Looking out a dirty old window, “Everwood” star Gregory Smith watched as the city outside rushed by. In New York to promote an upcoming comedy-drama that he hopes will transform both himself and Nicole Richie (in her big-screen debut) into bona fide film stars, Smith offered some thoughts on his new film, “Kids in America,” opening in limited release October 21.
“Any time [there’s someone involved whom filmgoers] want to see, I think that’s great,” Smith said of Richie, the co-star of Fox TV’s recently axed reality show, “The Simple Life,” and the film’s sassy high school cheerleader, Kelly Stepford. “It’s been beneficial to the movie.”
For her part, as she attempts to transition into an acting career, Richie has chosen to join an ensemble cast rather than capitalize on her current heat with a “Glitter”-type vanity project. (Click here to see Richie talking about what drew her to the movie.) The heavy lifting, then, has been left to Smith, the 22-year-old who has acted in such films as “Krippendorf’s Tribe” and Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot.”
“Holden,” he replied, before pausing, when asked to describe his character. “He’s a confident guy, but he’s a nice guy, and he’s not afraid to fail. He’s not afraid to take a risk, and he’s not afraid to take the lead. He comes from a good place, and he’s got a great name.”
Smith’s rebellious teen character, obviously, derives his moniker from Holden Caulfield, the disdainful, charismatic protagonist of J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of teen angst, “The Catcher in the Rye.”
In the slightly less-highbrow “Kids in America,” when a teen promoting safe sex ignites a war at his school between faculty and students, the smooth-talking rebel without a clue, Holden, seizes his dare-to-be-great moment, tangling with the school’s principal and learning lessons about what it takes to really be oneself.
“I wouldn’t describe [the film] as a call to action,” the actor said after remarking that he frequently watched the 1990 Christian Slater film, “Pump Up the Volume” for inspiration. “The way in which action is called for [in this film] is different [than in most teen movies].”
When he wasn’t eliciting comparisons to early-’90s teen-rebel dramas with his script, writer/director Josh Stolberg threw in references to the earlier classic films that he and Smith hope the film will invoke. The end result is a blend of comedy and drama that, for instance, has the characters faking suicide and lampooning the spaghetti-slurping scene from “Lady and the Tramp” in the span of a few short scenes.
In a sequence that Smith cites among his favorites, he and actress Stephanie Sherrin (as Charlotte Pratt) engage in a tender love scene that has the two of them re-enacting classic moments from film favorites. The kiss in the rain from “Say Anything”? The slow-motion swimming pool shot from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”? Both are in there, simultaneously lampooning and paying tribute to those films while illustrating the love affair blossoming between the two characters.
For a similarly riotous-yet-tender moment later in the film, Stolberg took his lead actors aside and informed them that he was hoping they’d put his production into the record books.
“We did a scene at the end — a very, very long, prolonged kissing scene,” Smith laughed. “I think it was something like six minutes, which is something you would never, ever do in your lifetime. I think it actually will hold the record for the longest kiss in screen history.”
Clocking in at exactly six unedited minutes, the scene will undoubtedly set the bar higher for future attempts at spit-swapping expressions of teenage horniness.
“I read the script and I was like, ’Yeah, all right,’ ” Smith chuckled. “’ I can handle that.’
“The logistics were actually quite difficult, because for a kiss that long, in order for the record actually to count, you couldn’t part lips at all,” he said of their faithfulness to the Olympic-type endeavor. “They told me what [the previous holder] was, but I can’t remember. It was only like two minutes, or something — so we didn’t just break the record, we destroyed it.
“There was the challenge of actually kissing for six minutes without letting your lips part, and also, not having it get boring. We started by a car, and we had to move around the car and at one point wind up next to the car again and I had to take off my jacket,” Smith remembered of the choreography. “Doing all that kind of movement, although easy in day-to-day life, is really difficult when you’ve got your lips pressed up against somebody else’s.
“And if you mess up, then guess what?” he said slyly. “You have to do it all over again.”
Nicole Richie, meanwhile, spouted cheers during the production, rather than attempting to inhale another human being. Their roles couldn’t have been any more different and, as Smith readily admitted, they couldn’t have seen much less of each other on the set.
“I only met her, actually, a few times,” the actor said sheepishly. “I was like ’How was work today? How’d that scene go?’ I’d be making stuff up if I said that it was more than that.”
Their lack of interaction was due largely to Richie’s role as just another member of the “Kids in America” student body. Considering that his co-star is a woman made famous, in large part, by a (now seemingly fictional) stuck-up persona, Smith was amazed by how ready and willing Richie was to simply become another castmember.
“I think [her fans] will be impressed, and happy that she comes off so well,” he speculated. “She does a great job.”
Two different stars, two different approaches to the little film that might make any one of its actors a big-screen sensation. As Kim Wilde sang more than 20 years ago, in her own hugely popular pop ditty, “Kids in America”: “Down town the young ones are going. Down town the young ones are growing.” Indeed.
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