WaXed surf talk radio returns with a new season of podcasts debuting Wednesday, September 3rd. Subsequent shows premier every two weeks. Follow WaXed on all social media platforms @WaXedradio to find out who will be the guest of each show and to get all the latest news in surfing and more.
Upcoming WaXed schedule:
September 3rd – Coco Ho
September 17th – Jamie O’Brien
October 1st – Quincy Davis
October 15th – Donavon Frankenreiter
October 29th – Anastasia Ashley
Zuri Irvin contributed to this story.
In many ways, filmmaker Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer movies impacted the sport of surfing similar to what the Gidget and Beach Party movies did in the 1960’s. Brown’s films opened doors and endless possibilities of the imagination for millions of surfers worldwide.
28 years after his original The Endless Summer was released in 1966 to wide fanfare among surfers and non-surfers alike, thus reaching a legacy so profound it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry due to being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant, Brown produced a sequel that rivaled the original in quality and popularity.
Following the footsteps of Mike Hynson and Robert August, the surfers starring in the original film as they traveled the world seeking perfect waves and harmonious environments while endlessly pursuing the summer season, Brown sought two new surfers to visit the same surf breaks frequented in the original film to showcase not just how amazing the waves are, but to reveal how the featured locales, and the sport of surfing itself, changed in the time between the release of each film.
The two surfers who starred in The Endless Summer II were Santa Cruz longboarder Robert “Wingnut” Weaver and Chicago native Pat O’Connell, who moved to Southern California at the age of 12 and became the first surfer in The Endless Summer series to surf with a shortboard. A short time later, his family relocated to Dana Point, where O’Connell put his stamp on surfing by dominating his home surf break of Salt Creek.
O’Connell would begin a successful competitive surfing career catapulting with competing on the ASP World Tour for 12 years and being inducted in 2009 into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame at Huntington Beach. While his competitive career was wildly successful, it was the fateful decision by Brown to select him as one of the two surfers in the sequel to his iconic surf film that would cement O’Connell’s status as one of the most popular surfers in the world.
I caught up with O’Connell to talk about his role as the Marketing Manager for Hurley, how Brown selected him for The Endless Summer II, his experience filming the movie, how much fun he had starring in the wildly popular Drive Thru series, retiring on his own terms, and what’s next for one of the happiest surfers in the world, Pat O’Connell.
Cyrus: I think the year was 1993, maybe ‘94. I was 15 or 16-years-old. I’m visiting my cousin in San Diego, and he’s playing this movie on his TV. The Endless Summer II. I see this movie, and at that moment I decided to be a surfer.
I get the feeling a lot of people are in the same boat as me. It was one of the most influential movies ever, especially when it comes to surfing. Then Pat O’Connell went on to have a fantastic, competitive career and starred in not just one of my favorite movies, but one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Drive Thru. You’re one of my favorite all-time surfers. Pat, how are you doing?
Pat: I’m doing great! That was a nice introduction, thanks man! (Laughs)
Cyrus: Thank you. What would be your plans this morning if you weren’t doing this interview?
Pat: I’d be home in Dana Point, just looking around and seeing where to go surf. It looks like the buoys are out pretty substantially, so that’s a good thing. I’ll probably put my board up and grab my bike and go ride down to Trestles.
Cyrus: I’ve heard that Salt Creek is your main break and that when you’re there, you’re the king of that domain. Is that true? Is that where you’re normally at?
Pat: (Laughs) You know what? In days past I would have said more so, but it’s been a while. Too much at work and I’ve been pretty much buckling down there. I’ve been getting out on the weekends and, if possible, in the early mornings but it hasn’t been super great in the early mornings. I found other things to do. I’m sure there’s another guy out there saying that he’s the King of the Creek.
Cyrus: Maybe. Then you’d just go out there and remind them who’s boss and slap them around like you should. What is an ‘every day’ like for Pat O’Connell these days?
Pat: It really changes. Right now, John John Florence is actually staying with us. He’s been really, really great. He’s got a team of people that he comes to see every day and it’s been interesting to watch the dedication. So I’m kind of working with him a little bit to make sure that’s on track. Really, my day-to-day is just overseeing and making sure we’re on point with the marketing program. Specifically athletes, you know? So there is a lot of stuff going on. We have 10 men on the World Tour. We have two on the women’s side.
Pat: We’ve got regional people that are helping. A kid named Brandon Guilmette, who is here in Huntington Beach, is kind of handling day-to-day with all those guys. He does an unbelievable job of making those guys feel super special. Making sure everyone is on point, and making sure they have a smile on their face. (Laughs)
Cyrus: You’re the head of marketing for Hurley, which is arguably the number one surf brand. Among many of the heavy hitters you have in your lineup is John John Florence, who is not just the future but the present of surfing. He’s been staying with you while training?
