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Freak Phone 

Five hits from Patrick Fugit’s iPhone.

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By Randy HaRwaRd

Nine years and nine films after Almost Famous, Patrick Fugit still enjoys some anonymity. Even here in Salt Lake City, where he continues to make his home, he can get around without too much movie-star fuss—or industry rigmarole, which is why he never moved to Los Angeles in the first place. Here, at least most of the time, he can blend in. Not even my neighbors, who’ve seen Almost Famous and knew Fugit was gonna stop by this week, recognize him as he pulls up in a nondescript import car. Although he was fresh from recording dialogue for his next film, Cirque du Freak, Fugit, in his brown hoodie and unassuming demeanor, looked to one neighbor like “just some domey dude.” (I should ask what that meant).

That’s why, when Fugit comes up to the office for a stroll through his wellstocked iPhone, the stories about how Jason Schwartzman or Macaulay Culkin or Jena Malone or Cameron Crowe hipped him to whatever song shuffled up are mildly surprising—because you forget that this “domey dude” is an actor—and no big deal, because Pat Fugit hasn’t been eclipsed by his fame. “After Almost Famous, I was hot,” he said with a roll of his eyes. Instead of auditions, Fugit’s performance as William Miller earned him meetings with network executives.

“Wow,” thought the then-18-year-old. “This is easy.” Almost Famous was Fugit’s first real role outside of two appearances on the SLC-produced TV schmaltzfest Touched By An Angel. In the film, he played William Miller, a character loosely based on director Crowe’s days as a young rock journalist under the tutelage of the late great Lester Bangs. Although Almost Famous was an overwhelmingly positive experience, young Fugit sensed he wouldn’t care for playing Hollywood grab-ass.

It stemmed from his school days, when he was harassed by “typical evil little Mormon kids” for being a non-Mormon (in schools populated by grandchildren of Mormon hierarchy) and unashamed of his mother-facilitated ballet lessons.

“You know how in Adam Sandler movies, he’s always fighting the O’Doyles? I had the McConkies.” As with almost any reasonably well-adjusted former outsider, Fugit looks back on the experience with sardonic humor—he’s had the last laugh.

“When I think about the jocks who hassled me, it’s like, ‘Are you still playing football? How are those knees?’” That’s as bitter as Fugit gets. His contempt isn’t so much for his assailants as their actions, and he’s a silver-lining kind of guy. As to the seeming indignity of wearing tights and prancing about, he says he “enjoyed the discipline and physicality” and that elements of ballet—such as pantomime—helped prepare him for a summer acting workshop when he was 11. Four years later, he was almost famous.

He says he was lucky to have people watching out for him—Crowe, his wife Nancy Wilson, and co-star Billy Crudup all took Fugit under their wing and helped keep him grounded. “I didn’t really buy into the [partying],” he says, “but in L.A., it was really easy to buy into the hype. I felt gross, like I was setting myself up for a big fall.” Sometimes, Fugit wonders if he made the right move. “Who knows what [opportunities I’d have had] if I stayed in L.A.?” But, staying here, he’s been able to choose his roles, like the drama White Oleander (2002), drug movie Spun (2003) and organized religion spoof Saved! (2004).

Occasionally he works on the honor system, taking gladly-pay-you-Tuesday roles in return for artistic integrity. Case in point: the 2006 film Wristcutters: A Love Story, a loopy cult film that was a festival darling, nominated for eight awards and winning four, including Best Director (Seattle International Film Festival) and Best Feature (Gen Art 06). And Cirque du Freak is a Universal Studios film based on Darren Shan’s series of young adult vampire novels where Fugit plays the snake boy in a freak show alongside Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly.

Maybe the Cirque series isn’t a saccharine love story with nutty fans, but it’s a proven worldwide seller and award-winner. As for his musical taste, Fugit’s bashful when it comes up between the Iron & Wine, Estrella Morente, Modest Mouse, Johnny Cash and Mos Def tunes that his iPhone selects for us, but it smells like a winner. CW

Not “just some domey dude.”

Estrella Morente, “Volver,” Volver (OST)
This is the only song I got from the soundtrack. I play flamenco guitar and, when I saw the movie, it’s pretty sick because Penelope Cruz sits down and starts playing with this guy. It’s just a nice song. I don’t know how, but I haven’t learned to speak Spanish in three years of playing flamenco guitar. Apparently, what she’s saying is pretty awesome.

Mushman, “Brennan’s Theme,” Wristcutters: A Love Story (OST)
This is a Seth Bernard song … It’s just nice and melancholy. The track that Seth recorded is really short. My band Mushman wanted to record it how we’d been playing it—longer—just to listen to. Goran Dukic, the director of Wristcutters, heard it and asked to put it in the film. It’s also the DVD menu song, which we were really stoked about.

Nick Drake, “Road,” Way to Blue: An Introduction to Nick Drake
It was the middle of shooting Almost Famous and I was pretty exhausted. I had my headphones on and Andy Fischer, who is one of Cameron Crowe’s assistants, asked what I was listening to. It was the Allman Brothers [but] I wanted to listen to something melancholy and chill. He gave me this and said, “You’re gonna love it.” And I did.


Neil Young, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
I listen to this in L.A. a lot [laughs]. I remember during Almost Famous, Cameron gave me a ton of music to listen to. I probably responded the most to Led Zeppelin and Neil Young. I love Neil Young.

Green Sky Bluegrass, “River/Fire,” Tuesday Letter
This song is just the sound of a crackling campfire, which sucks. I wish a real song [of theirs] would come on. Because they’re really good.
Patrick Fugit
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