When thinking of Scott Haze, the indefatigable actor, writer and director- an ancillary trinity- the lyrics “no day but today” echo through my mind. Yes, it’s this call to action to live each day as if it were your last- brought to us by the Broadway mega-hit musical Rent- that really encompasses his journey thus far.
You see, just last Friday, August 1st, was the nation-wide release of James Franco’s Child of God, starring Haze in the lead role as the gaunt, cave-dwelling necrophiliac Lester Ballard. Having screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival, where it was an Official Selection, it’s Haze’s first film to open in theaters across the country. And he’s literally in almost every frame of the film- carrying the movie on the shoulders of his brilliantly haunting performance. And even with all of that in mind, he wastes no time getting in action around the next thing he’s out to fulfill on.
“As a kid, I’ve always wanted this dream to happen, and it’s finally happening,” he says during our interview. “Because I’m doing so much right now: directing a movie, performing in a play and having a movie open in theaters all at the same time, I don’t get to stop and reflect for too long. But there are definitely moments throughout the day when it hits me, and it brings tears to my eyes.”
It’s inside these moments of clarity when Haze is probably most present to how far he’s come since his days running around Allen, Texas, with his best friend, reenacting scenes from movies like The Basketball Diaries, and Dog Day Afternoon. Now Haze spends his mornings discussing Child of God with the press, his evenings on stage, performing in the Off-Broadway, Franco-directed The Long Shrift, and his late nights busy editing his documentary on Kenyan entrepreneur and humanitarian Dr. Charles Mulli, which he wrapped shooting a week before rehearsals for The Long Shrift began.
Yes, it would seem that after every completed accomplishment, Haze goes out and gets an even bigger game. But what’s extraordinary about him is not only the fact that he’s able to take on more, but the fact that he consistently raises the level of his performance each time. And all the press around Child of God certainly points to that.
Based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Child of God takes place in Sevier County, Tennessee, after a loathed Ballard attempts to disrupt the auctioning of his family’s farm, eventually finding consolation dwelling in underground caves and becoming intimate with the dead bodies of his slaughtered victims. Haze’s performance is both harrowing and vulnerable at the same time, a consequence of all the research he did, even temporarily moving to Sevier County where he stayed in a secluded cabin in the woods in order to really connect to the isolation needed for this role and to perfect the accent specific only to that part of the country.
And it’s this dedication and single-point focus that Haze brought to the character that produced the performance that has everyone talking. “I have another television interview and a Q&A for Child of God scheduled for today, then a second Q&A after the play tonight,” he says. “And I don’t take any of it for granted because there are so many talented artists out there who don’t ever get to experience this.”
And this is exactly what moved Haze to take on The Long Shrift in spite of challenges that might have caused most people to hesitate. “It’s been a really wild process putting this play together in a matter of a couple of weeks while changing the script all the way up until opening night,” he says. “And because of James’ schedule, we had a very limited amount of time. We only had four previews when, normally, we would have had two weeks of previews.” In The Long Shrift, Haze’s Off-Broadway debut, he plays the leading role of Richard Singer, the unassuming teenage boy turned accused rapist who, after serving nine years in jail, is faced with the re-emergence of his accuser in his life.
“And I’m learning so much in regards to the discipline it takes,” he says. “When I direct my own plays, I have the freedom to do whatever I want. But this experience has shown me a completely new and different structure to follow and how to work within those rules. It’s a whole different ballgame.”
The Long Shrift runs through the end of August at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York, with Haze taking every opportunity possible to foster a collaboration between the Rattlestick and his own Sherry Theater in North Hollywood. And what that looks like now is him working with the Rattleestick’s artistic director David Van Asselt to create leadership and accountability on both coasts. “The relationship I’m building with the Rattlestick Theater and the merging between the Rattlestick and the Sherry Theater is priceless because now anything I want to do in New York, I can do,” he comments. “So it’s like the gates have opened in terms of what I can do at the Sherry Theater in North Hollywood and then reproduce that in New York. And it’s been great to have the Sherry Theater supported by an established group of well-respected artists out here in New York.”
And in addition to merging the two theater companies, Scott is garnering much anticipation for the release of his new documentary, which follows the life of Dr. Charles Mulli, the rags-to-riches super hero who has devoted his life to liberating over 7000 children in Kenya from the threat of AIDS, prostitution, drugs, gangs, hunger and poverty.
“I’m so proud of this documentary, and I really can’t wait for people to see it,” he says. “I’m working with my editor Alex Mackenzie via the internet since I’m here in New York; he sends me clips and I send him notes back- and it’s been great because we shot it in a way that’s not at all a documentary, but more of an innovate, narrative film.”
Coming up, you can look for Haze in James Franco’s The Sound and the Fury, which will be screened at the upcoming Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy. And then there’s Jeff Nichols’ film Midnight Special, where Haze will be co-starring opposite Michael Shannon. “Working with Jeff Nichols was great because he’s someone whom I’ve wanted to work and collaborate with for a long time,” he says. “And he’s someone whom I have the ultimate respect for, and I’m happy to call him my friend now.”
Yes, of all the things to love and envy about Scott Haze, it’s nice to know that as talented and majestic as he is, he’s still humbled and moved by the talents of others, and possibly even a little intimidated.
“So there’s this little rumor going around that Robert De Niro is coming to see The Long Shrift, and I’ve been telling everyone not to tell me when he’s coming. I’m glad he’s coming, but I don’t want to know when he’s in house.” Something tells me that on that evening, the attention won’t be on De Niro.