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The Play's Still His Thing

Drama: Scott Caan is finding success in movies, but he says theater is what really gets him going.

August 22, 2001|HUGH HART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Scott Caan popped up on local TV news last week when he attended the premiere of his new movie, "American Outlaws," which over the weekend grossed about $4.8 million. The next night, 24-year-old Caan took the stage of a small theater in North Hollywood to perform in a play he'd written called "Almost Love." Box-office gross: $24. "And that's split four ways," Caan says, chuckling.

"You tell me which one makes me more excited," he challenges. Doing theater? "Absolutely," he says. "To me, theater is the mecca; if you really love to act, that's where it's the most fun, by a long shot. Especially in the place where I'm in, where I don't get to pick my [movie] parts--I don't go, 'Oooh, that film role would be a great experience.' So for me, to go back to theater, that's everything."

Caan, barefoot casual in bluejeans and a Rolling Stones T-shirt, relaxes in the den of his Hollywood Hills house, which doubles as a clubhouse/crash pad for a gaggle of buddies.

On the Ping-Pong table sits a vintage photo of Johnny Cash as an angry young man lunging toward the camera. Worn jeans litter the floor. Posters of Brigitte Bardot and Arnold Schwarzenegger and "Rebel Without a Cause" decorate the wall.

A play in progress inspired by Caan's obsession with his girlfriend's former boyfriends resides inside the laptop computer blinking on the desk in the corner. Clearly, a guy's house. The house that "American Outlaws" paid for?

"Actually," says Caan, "it's from a script I sold to Jerry Bruckheimer." Titled "Chasing the Party," the story revolves around a couple of slackers trying to crash a bash at the Playboy Mansion.

Caan has two more scripts in development. And he has two more films set for release this fall--"Novocain" (with Steve Martin) in October and Steven Soderbergh's remake of "Ocean's Eleven" in December.

So why is Caan sweating bullets over line readings for his one-act play?

Obviously, it isn't about the money.

But it is about the art.

Caan's heroes did theater, and he has every intention of following their example. Explains Caan, "You open up the script for a play, it says 'First done by Sean Penn,' 'First done by Al Pacino.' That should set a standard. It's not just their performances, it's how they evolve, how hard they continue to work.

"If you want to be like those guys, you can't sit around and smoke cigarettes at the Coffee Bean all day long, talking about the audition and why you didn't get the part while you were up the night before doing Ecstasy at a club.

"Pacino wasn't doing that. Penn wasn't doing that. Duvall wasn't doing that. Jimmy Caan wasn't doing that."

That would be movie star James Caan, who divorced Scott's mother, actress Sheila Ryan, when Scott was a 1-year-old. Caan shares his dad's pugnacious what-are-you-looking-at jaw line, and he worked with James Caan's "Godfather" co-star Robert Duvall in "Gone in 60 Seconds."

But that's about all father and son have in common as far as show business goes. Says Caan, "I include Jimmy Caan with those other actors out of respect, not because of his process, but because I think he's an amazing actor."

Caan senior put his career on hold for much of the '80s to coach Scott's Little League team.

"He wasn't an artistic father who'd sit around talking about acting," recalls Caan. "My dad took time off to spend time with me while I was growing up. But acting, we didn't talk about it."

At 18, Caan had given up on his dream of becoming a major league baseball player--not big enough for the pros.

His infatuation with rap music was fading, and he'd finally graduated from Excelsior High School in Los Angeles after getting booted out of a succession of schools.

When Caan decided to give acting a shot, his mom told him to try Playhouse West, a training center/repertory company in North Hollywood where she often performed.

Robert Carnegie, founding director of Playhouse West, recalls, "Sheila knew the rigorous approach we have here, and she knew Scott needed discipline and focus."

On the first day of classes, Carnegie assigned a book report. "Scott came up and said 'I have to let you know I'm learning disabled. I have attention deficit disorder.' I told him, 'I won't let you stay here if you don't work like everybody else.' He just needed somebody to demand it of him. And now this kid who says he couldn't write, couldn't read, he's selling screenplays for a quarter-million dollars."

Caan landed his first film role in 1995's "A Boy Called Hate."

"It wasn't very good," he says, "but I just loved the whole process; I immediately wanted to do it all the way. It's like Soderbergh told me, if he had to, he'd work as a grip on a movie just to be a part of it." He's made 16 movies since.

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