Friday, June 18, 2021

Interview: Jim Youngs (Ariel’s boyfriend Chuck Cranston in “Footloose”)

In Footloose (1984), Jim Youngs played Chuck Cranston, boyfriend to Lori Singer’s character Ariel Moore.

Jim’s behind-the-scenes recollections of the experience (interview conducted in 11/20):

What were you doing professionally prior to Footloose?

I had been acting in town for about three or four years. I got started in an interesting way.

I had been living in Long Island and my sister Gail, who was an actress at the time, made me aware of an open casting call in New York City for a movie called The Wanderers. I had just begun to get pictures and was thinking about pursuing acting. Gail said there’s all kinds of gangs in this movie and they’ll need extras. I was a child actor in high school plays and my brother John Savage was already a star, but I knew nothing about the acting business. 

I went to this interview and the first person who saw me was named Craig Zadan, assistant to casting director Scott Rudin. They both went on to run studios, if I’m not mistaken. They liked what they saw and brought me to see the director Philip Kaufman. They asked me to read for Richie. I was flipping through script on the way to Penn Station and saw that Richie was the lead. 

[Another day, I auditioned.] Phil played it back on the monitor—they never do that, play the audition for the actor—and told me I was a natural. I said “Do something about it.” (laughs) They said they couldn’t give me the lead role [because they felt Ken Wahl was a better fit for it], but offered me the role of Buddy. A few weeks later, I was on the streets of the Bronx making a movie. 

In one month I went from bartending and running a nightclub in Long Island (a small, famous concert hall called My Father’s Place) to being in a film. 

The film came out five months later and people said “Go west, young man.”

I turned down the original Porky’s. Instead I did a series called Secrets of Midland Heights. That folded after 14 episodes. 

I haven’t done [an interview] in decades, so let me know if I’m talking too much.

You’re doing great. I want you to tell me a lot! You mentioned your sister Gail and brother John. Any other siblings?

[My other sister] is Robin Young, an Emmy-winning journalist, the dynamo of the family.

My sister Gail Youngs was married to Robert Duvall. She was an actress and is now a healer. Powerful. 

My brother John Savage was up for an Oscar for The Deer Hunter. He’s still in the business. One of the most prolific actors around. 

Why does he have a different last name?

When he joined the Actors Guild [sic] in New York, it was still that phase of “Pick a name.” He and his friends De Niro, Walken, Pesci were the first to say “I’m not changing my name.” But another guy had the name John Young (no “s” at the end) so my brother took the name John Michael Savage. When he got to Hollywood he dropped the “Michael.”

Ever do a movie together?

I forgot—we did. I don’t know the name of it. We were Cajun knife assassins. B-minus movie. He asked me to come to New Orleans to do this. Terrible acting on my part in that movie. [It’s The Dangerous from 1995.]

How did you get the role in Footloose?

I had a small agent but she worked hard for me. It came down to me and a few other guys, like it normally does, and [at the same time] she brought me into CBS for a soap opera, which I didn’t really want to do. I had that actor’s attitude about soap operas, which looking back is ridiculous. 

At the interview, they said they would screen test me the next day. If they did that, I could not do Footloose. My agent called the casting director Marci Liroff—who became very successful—to tell her that if I did this soap opera I wouldn’t be able to do Footloose. They talked into the night and called me in the middle of the night and told me that I got Footloose

Why such a push for Footloose? Was there advanced buzz?

No, just that it was a movie, not a soap opera. 

How soon after you were cast did you fly out to Utah to start shooting?

Probably not long. Maybe a month? It was a class-A operation so things were done professionally. The Executioner’s Song (which I was in) was filmed in Provo, so it was amazing to be back. Everywhere you are there has a magnificent mountain range view.

Any funny anecdotes about your Footloose experience?

I’ve got a few. 

The director was a great man named Herbert Ross. That alone was interesting because he had done nothing but intimate dramas so people were probably wondering why he was doing this kids’ dance movie. I think he was the reason there was so much heart and soul in the movie. 

Herbert called me in one day and asked me to do him a favor: keep an eye on Chris Penn. He was a young, talented kid. I was the older of the kids in the movie. So I kept an eye on Chris as best I could. He was a wonderful, sweet guy. 

Why did Herbert ask you to keep an eye on Chris?

I was the oldest out of the youngest group. I had my senses about me. Chris was a gentle, beautiful person, but he came from the Malibu rat pack and they didn’t know discipline. He was a young kid thrusted upon fame. We were in a foreign land called Utah. 

Ah, okay. On with the anecdotes!

