And A with ] Jason Priestley

[ Q

FYI: pop culture news

December 25, 2003|By Newsday

Images die hard, which might be one reason Jason Priestley comes across as so chipper about his movie career. As Brandon Walsh on Beverly Hills, 90210, the clean-cut Canadian actor melted teen-age hearts across the continent. Even though he's now 34, Priestley's still having fun living it down, as he does with zeal in Die, Mommie, Die! The comedy, adapted from actor-dramatist Charles Busch's drag-queen paean to Joan Crawford melodramas, is one of those over-the-top satires perfect for any celebrity looking to go dishy. And Priestley makes the most of it, as a switch-hitting gigolo with a secret, who falls for Busch's vainglorious Hollywood diva. The performer appears fully recovered from the 180-mph race car crash that nearly killed him in August 2002 at the Kentucky Speedway -- not long after finishing work on this movie. "I've been very lucky in my career and very lucky in my life, and I'm very lucky to be alive today. I almost wasn't," he told freelance writer Steve Dollar during a recent visit to Manhattan. "So you just got to appreciate that and enjoy life. That's what it's about."

You don't seem to go with the most obvious choices, doing offbeat indie films like this one -- surely someone's offering you a million bucks to do other things?

I get offered a lot of movies, and I turn a lot of them down. I seem to be drawn to characters more than anything else, and Tony Parker was one of those characters that you jump at the chance.

OK, it's a Sundance film, it's campy, I can see that as being perfect for you -- offsetting your TV persona. But, there might have been ...

A more mainstream style of movie?

What do they end up throwing your way?

I seem to have a home in independent films. I make a lot. Some of them work and work very well. Like Cherish last year. Love and Death on Long Island did very well. Tombstone was ultimately an independent movie and did very well. Other times, they don't turn out so well. It's all part of the journey. If you don't go and try things, you're not really living, you know what I mean? Playing it safe all the time gets boring.

Were you familiar with Charles Busch?

No, I was not. I sat down with Anthony Edwards and Dante DiLoreto, two of the producers, and we talked about the movie and the style they were going to create, and they explained the Charles Busch phenomenon to me, and it kept getting more and more funny. I signed up right away.

Were you ever sucked into the Joan Crawford phenomenon?

Oh, absolutely! Oh my God. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a classic, are you kidding me? I was always fascinated by Joan Crawford. Early in her career she was phenomenal, and later in her career when she was doing all these B movies, she was like the female Vincent Price in a way. He's off doing these bad Pit and the Pendulum and The Abominable Dr. Phibes, where the guy gets all his blood sucked out at the beginning -- these crazy, bad movies with these wonderful actors.

Since you became a star on 90210, there's been a whole "youthquake" in TV, from Dawson's Creek to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and beyond. Do you ever think about the role you played in television history?

I found it amazing when I became part of pop culture. That was funny yet terrifying to me. But it's a bizarre thing, being on a show that's that popular. It's a life experience you can get no other way, and it takes a long time to figure it out. I feel very comfortable in where I'm at now. It's hard, and it's a strange thing to deal with, that elusive lady they call Fame. When you're 17 and in theater school, it's something you'd never consider. Why would you be so arrogant? Maybe that's just me with my passive-aggressive Canadian upbringing.

So what's up next?

Going to Baltimore to do Beauty Shop with Vivica Fox -- it's a companion piece to Barber Shop, and then I'm going to Canada to shoot a romantic comedy called I Want to Marry Brian Banks. I am Brian Banks.

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