Pat: Yeah, so it’s been fun. I pull a lot on past experiences but I am really learning a lot because what these guys are going through, in some ways, is similar. But, it is different. There’s a lot more money in the sport. There’s more attention than there’s ever been. The guys are truly athletes. I think the transition from decades – you know, the 80’s side kind of went at it one way. With our generation, we took it, and you see with Kelly (Slater) still doing it, a little more professionally. With these guys, it’s really, “Eat, sleep, and drink.”
Cyrus: Who better than Pat O’Connell to help out all these guys on tour? That must be so good for these guys. Are you heading up the tour notes and all the videos? Is that a little bit of what you’re doing?
Pat: Yeah. So basically, with all these guys, we decided we had to find a way. Peter King actually does that for us. We have all these guys on tour. How do you bring some attention to these great stories? The whole hope was getting a little bit of the stuff behind the scenes, because obviously when you watch webcasts or a produced television show, you see that the guy can surf well. But how did he get there? What did he do? What was the day-to-day? I think those are the stories we’re trying to focus in on.
Cyrus: Early in your career, you were talking about the 80’s and that’s when you got your name out there and you started competing. Your huge breakthrough without question was a role that even to this day is still talked about, and the movie is a timeless classic. I’m talking about The Endless Summer II. And you were the star of this film, which is a sequel to a cult classic. If I’m not mistaken, I believe both the original and this film are in the Smithsonian as a part of the American Film Institute. How did you get this role? Explain the whole story of you being the star of The Endless Summer II.
Pat: Cool, thanks. It was pretty random, actually. As you would, if you could imagine back in that day, Bruce (Brown) had gone with his group and said they wanted to make this movie. They had gone to the magazines and basically found a hit list. They found the top 10 names and started going through them. I was on those lists, and at the same time, a real good friend of mine who surfs out at Salt Creek, a guy named Gary DiPella, was a great friend of Bruce and also one of the attorneys who was putting together the documents to make the movie.
As time would have it, I didn’t have a cell phone. There were no cell phones back then anyways. (Laughs) I didn’t have an answering machine. Getting a hold of me was close to impossible. Plus, that’s what my friends would do. They would call and say that they were someone that they weren’t. (Laughs) So the first time he did get a hold of me, I hung up on him. I thought it was a friend taking a piece out of me.
After repeated attempts, I finally believed that it was him and I drove up and met with him at Hollister Ranch. From there, it just went really quick. We were going to Costa Rica. I don’t think it ever really sunk in until I was literally at Costa Rica with the film crew and realized, “Holy cow, this is like a serious operation here!”
Cyrus: What do you think put you on that list of 10 surfers that they wanted? What were their criteria?
Pat: Well, I was young. I think they wanted someone who could be on camera, but they also wanted someone who was the young up-and-coming surfer. I was able to take the time. It was funny because Kelly (Slater) said, “Hey, I got this job to do The Endless Summer,” and I had just met with Bruce. So I was thinking, “Oh, great. Kelly’s going to take this job.”
And how oblivious I was to the whole thing was funny. Two weeks later I had to drive up to a contest at Pismo Beach. And in my car were Shane Dorian, Ross Williams, and Todd Chesser. Bruce calls and says, “Hey would you mind stopping by? We want to do a little test.” I said, “Great.”
So, obviously those other three names were on the list. I’m so stupid that I brought my competition. (Laughs) All of those guys surf good, if not better than I do. I left that contest scratching my head thinking, “Am I the dumbest person in the world? I just gave away my dream job.” (Laughs)
But yeah, I think they wanted someone who had the time and wasn’t going to be distracted by competing and stuff. At that time, it was right when the ASP broke for having trials and qualifying the top 44. I had the back half of the tour that year. That was the first year Kelly qualified. Kelly finished in the last spot, 44th. I think it was 1992. It was a whole new world and I would’ve either jumped on the tour with everyone else or had this amazing opportunity. I’m really lucky I got it, because I wasn’t ready to go on tour. I still felt I was probably a few years too young, and I use that when I talk to kids about what they want to do. You look right now and the World Tour is definitely very young. Typically I think the age of qualifying is 22 to 23. When kids are kind of questioning it, I tell them they have such a long time to do this thing. It’s funny. I go back to those experiences and realize you don’t need to rush.
Cyrus: Exactly. And if anyone can advise them, it’d be you. Hollister Ranch, is that where Bruce Brown lives? Is that why you guys met there? The mythical Hollister Ranch? How’d you guys end up there?
Pat: He lives on the way up there. He doesn’t live on the ranch, but he has access to the ranch. So, I’ve been up there a handful of times. We never had great waves, but you realize that’s what California was and would still be like outside of the population explosion.
Cyrus: You’re right.
Pat: But I’ve never had great waves there and I hear amazing things.
Cyrus: What was it like working with Wingnut? He’s in Santa Cruz and the guy is so hilarious. He’s among the most animated personalities in surfing.
