Marc Jacobs in "Disconnect." (Phil Bray )
Marc Jacobs isn't one to shy away from fashion risks. The often iconoclastic superstar designer — who has become synonymous with a certain young, casually cool New York state of mind — helped usher in the controversial "heroin chic" look in the '90s and favors a combo of kilts and combat boots for his daily work uniform.
But for Jacobs' debut film role in the indie drama "Disconnect," which arrived in theaters in limited release last Friday, the style maven was forced to step outside his comfort zone — in terms of both fashion and raw physicality.
Portraying a "porn baron," a kind of cyber pimp in charge of a house full of teenage Internet pornographic performers, the Louis Vuitton creative director was persuaded to wear a garment that would never otherwise appear in his wardrobe: acid-washed "dad jeans."
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Moreover, Jacobs drives an SUV in the movie (never mind that he has never so much as tested for a driver's license) and, despite abhorring physical violence, learned how to punch a woman for the film's climactic scene.
"Normally, I don't even raise my voice — not in an aggressive way," Jacobs said. "To put on a pair of jeans that didn't fit well, that came up high on my waist and were not dark or light enough denim, that was just sort of, well, dad-like for me."
"Disconnect" director Henry-Alex Rubin sowed the seed to cast the designer a dozen years earlier. Mutual friends with Winona Ryder, the filmmaker enlisted Jacobs to appear in a little-seen seven-minute "mockumentary" spoofing the actress' infamous early-'00s shoplifting travails.
"He was sweet and shy but had good comic timing," Rubin said. "He's a big softy with an absurd sense of humor."
In the intervening years, Jacobs kicked a crippling heroin addiction and became a clean-living workout fanatic with a chiseled physique. When the person Rubin originally intended for the role of Harvey the pornographer dropped out of "Disconnect," the director began pondering Jacobs — who has never acted professionally and had no movie aspirations to speak of — as a replacement.
"He's so lean and muscular and fierce-looking," Rubin said of the 50-year-old Jacobs. "From afar he looks kind of dangerous. I thought it could be funny to play him completely against type."
Jacobs took the role on a lark, relishing the opportunity to play someone so unapologetically seedy. Moreover, Harvey's signature look — neck tattoos and crucifix earring, his penchant for Air Jordans and hoodie sweatshirts — is hardly the kind of thing you'd associate with the head of a multibillion-dollar fashion house.
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"My shirt was this viscose suburban knockoff of Chrome Hearts," Jacob recalled with palpable wonder. "It looked very 'Jersey Shore.' My friends were teasing me: 'If you go hang out in that Dunkin' Donuts, nobody will ever recognize you.'"
The movie presents interlocking stories dramatizing how computer connectivity in the Facebook age can complicate real human interaction – something like "Crash" for the social media set. The cast includes Jason Bateman and Alexander Skarsgård.
In one scene, Jacobs' Fagin-like character angrily hurls an unscrupulous TV broadcaster portrayed by Andrea Riseborough to the ground face-first. With the help of a stunt coordinator in a freezing motel parking lot in upstate New York, the designer learned how to simulate assault without injuring his costar.
"If anyone bleeds, the scene's over," Jacobs recalled the stunt director telling him.
"That was not easy for Marc," Rubin said. "It took him awhile to get in the mind-set to bitch-slap another actor. That's not something Marc's ever done in his life."
Even with favorable notices for his acting debut, the designer brushes aside any discussion of furthering a career in film. Already having provided wardrobe and custom luggage for director Wes Anderson's 2007 travelogue drama "The Darjeeling Limited," Jacobs has no intention of getting ready for his close-up ever again.
"I like Henry and I love the movie, but this is not fulfilling some dream of mine," he said. "I don't feel like I've missed my calling. I'm not looking for other homework assignments. I never wanted to be an actor."
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