Hell hath no fury like a British journalist scorned. Even by the notoriously scathing standards of UK interview profiles, Elizabeth Day’s take on Rob Lowe is a pretty stiff read. The first sentence: “Rob Lowe announces his presence as he walks into the hotel bar by shouting across the room to order his coffee.” It gets worse from there: when Lowe spouts platitudes (“I enjoy meeting people and I enjoy interacting with humanity”), Day is “left with the impression that he has been told so frequently that he is charismatic and hilarious that he no longer feels he has to make an effort.” And so on.
The reason for this venom only becomes apparent late in the article, when Day is ejected prematurely from her interview for asking a question on the banned topics list, which of course she didn’t get. “Even if he disliked the question, is it beyond the realms of credibility to assume that a 45-year-old man would be capable of saying he did not want to answer it?” she fumes. But a few days later, when Lowe calls in for a follow-up, Patrick Swayze’s died, which changes everything. He’s now vulnerable and reflective, but Day still ends things remarkably patronizing note, wondering if Lowe’s not-unusual admission that he acts to live forever on-screen means “there is a small part of Rob Lowe that will forever be that teen icon, playing a saxophone in stonewashed jeans and a leather jacket, waiting for the glittering future to open up before him.”
As interviews go, it’s absolutely a compelling read, but one that left me feeling queasy. Sure, no one likes to deal with interview subjects who seem stubbornly averse to saying anything interesting, especially when it seems said interviewees are still coasting on iconic fumes from 20 years ago. But it’s hard not to feel that the piece punishes Lowe’s for not being interested in indulging nostalgia — for insisting that he deserves to be famous now for who he is, not how he’ll live on in the minds of those who watched his work in the ’80s, for refusing to age into self-mocking cheesiness.
Out of the ’80s Brat Pack, Lowe was always the most reptilian and unapologetic — after getting busted for a 1988 hotel threesome with a 16-year-old, Lowe flipped it straight back around into a role in 1990’s “Bad Influence,” a movie where his wild lifestyle corrupts James Spader — clearly an impossible task, and about as obvious a meta-referendum on his own image as could exist. He’s never really embarrassed himself on film, and he’s worked steadily. It’s possible to watch him without getting big hair flashbacks, which is more than can be said for other actors whose first brush with fame was closely tied to an era.
[Photo: “Bad Influence,” 1990, MGM/UA Home Entertainment]