Pat: Yup, that’s exactly it. He made it easy for me because he is so outgoing. I am typically OK in one-on-one settings, but as it gets larger, I typically shy away. It was really a partnership because you could kind of tell if he was overwhelmed. There’s this funny joke. Halfway through South Africa, I used to carry these huge headphones in a disc player. David Brown says to me one day, “What are you listening to?” And this is halfway through the Africa trip. My batteries had run out, so I didn’t have anything on, but I had my headphones on. (Laughs) And I was so afraid to let him in on my secret. Because, dude, we’d do six to eight hours of driving each day to go do things. He realized, and he kind of smiled and said, “OK, that’s our secret. I won’t tell anyone.” (Laughs) I was like, “Ah, thank you. Thank you.”
To be on, and to be energetic every day, you give a lot. Like any man, we like to hibernate. And there wasn’t a lot of hibernation on those trips. One time when we were in Paris, it was crazy. There was this scene, and I don’t know if it made it in the movie, but I’m driving a car through the city streets in Paris and they say, “We want to get a shot of you guys on the freeway.” Mind you, finding directions and all these things, there are no iPhones with maps.
Cyrus: No GPS.
Pat: It’s crazy. So we’re driving through, and we’re on a freeway. I’ve got a walkie-talkie, and I know they’re on the bridge ahead of me. And they’re like, “OK, we want you to stop in the middle of the freeway and pull out a map to pretend that you’re lost.”
Now, this isn’t a Hollywood film where everyone knows they’re in the movie. It’s literally French traffic and people are trying to get to and from work. And I’m like, “Are you freaking kidding me?” Sure enough, Wingnut’s got his longboard on the front of the car and we’ve got the map out in rush hour traffic!
Cyrus: I bet those people were yelling at you.
Pat: I was so happy I didn’t speak French. (Laughs) I had no idea what they were saying.
Cyrus: I thought the chemistry was great between you guys. In a lot of ways, Bruce Brown’s genius in both of those movies was picking the two perfect surfers. You were a guy that everyone rooted for. You were a guy that made us laugh. The fact that it was a documentary was the most fascinating aspect about it. Was filming the movie similar to what you might see in reality TV today where some of the scenes might have been staged? Or was everything just impromptu and completely on the fly?
Pat: You know, it’s hard to compare doing Drive Thru with that. Endless Summer was way more staged and it had to be because we were using film. Every time you hit the button, it costs a hundred bucks just to turn the camera on. It could have been more, but that was back then, you know? Shooting was expensive. In this day and age with digital red cameras and all that stuff, it can be way more impromptu. There are scenes from a cinematic point of view that you do want to set up, but you are able to let life happen a little bit more and not worry about the cost of burning film. So we definitely had a plan when we’d go places. That’s not to say that it was so scripted that we couldn’t do things. But we really did have to map it out a little bit because we just knew that every time we hit that button it’s an expensive reel.
At Drive Thru, the cameras were rolling basically all day and it was only the issue to the guy that had to sit through 900 hours of Donovan (Frankenreiter) partying or something. (Laughs) Actually, no, that was our issue. I’m sorry, that wasn’t their issue. That was our issue. (Laughs) But it was a lot more free-flowing. The cameras, too. Don King and Jack McCoy and Dan Merkel were the camera guys.
Cyrus: Wow! I didn’t know that. Crazy.
Pat: Yeah, and these water houses we had were huge because they’re carrying 35mm cameras. Any shot that they did get was pretty painstakingly hard in the surf. Again, with these cameras that we have today, you can hold them in the palm of your hand. I mean, look at the GoPro. It’s incredible, right? It’s just so much easier.
Cyrus: You did the Hollywood thing. The Endless Summer II was in most people’s opinion, especially surfers, paired with number one the greatest surf film ever. And then you did the Drive Thru series, in which Greg Browning did the filming and directing, and at the core of it was you, Donovan Frankenreiter and Benji Weatherly. You had a huge crew that came on for some, if not all, of the episodes. Including Kalani Robb, who I’ve interviewed many times. Drive Thru, for me, was one of the very few reasons I would watch the now-defunct Fuel TV. It would be on at midnight sometimes and sometimes it would be on at primetime. I’d just be glued and start DVR’ing those shows. I’ve seen pretty much every episode. I had to watch the California series, which was the first, online though. In my opinion, it was what a surf show should be. Do you miss it? It looks like you guys had a lot of fun.
Pat: I do totally miss it. I miss it now because you have to create reasons. Work is busy and we’re having a lot of fun right now, but you have to create reasons to break off and see different things. Otherwise it can get really easy to get stuck in a little pattern and just be at work all the time. So yeah, I do miss it.
I will say, going into the last couple (episodes), I felt that it was probably time that I step aside. (Laughs) Only because I’m very aware of new kids coming up and new opportunities for those kids. So, I kind of always felt like, here’s this guy who’s got a job and who’s got things to do and it’s a great opportunity for someone to be known. So I kind of always felt like OK, unless we do a really big reunion thing, it was probably my last time anyway.
I thought it would have been good for the show to find, like, an Alex Gray who would have taken my place. Someone who would have just been a little more young. The thing is, you can hang onto these things and do them forever. Not that that’s a bad thing.
