Tom Sizemore is, it seems, no longer a maniac—but he's convinced he can still play one onscreen.
If you came of age in the ’90s, there was really no escaping the stocky, perpetually hungover-looking character actor, who played a series of intense goons in films like True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Strange Days and Heat, and delivered more understated turns as noble soldiers in the war epics Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down. After that last Ridley Scott vehicle, Sizemore descended into heroin, meth, and cocaine addiction, which led to multiple drug charges, failed drug tests (including an embarrassing episode involving a Whizzinator, or prosthetic penis), homelessness, a desperate homemade sex tape, and an assault charge against ex-Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, his then-girlfriend.
But, a stint on Celebrity Rehab, a shocking memoir, and 4.5 years of sobriety later, the 52-year-old actor says he’s ready for his second act. In addition to the second season of Sundance TV’s The Red Road, which begins shooting Oct. 9, he’s got a starring role in the upcoming film Durant’s Never Closes, which he describes as similar to Angel Heart. The film will also star Pam Grier, Michael Richards (of Seinfeld), Peter Bogdanovich, and, he says, “hopefully Lucy Liu.” The project he’s most excited about, however, is An Honest Thief. The film, written by his brother Aaron, bills itself as a “gritty noir thriller/dark comedy” about three neighborhood thieves in Detroit who hatch a plot to rob the local pawnbroker of his valuable baseball card collection. Sizemore, a Detroit native, is also serving as a producer on the film, and has turned to crowdfunding to raise the last $500,000 to film it in Detroit.
In person, Sizemore seems in good spirits. We’re seated across from one another at a restaurant in Downtown Manhattan and the actor is nibbling on fried calamari and sipping an iced tea. He looks remarkably good for his age (and past indiscretions), though still possesses a bit of the post-addict jitters, characterized by rushed, broken speech. At certain points in our conversation, when we touch on his father and his yearning for one big comeback role, he begins to tear up a bit.
How are you doing, man? There was a messed up Radar Online video that surfaced back in January of you smoking heroin and saying some pretty crazy shit.
That was fuckin’ five years ago! I went to rehab in 2009, so that video is from sometime in April 2009. It was after Celebrity Rehab and I’d been clean for a while, and once you’re clean you don’t know hang out with people who get high anymore. The guy who took the video got ahold of me and said he wanted half a million dollars and sent me the video. He said, “It doesn’t matter if it’s against the law. If I upload this to YouTube, you’re fucked.” And I said, “Why would you do that? I don’t even do drugs anymore.” He disappeared for two years, and reappeared last year after my memoir came out and asked for money again. I said, “If I buy it from you, how can I be sure that you haven’t copied it and will keep asking me for money?” I stopped taking his calls, and he ended up selling it to Radar Online for $1,200. It’s humiliating and I say some things that are on it that are terrible, but I’m totally intoxicated and my life was a wreck. But I’ve been clean for over four years, so it’s really fuckin’ shitty.
Apparently it was Robert Downey Jr. who introduced you to cocaine?
He didn’t know I’d never done it. It was at a party and the party had thinned out, and then we went to this back room where he had a red piano and there were these girls there. I was doing Heart and Souls with him and we got friendly while making the movie. He dumped out a bag of it onto the piano and these girls did it, then he did it, and then I did it. And I liked it. But I got addicted to it really quick.
I interviewed Charlie Sheen once and he told me the hardest partiers he’d ever met were Sean Penn and Johnny Depp. Who are the hardest partiers you’ve ever come across in Hollywood?
Sean would definitely make the list. What’s crazy about Sean is he can do [cocaine] and it doesn’t seem to impact his life. He’s able to get up and be a parent, and be an actor. I was able to do it for a while, and then I couldn’t. It came to a point where I was not operational; I couldn’t keep doing it and maintain any type of normal life. Jack Nicholson, too, in his own way. He was consistent and never went overboard. He’d say, “You’ve gotta know when to say you’ve had enough.” I called him “King J” and he said, “I like that… let’s go with it.” Those were the halcyon days, man. The early ’90s. We were making great movies and partying hard.
In your memoir, you say you had a three-year affair with one of the biggest actresses ever at the time in the early ’90s, but you don’t give the name.I’m not tellin’ you! But I don’t say “the biggest actress at the time,” I say, “one of the biggest actresses of all time.” She had another guy who became her husband, and she liked me and I liked her. I didn’t have a lot of money and I ended up kind of falling in love with her, but it was untenable for us to ever be socially accepted as a couple. She was about 20 years older than me, but deeply involved with another man. I wasn’t a play toy, but I was a secret.
It’s not Jessica Lange. But you’re close! The woman almost offered to buy me a house once. I said, “You can’t buy me a house!” and she said, “Of course I can… I have $400 million!” I was 28… and she’s still on earth.
You also claimed once that then-President Bill Clinton demanded Elizabeth Hurley’s number, who you were seeing at the time. But you later retracted that story.
Couldn’t have been true! I’ve never been to the White House. It was taken out of context. I prefaced it by saying, “Bill Clinton was such a dog, that…” so they cut out the story angle. But from everyone I’ve spoken to who knew him, Bill Clinton was a highly charming, oversexed womanizer of the very first rank.
Is the story of you and Paris Hilton true? She denied that you two spent the night together (or that she’d ever met you) but then photos of you two emerged.
