Jesse Bradford is one of Hollywood’s hot young stars. An actor since he made his debut in a Q-Tip TV ad at the age of eight months, Jesse first earned attention for his work in James Ivory’s A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries (1996), and made a splash as Kirsten Dunst’s would-be boyfriend in Bring It On (2000).
Born in Connecticut on May 28, 1979, Bradford made his first business contacts through his mother, who was a commercial actress. After appearing in a number of commercials, he got his next big break with a role on the TV soapie The Guiding Light, and made his screen debut playing Robert De Niro’s son in Falling in Love (1984). Following with more TV work, Bradford appeared as Harrison Ford’s son in Presumed Innocent (1990).
A lot more work soon came the young actor’s way, first in The Boy Who Cried Bitch (1991), in which he played the younger brother of a teenaged sociopath; then in Steven Soderbergh’s acclaimed King of the Hill (1993), in which Bradford starred as a young boy forced to fight for his own survival in Depression-era St. Louis. The latter role brought him a number of positive notices and Hollywood attention; another starring role in Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog (1995) followed, as did the sizable part of Balthasar in Baz Luhrmann’ s celebrated William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996).
Bradford also earned sizable acclaim for his portrayal of the adopted French son of an American couple (Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Hershey) in James Ivory’s A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries (1998). Made the same year that the actor enrolled at Columbia University, the film was held in high regard by a number of critics who pointed to its ensemble acting as one of its major strengths.
Bradford’s increasing recognition as an actor was reflected by his subsequent casting as a Clash-loving Indie-rock boy with a weakness for his high school’s head cheerleader in Bring It On. It wasn’t long before Bradford stepped into the lead, with not one, but two flicks this year. First came Clockstoppers and now there’s Swimfan, a thriller directed by Aussie John Polson, with Jesse as a high school swimming champ being stalked by a very creepy Erika Christensen. You’d think at 23, young Jesse would be getting sick of playing teenagers. You’d be right, but at least the teen roles he has coming out are fun. Jesse talked about both movies with Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.
Question: What’s your best take on Swimfan?
Answer: It’s “Fatal Attraction” for kids.
Question: You’re a swimmer and she’s your fan, right?
Answer: Yes, I’m a swimmer, I have a girlfriend already and then this new girl comes to town – that’s Erika Christenson – and she becomes the girl from Hell. She doesn’t become my girlfriend – I still have the other girlfriend – but then we kind of have a little rendezvous.
Question: Now for this movie, you’re still in high school. Did you kinda do anything differently to play young?
Answer: I think the only thing I did in terms of trying to create a younger vibe for this role, is that I shaved my chest.
Question: You’re kidding, right?
Answer: This is not the chest of an 18 year old. [He flashes his chest to prove a point here]. You know, the swimming thing obviously made a difference, because I was going to be half naked all the time and I said all right that’s obviously what I should do here in order to make that real.
Question: That must have been a painful experience.
Answer: You know, I’ve never done it before, and I’m not really going to do it by choice any time soon, it’s not exactly, it’s not necessary. It doesn’t make me feel like pretty or anything. You know, it just is what it is.
Question: So talk about the swimming. I mean you do spent a lot of time in the water, swimming. Was it tough to prepare for that?
Answer: I trained really, really hard. I started swimming about a month and a half before we even started shooting the movie, worked with trainers and coaches, just getting the form down. Easy to jump in the pool and paddle around, it’s tough to actually learn the philosophy and the technique behind water resistance and doing laps, I forgot what they called it, the quickness with which you get to the next lap of your arm, and the way to kick where you’re not quite out of the water. Just all these little specific things you have to remember that can attribute to your form and are supposed to make you faster and better. So, faster, speed is an illusion that they can create with the camera, form you can’t really fake. So, I worked hard on that and I lost about 15 pounds in the process. I was 15 pounds lighter than I am right now after this movie, which was key. Swimmers are lean, man, you know?
Question: So having played a high school kid, the obvious question is: What WERE you like in high school? You were once quoted as saying that high school didn’t quite form you.
Answer: You know it’s not that it didn’t form me, it obviously did, everything that happens to a person forms them, and I can remember things that happened to me when I was very little that must have had a big effect on me, but I just I guess what I meant by that was like your whole world kind of changes when you graduate high school, you’re out of that house, you’re an adult all of a sudden. And, there’s like maybe there are certain points in your life, where you take these big jumps, these big leaps, and that’s got to be one of them. Turning 18, graduating high school, and moving out on your own and you come into your own, you know. So, I guess I just mean sort of all the, all the like, anything I look at is my past, most of it has been since high school, you know.
Question: What made you stand apart in high school, if anything?
Answer: Good question. I was acting the whole time, so I always had that. I did, you know, like three, four movies throughout the course of high school. I don’t know I mean, early in high school, I had this really serious girlfriend that I was really into, like I thought I was going to marry her, I thought she was the one. First real girlfriend, you know? And then she cheated on me with my best friend. And that ruined my life. So, around like middle of my second year, when that happened. And I think I turned into a completely different person. I think I started really just pushing like, pushing high school away. Like, I just wanted, lto assert myself in as big a way as possible as different from everything going on around me. Including my friends, who I couldn’t even barely hang with. You know what else I did? I got into this thing where I would wear ties to school everyday.
Answer: Almost every single day. And I went to public school, like nobody wore ties in high school and that was the point. You know what I mean? Like, I went out and bought all these ugly ties at like thrift stores and just started wearing these ties to school. You know, just to be as different as possible.
Question: Is that why you became an actor? You wanted to stand out from the crowd?