Cyrus: I don’t understand this need to go young. It’s not like you’re old, for starters, and you guys had a good thing going. Personally, as a viewer, I didn’t get tired of you guys. If you did more, I actually think people would welcome it and get excited. I get where you’re coming from though.
Pat: Thanks! The thing that’s funny is I’ve gone in and met with the Fuel TV guys quite a few times. A good friend, Michael Bloom, has taken that over. I met Michael when he worked at MTV and we did Endless Summer. We did a thing with MTV back then and he was the one who came up with Beach MTV. They did it and he’s a really good guy. He’s there and he said, “Hey, we can try to do this, this and this.” I just think the network was finally making some money working with the MMA stuff, so I think they built something that was cool, but financially it wasn’t making a whole lot of sense.
Cyrus: In my humble opinion, I think Drive Thru is one of the things that was carrying that network, at least on the surfing side of things. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that right when you’re show ended, they ditched surfing and went right to MMA. Are you still traveling a lot?
Pat: You know, yeah. I still get to travel quite a bit. As you can imagine, I sit there and look at all my responsibilities that have changed. It’s now kind of looking out for a bunch of things. I recently went to the Gulf Coast. I was there for almost three weeks.
Pat: It was really unbelievable, minus the fact that it rained almost every day. But we did get some waves. I came home early to touch base before some of the really good waves came because John John had hurt himself and he had a concussion. I brought him back and helped him get on the road to recovery. As I look at the year and our brand, we’re going to approach these events and moments like grand plans. We’re picking moments, especially with our athlete roster, that we want to show up and have as Olympic moments. I’ll definitely be on hand for those. I’m actually going to Uruguay and then to Buenos Aries for a couple of days. Our distributor down there is doing an event so I’m going to hang out and ride a couple of waves with those guys. It’s going to be nice to take a break. (Laughs)
Cyrus: When you’re on the road, do you get into the water a bunch?
Pat: Yeah, I’m going to surf a lot there. I kind of need it. I went to the doctor and I had this cough for like a month. I jumped on the scale and I realized I need to go surfing again. (Laughs)
Cyrus: With running the Hurley team right now and me being from Northern California, I’ve got to ask the question. What did you think of Nat Young’s performance on the ASP World Tour?
Pat: It was so insane! He’s such a favorite. Maybe not totally in the big media’s eyes because they obviously have their darlings in Kelly (Slater), Parko (Joel Parkinson), or whoever. John John (Florence) and Dane (Reynolds). But anybody that knows Nat, or is a fan of surfing, just absolutely thinks he’s the greatest thing in the world. I can’t say that I’m surprised he’s done so well.
He’s actually on my fantasy surfer team. I did choose him so I can’t say I’m too surprised. But to anybody that goes to an event and is competing at that high a level, and has have never been to that place, to do so well is a testament to how great he is. When you actually dig into it and watch how solid he competes, how smart he is, and how tenacious he is, he’s going to have a solid career.
Cyrus: Nat Young will be a media darling in my opinion. He’s so new on the scene. He’s going to get there soon. He fits the profile. Going back a little bit in your career, once you finished The Endless Summer II you got your competitive career back on track. You’d returned to the ASP World Tour and competed for close to 10 years. And then when you retired, I believe in 2001, you were still a huge name as you still are now. It was almost this amazingly seamless transition from retiring from the world tour right into this head of marketing position with Hurley. And you’re doing this today, so obviously you love the job. What does the job entail? What are the day-to-day operations for the head of marketing at a huge brand like Hurley?
Pat: My job is pretty simple. I work with Bob Hurley, Evan Slater and some other great people. We’re a pretty focused and simple bunch. We love surfing and are fans of the sport. I’ll give you a couple of examples. I left doing the tour and I was tired, if you can believe it. I kept going to these places, and if walking down the path at Bells doesn’t get your heart bumping, you realize you’re probably not doing the right thing. I kind of got to that place.
Pat: Literally. So I told Bob and Jeff Hurley at the time, “Hey, guys. This might be it for me. If there’s something else that I can do, I feel like I have other things that I want to do. I don’t want to be lost at tour and I don’t want to keep doing these things when I don’t know if I’m that into it.”
So that’s how that started. Basically, my plan was building a strategy to stay within the surf circle at Hurley, which was a really great surf-oriented brand. At the same time, we were aligning with a new board short proposition to make really great board shorts and owning that part of the market. We were basically looking at setting up home base. Bob’s from Huntington Beach, so what better place than Surf City with all the retail and everything? That all sort of lined up and made sense.
So it was basically my job, and our job, to create opportunities for us to tell our brand’s story. That came out as being the Hurley Pro, which was the Boost (Mobile Pro). We acquired that from Boost (Mobile). So we had a performance event in California, and then you kind of went up the road a month or so earlier with the US Open (of Surfing), which also came to us through the ING relationship.
So then it was like, “OK, how do we make this bigger and better?” If you remember, the economy was so down. How do we bring the best surfers back to Huntington Beach? How do you give a shot in the arm to the industry?
