Leo Fitzpatrick’s Composed Cool

Text by Patrick Knowles
Photograph by Glynnis McDaris

The measure of celebrity is a tricky thing to gauge. These days, an actor’s notoriety is more often defined by leaked sex videos and internet buzz than box office bottom lines. So, it’s an odd testament of one’s career when say, some random person creates a fake MySpace page in an actor’s name, keeps a fictionalized blog about their day-to-day happenings and has 1197 “friends” in their extended network. However, this was the case for Leo Fitzpatrick who, it should be noted, could simply care less if the fake “MySpace Leo” asks visitors not to send messages to him if they are “a fake celebrity or list one of [their] heroes as Britney Spears.”

Speaking over a cell phone on the streets of Chelsea, New York, the real Fitzpatrick says, “I think it’s fucking utterly hilarious. I don’t know why somebody would do it, but somebody did and it’s a bit crazy. It’s not full of lies, but it’s not full of truths either.”

In the fake Fitzpatrick “Rumors” blog they write, “Rumor: I got the lead role in Kids because I knew the director. Truth: I knew him but I got the role because Larry thought it would suit me.”

While this is generally on point with Clark’s overall sentiment, what’s missing is the fact that Fitzpatrick never intended to become an actor. In fact, it would be safe to say that if he had not started cutting school to hang out in the skate spots of New York the 28-year-old might still be living in his small working-class hometown of West Orange, New Jersey. “I started leaving home at a really young age. I think the first time I cut was in elementary school with a friend and we hid under his bed the entire school day.” As he considers the course that his life and career took, he takes a momentary pause and says, “This whole acting thing definitely panned out a lot differently than I could have ever imagined and while it’s been a windy road and slippery slope, it’s also nice because I don’t have a full attachment to it, you know?”

Fitzpatrick’s particular path to film began through a series of happenstance beginning when he strolled into an open-casting call one New York afternoon over ten years ago. After a few auditions, he was asked to take the lead role in the Larry Clark film, Kids, as the HIV-positive street skater Telly. The film would come to polarize critics and present a stark look at a darker side of the human condition through the eyes of troubled teenagers. It also served as a stepping-stone for the careers of Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson.

While Fitzpatrick had known Clark from hanging out in the local skate spots of the city, he is quick to admit that landing the role was a surprise. “I don’t think I was Larry’s first choice or anybody’s first choice. It was just me and every other kid in New York going in there and just trying out for this movie that no one thought would go anywhere or do anything. It just seemed like something cool to do for the summer.” Even as he reflects further, he has trouble putting his finger on the success of the film. “I think the reason it worked was because no one really put any expectation on it. It’s hard to describe. I have had ten years to think about it and I still can’t figure out how it happened.”

In the years that followed, Fitzpatrick would work with Clark on two other features (Another Day in Paradise and Bully) and with a number of prominent directors including Todd Solondz, Blair Hayes, Rebecca Miller and most recently with Hal Hartley. The film, Fay Grim, is a follow-up to the 1997 indie gem Henry Fool, and will feature a few prominent actors who Fitzpatrick was excited to work with. “The two people I did my scenes with were Parker Posey and Jeff Goldblum and they were just so well prepared and so good at their craft that it could only help to make you better as an actor. They were totally supportive, curious about me and didn’t make me feel like an outsider or any less of a person. Which is all I ask for, you know?” He adds, “I always thought of acting as almost like a boxing match. I’m not a sports guy, but the better your competition, the better you are forced to be. You want to rise to the level of whoever you are acting with.”

While Fitzpatrick’s resumé reads like a laundry list of all the who’s who in independent film and he is certainly part of a crop of young up-and-comers, there is an immediate down-to-earth intonation in his voice on the chances he’s gotten and what the future might hold.
“As far as acting, I do take it seriously. I think people might see the fact that I don’t do it so often that I don’t take it seriously. It’s strange to say that I even have the ego to say that I’m selective, because half the time the things that I would pick to do wouldn’t pick me. It’s just a lot trickier than me just wanting to get the part.”
However, regardless of his humility there is also Fitzpatrick’s refined taste and his ability to take chances with experimental films. “When you do an experimental film you take a gamble and hopefully that gamble will pay off. I think film in general needs a real kick in the ass as far as that is concerned. It is ridiculous that all of these ‘independent’ movies are just so formulaic and cater to bigger movie standards,”he says. “They’re not pushing any boundaries or necessarily evolving the craft.”

While he might still be considered an outsider to many, with Fay Grim and two new parts in the independent movies How to Rob a Bank and On the Road with Judas, Fitzpatrick looks poised to edge into the established Hollywood scene as a recognizable face for a younger generation.

Hell, maybe someone will create a bigger fake Leo Fitzpatrick MySpace page?
In keeping with his down-to-earth philosophy and composed cool, Fitzpatrick laughs and says, “Well, I don’t want to be famous, so I don’t need to do one hundred million things. As long as I can have a decent long career, that’s much better than having a quick burnt out one.”