Answer: Acting is something that found me. I did not go out and seek acting. If my parents weren’t both actors and got me involved when I was 8-months old – literally that’s when my first job was – I can pretty much guarantee that I wouldn’t be an actor. I don’t think I would have felt in my bones that I needed to be an actor. I like it so much; I enjoy it so much as a job. In a world where you have to have a job and bring money home somehow, I would love to be able to keep doing this. At 13 I felt that way and I still feel that way now.
Question: So why did you continue with acting?
Answer: Why do I stay one?
Answer: Because first of all, it always felt like an adventure. It always felt like fun. It was always an opportunity to kind of leave school and go travel to interesting places and work with movies stars. I mean, it was always this adventure. And, then, once all my friends started getting real jobs, delivering papers, flipping burgers and stuff, I kind of went”you know I’d be pretty stupid not to stick with this. This is a great little job I got myself”I fell into. You know. And then I feel like the thing that I sometimes forget is the actual sort of artistic aspect of it. In that, it is an amazing, emotional relief. You know? You get to, try to feel emotions and act things that you would never necessarily feel in real life.
Question: What’s the down side of acting while you were in high school? WAS there a down side?
Answer: No, man. Like I said, there was always the excuse to get out of school. An excuse to go party with movie stars”I mean. You know, I came back to high school my junior year for having spent three months in Mexico City with Leonardo DiCaprio”.like, you know, every girl in high school was paying attention to me at that point because they all wanted to know what he was like.
Question: Did you go to your proms and that kind of stuff?
Answer: Yeah”I went to all my proms. I went to other people’s proms. I went to more proms than anyone I know. I went to like ten proms probably – Junior Prom, Senior Prom and like, I went to proms in all the different schools around my area and I wore the same thing to every one of them. I wore my Dad’s white sport jacket”like tux jacket, that he had from when he was my age. Yeah. It was really cool. It was like, the white jacket, white shirt, black tie, black pants, black cumber bun”like James Bond. It was sick.
Question: I understand you also want to direct?
Answer: I do, absolutely. That is something that I’m trying to seek out. More so than that, the thing I’m really trying to seek out is music. I really just want to be a rock star. I just want to get up in front of a big coliseum full of people.
Question: Did you do your own playing in Clockstoppers?
Answer: Yep, that was me. Hopefully that will take me somewhere too. But I don’t want to stop acting at all because it feels so familiar to me, it’s fun, it’s artistic, it allows you to get out these crazy emotions that you wouldn’t necessarily even ever feel in your real life. I have a lot of respect for it but there are other things I’m looking to do with my life.
Question: Are you still attending Columbia University?
Answer: Yeah, I blasted through my first three years with no pauses. Then “Bring It On” came out and all of a sudden the phone was ringing off the hook and it was like, “Alright, this is stupid. I should really be in LA getting my next job and riding this wave while I have it.” And so, that’s what I did, I took my senior year off which I have absolutely no regrets about. Since then, I went back that next summer – the summer literally a couple of months after I would have graduated. I re-enrolled and got a couple of summer classes out of the way. Then I went back for a full semester this last semester. That semester ended right when the new year rolled around and now I’m taking this semester off and going back again in the summer and then I’ll be done. I have just a little left, that’s why I’m going to finish it over the summer.
Question: Did your parents encourage you to act and to take a break from college?
Answer: It’s fine. I really felt in my heart the whole time that I was going to get the degree. I just knew that even if it took me a couple more years than everybody else, I knew that I wasn’t going to spend all that money, and all that time, and all that work – to not end up with that piece of paper. That’s still how I feel about it. If it takes me two more years, then it takes me two more years. If I get it done right over the summer, then I’m done and I don’t have to worry about it anymore. The finish line is literally – I’m like right in front of it at this point.
Question: So if acting doesn’t work out, you’re not so locked on to any one thing. If this doesn’t work, you’ll be a rock star?
Answer: Hey, wouldn’t that be nice if it’s just that simple? Yeah, that would be great. I have other things that interest me; I have back-up plans you could say but I really don’t think of any of them as a back-up plan. I think of them as the stuff I want to do with my life. Those are the three things, that and being a professional baseball player but I think I’m kind of past that point.
Question: What kind of music do you want to play?
Answer: The thing I like to play the most is blues. That’s just sort of what I started with and what I like the most, and where all my favourite guitar players come from.
Question: Do you write your own stuff?
Answer: Yeah, I do. I’m not prolific really but I have a bunch of songs that I’m pretty happy with. I’m really, really hard on myself with the songs. If they don’t sound to me like nothing I’ve ever heard before, then I’m not going to keep them around. I can name seven songs that all rely on the exact same notes but are different songs, and successful songs, but if I wrote a song that used those same notes that was different than those but used those same notes, I would [trash] it.
Question: What else are you working on at the moment?
Answer: I’m actually, finally looking at a time in my life where I feel like it is appropriate for me to step away a little and not be working on anything. I mean, if I really great project comes along; you know”I’m all ears.
Question: What are you going to do?
Answer: I’m going to travel cross country with two friends of mine.
Question: Where abouts are you going?
Answer: The whole thing man, East to West.
Question: East to West?
Answer: Yeah. East to West and probably the Southern route. So, that’s going to be cool. And like I said, if the right project comes along, I’m enthusiastic about acting in another project. But, at the same time, more than happy to go, God, a year without working. I don’t care. That would be fine. And, in the meantime, I’d probably work on my music.
Question: Oh really?
Answer: Yeah. That’s what I would do”if I chose to just really, you know”if I get through that month long road and still don’t feel like acting, yeah”I’m gonna get my band together and get that happening.
Question: Sounds like a cool plan.
Answer: You’d better believe it. Maybe I’ll play in Australia when I go there.
Question: You going?
Answer: They’d better send me there to promote one of these movies, man.