It was our task to create something. We created an all-star event and it was just basically an excuse to get Kelly (Slater) and Dane (Reynolds) and Parko (Joel Parkinson) and Taj (Burrow) and John John (Florence) and whoever it may be, all to the US Open (of Surfing) again to compete in front of all the masses. That was the goal and it totally worked. It was great! It felt like you knew when you went to Huntington Beach that was going to happen. And so, now we have a great athlete roster and we’re trying to learn how to tell their stories better and to be a better brand so that they’re getting some publicity and products. Just being leaders in the sport and not stopping, just driving the sport through. I do a lot of work with the ASP and I’ve been on the board for five years so I’m really trying to help push and direct. Whenever they have a question, there are much smarter guys than I am.
Cyrus: Personally, I’m really picky when it comes to the ASP World Tour webcast commentators. I don’t think I’m alone in that. I really hope you’re in that booth more often. You’re really good at it. When you’re in there, everyone is happy. There is little to no criticism. Thank you so much, it was an absolute pleasure to conduct this interview with you.
Pat: Thank you. It’s an honor to be able to do this. Talk to you soon.
Kelly Slater, widely considered to be the greatest surfer in the history of the sport, announced through his official Facebook page that he is ending a 23-year partnership with longtime sponsor Quiksilver.
There is little I can say that would give the credit due or cover the debt of gratitude I feel on a personal and professional level to Quiksilver. As a brand and on a human level, they have been a part of my life, career, and personal relationships for more than 23 years now, well over half my life. They’ve supported me through good times and bad, personal hardships and competitive triumphs, and never wavered in backing my choices and desires in all that time. Under the tutelage of Bob McKnight, Bruce Raymond, Alan Green, Pierre Agnes and Danny Kwock (and many others), Quiksilver signed me to a 100% sponsorship deal in 1990, finishing up my amateur career and guiding me into my professional life and adulthood. Having their support group around the world allowed me to create a life I only dreamt of as a child…making a documentary (Kelly Slater In Black and White) about the start of my professional career, going on boat trips and small charter planes to remote locations I’d likely never see, taking long car rides and promo tours to places I’d otherwise never visit, doing film trips to tropical islands few people have ever seen, etc. There could have been no better partner for me to have than Quiksilver. The memories I have of joining the team and becoming like brothers with my heroes and team riders Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones and making lifelong friendships with Stephen Bell and others has fulfilled my life exponentially. There aren’t enough pages or words to express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for the experiences that have come from this relationship we’ve shared together. So it is with a heavy heart and a lifetime of positive memories that I move in a new chapter of my life.
As I contemplate the amazing opportunities I’ve had in life and the amount of good fortune I’ve encountered along the way, I’m excited to announce today that I’m embarking on a new journey. For years I’ve dreamt of developing a brand that combines my love of clean living, responsibility and style. The inspiration for this brand comes from the people and cultures I encounter in my constant global travels and this is my opportunity to build something the way I have always wanted to. So I am excited to tell you that I’ve chosen The Kering Group as a partner. They share my values and have the ability to support me in all of my endeavors. I look forward to exploring all of the new opportunities this partnership will provide, but this hasn’t happened by chance, nor has it happened without an incredible amount of work by a few key individuals. As I embark on this new journey, I am sticking to my gut instincts and the belief that your dreams can become reality with the right intentions. I look forward to sharing more about it soon…
Slater, 42, signed with Quiksilver when he was 18-years-old and since then achieved nearly every significant record in surfing. Slater became the youngest World Champion in Association of Surfing Professionals history, winning his first World Title at the age of 20. Slater also set the record for being the oldest surfer to claim a World Title, winning his 11th ASP World Championship at the age of 39. Slater holds the record for the most World Titles in ASP history with 11 and in the past 2 years finished runner-up in the overall standings, coming just short of achieving an unprecedented 12th ASP World Title. Slater also holds the record for the most contest victories ever, winning a startling 54 career events.
Quiksilver founder and Executive Chairman Bob McKnight released a statement about Slater’s departure from his company.
“Kelly has been a part of the Quiksilver family for over 20 years,” said McKnight. “It’s been an incredible journey watching him grow from a young surfer with great potential, to the 11-time World Champion he is today. We wish Kelly all the best as he enters this next phase of his career.”
It’s unknown was exactly led to the split. Quiksilver has struggled financially for years, with their stock value plummeting from a high of $16.79 in June of 2005 to its current price of $7.87. The surf industry has seen its share of financial success decline through the years with numerous labels cutting ties with their sponsored athletes.
It’s likely though that it was Slater who pulled the trigger and made the decision to leave Quiksilver. Given his status as the greatest surfer ever and the amount of success he brought the company, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he decided to leave given he gets paid less money than Hurley surfer John John Florence and, perhaps more importantly, fellow Quiksilver team member Dane Reynolds.
Slater is joining The Kering Group, a fashion corporation featuring luxury and sports divisions including such major brands as Gucci, Volcom and Electric. The organization has tremendous resources particularly with logistics, distribution, and marketing, and offered collaboration with Slater for his own clothing line in addition to supporting him for passion projects of sustainability-related initiatives.