One Saturday, we had the day off, I drove around to the back the motel we were staying in. I saw smoke pouring out of Chris’s room. I went to his door and asked if he was okay. He said yes. He had bought a small grill and was barbecuing by himself…inside. I told him that wasn’t a good idea. He put it out, but it was too late—they had to redo the drapes and repaint it. It got barbecued out. 

His dancing scene—Let’s Hear It for the Boy”—stole the whole movie. It was a showstopper for me. One of the greatest scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. 

The night before we started filming, Herb called us together to let us know that Tracy Nelson, daughter of Ricky Nelson, was not going to be doing the role [of Rusty, the best friend of Lori Singer’s character]. She wasn’t comfortable with it. But Herb said a wonderful young actress was coming out from New York. Her name was Sarah Jessica Parker. I had no idea who she was. I realized only years later that she had done Broadway as Annie. Needless to say, she knocked it out of the park. 

I have to admit: I asked Sarah to go on a hike up Provo Canyon. I took a picture or two of her, which I still have. I had a crush on her. She was a stunning, talented, vibrant person. But she was 17-18 and I was 25-26, so it didn’t feel professional and I didn’t let her know. 

I had a tractor scene with Kevin Bacon. People call it the chicken races. Kevin and I filmed, then the second unit filmed long shots, dangerous shots. The dirt path that we were on with the tractors—on one side was a precipice that fell off down the hillside, on the other was a drainage system that I jumped into. (I did my own stunts.) There was room for the tractor with only a foot or so on each side. Looking back it was very dangerous and I’m surprised they let Kevin and I do it. 

At night they called us in to ask if we wanted to watch the dailies from the second unit stuntmen. It was a long shot of the tractors coming perilously close to each other, then they’d stop, to be edited later. On one of those shots, the stuntman playing my character skidded; the tractor veered to the side and he went off the cliff. The tractor went down the hill, too, but he jumped clear of it. Thank goodness he broke only his arm. He was there the next day in his cast saying hello to everyone. Miraculous that is all that happened. 

For some reason, they showed us this footage. So I went to the set the next day to finish the shooting. I was supposed to come at the camera (which was suspended over the dirt road at the same level as my head), duck, and stop. As I was about to do the shot, the stunt coordinator came over—a burly, older, Patton kind of guy—and said the tractor got kind of banged up yesterday during the accident. They patched it up but [now] it didn’t have any brakes. He said that I should just roll past the camera and it’ll stop. 

Looking back, as you can tell, this was all kind of ridiculous. You don’t put your actors in jeopardy because they could get hurt…and not be able to shoot. I did the shot—it’s the one you see in the movie. I raised the shovel, I dropped the shovel, I reached the camera, I ducked down, I took my foot off the gas. They called cut—and there’s the executive producer Dan Melnick getting a cup of coffee from the craft table on the side of the path I was on! I said “Dan, get out of the way! I don’t have any brakes!” He found a sliver to stand on as the tractor went by. I almost killed the executive producer. Poorly planned out stuff. 

Is there one story about your Footloose time you tell more than any other?

You got the three of them there. Oh, I got one more. I don’t know if anyone knows this but it’s a dandy. 

There was a scene where I have a fight with Ariel. Dean Pitchford scripted it to take place entirely in the cab of my truck. We have an argument, I slap her, push her out. Lori Singer and I were off rehearsing the scene. It was to take place behind the bleachers of the high school football field. I don’t know how, but I changed the scene [so that some of it took place outside of the truck] and she and I worked on it. We didn’t change the dialogue, just [added more] action. We told the director that we changed it around and asked if he would like to see it. He said okay. We played it out and he said “I love it. We’re going to shoot it.” That’s the scene you see in the movie. 

The head of each department on that film probably hated me immediately because the scene was now more expansive—Ariel smashing the front window [of the truck], smashing the headlight, and so on. [It now required] hours [more] of prep work. I [came to feel that] it was too violent for the film. Maybe it helped reinforce my character being an asshole. I was so surprised that Herb filmed it and kept it in the film. 

What made me think of it was I had done a few fight scenes so I understood a bit about how they work. Number one, you have to go about one-third of the speed or else it’ll be a blur. Make all your moves bigger, broader, and slower. It’s up to the other actor to sell it. We’d worked it out so when I slapped Lori, I am not near her face. It’s up to the camera to set up an angle to sell it. And the actress or actor has to sell it with their movements. The stunt coordinator who said I had no brakes was feeling left out—that’s my opinion. When I was about to do the slap, he stepped in to explain something to me. But Lori was in front of him and he did the slapping motion and hit her right on the side of the head. She and I had done it a half dozen times with no injury. When I tackled her and we fell, I absorbed all of her weight (and hurt my back). 

