into my experiences there, as I have so many wild stories. I wound up dating my teacher my senior year at boarding school. She was 10 years older than me and that added a whole different experience towards the end.
I wound up dating my teacher my senior year at boarding school. She was 10 years older than me and that added a whole different experience towards the end.
What do your parents do?
My father, William, was a self-made man. Eventually, he retired from Prudential Bache Securities after serving on their Board of Directors. He passed on several years ago. I regret every day that I did not get to spend more time with him, but my mother says she sees him constantly in both my brother and me. Most of all, I remember talking sports with him. He loved basketball like I do.
My mother, Sherryl, is a Texas girl who likes the outdoors. Before she met my father, she worked in the stock and bond business, but on an operations level.
How supportive were they of your acting career?
My father passed away before he really got to see me act. One summer in Texas, I was doing a murder mystery dinner theater, and he asked me one night, “Do you like acting? Is this something you want to do?” and I said, “Yes, Dad, I really do.” He nodded and I could see he supported me and smiled. It brings me tears thinking about him not being around now. I wish I could have gotten to know him better. He wasn’t around as a kid, and when he was, he was sick and then passed on. My mother couldn’t have been more supportive.
Do you have any siblings?
A little brother, Cary. I have a step-sister and step-brothers, but after my father passed away, they disappeared out of my life. I’m not sure why. Cary is my rock, I’m so proud of him. He’s in Texas now and he just finished the Fire Academy and is about to get his paramedic license. He’s also a talented actor, writer, director, and editor in his own regard.
Growing up, what did you imagine yourself doing? Since you didn’t know a film career could be possible until later on.
I thought I was going to be in the NBA, be the next Michael Jordan.
Are you a Mavericks fan?
I’m a Lakers fan because of Kobe Bryant. I grew up watching Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird. Then I fell in love with Kobe. I appreciate what he does and who he is. A lot of what I did in Child of God was influenced by Kobe Bryant, which sounds crazy but it’s true.
When you look at back at basketball, Michael Jordan was by far the most talented basketball player. He is just unreal. But Kobe might be the hardest working, ever. There reason why I say that—before I moved to Tennessee and isolated myself—this is this guy who inspired me. This is the guy whose profession is playing basketball. That’s what he does. He takes an ice bath before the game; he takes an ice bath after the game. He’s working out constantly. There’s a great book Tim Grover wrote called Relentless that I read recently. It talked about Kobe’s work ethic. There’s a moment when you’re living in a cave and you’re isolated from society, and you look around the cave and you think, "This is crazy. I’m living this way. But this is my job and I really want to put everything I have into it." I treated it with the same respect an athlete would treat the sport that he plays.
When did you decide to move to Los Angeles and pursue acting seriously?
A lot of what I did in Child of God was influenced by Kobe Bryant, which sounds crazy but it’s true.
I was in college in Austin, Texas and Jim was my roommate. All I did for about six months was watch every movie possible. I didn’t want to go to these history classes. I made the decision to move to Los Angeles and the first place I went was Stella Adler Conservatory for acting.
Had you known anyone in L.A. already?
Did you work any odd jobs to support yourself?
I did all these random things in Los Angeles. There was a time I walked into the Macaroni Grill. I asked, "Waiter?" They said, "We’re only hiring chefs." I said, "Well, I’m a chef." I’d go home and learn how to be a chef online. At the restaurant, they’d say things I didn’t know, like restaurant lingo. I’d say, "Nah, well in Texas we call that something else." I would make it look like I knew what I was doing.
Another time, I was a baker. For three or four months, I would get up in the morning and I’d work at 3 a.m. to something, making bread at a bakery. They were like, "We’re looking for a baker, " and I'd tell them the same thing. I would that for a while.
Then in 2005, I built a theater.
The Sherry Theater, right?
Yeah, the Sherry Theater really is a family venture. There's a reason I named the theater after my mother, Sherry. It was a group effort building the space, led by the theater’s Executive Director, and one of my best friends, Lukas Behnken. My brother and my mom were there and did so much to help. It was an old TV/VCR shop and now it’s, in my humble opinion, the coolest theater in North Hollywood. It couldn’t have been done without the support of my father, who passed on before it was built, or my mother. I will forever have so much appreciation for her.
What inspired you to start it?
I fell in love with actors. Again, Pacino inspired me. He did a movie called Looking for Richard, which is one of my favorite movies. It was a bunch of actors that got together and just had fun exploring the craft of acting. This isn’t Tony Montana, this isn’t Carlito Brigante, this isn’t Michael Corleone, this is just Al Pacino.
And now, the Sherry Theater is a movie theater, a performing arts venue, and a dance space. I started the 120 Hour Film Festival this year. Anytime I write a play, I run it at my own theater. Franco shot a movie this year called Interior. Leather Bar. that went to Sundance. We’re always using that venue to create stuff.
How did you discover your talent for playwriting?
There was a time I was obsessed with the poet Arthur Rimbauld, so I had been keeping a diary which included my poetry since I was 15 years old. I thought I wanted to be a poet for a while, before I found acting, but I had never really thought about being playwright until I was at Stella Adler. My teacher, Tim McNeil, came up to me and said he thinks I have an inner playwright inside of me. He encouraged me to write a play, and I did.
One Christmas, everyone had gone home for the holidays, but I stayed in L.A. with my friend Nick Murray. He sat on the couch and played Grand Theft Auto and would read scenes with me when I asked him to as I sat typing away. I finished my first play, Leatherman, on my 21st birthday. We went out that night to celebrate its completion, and being able to officially buy alcohol. The night ended up with us leaving a huge six-foot-tall inflatable dinosaur, which I had in the back of my car for some strange reason, in a stranger's home off Hollywood Boulevard and running off into the night with my new play and a bottle of whiskey. I’ll never forget the night.
Ten years later, now you’re having your big break, now you’re signed with a big agency. Does the idea of celebrity and A-list fame make you feel reluctant or nervous, at all?
I haven't had time to think about anything like that. I’m catching a red-eye to Mississippi tonight to go start a William Faulkner movie with some of the most amazing actors working today. I play Jason Thompson IV in the The Sound and the Fury, and James is directing. I haven’t had time to think about it. My whole spirit is in Mississippi.
You’ve been constantly working. What are you going to do when you finally have a break?
I don’t want a break. I consider going to film festivals as a vacation. I love doing what I do, so I don’t take a break unless it’s to watch a Lakers game. [Laughs.] That’ll probably be the next time. The minute I hear Kobe's back from his injury, I’ll be there at the Staples Center. I’ll go to other games, too, but I’m just saying, when Kobe’s back, I’ll be there.