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Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Rob's Highs and Lowes
Rob Lowe has overcome addictions to sex and alcohol. He talks about how he has gone on to enjoy a successful career post recovery.
As a teenager, Rob Lowe moved from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Malibu for high school – and kick started his movie career. The young, up-and-coming actor found himself moving in the right circles, and in no time his face was plastered all over the walls of teenage girl bedrooms around the world.
Lowe admits that early on in his career, he wasn't planning ahead. Luckily for him, unlike many of his Brat Pack contemporaries, he has managed to retain both his looks and his fame, and overcome the personal troubles which so often put him square and center in the media spotlight.
“Had I known in the eighties teen idol phase that I would be 50-years-old and enjoying this kind of diversity in my career, I would have been really happy," Lowe says. "But the other thing you learn is that you never know when the phone is going to ring, and if it's going to be something really special."
Rather than sitting around waiting for that call, Lowe has flexed his muscles outside of acting.
"I’ve written two books,” he says. “You've got to find new stuff [to do]. People get lazy and they get scared. More than anything they get scared.”
'Scared' is an emotion Lowe has been very familiar with in the past. Famously stating that “sobriety saved my life,” Lowe turned away from his self-confessed “unlife” in his twenties and stopped drinking entirely.
Post rehab and recovery, Lowe resurrected his acting career with The West Wing, followed byBrothers & Sisters. Now, he says that after years of playing parts “that anyone can play,” he’s finding his niche.
“I have a friend who is very successful in business, and his motto is 'Don't do what you can do. Do what only you can do.' First of all, you have to know what your specific, unique gift is and then you do that... every actor does that but every once in a while an actor plays a part that only they can play.
"Those are the parts that you want to look for,” he says. “I like to think that nobody could have doneBehind the Candelabra but me, nobody could have done JFK but me; nobody could have done Sex Tape but me.”
And when it comes to his TV roles?
“Sam Seaborn in West Wing; that's a part where I feel that whilst anybody else would have done it, it would have been markedly different. Not every part is going to be that way, and that is fine. But that's what I would love to try to continue.”
Lowe’s latest big screen offering is the rom-com Sex Tape, also starring Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz. The film follows a married couple searching to spice up their lives, who wake up to find that the wild sex tape they made the night before has vanished. It's somewhat familiar territory for Lowe - in 1988 his own sex tape threatened to blow up his career when footage was circulated of him having sex with two girls, one of them only 16 years old.
Today, the actor flashes us a smile, saying that when he was offered a role in Sex Tape, his first thought was, “I can’t believe it’s taken this long!” He’s clearly made amends with his past.
“Comedies always need to be provocative and catch your attention in a way that dramas don't have to," he explains. "A movie called Sex Tape with a big legit mainstream movie star in it, Cameron Diaz: that's what we are talking about. When I heard Cameron was doing it I thought, 'I want to be in this.' And for anyone who remembers or cares [about the scandal], it will be a really cool wink to that.”
Back in the 80s, the sex tape scandal was Lowe’s much-needed trigger to sober up. “It was the beginning of it all,” he recalls, adding that “it took about a year from that to go - 'maybe you better get it figured out.'” He checked himself into rehab to conquer his addictions, and has since insisted that you have to be ready to give up your addiction before help can be found. He credits his wife Sheryl as "the opposite of an enabler," and he managed to turn his life around.
“I got sober in 1991. So it's almost 24 years later. And that changed my life forever and everything good that I have is a result of that,” he says. Back behind the steering wheel, Lowe confirms that, yes, sobriety can be a laborious process – but one that he can personally cope with. “It's not a struggle for me. I see people struggle with it. I luckily was not a person that needed to struggle. I was done.”
Lowe is quick to mention that his sobriety hasn't changed him as a person. "That's no guarantee that tomorrow you are not going to read about me walking naked down the street!" he laughs. "It's a distinct possibility, but I am pretty sure it's not going to happen.”
Sobriety has also left his lust for life fully intact and the past 20 years has seen Lowe embrace opportunity after opportunity. “At my birthday party recently, when people were toasting me, my brother - who knows me better than anyone - remarked that I was always the one that was jumping off the highest high dive. Sometimes that's the good thing and other times it's not the good thing. But at least I know that I am always ready to go for it.”
Post recovery, Lowe has enjoyed a varied career, recently delighting fans as Chris Traeger, the health obsessed government auditor in Parks and Recreation. With big time actors – Kevin Spacey, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Kerry Washington, to name but a few - taking over the small screen, it seems that a move to TV is a smart one.
“For sure, without question, the writing is better on TV pound for pound than movies because the businesses have changed so much. So all the great writers would rather work for TV, and they do. When I started on The West Wing, that was at a time when this was still a stigma, because movie stars didn't do TV. Now every movie star is desperate to find their True Detective.”
Is it fair to say he was a pioneer in the small screen revolution?
“I was definitely there at the beginning,” he allows. “Kiefer Sutherland and William Petersen; both of those guys came back to me and said, 'Thank you. I saw what you were able to do, and I said yes to24,' and ‘I said yes to C.S.I.' I was never a brand snob. Whether it's a movie or TV or theatre, whether it's HBO or Showtime or Lifetime, none of it matters to me because none of it matters to the audience - particularly today.”
Regardless, Lowe explains how he’s all too familiar with the career trajectory of a Hollywood male:
“Men play teenagers and then in their twenties play dim-witted, dumb guys - you are in your twenties, who are you going to play? You are not playing the president or someone with cancer or someone going through a divorce. It's going to be boring. And then you get into an age where you just crush, if you are lucky enough to get the parts.”
Lowe found himself caught in the middling years longer than others - “because I probably look a decade younger than I am. I am 50 and I am getting the 40-year-old parts.” He may have joked in the past that his pretty-boy looks got in the way of serious roles, but Lowe's now adamant that any part he tries for is more than skin-deep.
“If you look at the roles that I really like playing, there is nothing about them that is predicated on how I look one way or another: good-bad, fat-thin, hair-no hair, whatever they are just interesting parts, and that's what I am looking for.”
Over twenty years sober and having weathered some extreme ups and downs, present day Rob Lowe is healthy and vibrant. He’s gone from ‘winning’ a Golden Raspberry for Worst Actor way back in 1986 for St Elmo’s Fire, to taking home Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, and being nominated for multiple Golden Globes. The Rob Lowe who spoke to The Fix is living proof that overcoming addiction can open the door to the most successful stage of your life.