In 1994, we sat down with then-11-year-old child actor Brad Renfro to talk about his breakthrough work in “The Client,” a role for which he was handpicked by director Joel Schumacher. He spoke about becoming a movie star, revealed what frightened him the most about Hollywood and spoke of his future acting career.
Early Tuesday morning, 14 years after that interview, Renfro was found dead in his Los Angeles residence. A cause of death was not immediately known, and an autopsy is to be performed Thursday.
There is an old Jesuit motto that says, “Give me a child until he is 7, and I will give you the man.” The young Renfro that sat down with our crew that day — hair over his eyes, a thick Southern accent punctuating his drawn-out syllables — was a far cry in many ways from the troubled adult who would later emerge, the adult plagued by a fierce addiction to drugs and by run-ins with the law.
And yet, the Renfro we spoke to that day was also very much like the man he would become. He was overly timid, even for a child actor, and especially humble, unsure of how to act in front of our cameras. He seemed fearful — of us, of “girls,” of growing up, he said.
Renfro would become an admitted drug user, culminating publicly two years ago in an arrest on Los Angeles’ skid row for attempting to buy heroin from an undercover officer. But to his colleagues and friends, the actor was also so much more.
“I had the pleasure of working with Brad when he was 11, in ’The Client,’ ” Susan Sarandon told People magazine. “It was obvious to everyone that he was the sweetest, most incredibly gifted young actor to come along for some time. My heart goes out to the family for their tragic loss.”
In the wake of the actor’s tragic death, MTV News takes a look back at our 1994 interview with Brad Renfro.
MTV: An adult’s idea of being tough is really very different from what a kid’s idea of being tough is. Are you tough in real life?
Brad Renfro: Not anymore. I used to [be]. But I don’t have a coverup anymore.
MTV: You used to have a coverup?
Renfro: My coverup was that I don’t care. I don’t care if I go to jail. I don’t care what happens to me. But deep inside, I really did.
MTV: Can you relate to your character?
Renfro: In every way — he has to be the man around the house and I’ve got to be the guy around the house. He has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, and I’ve got a lot of responsibility on my shoulders.
MTV: You were at one time a really tough kid?
Renfro: Well, I was no different than I am now. But I acted tough.
MTV: You see yourself being a star?
[Renfro shakes his head “no.”]
MTV: Just a normal kid?
Renfro: A normal kid with an odd job.
MTV: And a little tough too?
Renfro: Well, that’s what it takes, I guess.
Maybe, in the end, the Jesuits had it right.
Brad Renfro was 25.