Immediately following the announcement, Slater was getting ready to compete in the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, where he was photographed without the Quiksilver logo on his surfboard for the first time in nearly 24 years.
Here’s an interview with Slater following his opening round heat at the event where he elaborated on the decision to leave Quiksilver. Slater also explained why April 1st was the day he made the announcement, saying the most recent contract he previously signed with Quiksilver was on that same day five years ago.
The formula for box office success in the modern era of film seems to revolve primarily around six premises. These are:
– Comic book adaptation
– An amazing screenplay that’s brilliantly written and conveyed in a nearly flawless fashion to the screen
– Special effects
– An adaptation of a popular book, or series of books, aimed primarily at a younger demographic
Among this group of categories, the latter features yet another movie that will likely follow the path of The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and the Twilight series to success. Divergent, which premieres in movie theaters across the nation March 21st.
Directed by Neil Burger and starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Christian Madsen, the movie is based off the book of the same title set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic Chicago. The press tour promoting Divergent is where I was given the opportunity to interview two of the stars of the new movie, Christian Madsen and Ben Lloyd-Hughes.
I caught up with Madsen and Lloyd-Hughes at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego, in a penthouse suite overlooking the Pacific Ocean, to talk about their burgeoning film careers, their family ties to such famous actors as Michael Madsen and Virginia Madsen, their attitudes about social media, the process of getting these prestigious film roles, Christian’s connections both to surfing and snowboarding, and what’s next for two of the stars of the new film Divergent, Christian Madsen and Ben Lloyd-Hughes.
Cyrus: Part of the research I do when conducting interviews is going to the subject’s Wikipedia page. It’s not because I trust the information per-say but there is a lot of information there and more importantly, what’s fun about that is I get to go to the direct source and understand what’s real and what’s fake on the website.
Christian: The thing about me in the dress is completely untrue.
Ben: Yeah, don’t believe that.
Cyrus: Well, half the stuff on there is false. That’s what I’ve learned firsthand over the years. Amazingly you guys don’t have Wikipedia pages yet. And my first reaction was, ‘Wow these guys are really new then. You guys are up-and comers.’
Christian: This is really like my first thing.
Christian: Yeah. So I wouldn’t expect that. Even when you were saying it, I was like, ‘Oh, Wikipedia.’
Cyrus: There’s nothing on the site but I was very surprised by that. So whoever your personal publicist is, get them going on that.
Ben: I think I used to have one. I did a series in Britain years ago called Skins, and I remember my little sister telling me that I had a Wikipedia page that was talking about me. But then it got deleted because on Wikipedia anyone can write stuff, right?
Cyrus: That’s true.
Ben: So I think that it got sabotaged. But this is years ago, so it got taken down. I don’t think it exists anymore. So now I’m page-less.
Cyrus: Which might be a good thing.
Ben: I feel good about it. I feel liberated. (Laughs)
Christian: Because who knows what would be on those sort of pages.
Ben: I’m not on twitter or Facebook or anything.
Cyrus: Why is that?
Ben: I just feel like my life is better without it. It’s hard not having it as an actor. So many actors are, and each to their own, but I feel very happy not being on it. I was on it briefly. There was about a year I was on it as an actor. I just couldn’t combine the personal and the professional. I felt very self-conscious. Everything I did, everything I said, and I wanted to live my own life.
Cyrus: George Clooney said that he doesn’t have a twitter account because he’s afraid he’s going to drink one night and just go off on rants.
Ben: Yeah, I kind of agree!
Christian: Yeah I think I read that in Esquire.
Cyrus: Did you guys watch the Oscars?
Christian: Oh yeah.
Cyrus: Did you see that brilliant Ellen DeGeneres move of taking that selfie picture?
Ben: Oh, that was hilarious!
Cyrus: It had everybody in it and ended up being the most re-tweeted tweet of all time. So I understand both side of it. Christian, you have a twitter account?
Christian: I do.
Cyrus: And people can follow you @cmadsen8, correct?
Christian: Yes, The thing with it was, I was kind of just like Ben. I just didn’t see the point in this. Sometimes I would get an email from Lionsgate like, ‘Oh, can you tweet this out?’ And so I was like OK, now I can see the point in this now. I want to promote and help.
But for things like Instagram, my sort-of aunt has one, and this is a way that we can connect. I kind of just started in a way. If I have a family member that lives in Chicago, we can’t call each other all the time. She can sort of update me on what I’m doing, and I can see what she’s doing. So it’s been OK, it’s both ways.
Cyrus: Speaking of family, there’s this pattern in Hollywood that dates back almost a century now. Family connections are nothing new. Whether you’re the son of someone famous, or you have siblings who are famous, and both of you fit that bill.
Ben, you have a brother who starred in a Harry Potter movie, correct?
Ben: That’s right, that’s right. I mean, you say starred, he would himself call himself a glorified extra. (Laughs) But he is an actor.
Christian: Which Harry Potter was it?
