GQ, Sept 2004
When he’s not playing down the fact that he’s Hollywood royalty, or taking on tough leading roles in independent movies, he’s trying to stop gang war in Los Angeles. Where is Troy’s Achilles heel?
Jane Fonda’s son is a misfit. Or at least that’s what he says. Truth is, Troy Garity, 31, is less a misfit than an easyfit – he seems to tuck into all kinds of scenes beyond the spoilt Hollywood spawn cliché. He’s a good actor – in Milwaukee Minnesota (out next month), he plays a convincing idiot savant with a gift for ice fishing. But he’s also a white homeboy and unremitting leftie who can quote whole stretches of the Vagina Monologues. Last week he was in Bolivia discussing the war on drugs with coca growers and next week he’s off to El Salvador to acquire some land for local farmers.
“I never belonged to any clique,” he says, with the kind of deliberate drawl of a man who likes a smoke and wants to make a point. “I’ve had an interesting life, with a lot of privilege, but in an unorthodox way. It’s not the typical upbringing of someone who might share my good fortune – to be the son of a famous movie star, basically.”
We’re sitting in his mother’s sumptuous trailer near the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where she’s shooting her first movie in 15 years (Monsters In Law, starring Jennifer Lopez). “Want some coffee?” he says, fumbling with the espresso machine and spilling it all over the place. Then he fumbles with the television remote so much that a man needs to be called out to retune the satellite. He’s an endearing shambles– a gangly six-two with hangdog eyes, puffy and heavy-lidded. He shrugs and sniffs. “Allergies,” he explains.
In contrast to the driftwood progeny of Hollywood legends like Chad McQueen, from the loafers and coasters to the sneering fast-trackers living the vida loca in the vapid slipstream of their star spangled parents, Garity is an engaging and worldly 31 year old, relatively rooted in the world and unencumbered by fluff and narcissism. The son of “Hanoi” Jane and the activist turned senator Tom Hayden – the most prominent anti-Vietnam activists in the country at the time – Garity was raised in a cauldron of progressive politics, bubbling over with the fervour and optimism of change. A true child of the revolution, he met Fidel Castro and Gerry Adams on his summer holidays.
“We were concerned with actively pursuing ways in which to make society more just,” says Garity, quite matter of factly. “Our house in Santa Monica was always filled with political organisers, families who came to stay, people who wanted to get their stories out, artists, activists, poets… Hippies, basically. It was much more of a political household than a Hollywood household.”
His name alone speaks volumes – Troy Garity – one part anti-war, another anti-phallocrat. Fonda and Hayden had heard and liked the name ‘Troy’ in Vietnam – Nguyen Van Troi was a North Vietnamese who attempted assassination of the US Secretary of Defence at the time, Robert Macnamara. And ‘Garity’ was a strike against patriarchal norms – Hayden’s mother had had 10 sisters, all of whom lost their maiden name through marriage, so as Troy says, “my parents decided it would be good for me to carry it on. And maybe it would grant me some anonymity at school. Which it didn’t, by the way. Not at all.”
It doesn’t take much to prompt Garity to take a pop at patriarchal western society. His mother once described Troy as “the perfect man, he’s truly androgynous”. Garity believes, with a sly grin, that what she meant was “that I think there’s an imbalance of male energy and female energy in the world. That I’m a vagina friendly male.” And you can see her point – Garity is not merely straight, he’s such a keen fan of the Vagina Monologues, such a supporter of its anti-domestic abuse message and a loyal friend of its author, Eve Ensler, that he followed the show on tour, all the way to Pakistan.
In fact, Garity has a habit of following shows on tour on account of the lure of a vagina. When he was 14 he ran away with Cirque du Soleil, to which his mother had dragged him, quite against his will. Once the curtains were raised, however, he became so suddenly smitten with one of the girls in the show that the teenage Garity left home to follow her. “I first saw them in LA, then I just joined them and went to San Francisco, New York, Toronto… Man I got in a lot of trouble. Then when I started doing plays in college in New York, I realised that it wasn’t the girl in the circus I’d fallen for – it was the feeling of the show, the whole production.”
Garity has taken his time in working up to any prominence as an actor. He had a small part in Ice Cube’s Barbershop, he was a goofy getaway driver in Bandits, opposite Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis. But his most noted film to date is A Soldier’s Girl, a damning indictment of the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, in which he played an American soldier, Barry Winchell who fell in love with a trans-sexual dancer. A true story, it ended in tragedy for Winchell – he was bludgeoned to death in his sleep. But before that spattered climax, Garity had to negotiate the awkward business of performing sex scenes with another man.
“Yeah, that was scary,” he concedes with a shrug. “I was just like, ‘look, we’re not hanging out after, we’re not doing anything, let’s just do the scene’. It’s scary but fuck-it, whatever. He did have beautiful tits, though. They spent four hrs every day putting tits and hips on him.”
A Soldiers Girl took such a toll on Garity that he has done little but the light relief of Barbershop II since. Not that he’s been idle – with his long list of causes to tend to, he has spent much of his time travelling and working. When he’s not shooting movies – quite apart from hopping around Central America tending to injustice, accompanying his campaigning father and filing reports for national radio in America – he’s a busy spokesman for a group called Homies Unidos, which tries to broker ceasefires between Latino gangs of Los Angeles.
Now, he’s sitting in his mother’s trailer reading three scripts a day, from an ever increasing pile of offers, in the hope that he finds something special. Because “I don’t want to make a film because I need to buy a house, because I don’t. I want to make a film because it’s an important piece of art.” Needless to say, he’s had trouble finding the right material in Hollywood, so there’s nothing on his agenda as an actor. In fact, the lack of decent stories, and his own political convictions is steering him inexorably towards directing.
“It’s difficult to have any type of consciousness and work in Hollywood. That’s why you have to change it a bit and tell your own stories. I don’t like the Pentagon’s involvement in movies. I don’t like the sensationalism. I’ve seen enough characters I want to aspire to be like, but I haven’t seen any that I just relate to normally.” He’s warming now, to a theme – his slightly stoned voice taking on a stridency and strength. “Movies matter because –”
And just at that moment his mother walks in, the great Jane Fonda – of Klute, Barbarella and the exercise video phenomenon – and she’s wearing a summer hat, a black and white dress, she’s looking very ‘My Fair Lady’. She introduces herself briefly and moves Garity and I into the bedroom of her trailer where her boy picks up, effortlessly where he left off.
In the kind of language he would have heard in the Left Bohemia of his youth, he laments the soulless “commodification” of movies and goes into raptures about the “stamp of authorship” over his latest, Milwaukee Minnesota. For a good 10 minutes he concludes with a celebration of this little indie, a collision of quirks in a small snowy town that finds his autistic fisherman in the sights of an evil Randy Quaid. Then he announces that “film is visual storytelling that goes back to the ancients, and it should be given the respect it deserves.”
He sniffs. “Allergies.”
And spills his water down his front.