How did Lori react?

She was like WTF did you do? She didn’t fall down, but he coldcocked her. We were all stunned, probably took a break, got some ice, and continued. 

While working on it, did it seem like just another script to you, or did it feel like something special?

That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? I don’t have any memories of it being special. It was great, it was fun, it was professional. I was nervous [if I could measure] up to these people. I don’t think anyone knew. I didn’t even know who John Lithgow was, the greatest actor in Hollywood. I didn’t know Dianne Wiest, a brilliant Broadway star. I didn’t realize how lucky how I was to work with Phil Kaufman and Herbert Ross. I didn’t realize till I did movies later on that were terrible. 

What do you remember about your impression of Kevin Bacon?

A really, really good guy. I didn’t know enough at the time to know how special that is. Later I worked with some neurotic actors and I’ve probably been told I’m neurotic once or twice. I didn’t realize how great Kevin was till later—he’s a professional, get-the-job-done guy. He was sweet, kind. He was well-mannered, level-headed.

Chris Penn?

A wonderful, sweet young man. Guileless. What you saw was what he was—no hidden agenda. I didn’t see him for decades after, then I ran into him after Reservoir Dogs. He was a big man at that time, as you know, which ended up taking his life. But nothing [else] had changed—still the sweetest, most open guy I’ve met. Really broke my heart when he passed away. (chokes up a bit)

Lori Singer?

An absolute professional. Not many people realize that she was a graduate of the music school at Julliard. She played cello. A serious, intelligent gal. She would have to work hard to be goofy. She’d put headphones on and dance around. [At first] I didn’t understand it but then realized she had to work to be that kind of adolescent. That was acting. 

John Lithgow?

I didn’t have many times to be with John. I think the only scene when we were together was when he was giving a sermon and I was in the back sulking. I didn’t have any contact with him. But years later at a golf course, ten to twelve years ago, a friend of mine—the late Paul Gleason, I think—said he had someone he wanted me to meet. He brought this person out from the clubhouse and it was John. That was the last time I saw a member of the cast in person.

Did you two reminisce at all?

No, he was on his way, but first thing out of his mouth was “What a fine older human being you’ve turned into.”

Did you get to know Dianne Wiest?

Not at all.

Sarah Jessica Parker?

I didn’t have any work with her on the film. Just a wonderful hike in Provo Canyon. (laughs)

The physical confrontation between Chuck and Lori is difficult to watch. How was it to film?

It was very comfortable, very professional. She and I worked it out. All actors in that situation have to be careful but you have to have a governor on it. You have to be in control even though you are supposed to act out of control. That was a real metal pipe in her hand! You can see in the shot that there are all kinds of pads in my jeans and back—[well, you] can’t see it unless you are looking for it. 

Did you attend the premiere?

I don’t remember. 

How often were you recognized on the street? 

It wasn’t as much as you would think. So I guess people weren’t looking for Chuck. 

I’m not a tough guy. I’m kind a pushover and a sweetheart, a charmer. When people would say I looked familiar, I asked if they had seen Footloose. I was the bad guy. Their eyes would go wide and they’d say “You were the asshole!” I could see it coming, year after year. I took it as a compliment.

Do you remember what you earned for the movie, and do you still earn residuals?

I earned a nice paycheck, not through the roof, not low. I had nothing to bargain with, really. It was not a big film, mostly unknowns who were being given breaks. I still get residuals but it’s a sliding scale, so I kid with people: “[By now] it’s a nice steak dinner.” I am very thankful for that residual system and thankful that we have a union that makes sure I get [those residuals].

What are you doing these days?

I’m retired. I’ve been away from acting for a couple of decades. I was in some small films that I was the star of that didn’t work out and I got tired of the whole thing. I left the business about 1997. One of the last I did was called Skeeter and it was disappointing. 

My first love in life was golf. Within a year of [first] picking up a golf club, I was second best in New York State. I was going to be a professional golfer right about when I got The Wanderers. That shifted the path of my life. 

About 20 years ago, I started getting back into golf. I was working at a country club here in Los Angeles. Many actor friends of mine were members and they were appreciative that I was working there. I had a private, simple life. 

What was your job at the golf club?

I was a caddy. The lowest on the ladder but I did really well. I helped a lot of people. 

Caddies are essential workers for golf clubs! Any interest in acting again?

One day I would like to do some acting again. The timing has to be right. I’ve had health problems. My back’s been out for a year or so. Health first, then maybe I’ll hit up some friends.

