HOLLYWOOD — Alternative-rock band OPM once sang "Heaven Is a Halfpipe" — a statement that, if true, would've made this city a little slice of paradise Tuesday night.
As Columbia Pictures unleashed its new skateboarding biopic, "Lords of Dogtown," at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the studio turned the world-famous premiere location of such classics as "King Kong" into a place where tattoos, boards and piercings took the place of formalwear.
"I thought about coming in my skater pants or a hoodie," smiled the film's Nikki Reed, a rare well-dressed attendee, surveying the scene. "But Dolce & Gabbana don't make a hoodie."
An enormous, X Games-like skating area showcased the current masters of the sport alongside the red carpet. Actors, musicians and skaters including Fred Durst — who was originally slated to direct the film (see "Fred Durst To Start Rollin' Film On Skateboard Flick") — Jason Lee, Perry Farrell, Tony Hawk, Erika Christensen and Brian "Head" Welch took turns watching the tricks and talking with the media alongside many of the film's stars and their real-life alter egos. Original Z-Boys Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva and Jay Adams talked it up with the actors who played them: John Robinson, Victor Rasuk and Emile Hirsch, respectively. The most curious comments of the night, however, may have come from Skip Engblom, the skateboarding pioneer portrayed by Heath Ledger.
Engblom, the longhaired top dude of the skating movement, remembered that when the studio asked him to recommend a Hollywood actor, he named only one: Ledger. "It was one of those dream situations where they said, 'Who do you want?' and I said, 'That guy would be nice,' " Engblom said.
What made the dream casting unusual, however, was that Engblom made his selection based on the unlikeliest of performances: Ledger's early-career musket-carrying soldier in the Mel Gibson period film "The Patriot." What made Engblom see a skate shop owner buried within the colonial mannerisms of that character? "Well, because of his physical presence, and he could ride [a horse] and seemed really coordinated," Engblom laughed. "[I later found out] that he was a surfer and a skateboarder."
As Engblom, Ledger got to join a young, up-and-coming cast while spending significant time at a skate camp later, where they were trained by the actual Z-Boys. The film's Johnny Knoxville, however, considers himself lucky that his character was just a scummy agent who didn't know his way around a board. "That was great, because I don't skate and it saved me a lot of broken stuff," Knoxville smiled, before saying that he was impressed with the way the film made his co-stars' skating abilities look onscreen. "They all looked like they were really good."
"I saw Tony Alva and Jay Adams around a lot, [but] they were more '70s, and I was more '80s, early '90s," reminisced Jason Lee ("Almost Famous," "Mallrats") a former pro skateboarder. After hearing about some of the injuries the stars and their stuntmen suffered on set, Lee said it reminded him of the old days: "I chipped and cracked my pelvis; that was the most excruciating pain I ever felt in my life. I was skating a ramp, and I slammed on the ground face first. ... I was laid up for two weeks, but now if it were to happen, I'd be laid up [for] two months."
Shockingly, the worst injury on the "Lords" set wasn't even suffered by someone on a board. Instead, the film shoot was thrown into jeopardy when director Catherine Hardwicke backed herself over the edge of an empty pool while trying to frame a shot. "She was directing a scene and just went down, and everybody thought she was dead. It was horrifying," remembered Reed, who also worked with Hardwicke on the critically acclaimed "Thirteen."
Despite being knocked unconscious, "She was so determined to finish everything," Reed continued. "As soon as she hit her head, she was in the hospital. She called me the next day [and] was like, 'Nikki, I'm going to be back up directing tomorrow, we're going to be back up. ... I'm going to be directing from my hospital room."
And they say skateboarders are tough.
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