Beastie Boy Adam “King Ad-Rock” Horovitz has already had an album at the top of the charts and a romance (with Molly Ringwald) at the top of the gossip columns. But that’s not enough. Whether it’s because theater is in his blood (his father is the playwright Israel Horovitz) or just a natural outgrowth of his impish personality, Horovitz, who recently turned twenty-one, is now an actor. And he says it’s what he’s wanted all along. “Listen,” he says, “I wish I could sing like Marvin Gaye. But what I can really do is act. I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was two years old. I watch the films of Russ Meyer and Kenneth Anger all the time.”
A slightly less perverse director, Chariots of Fire’s Hugh Hudson, recognized what he calls a “waiflike character” in Horovitz and cast him in his still-untitled new film. Horovitz describes it as “a cross between Leave It to Beaver and Rebel Without a Cause” and says that the filming was “the biggest thrill I’ve ever had in my life.”
Though the film’s look is retro – Beaver-era Los Angeles – the story is very contemporary. Set in the picture-perfect San Fernando Valley, the script, by playwright Michael Weller, tells of affluence, boredom, yearning and drug use among affectless youth. But the movie avoids the nihilism of Less Than Zero, concentrating instead on suffering and redemption.
The movie would seem at first a strange choice for Hudson, a British director who, Horovitz says, “had a total of four cars in all his films.” But Horovitz says that Hudson “is looking at this film like an anthropologist studying an alien culture. Americans are used to all these things like gangs and drugs, but because Hugh comes from England, he is fascinated by things we take for granted.”
In the film Horovitz plays Tim Dollan, a neglected teen whose remarried mother is “on her honeymoon somewhere in China” and whose older brother tries to lead him down countless bad paths. Tim is sent to a sort of reform school for rich kids. (His therapist there is played by Donald Sutherland.) The film charts Tim’s struggle to redeem himself from gangs, from drugs, from his sense of being rejected and unloved.
How did Horovitz, who appears in every scene and has never acted before, handle such a complicated role? “There are many things about Tim that I recognize in myself,” he says. “I was always screwing up. I dropped out of three schools by the time I was seventeen. It was only my mom’s insistence that made me finish school.” (Horovitz’s mother, to whom the Beasties’ debut album, Licensed to Ill, is dedicated, died two years ago. Her death was an experience he calls “the most shattering of my life.”)
Like his character in the film, Horovitz has had a run-in with the law. When the Beastie Boys’ world tour stopped in England, he was accused of injuring a female fan by batting a can of beer into the audience. He was arrested and spent two days in prison and as a defendant in court. (He was ultimately cleared.) Horovitz took notes on the experience in his journal, which he’s kept since childhood; it contains fragments of lyrics, ideas for screenplays and general observations on everyday life.
Though the first thing on Horovitz’s agenda is getting to work on the Beastie Boys’ second album, he says that he also plans to star with Sean Penn in a revival of his father’s play The Indian Wants the Bronx. Like his old pal Madonna, Horovitz seems to have put music on the back burner. Besides, he says, being an actor is not that difficult: “Acting is just imagining yourself as the other person. For instance, we know that Adam Horovitz is too cool to cry. Tim might cry; he tries to be cool, but he can’t handle it. So crying was sorta hard – but imagine if I had to play a strung-out transvestite prostitute.”
This story is from the June 30th, 1988 issue of Rolling Stone.