It happened once, and it was before she was “Paris Hilton.” She was a very bored, rich girl. The party ended and I heard this lighter noise coming from my bathroom over and over again, so I went to open the door and it wouldn’t open. I said, “Who the fuck is in there?” Nothing. And I said again, “Who is in here? Open the door!” and she opened it, and it was this pretty girl sitting there smoking… something. I said, “OK, you can stay.”
I spoke to Juliette Lewis a few days ago, which is an interesting coincidence.
Really? That is an interesting coincidence. We got really close. I loved her.
And Brad Pitt apparently gave you his blessing to see her?Yeah. Brad was out of the picture by then, but she said [in Lewis voice], “You gotta talk to Braaaad before I do anything.” At the time, she’d done Cape Fear and the Woody Allen movie, Husbands and Wives, and she was just 19 when we did Natural Born Killers, so she was the best young actress to come along in quite some time. I was smitten with her, to say the least. We ended up in one room in her mansion and never furnished it.
I have no idea how you and Juliette started dating after making that because Scagnetti and Mallory do not like each other one bit in the film.
[Laughs] You know, that was the first piece of work I did that I was really proud of. But we had a lot of fun making that movie, man.
Your first big film was Born on the Fourth of July. What was it like working with Tom Cruise? He didn’t try to “recruit” you, did he?
[Laughs] You’re terrible. He didn’t, but his wife did. She was there, Mimi Rogers. I think he regrets getting involved with that group [Scientology], but he doesn’t seem to be able to extricate himself from it. Read Going Clear. It defogs all the crazy stuff going on with Scientology, and there’s a lot of bad stuff going on there. I mean… they kidnapped Paul Haggis’ kid! It’s fuckin’ nuts. And they made it a religion, so they don’t have to pay income tax. I went to the Scientology Celebrity Center in L.A. with Juliette twice, and I said, “This is not cool!” They take you to this big window and you look down at all these people in suits and ties and say, “This is your flock.” I was like, “A flock? Get me the fuck out of here, man! I don’t have a flock… I’m in SAG, and I’ve got an appointment back on planet Earth.”
Did you audition for any roles in Pulp Fiction? That’s another great ’90s movie.
No, I didn’t. I read for Reservoir Dogs and it got down to me and Buscemi, and Quentin couldn’t make up his mind. I really wanted that part, but Buscemi is great in that. I also got really close on Gladiator but Ridley Scott decided on Russell Crowe, who’s perfect in it.
Heat is a great movie. And that bank heist remains one of the best shootouts ever.
Great movie, huh? I knew halfway through shooting that we were doing something special. Michael said we were, and there was something about De Niro’s performance that was so locked-in. Val is great, too. Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves passed on that part, but Val was great. Downtown L.A. was basically just Skid Row back then, and we closed it down to shoot that shootout sequence. We shot that sequence in 12 days over six consecutive weekends. Michael told me right before we shot that sequence, “This is going to be my greatest achievement,” because right before that he shot the De Niro/Pacino scene in the diner that he said was an iconic scene.
Do you have any big regrets professionally?
I never fucked up on a movie set, but as far as choices, probably Red Planet. I got into it with Val [Kilmer] on the set and I told him, “I’ve never going to another planet with you again!” But we’re cool now and friends.
I’d say The Relic, too. It seemed like you were heating up and getting offered leads around then and that was your first big leading role, and that movie didn’t really work.
I shouldn’t have done that movie. It wasn’t good enough. I did it for the money, and I wanted to be the star of the movie, but it wasn’t the right movie. I was advised not to do it but I wanted to be “the guy” and got a bit ahead of myself. I don’t want to disparage it too much, but I should’ve waited for a better starring role with a better script.
Let’s talk about your upcoming project, An Honest Thief.
My father lost his last surviving sibling, my Aunt Sally, in 2007. He called me up and was very upset. I’ve rarely heard my father crying but through tears he said, “I’m an orphan now.” My father had been through a lot. He also lost his best friend during 9/11 who actually worked at the Pentagon but was at Cantor Fitzgerald discussing his portfolio that day. My uncles were bright, educated men and I didn’t have any idea when I was a kid that they were drug addicts who made their money, essentially, as thieves. They’d do things like steal snowmobiles from warehouses and sell ’em. So, I called my brother up and told him it’d be cool to do a short film about our uncles, Carl and Keith, for our Dad. My brother thought it was a cool idea, and a few months later, he sent me a script for a feature. I thought it was really good. This was back in 2008, and I didn’t get sober ’til 2009. About a year ago, I started to feel like myself again so I re-read the script and thought it would be a really good movie, so we have half of the $2.7 million raised and a great cast attached, and we’re going to Indiegogo for the rest. We want to shoot it in Detroit.
You know we spoke about Quentin, and he’s got a reputation for salvaging careers. You seem like a guy who’s a juicy Quentin role away from really making your mark again.
I am. I feel that I am, and I’m ready for it, too. I’m finally getting able to audition for big directors again and in the last six months the tide has turned. I’ve gotten close on some very big jobs. I’m a utility infielder right now, but I feel like I’m back on the club and going to be able to get some at-bats. All that had disappeared because of drugs, Heidi Fleiss, and some of the mistakes I made, but I’m in great shape, running two, three miles a day. I’m ready for the second act of my career.