Feldog Revisited: An Interview with Corey Feldman
Feldman talks to PopMatters about the good, the bad, and the ugly of reality TV.
Corey Feldman carved out an impressive child-actor resume with appearances and star turns on seminal late '70s and early '80s fare like Eight Is Enough, Alice, The Bad News Bears, Mork & Mindy, The Love Boat, Cheers, and Family Ties, as well as the role of Young Copper in Disney's The Fox and the Hound. These are the experiences that Feldman describes as "enjoyable".
"Given the fact I had a pretty shattered home life, any opportunity to have a creative outlet was a good thing," Feldman shares, although that theme of having been exploited by his parents early in his showbiz career (he asked and was granted emancipation from his parents at age 15) reoccurred numerous times in the conversation, Feldman comes across as remarkably well-spoken and thoughtful -- not at all the Hollywood wild-child who has battled his personal demons in the public forum over the last two decades.
He graduated to the silver screen in 1984's Gremlins, which started a run of annual Feldman appearances at the box office lasting through 1990 with his turn voicing Donatello in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. In between those bookends, he grew up and blew up. His ensemble turns in generation-defining movies are remarkable, particularly in 1986's Stand By Me, where he starred with River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Will Wheaton, and Kiefer Sutherland. "River and I were probably the closest," Feldman says of the group's dynamics, and that "Jerry and I remained close for a time". Also, with the gap in ages, Feldman recalls Sutherland as having been "very elusive" and "kind of kept to himself", but they would go on to star in a second movie together: The Lost Boys. And this was where The Two Coreys formally came together.
Corey Feldman and Corey Haim's paths were crossing in the years leading up to The Lost Boys. Feldman was auditioning for Haim's title role in Lucas, while Haim was going for Feldman's role of Mouth in The Goonies. Mutual friend Robin Lively (who would costar with the Coreys in Dream a Little Dream 2 in the mid-'90s) is sort of responsible for bringing the two guys together by being in the middle of them. "He kept popping up in the same teen magazines, moving in on the girl I knew," Feldman recalls of Haim, "I was like, 'Who is this guy with my name?!'" From 1987 on, Coreys Feldman and Haim were synonymous with box office success and favorite subjects of spreads in Bop and Tiger Beat long before they were subjects of E! True Hollywood Stories.
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Twenty years after joining forces on the silver screen, they are reuniting on the small screen, in The Two Coreys. A&E calls it a "scripted reality TV series". While all reality TV shows are contrived, The Two Coreys deserves credit for being up-front about it. "They are all contrived," says Feldman of the genre. "That's one of my grudges with the format. They are set up." And if anyone should know, it's Feldman. His experiences on the first season of The Surreal Life left a very sour taste in his mouth. "At the beginning of the show, the tagline they created for me is actually something I never said," relays Feldman. "It was an interview they set up." And Feldman says he was coached to repeat the question numerous times in addition to answering it, and both the resulting quote ("I'm more than an actor. I'm an icon, an industry.") and the way he was portrayed "set the tone for the rest of that series. Everything they did around me led to that crazy asshole kid [persona]".
Feldman was also engaged to Susie Sprague "long before the show came along". Although the wedding was already being planned to happen six months after his Surreal Life stint, he says, "When we started shooting, they said, 'We'd love to have the wedding on the show.'" And Feldman readily admits, "We got suckered into the show by the enticements ... I did the show because I was promised that this was an opportunity for people to see me for who I am." He confesses that there were times when he watched an episode of The Surreal Life with his "face in my hands crying because of the character" the show had created out of his footage, and he vowed "never to do a reality show again".
But given the opportunity to return to reality TV, arguably the most self-exploitive route to infamy currently around, Feldman acknowledges that he's "not a believer in the tried-and-true reality television approach of setting my morality aside", and "what made this intriguing was the fact that we sold it to A&E". Being executive producer on the show also allows Feldman the freedom and control to "deliver something real that emotionally conveys who we are ... and hopefully get a positive message out of it."
In describing exactly what a "scripted reality show" entails, Feldman explains, "I came up with storylines ... and literally planned out every beat of every episode." But, while the situations may be premeditated, Feldman hopes "the thing that makes this stand out is ... that the emotions are 100% [real]." For example, in one episode of The Two Coreys centering on Haim's somewhat misguided enthusiasm about getting a Lost Boys sequel off the ground, Feldman informs Haim that there already is a Lost Boys 2 direct-to-video movie in the works. He also reveals that he has been approached to do a cameo in it, while Haim has not. "I really did wait to tell him about the Lost Boys moment" until we were filming the TV episode, explains Feldman of the scene. "I want people to get an honest view, organically respond to the feelings." While it remains to be seen whether or not this show is "pioneering", as Feldman claims, credit is due for his ambition "to create something thought-provoking and exciting".
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There is an interesting dynamic between Haim and Feldman on screen today. Feldman, inexplicably, is now the "mature one" between the two of them. "Back in the '80s I was unrefined," Feldman says. "I'm taking authority in my life and change my own direction in life." Although he considers himself a part of the rock 'n' roll scene and goes to Playboy Mansion parties, he is quick to point out that "all people in life are multi-dimensional" and that "for the most part, I am very centered and a businessman and politically active." Currently at the other end of the spectrum is Haim. "He's a kid who's refused to grow up," according to Feldman. "He hasn't found a way to put it all together ... He's really never learned to do his own laundry -- typical everyday life stuff." [This is evident in Haim's unpredictability. The guys' publicist and A&E were unable to secure PopMatters an interview with Haim at any point leading up to the show's premiere.]
Feldman doesn't feel the Hollywood pressures on young stars are any worse for the Lindsay Lohans of the world versus when he fought his demons. "People judge these kids because they are in Hollywood," he says. "They're just kids doing what kids do -- making mistakes." He does go all historic when posed the question, actually, tracing the problems back to Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland's day. Then he defends child actors growing up in the hot glare of the spotlight: "It's part of the life experience ... it's an opportunity for change," and "to scrutinize is completely unfair."
In his 36 years, Feldman has grown up a child of the '80s. His movies helped define the era, while his personal battles stand as examples of the decade's excesses. Speaking with him twenty years on, and seeing him interact with his wife and old friend, you realize he has grown into a smart man. Although any sort of contentment is probably not likely until Haim is out of the house.