This interview with Leo Fitzpatrick went for an hour. Twenty minutes of that hour were spent discussing things like acting, art and infant alcoholism. The other forty were just Leo moaning about how much of a shithole New York is nowadays. ‘Pretty soon you’ll get arrested in New York just for tying your shoes. It’s fucked.’
He’s right. New York has definitely changed for the worse. Downtown has become an open-air mall for assholes, pricks and douchebags, and I can’t for the life of me remember the last time I got mugged. It’s an embarrassment. Anyway, I cut most of the bitching out of the transcript because it was, at its essence, the ramblings of a grumpy, pissed-up Muppet. What remains then, I hope, is a conversation that will shed some light on the whens, wheres and wherefores of that quintessential New Yorker and unabashed Irish liar, Leo Fitzpatrick. You know, the dude from Kids.
Interview: Jason Crombie / Photography: Todd Jordan.
Hey. So I thought I’d begin this interview by asking you what happened the other night?
You don’t get to start the interview. I’m the interviewer; I start it.
What happened the other night?
We got drunk and my better judgement told me to go home. So I went home.
And at no point during the night did your better judgement say, ‘Hey maybe we should start the interview’? Not only did you not even attempt to do the interview, I’m pretty sure you straight-up ditched me, too.
I said goodbye when you were having a cigarette out front.
I don’t know if you did.
See? This is why I didn’t start the interview. You were off your head. I said goodbye and then you were calling me a pussy as I walked off.
Anyway, I’d like to start this interview by talking about…
Something a little more intellectual?
Let’s take it back to New Jersey. How old were you when you left NJ and came to NY?
Well, I first started coming to the city when I was twelve. I thought I was all grown up. But now if I see a twelve-year-old I’m like, fuck!
But when you were twelve NY was way gnarlier.
Yeah, you didn’t cross Avenue A. If you wanted to keep your sneakers and the three dollars you had in your pocket you didn’t come near it.
And now here we are, sitting in your studio down on Avenue D.
You’re a bit of a Renaissance man, is that fair to say? You do a bit of everything: actor, artist, poet, chubby-chaser…
I’d say my lifestyle is a lot like your interview style in that I get bored really quickly. If I’m not getting the answer I want, I just change the subject.
Right. So you can’t stick to one thing.
But does that affect your success, spreading your creative energy over too many things?
Probably. But you know, I always thought it’s best to use one thing to pay for another thing; that’s where the balance is. I mean, if I could act every day then I probably would act every day, but you’ve got to be realistic. There’s probably half a million people trying to do the exact same thing, so maybe it’s not going to pan out the way you want it to. So I do all kinds of other stuff to keep myself busy, because if I sat and waited by the phone I’d be a mental case.
But I do think the more you got going on, the more shit will happen. If you keep the wheels turning.
Keeping doing stuff, keep putting things out there.
Yeah, so when acting isn’t happening I do other things like make art or write or whatever. And that’s why I don’t live in LA. If I lived in LA I might be more successful as an actor, but I’d feel like I was limited to doing one thing, and I’d feel like a loser.
I do one thing: this. But I also jerk off sometimes.
And how’s that working out for you?
I’m really depressed. You lived in LA for a minute though, right?
Yeah, I lived there for two years. And it’s cool. I think LA is great if you have a job outside of acting. In LA the movie industry is everywhere, and if you’re only dealing with that then it kills whatever passion you have for it. You can’t go get a coffee without hearing about someone reading a script or writing a script, or the barista is a fucking actress or whatever… There’s just such a level of desperation, and I think that’ll drive anyone crazy.
Whereas in New York no one gives a shit if you’re an actor, but in LA it’s all about getting your ‘big break’.
Actors are generally weird, phoney people. You’re not, but most of the other ones I know are.
Uh-huh, and even more so in LA because you have to sort of convince yourself that things are going your way, you know?
Because you’re all, ‘Well, tomorrow’s gonna be my big break.’ It’s so delusional. And it’s weird because, you know, you don’t wanna harsh on somebody’s dream, but you don’t wanna hear about it every day either. It’s like, you wanna make movies? Then how about you make a fuckin’ movie and stop talking about it?