Ben: It was the fourth one, the Goblet of Fire. I believe he played Roger Davis. And he didn’t have a line, but he filmed it for months and I think he had a good time.
Cyrus: For example, with actors Chris and Liam Hemsworth, they don’t really have any previous connection. They just kind of started on their own and now they’re famous. In your case Ben, did you have a previous lineage?
Ben: We had a weird lineage which was our grandfather was an actor, Basil Appleby, who you can find on IMDB if you Google him. He’s on twitter. (Laughs)
Christian: That should be your twitter name.
Ben: Yeah, it’s a cool name. So, obviously, my name is not Appleby so it’s not really a connection. When he was an actor, he used to be in The Dam Busters. It’s a big film from the old generation. A big British film. We have never been able to use any of his connections because sadly, they’re all dead. So it hasn’t really helped us.
Christian: That’s your mom’s maiden name?
Ben: Yeah, it was my mom’s.
Christian: Any connection to the restaurant?
Ben: Yeah, I own that. If you want any apple pies then I’m your guy. (Laughs) But yeah, I never was able to use those connections and really exploit the nepotism and obviously we’ve had our own separate journeys, luckily at the moment we’re both still working and both, you could say, doing very well so we’re very grateful and lucky.
Cyrus: Naturally. You’re both starring in some big films, yourself and your brother Henry, and you’re starring in Divergent, which is going to be a huge hit. Now to Christian.
Ben: He’s got legit connections!
Cyrus: Your background, I had no idea until I started doing research on you and the last name Madsen didn’t initially register to me. Now, your Dad is one of my, and I’m not alone in saying this, one of my all time favorite actors, and we’re talking about Michael Madsen.
Christian: Same with mine, too.
Christian: I mean yeah, it’s my dad, but when you see a movie like Kill Bill.
Cyrus: Yes! He’s Bill’s brother in the movie. Or Reservoir Dogs, where he played Mr. Blonde, even Donnie Brasco. I can go on and on about your Dad’s history. And your Aunt is Virginia Madsen, is that correct? Is that who you were referring to when you were talking about your aunt a moment ago?
Christian: Yes. She’s been doing some traveling. Her son, my cousin, is starting a snowboarding camp and I’m trying to follow up with him, and Instagram has been great to help me see what they’ve been up to.
Cyrus: Well, on a side note I’m a former sponsored snowboarder.
Christian: Oh, cool.
Cyrus: That’s why most of my journalistic work ties into surfing and snowboarding.
Christian: Yeah, my cousin started snowboarding and then he broke his spleen, so he stopped.
Cyrus: What’s his name?
Christian: Jack Sabàto.
Cyrus: He broke his spleen? That’s a pretty serious injury, isn’t it?
Christian: Yeah, and now he’s back and he’s in Canada.
Cyrus: Jack Sabàto is his name, let’s mention his camp. What’s it called?
Ben: Yeah, give him a shout-out.
Christian: I don’t know. (Laughs)
Cyrus: That’s fascinating. Was your father the reason you got into acting?
Christian: Not entirely. When I grew up I was sort of around it and he would bring me to sets and fly me around with him, but I just didn’t know what it was. I was so young at the time. I also kind of always had that notion of if my dad was a doctor, I’d be a doctor, and go into the family business. Even my grandfather was a firefighter so that was also something I’d want to do, but I was just kind of in the notion of if my dad’s a NASCAR driver, I’d be a NASCAR driver. But I wanted to find what it meant to me rather than just doing it because of my family, you know? So I went to acting schools and did some theatre and found this craft of what it meant to me. It became this therapeutic thing. Acting is kind of like fire, it can either burn you or it can cook your food. Once I understood that, I tried it out and here I am.
Cyrus: How old are you?
Cyrus: How old are you, Ben?
Ben: I’m 25.
Cyrus: So you guys are kind of close. I brought three of my San Diego State journalism students with me, and they didn’t know any of your dad’s work. These kids need to catch up. Did you two become close during the filming of the movie?
Ben: Not really.
Christian: Not really.
Ben: We actually had apartments and he had the best balcony so I was often literally climbing over his balcony.
Christian: I was sort of in a Ben sandwich. I had Ben Lamb and Ben Lloyd-Hughes on both sides.
Cyrus: Where were you guys filming Divergent?
Cyrus: Great city.
Ben: The book is based in a dystopian version of Chicago. It was a really brave decision to set it in Chicago to use the real locations instead of making them in the middle of Los Angeles or wherever.
Christian: That’s what was so cool about filming. When you read the book it talked about running down a train station on a street, so we really shot it in that street and everything. It made it so much easier as an actor.
Cyrus: You grew up in or near London?
Ben: In West London, born and raised.
Cyrus: What kind of influence does that have on someone growing up?
Ben: Living in London?
Cyrus: It’s a big city.
