PJ Ransone wears Dior Homme by Hedi Slimane plaid sleeveless shirt, black tie, suspenders and black pants
Cloak black striped shirt and gray jacket
Dior Homme by Hedi Slimane suit, shirt and tie
Text by Patrick Knowles
Photographs by Brooke Nipar
SOMA: So what’s with your “No Dice” tattoo?
PJ Ransone: I have these two best friends, Jason and Mike, who I used to live with on Canal Street. When Mike was in high school, he said that there was this kid that would lose his shit if anyone said, “no dice” around him. Mind you, this is probably folklore, but the story goes that this poor kid’s house had burned down and he supposedly heard someone ask a firefighter, “Did you find the dad?” This firefighter said, “No dice,” and the kid would go ape shit anytime he heard that expression. From then on, “no dice” for me, meant “going completely nuts.” So, I got the tattoo on a dare but I’ve never told anyone that story.
Well, we don’t need to put it in the article. No, no, you can put it in. I’m sure those two fucking assholes will appreciate it and you might find a few other things to write about.
Actually, there are quite a few layers to PJ Ransone beneath the black ink of “No Dice” written in cursive across his chest. The 26-year-old could easily pass as a central character of a Tom Waits love ballad or that noisy neighbor upstairs who throws furniture off the rooftop at 4 a.m. just to hear what it sounds like when it hits the street. Either way, the Baltimore-born actor and musician has been on a lucky streak, landing parts in the HBO series “The Wire,” John Waters’ A Dirty Shame, Larry Clark’s Ken Park and most recently in Spike Lee’s new thriller Inside Man.
Speaking over the phone from his New York apartment, it’s apparent that Ransone is comfortable in his skin, even if there have been times when he found himself staring at the snake-eye rejections that are familiar to aspiring actors and, like his tattoo suggests, lost his shit. While others might shy away from disclosing personal down-and-outs, Ransone’s willingness to embrace these facets of his personality energizes his craft and brings a biting honesty to his work. He’s candid about past emotional breakdowns, drug abuse and a brief stint he had in a mental hospital, and while many might have given up after these trails, he seems as comfortable with this past as Brier Rabbit in a brier patch.
“My opinion is that if you don’t have some sort of major meltdown in your life it is really hard to evolve. Right before I did the Spike Lee movie, I was couch surfing and trying to live off of 20 dollars a day. But at the same time, I was never going to do something that was going to confuse me about what I was supposed to be doing,” he says. “And fuck, I don’t know how to make a martini. So I’m like, ‘Fuck. That’s it. I’m fucked. I’ve gotta do this.’”
This makes sense, as one would be more likely to find Ransone at the end of a dimly lit bar scribbling song lyrics on a napkin than making Cosmopolitans and tempering the chatter of out-of-town yuppies. Besides his work in film, he also happens to be a damn good singer and songwriter and recently found the time between John Waters’ annual birthday bash and the gala opening of Inside Man to play at this years’ South by Southwest showcase with his band Color Scheme. The tag “actor/musician” might come with its own baggage (see: Keanu and Leto) but Ransone is quick to dispel the myth that all rock stars want to be movie stars and all movie stars want to be rock stars. “From the outside it might look like somebody who would want to do both just needs to get their ego fed. And there is a certain amount of lying involved as an actor, so I think people assume when you have some kind of musical endeavor, you are not really a musician – you are playing the role of a musician,” he says. “But I really don’t need to be famous. All I want is to continue to sustain my lifestyle by doing the things that I really love to do. Fuck anybody who says I can’t do both of those things.”
It helps that Ransone has been playing several instruments since he was 12-years-old and has the smoky whisper of Elliot Smith and independent mindset of Ian MacKay. Besides, he’s not really someone that would let premeditative judgments change what he’s after. “I mean, I’m scared about how people might react to both careers at the same time, but these are things that I love to do and I am not going to let my insecurities prevent me from doing it,” he says. “If your insecurities prevent you from honing the things you really love, then well, you are kinda’ missing out on life.”
His next project will have him in the title role for a new bio-picture about New York punk legend Johnny Thunders. The part looks fitting for Ransone’s depth and sentiment, even if the New York of the ‘70s bears little in resemblance to the New York of today. And while there might be more than a few similarities between the whirlwind that was Thunders before he died and the young actor, when asked what initially sparked his interest in the film, Ransone says that he began where he often does, with a good story. “It has to be on the page first before a movie can really shine,” he says. “The script is the most important, because that is where the story is. And that’s all that movies are – an oral history of where we are at the present time. They are our cave paintings on the wall.”
In the next 15 minutes we discuss the headaches of relationships, a sergeant in the 9th Precinct who is terrorizing the night life in New York, the brilliance of Martin Scorsese, the shining light of daytime TV that is Montel Williams and trade a few over-the-top Robert Evans impersonations. As the interview comes to an end and the recorder winds down to its last roll of tape, it’s nearly impossible not to wish Ransone well and tell him that you’ll be pulling for him on his arc towards up-and-coming stardom. Staying true to form, he quickly answers, “I’ve just been incredibly lucky but I don’t care if I have a trajectory, you know?” He sarcastically adds, “ If I can stay on the same keel that I have right now and have a steady path until the day that I’m an old man and I can become a fucking heroin addict when my kids are grown, then I will have lived a completely rich life.”