Talking to reporters in New York recently, the actor-writer admitted he was amazed by how many Hollywood has-beens still had enormous egos, years, even decades, after their glory days had passed.
"I got to work with about 30 ... and they are complicated," confided the 39-year-old Michigan native. "They were hard. Some were like, 'Hey, give me $50 and an apple' and the other ones were like: 'I need a private jet. I need an entourage' and they sometimes stay at the last level of their highest thing. They didn't wanna drop from there."
"Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" was No. 1 when it opened at the box office this weekend, earning $7 million. The film is about a former kid celebrity (Spade) who hires a foster family to help him recreate the childhood he never had because he was working.
The on-set drama didn't end once the actors were hired, said Spade.
"(Seventies TV idols) Danny Partridge (Danny Bonaduce) and Greg Brady (Barry Williams) were in the poker scene and it was getting late and Greg was ad-libbing and Danny's like, 'Don't make me beat you down again.' It's like, 'Okaaaay,'" Spade recalled. "Then Corey (Feldman) has a band. Dustin (Diamond) has a band. So, there's snipes about that. And they've never met each other. So, suddenly when it's the poker scene and we're doing this thing and it's weird and it's getting late and everyone's tired. It's just one of those things where even during the ('We Are the World'-type) song at the end, everyone gets excited, saying, 'Hey, you were my favorite growing up!' But there's a couple of egos floating around."
Asked how he decided which former child stars should appear in the film, Spade replied: "I had a say (in who had a cameo in the film,) but it was more of a crap shoot."
"I'm like: 'Bring me Tootie. Bring me J.J. Walker.' [And they're like,] 'Well we have Screech (from 'Saved by the Bell') and we have Danny (from 'The Partridge Family,')" he continued. "I'm like, 'Great, let's go.' So, it was more like we all brainstormed. It's not just who is a child star, but who do we care about. Who is interesting?"
Spade confessed that he, like most Americans, is more fascinated by child stars who grow up to wreck their cars, battle drug addictions and so on (a la Bonaduce, Leif Garrett, Todd Bridges and Corey Feldman) than about those pint-sized thespians who successfully transition to adult roles like Michael J. Fox and Alyssa Milano or those who simply fade away like Diamond, Williams and Maureen McCormick.
"No one even mentions that Alyssa's a child star because she landed on her feet," the actor noted. "She's doing great. Cute girl, doing well, works and no story. But when they see the guy from Three Dog Night, they find him in an alley fighting, his teeth on the ground because they fell out of his head. They want to see him get pounded."
Of course, "Dickie Roberts" is not the first work to mine the trials and tribulations of celebrity juvenile delinquents for comedy. Spade himself starred in a hilarious "SNL" skit years ago where cast members portrayed "Diff'rent Strokes" actor Todd Bridges, "Charlie's Angels" actress Drew Barrymore, "Facts of Life" star Mindy Cohn and other former child stars as a band of angry thugs holed up in a tenement waiting for their next big score. Arguably the funniest part of the gag was squeaky clean Michael J. Fox playing the troubled, tough-talking Bonaduce, while Spade played Fox, the good guy trying to get his fellow child actors to walk the straight and narrow. The skit ends with Bonaduce pummeling Fox.
The subject of what becomes of child stars was also revisited recently on the WB's popular reality series, "The Surreal Life." On that show, viewers got to see what former television and film stars Gabrielle Carteris, Emmanuel Lewis and Corey Feldman have been up to since they left the limelight. The answer? Not much. Other reality series, talk shows and game shows have also been dragging out grown-up child actors as curiosities lately.
Asked why he decided to address this subject now after comedians have been making fun of former child stars for years, Spade insisted, "I think it was ripe for the picking, to be honest."
That said, Spade also seems quite able to sympathize with those who still are coping with the loss of their glitzy jobs and all the perks that come with them, revealing that most actors he knows fear that will someday happen to them.
"There was something really great happening and that screws their head -- a lot worse when you're a kid," he explained. "On 'Saturday Night Live,' for me, when I was like a little older than a kid, I was like 25, but just getting cut from the 'Weekly Update' segment really freaked me out and made me have a rough week. It literally affects your health. It affects everything. If you're crazy enough to be in LA or trying to be in show business, something's already wrong. So, you're already starting in a bit of a deficit. And, so, when you go out there and you're getting rejected, it's true there's something there. There's something real about that. Even the ones that are doing great are crazy. Like I meet stars that are huge stars who couldn't have a better career and they're totally 'cuckoo.' And I'm like, 'Wow.' They've gone through so many ups and downs; by the time they get there, they're still mad about the down time. So, when you're a kid and you do that, I think it's so crazy. ... I was shocked when I got older if a movie didn't open or if people wouldn't talk to me, friends leave, girls act weird. So, everything in the world is based on this? And that's how I related in the movie. Like some of those scenes we wrote because, it's true that people kind of adjust themselves to how well you're doing because that's your whole identity/self-worth."
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