Ben: It’s a big city. In Britain, there’s kids who grew up in London and then kids who didn’t. You become quite street wise. It’s such a big city and everyone is moving and trying to get on with their lives. You don’t have the everyday village quality like, ‘Hello, how are you? Would you like your tea?’ It’s more like, ‘Get out my way.’ But I’m very proud of London. I come from West London. I support a football team there called Queens Park Rangers, whom I’d like to give a shout-out to. I’m a die-hard Rangers fan. I think that I would always hopefully have a strong connection to and live in London, because it’s a brilliant city.
Cyrus: Given the weather there, is your skin burning right now in San Diego?
Ben: Honestly! (Laughing) We were sitting outside doing an interview for 10 minutes and the back of my neck was burning. We got touched up today because we just did live TV shows at seven in the morning, like Good Morning San Diego. The girl doing my makeup, she was like, ‘Well, you’re from London anyway, so you’ve got that English rose.’ She basically said I was pale. She was like, ‘You’re as pale as shit!’ And I was like, ‘What you’re saying is, I’m as pale as shit!’ (Laughs) But I’m very happy to be in this beautiful town of San Diego. Because honestly, coming from London, it was rainy, I was miserable. Two days ago, I was meant to fly out on Saturday and the weather was horrible and I got food poisoning. So I couldn’t fly.
Cyrus: Oh geez!
Ben: So not only did I have food poisoning, but I was in miserable conditions thinking, ‘I could be in San Diego living it up with Christian Madsen, my old friend, but instead I’m in my flat in London throwing my guts up.’ But I’m here now and it’s so beautiful.
Cyrus: Food poisoning is so evil.
Christian: We haven’t been here since we did Comic-Con. Such a great little area.
Ben: And we stayed in the same hotel.
Cyrus: Christian, you’re from Malibu? Is that correct? Is that where you grew up?
Christian: I’m from a divorced family, so I sort of bounced around a lot, but yeah Mom is in the valley.
Cyrus: Same background here, so I get it.
Ben: Hey! Me too.
Cyrus: Well there you go. That’s a great bond we got here.
(Laughter from Christian and Ben)
Christian: We know what it’s like to be alone. But yeah, Dad lived in Malibu, Mom lived in the Valley and I sort of bounced around back and forth. My Dad lived in Montana and I’ve lived out there.
Cyrus: Beautiful. Love Montana.
Christian: Santa Fe, I mean, you know some great houses, so I definitely bounced around a lot.
Cyrus: Your dad has amazing taste and it seems to come down to you. That’s good. Did you surf at least when you were here?
Christian: Honestly, I wanted to get into it so much, but I just never know how to pop up. My stepbrother, he got sponsored and he was great, he went pro and stuff.
Cyrus: What’s his name?
Christian: Cody Setzer. He was super into it and then he hurt his knee and then he’s kind of coming back now.
Ben: All these guys in your family are super good at X-Games. The snowboarder and the surfer.
Christian: I just didn’t make that.
Cyrus: It’s the California blood.
Christian: That’s what it is.
Cyrus: Did you guys have to audition to get your roles in Divergent? How did you guys get involved in this? This could turn into a monster series. Was there an audition process?
Christian: Long story short, I was just sort of in a place where I was like, ‘I don’t know what acting is anymore to me. I was auditioning for two and a half years and nothing. And I just sort of got this audition, didn’t look at what it was, just wanted to focus on the material and the script and the dialogue and I connected a lot with the character and so I went and I got the audition. I went in, they liked it, and then I left but didn’t expect anything and then I got a call and they said, ‘Don’t cut your hair.” And I got another call, “The director wants to do a Skype interview with you,” and then I went and sort of did about three scenes with him nine different times. It felt good but I still didn’t expect anything. Because I didn’t look up anything about who was making it, who was directing it, when I walked in to the Skype thing I didn’t know who it was. So I didn’t say like, ‘Aw man, I’m going in with Neil Burger,” you know? And thank God because I probably would have been a little bit more nervous. But yeah, it really helped out in the long run because next thing I know, I was getting flown to Chicago and I did a producers meeting and I still didn’t believe it. I was trying to ask them questions like, ‘So we are going to Chicago?” It took until literally shooting a couple scenes for me to be like, ‘I guess I’m in this thing.’
Cyrus: How about you Ben? Same thing? Similar process?
Ben: You know, it was a similar but much longer because I went on tape about a year before the film got made. I got sent the script, loved it, I really connected with the story and the world it created. So I went on tape a few times and they asked me to do it again and then I kind of forgot about it, but always thought of it as a great project that I’d have loved to have done in an ideal world. And then I ended up back in L.A. doing some meetings and Divergent came up again and they said, ‘Can you come in and read for Will?’ And luckily the director had seen me in a British film called Great Expectations.
Cyrus: Which just came out recently, correct?
Ben: I think it did come out recently. But we made it a while ago and it came out in Britain before that. And so he at the time was one of the only people in America who had seen it. So I was hugely lucky. It puts you at a huge advantage when a director has seen anything you’ve done because you kind of have an edge over other people maybe. And he luckily thought I was right for this and wanted to get me involved and I’m very glad that he did.
Cyrus: Beautiful. Congratulations on this film. I imagine seeing you guys making movies for many years to come.