The Ethnic Chair—Nicholas Cage, 21. A nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, he changed his famous surname—and took out an eyetooth to play a leading role. Birdy, which made his reputation as an actor. His ethnic looks usually land him the part of brother or best friend.
The Most Gifted of Them All—Sean Penn, 24. He is the natural heir to Robert De Niro’s throne; like his mentor, Penn will transform himself for any role he takes. The results have been awesome: from the surfer Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High to the drug dealer Daulton Lee in The Falcon & the Snowman.
Not Quite There: the Two Matthews—Broderick, 23, and Modine, 24. Both are fine actors—Broderick in WarGames and on Broadway, and Modine in Birdy—but both live in New York. The Brat Pack likes them but doesn’t know them. The same goes for Kevin Bacon, 26, the star of Footloose and Diner.
What distinguishes these young actors from generations past is that most of them have skipped the one step toward success that was required of the generation of Marlon Brando and James Dean, and even that of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino: years of acting study. Young actors used to spend years at the knee of such respected teachers as Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler before venturing out onstage, let alone in movies; today, that step isn’t considered so necessary.
No one from the Brat Pack has graduated from college—most went straight from high school into acting. Rob Lowe, Sean Penn, and Emilio Estevez all went to Santa Monica High School and acted as much as they could. Estevez made 8-mm. movies that he acted in and directed; he and Penn wrote and co-starred in one movie about Penn stealing Estevez’s dog. Penn later directed a play that Estevez wrote and starred in at Santa Monica High, about Vietnam veterans.
Estevez shares a show-business upbringing with several other Brats; Sean Penn is the son of Leo Penn, a director of such television programs as Magnum, P.I. Tim Hutton is the son of the late actor Jim Hutton; and Nicholas Cage’s connection to Coppola led to his first film part, in Rumble Fish. Tom Cruise grew up in the East, away from the world of Hollywood; still, he found he didn’t need much training to succeed.
They all admire the work of those actors who spent years in diligent training, but they do not consider De Niro and Brando, or even Martin Sheen, role models for their careers. There is a spiritual father of the Brat Pack, but it is not an established star, nor is it Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis Jr. or Peter Lawford. It is a grizzled 58-year-old character actor named Harry Dean Stanton. He has been a familiar face around Hollywood and a cult hero among film buffs since the 1960s, but has only lately become a real success, as the star of Repo Man (with Estevez) and, most recently, Paris, Texas. The Brats admire Stanton for his acting gifts—but they have befriended him for his ability to relate to them as kids, sometimes partying with them all night and sleeping till noon.
Stanton lives up in the hills above Hollywood, in a house from which one sees nothing but trees and hawks. As he sits in his living room dressed in an old bathrobe (“This once belonged to Marlon Brando,” he remarks), he says of these young stars, “I don’t act like their father, I act like their friend.” Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he thinks for a minute and then adds, “Boy, would I have loved to have had everything these guys have when I was 22. That would have been great.”
It was a hot spring night in Westwood, perfect weather for moviegoing, and the leader of the Brats wanted to see Ladyhawke, which stars Matthew Broderick. But it would not behoove one of the Brats to fork over $6 to the industry that made him a star to begin with. So Emilio Estevez stood outside the Mann’s Village Theater, five minutes to show time, considering the various ways he might be able to get into the movie free.
“I have a friend who works here who’ll get me in free,” Estevez said, but as he eyed the man taking the tickets of the paying customers, he muttered, “Guess he’s not working tonight.” After a moment’s thought, he said, “If I could get to a phone, I think I know something I can do.”
And so, with three minutes left, Estevez marched down the nearest street in search of a phone. He peered into a pinball parlor and asked, “Do they have a phone in here?” They did not. He walked down to a parking lot and heaved a sigh of relief. “There’s a phone,” he said, and trotted off to use it. He called the theater and explained that he was Emilio Estevez and that the friend who normally let him in free wasn’t working tonight; would there be any way to get Estevez passes for the eight o’clock show? Of course, he was told, and when he arrived, the manager and the ticket taker welcomed him to the theater and told him how much they loved his movies. “Thank you,” Estevez said, and with a smile, he dashed off to catch the opening credits.