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His inner 'Party Monster'

In the new film, actor Seth Green portrays James St. James, one of New York City's most visible Club Kids.

September 09, 2003|Peter McQuaid | Special to The Times

Actor Seth Green has been on TV and in movies since age 7. Author James St. James got his first taste of the spotlight in his 20s as one of the major players in New York City's notorious Club Kids scene in the '80s.

Until recently, Green's persona has been a triumph of substance over form, and St. James' has been a triumph of form over substance.

The Sept. 5 release of "Party Monster," the fact-based tale of fabulousness gone murderous, represents a shift for both artists. Green, who has been quietly walking off with just about every movie he does, portrays a drug-, attention- and drag-addicted but essentially decent young person, whose moral compass kicks into high alert when his best friend Michael Alig (played by Macaulay Culkin) starts bragging about the gruesome murder of another Club Kid. (Alig is in prison in New York.)

St. James, who wrote "Disco Bloodbath," the book the film is based on, is the basis for Green's character. (The book has been retitled "Party Monster" to coincide with the release of the film by writers-directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.)

Question: Seth, what about this movie interested you?

Green: My favorite thing is it represents a culture that I feel is so important. All these misfits that found comfort and solace in one another whether or not they wore the same outfit or were from the same school.

St. James: For all the overdoses and murder, it really was a family. It was the island of misfit toys, and we were all there to support each other and we gave each other love and support.

Green: Even if it was supporting each other through addictions or supporting each other through ...

St. James: Bad wigs!

Green: But I knew how much you'd have to have changed just to allow yourself the objectivity.

St. James: I didn't know how much I'd changed until I saw your portrayal of me and then I realized I am such an old spinster now.

Green: There was so much research material that Mac and I used just because it was available. These guys were so savvy with manipulating the media to sensationalize themselves, it was really, really clever.

St. James: After Michael killed Angel, Geraldo had this whole thing, he was like, "I can't believe that it happened. A friend! Someone who's been on the show! A boy I watched grow!"

Green: "How horrifying! A boy I watched right before my eyes! Was there anything that I could have done to change the outcome?" The performance level of the kids on those shows versus the way they were on their own video cameras.

Q: Seth, what did you put in of James and what did you leave out?

Green: My main thing was that I didn't want to do an impersonation. There were little things that I used trying to figure out his voice, trying to get his walk, the way he moves, the way he reacts to things. We'd be filming a scene -- "How do you knock on a door? I'm about to knock on a door and make a grand entrance."

More than anything I really tried to figure out, like, the essence of James. How he would respond to things. What he was like in the private moments. Those things are so different from what was going on in a club, in costume.

Q: James, what is it like to see yourself portrayed?

St. James: The scene that always really upsets me is the teeter-totter one. It was a conversation I had with Michael 10 years ago, and all of a sudden you see two people saying your words, and you feel a little violated.

You know when you're writing and it's just you and the computer screen and you never think that anyone is ever going to read it ... you're able to say private things when you're writing. But then you're sitting in a room with everyone listening, it is sort of an odd thing and I did feel a little weird at that point.

Green: Part of what really helped me, along with the makeup, and all that stuff was reading "Freak Show," which was something that James wrote before "Disco Blood Bath."

"Freak Show" talks about the process of getting dressed and getting prepared and the makeup and ...

St. James: Of getting into drag and the energy that makeup gives you and how you can never just treat this as a costume.

Green: An embodiment of an essence of something.

St. James: It's not concealing, it's revealing.

Green: Exactly. We had to do a photo shoot for a scene in the movie where the Club Kids appear in a magazine, and that was the first time. I'd put on the heels before and I'd tried on the costumes before but I hadn't got "done" and when [makeup designer] Kabuki came in and did me up and Jason [Hayes, who designed the hair, wigs and hairpieces] did my hair and I had this outfit and all of a sudden it was real. And then, it was like, "OK, if I walk out into this production office, and I don't own this, everybody is going to know!"

And I walked out, and I was wearing nothing, I was wearing like vinyl underpants and like some chain and a boa. And it was really fun -- "All right! I can do this! I can do this!"

St. James: I had complete faith that Seth could do it justice. And then when we met, the first time we met ...

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