People aren’t sure what to make of Scott Haze. According to the 33-year-old actor, whose big break came earlier this summer in the James Franco-directed Child of God, he’s hearing regularly from admirers but all too often it’s before they’ve seen him in the strange, harrowing role that’s been so widely praised. “On Twitter, there will be girls who say they can’t wait to see the movie,” he says with a laugh, “and the next thing you know they’re writing back to say, ‘Oh, my God, I just saw you shit in the woods!’”
Haze’s Lester Ballad is definitely not a well-mannered character. Based on the controversial 1973 book by Cormac McCarthy, Child of God follows Ballard, an outcast in rural Tennessee whose violent outbursts and disturbing behavior—that business in the woods might be the least upsetting thing he does—illustrate the depths of depravity to which a man can plummet. The New York Times gushed that Haze’s “mesmerizing performance gives the movie its ballast and its fitful, nervous energy,” and compared the actor to Jack Nicholson. If Haze’s performance alone hadn’t been notable, though, the way he prepared for it was: to get into character, he spent almost four months living in a bat-infested Tennessee cave, losing 45 pounds from his already lanky frame, to find the headspace to play Ballard. “It was during my preparation for Child of God that I knew this was a role that would allow me to dig into what I want to do, what I can do,” he says. “In that way, it was the perfect role.”
Despite the acclaim he’s received for the film, however, it isn’t the only thing that’s been keeping Haze busy. Through August 23rd he’s appearing in The Long Shrift, a new Franco-directed play at Manhattan’s Off-Broadway Rattlestick Playwright’s Theater, fulfilling what he says is a lifelong aspiration to be on stage in New York and scratching an itch to work on a project that would evolve with its players.
“I knew the premise of the play, but I hadn’t read the script when I signed on,” Haze says. “I flew to New York for a week and James and I workshopped the script and reworked the whole thing. We were making changes up until the last minute.”
The Long Shrift also offered a chance for Haze to make inroads to the Manhattan theater world; at home in L.A. he runs The Sherry Theater, a North Hollywood venue geared toward presenting original material. The goals of both institutions are so similar that Haze says there might be a chance for him to continue his relationship with the Rattlestick once he’s home, using the Sherry as something like an informal, West Coast arm of the Rattlestick.
While Haze’s taste for live theater is marked, movies haven’t fallen by the wayside. His latest film, an adaptation of The Sound and the Fury, will premiere at the upcoming Venice Film Festival—and it’s directed by, who else, Franco. The two are close pals and sometimes roommates, and Haze will appear in Franco’s upcoming Bukowski.
Haze will also take a turn alongside Kirsten Dunst and Sam Shepard in director Jeff Nichols’ upcoming Midnight Special. Nichols first saw Haze’s work in Child of God and made space for him in Midnight Special based on that performance. “Within seconds you could see that Scott was the real thing, an actor that could transform himself,” the director says. “His role in Midnight Special would require far less from him in terms of transforming, but as a director you are looking for actors that you know have the ability and the willingness to go for it.”
That willingness to take risks seems to be what links all the work Haze has done, from films to theater to his forthcoming directorial debut, a film telling the life story of Kenyan humanitarian Charles Mulli, a project some people told him he was crazy to take on.
“I’m very aware that I’m going to be dead, we’re all going to die one day,” he says. “I have been to hell and back in my life and I’ve had to work really hard to get to where I am, so I trust the way my life is going and I do what I love. I heard from so many people that I shouldn’t go to Africa, I should stay put and let my career take off, but it was exactly the time to go and use any attention being paid to me to make a real difference.”
Haze believes that telling Mulli’s story will make an important difference, considering the mogul started life as an orphan and went on to build a transportation empire before giving it all up to care for children. Haze says Mulli’s unofficially adopted around 25,000 Kenyan kids, and for the film the man plays himself in scenes that recreate his life. It’s the sort of project that fits squarely into the sort of weighty storytelling Haze says he wants to do.
“Life is short,” he says, “and if there’s an opportunity to collaborate with someone amazing, why not?”
Grooming: Casey Geren at ABTP.
Photographed on location in Brooklyn, NY.