Here’s a good question: why did you never start a band?
I have no musical talent whatsoever.
None. I have two brothers and two sisters, and growing up we were really broke, and when we found our ‘thing’ that was our thing because the family could only afford one of each thing.
What are you talking about?
Like my brother’s thing was music, so he got a guitar. I was into skateboarding, so I got a guitar…
I mean a skateboard. Anyway, so everybody had their thing.
How poor were you growing up?
My family was so poor that when anyone got a job they would hide their money.
Like your brothers or sisters you mean?
Yeah. And we’d all label our food. I’d get a box of cereal and write my name on it.
Really. And I’d like measure it and shit. My parents were from Ireland and they always drank tea, like 40 gallons a day; and the milk was always sacred because you need milk for tea, right?
So there’s photos of me when I was four years old, drinking Budweiser so there’d be enough milk for the tea. Which is fucked up because where are your priorities when you have tons of beer but not enough milk for the tea.
You’re so full of shit.
Are you shitting me?
No, I’m not!
Because you are Irish, and Irish people lie constantly.
No, no, I’m serious. I’d get thirsty but my folks would be like, ‘Well, we don’t wanna give him the milk, we need it for our tea, but we have all this beer lying around, and he’ll think it’s soda…’
And I never disliked the taste of beer. The first time I had it I thought, ‘Oh this is delicious.’
How many beers do you drink per week?
What’s six times seven?
I don’t know.
If you drink at least six beers a day why aren’t you fat?
Because I don’t eat.
What did you eat today?
That’s all you’ve had today?
It’s only 7 o’clock, though.
It’s 7pm and you’ve had a hamburger. How many beers have you had? This is turning into an intervention.
I’ve probably had three beers so far.
And that’s all you ate today: a hamburger. How does anyone even do that?
I wake up in the morning and I go get a large ice coffee. That normally ruins my stomach until about 3pm and then I decide on what to eat then. But it’s a big meal.
And it’s the only one of the day.
Dude, that’s not good. You gotta look after yourself.
Oh, coming from the guy who’s got the shakes.
I know. Tell me about your gallery, Home Alone.
The gallery has grown into a monster.
Well, we never wanted to have a gallery where you necessarily needed to run it. We just change the show every month, but the shows kind of run themselves. The tricky part is I’m partners with Nate Lowman, and Nate is busy with his own career, so the day-to-day shit in the gallery is my responsibility—like finding shows and doing this and that.
Well generally galleries have teams of people who do this. Like if I need to bring in a painting from Pennsylvania I’ve got to go get it. We don’t have art handlers.
How would you go get a painting from Pennsylvania? You don’t have a car, right?
No, you just get on the bus—if it’ll fit on the bus—and fuckin’ drag it back.
So how has the gallery become a monster?
It was just supposed to be a fun project, but it takes a lot of work.
Why did you start Home Alone gallery?
Well, the object of the project is we don’t sell art, nothing is ever for sale, except for that Larry Clarke show we did recently. The idea is we provide a space for artists to do whatever they want. So, if you wanna dig a hole in the floor or, I don’t know, put all your furniture on the ceiling, whatever you want, it’s your show and we give you the space to do it.
So if you’re not selling anything how are you paying for the space?
We just pay for it out of pocket.
Yeah. We have this dream to one day make a book out of it, which is another money-losing venture.
It really is.
We’re just losing money left and right. But luckily Nate is so successful with his own art career that he can write it off; it’s just another studio for Nate.
But, in not selling anything it really works out to our advantage because we’re not in competition with other galleries, and that means we can borrow art from a lot of galleries. It’s a way for them to show their own artists without using up their own real estate. And they can sell the work—we don’t care about a commission or anything, but we can get really good shows because we’re not selling anything.
Like, we did a Dan Flavin show, and who the fuck would give two little kids with a small-ass gallery a Dan Flavin show? I think people understand that our thing is we’re not trying to rip anyone off, we’re not trying to claim anything, we just wanna do good shows downtown again. It’s rare that you go to an art show in Manhattan that’s not in Chelsea.
