Missing Person

05.17.12

Nick Stahl: The Search Turns to Skid Row

The missing actor’s wife says he was known for disappearing during drug binges in Los Angeles’s worst neighborhood, triggering an LAPD dragnet there. By Chris Lee and Christine Pelisek. Plus read Marlow Stern on the Terminator curse.

Nobody but the most determined pessimist could have predicted that Nick Stahl would wind up on Skid Row. Rocketing out of small-town Texas at age 13 to become an acclaimed young actor, he overcame youthful problems with alcohol and drugs to grow into a seemingly well-adjusted adult, a movie journeyman who could appear in big-budget blockbusters and exquisite indie gems with equal aplomb, winning over directors in the process.

But on Thursday, Los Angeles Missing Persons detectives narrowed their search for Stahl—who portrayed John Connor in his most high-profile film, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines—to the city’s most perilous precinct, Central City East, also known as Skid Row, based on information from his wife. According to Roseann Marie Stahl, who has been married to Stahl since 2009 but was estranged from him at the time of his disappearance, the actor was known to frequent Skid Row in recent years in pursuit of hard-core drugs. And it wasn’t uncommon for the actor, 32, to disappear on drug binges.

“She admitted that he had gone to Skid Row [in the past]. He goes off for days at a time,” said Det. Carmine Sasso, the officer in charge of the LAPD’s adult missing persons unit. “We are getting the information out to our patrol officers where Nick might frequent. We are trying to locate him.”

The news came as a shock to a number of the actor’s Hollywood peers such as writer-director D.W. Brown who cast Stahl in 2011’s indie psychological thriller On the Inside. “He’s such a sweet, classy guy, to think of Nick on Skid Row is so weird,” Brown told The Daily Beast. “There was never any indication he abused anything, even alcohol. He had clear eyes; no lateness or bad temperament. He was a sensitive poet at heart. I could see him more on a college campus than Skid Row.”

If Stahl is indeed in this most downtrodden and treacherous L.A. neighborhood, it would represent a precipitous fall from grace for a performer seemingly preordained for greatness. Born in Harlingen, Texas (population 64,000) in 1979, Stahl parlayed a precocious aptitude for local theater into a viable movie career. At 13, he was personally cast by Mel Gibson in the then A-list superstar’s directorial debut The Man Without a Face (the Los Angeles Times hailed Stahl as “the film’s true star”), and from there moved to Hollywood and began supporting his family.

En route to adulthood, though, the actor dabbled with substance abuse, later admitting to the San Francisco Chronicle he had “been through drugs and drinking,” before seeming to straighten himself out. Stahl was cast in a high-profile part in Terrence Malick’s war drama The Thin Red Line and then almost entirely edited out. But he regrouped and managed to turn in an acclaimed portrayal of an overbearing thug who terrorizes his suburban friends in 2001’s Bully. Also that year, the actor delivered a breakthrough performance as a teenage murder victim in the crime-drama In the Bedroom and continued to distinguish himself even with bit parts in event movies, such as the evil Yellow Bastard in Robert Rodriguez’s impressionistic 2005 adaptation of the graphic novel Sin City.

Police Officer Ray Moya of Central Division told The Daily Beast, ‘If you stay more than two or three days, you get swallowed up by the street.’

Although Stahl admitted that there was “recreational drinking” during the Bully shoot, he was not  widely known in entertainment-industry circles for a party-hearty reputation. Director Randall Cole worked with the actor on his most recent film, 388 Arletta Avenue, a year and a half ago and recalled none of the tell-tale signs associated with young Hollywood fuck-ups. “He was fantastic—not a single problem,” Cole told People magazine. “He was a total professional and knew his lines. There was no diva behavior at all.”

But L.A.’s Skid Row is no place for someone described as a “poet at heart.” With a population of between 30,000 and 40,000 homeless people, and a brisk commerce in the most hard core narcotics, the neighborhood is, in the estimation of LAPD Officer Ray Moya of Central Division, “a great place to get lost,” if that were a person’s intention. “The longer you stay here, you really become part of the street,” Moya told The Daily Beast. “If you stay more than two or three days, you get swallowed up by the street.”

At the time of Stahl’s disappearance, his alleged drug use had had an impact on his interactions with Marlo Murphy Stahl, the 2-year-old daughter he shares with Roseann Stahl. According to court documents obtained by The Daily Beast, the actor’s visitations were ordered to be monitored by a professional (at Stahl’s expense). And Stahl had to submit to tests proving he hadn’t used marijuana, cocaine, or alcohol in the 24 hours preceding Marlo’s visits.

According to LAPD spokesman Richard French, Roseann, 30, reported Nick Stahl missing on Monday—Det. Sasso said it had been five days since she claimed to have seen the actor. That time lag, in Det. Sasso’s view, may have hampered the investigation. “Anytime you have a delay in reporting that you have a situation, that may decrease the chances of a missing person being found,” he said. “When you report someone missing five days after the last time you saw the individual, the details could be a bit sketchy. Things change.”

Missing person posters for Stahl having been circulated citywide, with police convinced he has not left Los Angeles County because they do not believe he has the means by which to take off. However, according to the LAPD’s Richard French, the actor has not met the criteria for a critical missing person—the kind of individual that presents imminent danger to themselves or others or who is believed to be in a life-threatening situation. “He is an adult and if he wants to disappear it is his prerogative,” French said.

Joanne Baron, a veteran actress and producer, teaches acting at the Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Studio in Santa Monica and helped cast Stahl in On the Inside (which will be released on DVD July 24). Having acted alongside him in the film, she described Stahl as a consummate professional who demonstrated “leadership qualities” to the other actors by the example he set. She recalls Stahl making certain remarks that would seem to cast doubt upon his Skid Row end-run.

“He said something once to the effect that he was only interested in living in a way that would support his creativity, discipline, focus, and professionalism,” Baron said. “He wasn’t interested in parties or extracurricular activities. It was like, ‘I love my work and that’s it! And I want a life that supports that.’ ”