Executive Editor, Moviecrazed

Before I talked with Balthazar Getty for Interview Magazine in 2001, I knew about his wild-child past. What I didn't know was how sensitive and wise he was. He's an old soul. I sort of fell in love with him that day. --D.B.

Balthazar Getty has never chosen roles by their size. In fact, the tall, hunky actor with the big brown eyes and the blue-blood last name (his great-grandfather was billionaire oil baron J. Paul Getty) confesses to preferring smaller parts. “When you go in and do a cool, small character, it feels less like work and more like fun.”

Now 26, Getty’s having fun in a number of off-beat roles, affirming the talent first seen in "Lord of the Flies" (1990). There’s excitement over his performance as a ‘50s Brooklyn street gang member in Scott Kalverts’ upcoming "Deuces Wild," with Stephen Dorff and Matt Dillon, and he appears in Wayne Wang’s "Center of the World" and in one of this year’s Sundance sensations, "MacArthur Park." Coming next: lead roles in the racy indie "Shadow Hours" and the romantic comedy "Sol Goode."

Getty has also calmed down considerably since his wild-child days as part of Hollywood’s hip baby brat pack—a hard-partying crowd that included Drew Barrymore and David Arquette. Once hooked on heroin, he’s been clean since ’98. What made him go straight?

“I think some people are on a mission to die, and I never was,” he says. “Even in my darkest times I knew I had a good future ahead of me.”

With a new home perched high above the hills of Los Angeles, the attention of the industry that dominates down below, a wife and new baby boy, that future, it seems, is now.

DIANE BARONI: "Lord of the Flies" was an accident—a casting director saw you in an art class and asked you to do a screen test. What made you stay with acting?

Balthazar Getty: I was always sort of a performing child. At 13, I wanted to be a ninja. I went to school on the bus in a black outfit with only my eyes showing. And then "Lord of the Flies" fell in my lap and I ran with it. But even before that, I was always putting together plays for my mom, and I’ve been doing music my whole life.

DB: You have a rock group, right?

BG: It’s more like electronic music. I was going to try to do it professionally. I just really love it.

DB: The year you wanted to be ninja was also the year you first slept with a girl. Did you really tell your mother about it?

BG: Yeah. I rushed right home to tell her at six in the morning.

DB: How did she react?

BG: She only asked if I was protected.

DG: That sounds very ‘60s hippy mom.

BG: I grew up in a very liberal household. I didn’t see much of my father as a kid, but my mom raised me to always have an open mind, and to realize that I didn’t have to win at everything. It was OK to fail, and to just, you know, follow my heart. My mother is a super-spiritual, super-artistic person. She feels there’s a certain amount of guidance you can give, but mostly she believes that people are going to go on their own search and figure it out, no matter what you do. She wasn’t irresponsible; that was just her approach. It’s why my mom is still one of my best friends.

DB: What kind of search were you on as a child?

BG: A constant one. I’d find something and that’s all that would matter to me at that time. I went through all kinds of sports and the ninja thing—even making parachutes out of sheets and jumping off buildings---and then I started hanging out with the wrong crowd and seeing what that was like. I was always bouncing from crowd to crowd, in the process adjusting myself to each one, just sort of finding me.

DB: Is that the reason you left home at 15?

BG: It wasn’t an act of rebellion or anything—I’d fallen in love with a girl. She was a few years older than me, and by then I’d been working for awhile, I was never home anyhow, so it seemed to make sense to move out and live with her. It felt right, and it wasn’t like I didn’t go home whenever I felt down or tired. Home was always open to me.

DB: Did you ever picture yourself living such a traditional life as you do now?

BG: I’ve always been attracted to this sort of a lifestyle. Even as a young kid, I wanted to be with one person and have stability. Obviously, I played around and was crazy and did all that, but you know, the girl I moved in with at 15, I was with her for three years. So, sure, I fucked up here and there, but I love how right it feels—and comfortable—to know somebody’s going through it with you.

DB: do you think your wild-child past is why you’ve been offered so many dark roles?

BG: People mainly remember me from things like "Lost Highway" (1997), where I played a dark sort of mechanic. But in "White Squall" (1996), I was a nerd. And I just finished this "Sol Goode," which is a straight-out comedy. I’ve played a lot of different characters.

DB: How did you get involved with "MacArthur Park"?

BG: The guy who directed it [Billy Wirth] is a former actor and someone I’ve been friendly with, and he told me, “Look, it’s just going to be a couple of days.” I read the part and it was a cool character, something I could be loud with and have fun with. I like to do smaller movies and be a part of something that has the potential to grow. It’s more like fun than it is work.

DB: What do you do for fun now? Not the same things you did years ago, I imagine.

BG: I don’t want to talk about this too much, but one thing I will say is that I went to a really dark place and made it back, and I’m humbled by it and super-grateful to be where I am. I think what makes people unique are their experiences, the things we have to draw from, and as an actor I have so many amazing and beautiful things to draw from. Even though a lot of it was dark, a lot of it was great and wild and interesting.

DB: Where do you see yourself in five years?

BG: Comedy’s great. I’d love to do comedy. I’d like to do a really smart adventure, a whodunit. I also want to direct. As an actor you do the best you can, you show up every day, but it’s not in your hands, so it can be really frustrating. I don’t project into the future, though. It’s not that I don’t plan—I just don’t worry about what’s around the corner. I just sort of roll with it every day. That works real well for me.