Thursday 30 March 2017

Review: Biography: Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

Transworld, €14.99

Pretty Boy: Lowe's
been kept on our
screens with roles in
The West Wing and
Brothers & Sisters
Pretty Boy: Lowe's been kept on our screens with roles in The West Wing and Brothers & Sisters

It might be hard to imagine today, but back in the 1980s Rob Lowe was so insanely famous that even John F Kennedy Junior was seeking him out for advice on how to avoid the media glare.

Lowe was having a ball, dating and partying all around him, but a quick descent into alcoholism and the emergence of a career-wrecking sex tape marked the end of his 'Brat Pack' days, casting him into the wilderness for much of the 1990s.

Lowe has revisited his wild youth in a new biography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, a breezy trip through 1980s pop culture, the pages crammed with anecdotes about his famous peers, like Robert Downey Jnr, Patrick Swayze, Michael J Fox, and Sarah Jessica Parker (with whom he was set up on a blind date at age 14 by their mutual agent).

But Lowe doesn't shy away from delving into his family life and his various romantic (mis)adventures, though it's a little frustrating that he doesn't directly respond to some matters, such as his tumultuous relationship with Little House on the Prairie star Melissa Gilbert (who claimed that Lowe cheated on her with Nastassja Kinski, and to which she responded by apparently sleeping with Lowe's pal John Cusack).

"I didn't write the book to set the record straight or to settle scores," the disturbingly young-looking 47-year-old says over a cup of coffee in London hotel. "That's such bullsh*t.

"There have been a few people in my life who have written books over the years. I know people get really upset about it, but I don't because I believe everyone is entitled to their own perspective on their life. Okay, I might go, 'I wish they hadn't said that' or 'I wouldn't have done that', but that's a factor of taste and style. My book has a decorum, and that meant a lot of stuff didn't get in the book, but that's okay."

Lowe was born in Ohio on St Patrick's Day 1964. "My parents thought about calling me Patrick Aloysius, but they didn't have the guts," he laughs. As a child, Lowe moved to California when his parents split up, and quickly became entranced with the notion of being an actor.

This was a dream fuelled in no small part by being school friends with Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, sons of his future The West Wing co-star Martin Sheen. Indeed, in their youth, Lowe used to have contests with Charlie to see who could party the hardest (Sheen won out, just about).

How is the troubled star today? "My guess is that Charlie is doing better than everyone thinks he is," Lowe says, patiently. "He's smart as sh*t. Charlie has always earned money, more than all of us combined, and he always has. He has had a money-making horse-shoe up his ass since he was a kid.

"Now people are seeing the adrenalised, dramatised version of him, but he's always been a true eccentric, a no-fooling lunatic. And that's what we've always loved about him. I think we're choosing different roads -- he says understatedly -- but I love him."

Lowe's big break came in Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 'Brat Pack' classic The Outsiders, in which his co-stars (and roommates) included Tom Cruise. At the time, Lowe says that he and the other 'Brat Packers' -- such as Estevez, Demi Moore, and Molly Ringwald -- loathed that label, and in fact viewed it as a creative kiss of death.

"For the fans, 'Brat Pack' never was a pejorative term," Lowe explains. "In the media it was a slur. It implied that we were interchangeable, vacuous, lucky, walking-talking hair-dos. But over the years that's gone away, and now it's a moniker for a time and place and movies that people love."

Lowe might have hated being viewed as just a pretty face, but it certainly didn't hurt in his private life. Amongst his many romantic conquests was Princess Stephanie of Monaco, with whom he enjoyed a brief, but intense, fling in 1986.

I ask Lowe if he could have been the Kate Middleton of his time: the commoner marrying into royalty. He roars laughing in response. "I was really lazy as a kid, never doing my chores, so my dad used to say to me, 'Buddy, you'd better be either a movie star or a prince'. And there was a point in my life where I could have said, 'Dad I might very well get both.' I was so living from moment to moment at the time that I never really considered [becoming royalty]. I was more looking forward to diplomatic immunity if you must know."

It's the kind of protection that Lowe could have done with in 1989 when a videotape emerged of the then 24-year-old star having sex with two girls he met while on the road campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. One of the girls involved turned out to be aged 16, and then, as now, Lowe claims he didn't know what age she was (in the book, he recounts how he was hassled for ID going into the nightclub where he met the girls, and so assumed everyone else was subjected to the same vetting).

There were no legal ramifications, but Lowe's nascent career was destroyed by the ensuing scandal (the story came ahead of the Tiananmen Square massacre on one major nightly news bulletin in the US). The irony isn't lost on him that today sex tapes are considered so commonplace that they barely raise an eyebrow.

"Look at your boy Colin Farrell. A lot of people don't even know he has a sex tape. It was met by a total yawn," Lowe says, before adding with a sly smile: "Maybe his performance wasn't as good as mine."

Around that time, Lowe also entered rehab to get help for his drinking, a low point that was balanced out by meeting his wife of 21 years, Sheryl, on the set of the movie Bad Influence.

Despite his troubles, Lowe doesn't regret anything from his 20s. "I'd go one step further: if I could live the kind of life I live today, and still do it, then I would," he says. "It was great. Zero regrets. Unfortunately, there's no way to have what I have today and live that life."

Lowe's career got back on track in the late 1990s thanks to TV roles in Brothers and Sisters, Californication, Parks & Recreation and, of course, The West Wing. In person, and in the book, Lowe speaks fondly of the political show, but it's clear that his four years on the programme were bittersweet. He left in 2003 in a dispute over pay, screen-time and respect.

"I was definitely not treated appropriately, without a doubt," he says. "I wanted to keep a tone in my book, so there was a lot of stuff around The West Wing that couldn't go in. I don't want to make anyone look bad even if it was true. I can never answer when people ask me why I left the show because it's like someone asking you why you got divorced. But I'll always love that show and that part."

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