Tell me about your own art. Looking around your studio I see you’ve been working on some pieces that say ‘Death’ and ‘Sleep’. What’s that all about?
Sleeping is death.
It’s practising for death.
Yeah. Why sleep?
That’s enough art talk. Tell the story about the time…
This isn’t an interview if you’re just telling me to tell stories.
What are you talking about? This is a great interview.
I don’t think we’ve concentrated on a single thing. I mean, this interview is probably going to be as good as the photos that go with it, I can tell you that much.
Todd’s going to read that. Stop complaining and tell the story about your old landlord trying to kick you out so they could bump up the rent.
Right. So in New York the rent is so high that these landlords, they’ll harass you out of the building. This has been happening for like ten years now. Basically, once they’ve got you out, they’ll gut your apartment, a two-bedroom apartment for example, and they’ll make it into a four-bedroom apartment. There’s no living room and no nothing, but there are four bedrooms so they can charge something like $4000.
What was your landlord doing to push you out?
It wasn’t even that extreme, but it got to the point where they were doing it enough to make me leave.
The one thing you don’t want to do when you move to New York is live in a building where the landlord lives in the building too, because it’s like moving into their house. And they’re constantly being nosy and checking in and God forbid you’re doing something wrong because they know about it immediately.
And they’re all over you.
Exactly. But doing something wrong is like wearing heels at night. My girl wasn’t allowed to wear high heels in the house after 7pm.
Yeah, but how often is she clopping around the house in high heels? If I lived downstairs I wouldn’t want it either.
That doesn’t matter! If you’re paying twenty-seven hundred dollars a month for a one-bedroom apartment you should be allowed to wear your shoes. I don’t like loud shit either, but at some point you have to take a stand. Like, ‘Fuck you, I pay a lot of money to live here.’
And the other thing they did that drove me crazy is they always played the artist card, like, ‘We’re artists.’ No you’re squatters who got the building in the ’80s. So they start off claiming they’re artists and this and that, but eventually they become slumlords who fuckin’ kick you out. There was a guy with cancer on the third floor and he wanted to move to the first floor and they wouldn’t let him. The guy couldn’t walk up and down the fuckin’ stairs and in the end he had to go into a hospice.
Yeah! But it’s all weird, cutthroat shit like that. Don’t call yourself an artist if you’re just trying to kick people out for stockbrokers. So anyway, they started coming over…
Yeah, and checking in, you know? And we’d put up these shelves and they told us they were illegal. They were Ikea shelves, not some deathtrap made out of sheet metal.
Right. This sounds fucking awful.
It was. They were coming over all the time, and I got so sick of it. They would photograph things and shit, and they wouldn’t even pay attention to you; they’d kind of make their way into the house and then ignore you and start taking photos. And I really didn’t know what to do. Anyway, one morning they come over and started taking photos, and I was like, what are you going to do? It’s these two old ladies, these old curmudgeons in your house all the fuckin’ time.
So what did you do?
I was like, you know what? Fuck it and… I’m really mad at New York for what it’s become, y’know?
I know, I know, get to the good bit.
So I was like fuck, what am I gonna do? So I just got butt-ass naked in the middle of the room, and I was like, ‘If you’re gonna keep driving me crazy, look at this and now you’re gonna have fuckin’ nightmares. Good luck dealing with this for the rest of your life. I have to talk about my landlords in therapy? Well now you gonna have to talk about this in therapy.’
I love this story. And what did you do, follow them around?
Yeah! I followed them around the house naked. And you know what? It worked; they left really quickly.
What was your girlfriend doing while you were strutting around?
She was really embarrassed, but she also thought it was the funniest thing she’d ever seen. But you know, you just get to a point sometimes where you just don’t know what to do, so you get naked and then you feel better.
I agree with you that New York sucks right now, but it’s so hard to leave.
I’ve always felt like New York is an addiction. Once you live here for a certain amount of time you become addicted to it, and you hate it but you’ll never leave. It’s like heroin or something. You’ll be like, ‘I wanna leave! Fuck this! I hate this place! I’m leaving!’ Then you leave and you’re like, ‘I wonder what’s happening in New York…’