If you know Leo Fitzpatrick mostly as the 16-year-old who played Telly the Virgin Surgeon in Kids, then you should probably get out more. The longtime East Villager (now 35) has earned his place in the downtown pantheon by DJing at Lit for over a decade, skating to parties at Max Fish and Motor City, showing art in exhibitions like the recent “Cut Teeth,” and opening a gallery of his own. All that and he’s still acting — most recently in Doomsdays, which makes its New York City premiere Saturday and Monday as part of MoMA’s annual “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You” series.
The dark comedy (whose Kickstarter I contributed to, since I’m friends with director Eddie Mullins) follows a brooding fatalist (played by Fitzpatrick) and a whiskey-swilling gadfly (played by Bishop Allen frontman Justin Rice, who’ll appear at the MoMA screenings) as they bounce around upstate New York, causing mischief and mayhem as they squat in rich folks’ unoccupied vacation homes. Last night, before he jumped on a plane to show the film at the Starz Denver Film Festival, Fitzpatrick spoke to us over the phone from his East Village studio.
You play a man of very few words in this movie. Did you even have to speak any lines during the audition?
The audition was pretty standard. At auditions they generally take a chunky scene and they give it to you and you have to do it. I don’t exactly think like Bruho but I share similar traits — like, I think there’s a lot to be negative about but I try to be positive, whereas Bruho the character doesn’t want to be positive.
I’m assuming there wasn’t a stunt coordinator in this film’s budget. Did you worry about hurting yourself when you were smashing up cars with tire irons?
I’ve hurt myself way worse in day-to-day life. The one thing was, originally in the script my character drank and did drugs with Justin’s character but I grew up with a lot of straight-edge kids and sharps and kids who weren’t into drugs and alcohol but they were into violence. That’s how they got their kicks. I made Eddie get rid of all my stuff about drugs and drinking because I think violence is as much of a drug as drinking – violence is a release and it doesn’t have to be one-on-one violence, it can be against a car or inanimate object.
The setting is a big part of the film. While you were staying upstate, did you feel that itch to leave the city and get a place up there?
I got the bug wholeheartedly. It’s tough living in the city now that rents are so high. You want to fight for art and just cool things happening within the city but the higher the rents go, the harder it is to find interesting things to do. I own an art gallery, I rent an art studio, I have my apartment; it’s very difficult to live in the city and be creative because rents have gotten outrageous. Upstate is a great escape for that — within the last year I’ve honestly been thinking about moving there full-time. It’s great: there’s a lot of creative people up there, it’s beautiful, there’s a lot of towns that have everything you want or need. It’s a shame New York City has become so expensive that it’s driving away creative people.
You mentioned your gallery. What’s the latest with Home Alone 2?
We set up a new show tonight by John Miller, who’s a great artist who shows with Metro Pictures. We’re not a not-for-profit, because they get grants; we literally lose money every month to provide a space we think is relevant for the next generation, somewhere where people can come and hang out. Sometimes Chelsea can be a little intimidating; we don’t want to be Chelsea, we want to be a nice little space where kids can check out art. But this city is so money driven that I don’t know how long it’ll last.
Erik Foss said a similar thing when he closed Fuse Gallery — that he couldn’t keep losing money on it. Do you still DJ at Lit?
I stopped — DJing is a tough profession. Even though I only DJed once a week, it’s not a healthy lifestyle. You basically drink too much — because if you can drink at work, chances are you will drink at work and that is what DJing is. I just needed to get more stuff done in the daytime. I still love Lit — I DJed Lit since it opened, I guess 11 years ago. I’m a Max Fish kid and now that these bars are becoming fewer and fewer I’m really falling out of love with the Lower East Side. It’s tricky to ask, why do I invest so much of my money and energy in a neighborhood that just doesn’t give a shit? It gets frustrating that those people like Foss, who mean well, are being fought against by other people just because they have the money.
The whole Lower East Side is becoming a condominium or some sort of shopping mall. If you look at Ludlow Street, it’s insane. It’s basically a ghost town because they wanted to wipe everyone out, build a Soho House, build a hotel and fill it with Gaps and 7-Elevens. That, to me, is a little offensive.
I’m too old. I love Dumbo, I love Brooklyn, I love Williamsburg, but I’m now too old to get in on it. It’s sort of like placing a bet after the cards are shown. Now if I want to see a band or go to a fun party I have to go to Brooklyn and chances are I won’t go. I think it’s amazing people can come to New York and never leave Brooklyn but I’m settled in my ways. But there are great places — like Secret Project Robot is a great venue.
There are still places in Brooklyn that remind me of Paradise Vacations, the travel agency office where you threw parties in Chinatown. Were you there when that place got shut down?
That was one of the best times in my personal DJ history. It was like a brothel or something. It was perfect, it didn’t matter that it got shut down, it was so illegal it was right. Everything was illegal about it and that’s how it should be when you’re young and stupid and trying to start a party: you find the Chinese brothel and have a great time.
Now that you’re getting older, are you one of those folks who can’t stand partiers yelling under your window, or do you just let it slide, since you’ve contributed to that whole scene as a DJ for so long?
No way, I’m the grumpiest DJ ever. I don’t like being out late, I don’t like loud music, I don’t like people — so I’m the worst DJ ever. But it’s sort of weird because you want to hate on the people having fun on Friday and Saturday night, but maybe you’re a little jealous that they’re still young and excited. I live above some bars and I don’t go out anymore. Of course I want to go to bed and go to bed peacefully, but in the same respect how can you hate on these people for doing what you did ten years ago? I used to get into fights on the streets and stumble out of the bars at 4 a.m. — I used to be a dick. It’s hard to complain and not feel like an old fuck or a narc.
Your name came up recently when we were talking to your neighbors Cat Marnell and Richard Kern. Do you talk shop with Kern?
I have a studio across from Richard, but not so much — I mean, basically, it’s pretty suburban over here. We talk about the mailman and this and that. We do talk about art from here to there, but I grew up a fan of Richard’s work and I think what he does is great and he’s a real documentarian and for me I wouldn’t say I’m intimidated by his talent but I do think he’s a great talent, and a great Lower East Side talent.
I think people like Richard deserve to stay in this neighborhood. When I talk to him I feel like a little kid — I don’t really have much to contribute but I really do appreciate him and him holding down the Lower East Side and I think his file cabinets are full of amazing things that nobody will ever see again and he captured it and that’s really important and that’s going to become less and less which I think is fucked up. Not less and less because of the photographer but because of the environment. The environment is changing so fast that it’s crazy.
Can you point to anything that still excites you about downtown?
It’s pretty difficult, to be honest. Not to be a dick but I think the city is fucked — I can’t name four things that keep me in the city. I have my coffee shop I go to every day, Pause Café. It’s like the craziest coffee shop — it’s on Clinton Street — but I love it. As far as being an actor at all, New York City is the worst place to be for an actor who doesn’t want to do stage work. But I’m here because of the art world — all my friends and peers are all visual artists and that’s what I love about New York.
But it’s tricky when everything’s just a numbers game — it becomes no fun, it’s like what’s the point, why am I fighting so hard to believe in something that doesn’t believe in me? I think there’s going to be a backlash that will be amazing. There has to be some sort of “fuck you” to this whole New York City high rent, high society, clean streets bullshit. I’ll sacrifice myself to a couple muggings as long as we can get back to normal. It used to be New York was tough because you might get beat up walking home; now it’s tough because you can’t pay the rent. That’s frustrating. I don’t mind getting beat up as long as my rent’s cheap.