When I first got to town, I was a big partier, but I was never much for promoting myself which might’ve been a mistake. I should have been in touch with every one of those people [in the Footloose cast].

Tony Ganios is a dear old friend of mine. He and I met on The Wanderers. He was in Porky’s[In 2012], Tony [was trying to get a movie off the ground] called Daddies’ Girls, a continuation of Porky’s. All the guys from the original movies would be fathers now and their daughters are terrors. Tony brought me to the set years ago because someone from original cast had died and they wanted me to replace him in the photo shoot. But I wouldn’t [have been] in the movie. 

Where do you live?

Los Angeles. 

Any children?

No, I missed that boat, marriage and children. 

Have you ever participated in a Footloose-related event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to meeting fans and signing autographs?

That’s interesting you say that. That is something I would do. 

Tony Ganios is probably the only hero in my life. A great man on many levels. A year or so ago, he said “Jimmy, you’ve got to [do] this autographing thing.” I said it’s been years [since I was in the business]. He said they’d love me and I’d make some money. 

My initial thought was “Who would want to see me?” But I’m actually still pretty good looking. (laughs) I realized I was being selfish. If people want to see me, I should let them see me.

[So] we were about to do that, but [then] my back went out and I couldn’t get out of bed. 

Why is Tony a hero to you? 

He was a Renaissance man. He was as strong as Hercules [and had] a mind that was historical and interesting and intelligent. He’s never changed. I wish more people would listen to what he has to say.

When was the last time you watched Footloose? How did you think it held up?

Last year. Whenever it’s on at a friend’s house, they’ll make me watch it for a little bit. I think it holds up, owed to Herbert Ross. Did you know that the writer, Dean Pitchford, collaborated on every song on that soundtrack? 

I didn’t. Do you have any mementos from the experience such as set photos, a script, or anything from the set?

No (laughs). I’m not a big collector kind of guy. I’m more into getting rid of stuff. I have the photos of Sarah Jessica Parker. For years, I had the belt buckle I wore in the film but as you get older you let things go.

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically?

Never. Or if I did back in the day, I can’t remember. Looking back, it made me nervous. I didn’t think I was that great an actor. I wish I had a manager or agent to help me get through it. 

What did you think when you first heard from me?

Humbled and proud. [We then talked about how I found him, which was tricky because he has almost no online presence, doesn’t currently own a computer though will be getting one, and has never had an email address.]

How do you look back on your Footloose experience?

Footloose was probably one of the greatest things that happened in my life. We didn’t know it would be on every month for the rest of our lives. I’m proud of what I did. I did the best I could. I’m so happy that it has such a following. 

Did you see the Footloose remake (2011)?

I never saw it. (laughs) Maybe the mojo would spoil it. I worked for a great writer at the golf club. He said to me “You see the new Footloose? Yours was better.” I heard that they did not change the script. How could you not update the script?

If the experience changed your life in any way, how?

Of course it did in the sense that I was in a classic movie that will be played forever. I’ve been fortunate to be in a couple [of other classics]—YoungbloodThe Wanderers, [which I think is] one of the greatest movies ever. Started a dozen careers. 

Anything you’d like to add?

[paraphrasing a story he told: In 1987, I was in a movie called Hotshot, which filmed in Brazil. The soccer legend Pelé was also in the movie. When we were filming, I didn’t stay in a hotel. I lived with Pelé for a month—in all three of his homes! (laughs) First a suite on the top floor of a building on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Then his suite in São Paulo. Then we went into the jungle to his third house, a walled home.] 

(long pause) I’ve been talking a lot. I guess I needed to talk to somebody. [Because you write for children, I think you can be sensitive about this.] I’ve struggled with alcohol my whole life. Fifty years. I’m 64. 

I did FootlooseYoungblood totally sober. But I’ve been fighting with it my whole life. Not that anyone would care what I’ve been through, but I would like to address it so it might help others. We can talk more about it. 

[People who are struggling with alcohol] shouldn’t give up. 

courtesy of Lori Singer


pink pancreas said...

He sounds so sweet! Such a kind humble guy. So handsome too- after seeing him in Youngblood I always wondered why he didn’t work more. Thank you for this interview!

scorpionqueen73 said...

He sounds like an awesome person. I've always wondered what happened to him - appreciate the interview very much!

Anonymous said...

He graduated from my high school! We sang onstage together in our school’s revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”. I was Lucy. As a 16 year old in 1986, I was one smitten kitten!

Unknown said...

Loved reading this! Wish he would have done more movies!