by Bill Smyth
photography by Lionel Deluy
I usually grade my celebrities on the Cool Scale: 1 being a prima donna, self-absorbed media hound and 5 being a cool, down-to-earth person with a laid-back attitude. Strait is an off-the-charts 10 – someone who’s grounded, gracious, and cares more about living a life than faking one. For Strait, it’s about carving his craft through experience and moving forward in an industry that swallows even the strongest of actors.
He has experienced highs – as a budding model working with photographers Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts, and Stephen Klein – and lows – starring in the big-budget 10,000 B.C. without much acclaim – in a career on the edge of a serious breakthrough. This spring, he’ll takes his New York City roots to City Island, along with Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, and Emily Mortimer. In the movie, Strait plays a recently transferred inmate who is recognized by a prison guard (Garcia) as the illegitimate son he’s never met. Strait’s character moves in with his father as they try to patch holes and work on their relationship.
“The dialogue was written so well and it was so funny, but it has a lot of heart to it,” says Greenwich Village-born Strait. “Sometimes [it’s]very darkly funny. I found it incredibly cool. The premise of the film is a family with secrets and lies, and how these things they fear will tear them apart actually do the opposite, in a very funny, off-beat way.”
Filmed entirely in New York City, and mostly in City Island in the Bronx, it was Strait’s first time filming in his hometown, and he was blown away by the experience. “I never really knew about it [City Island] growing up as a kid, but it’s a beautiful, quaint little fishing village in the Bronx. It was very cool to work up there… the city in and of itself is such a tangible character.”
Strait is a true New Yorker, walking to school by himself in the first grade and riding the subway alone at 10. “I wouldn’t trade growing up here for any other place in the world. You are exposed to so much so young and you really get to see everything, every type of person. It’s like living in the world’s city; it’s so diverse and it was really great.”
Early in his career, modeling was just a “means to an end. Acting has always been my first love. When I got out of high school and moved out here [to LA], it just stopped.” Strait attended the Stella Adler Acting Studio at night while going to P.S. 3, the Village Community School, and Xavier High School, and was enriched by Adler’s teachings. “The Adler technique – using imagination to make things real instead of pulling from your own experiences – was very helpful, especially for films where there is a lot of green screen and whatnot, because you have to imagine so much of that on your own, anyway. Using my imagination as a tool has been incredibly helpful.”
Strait landed a role in Stop-Loss with Ryan Phillippe and Abbie Cornish, a film that centered on soldier deployment in Iraq. While not terribly politically savvy – he states that he votes but is not politically active – Strait believes in our president’s ability to end this conflict. “I have faith that Obama will do the right thing and that he’s being honest. It’s such a complicated thing; so many people have been hurt or have lost their lives from this war. The war doesn’t make any sense to me in terms of a justification to go in there in the first place. I’m glad it’s going to be over soon.”
Despite his much-hyped movie, 10,000 B.C., not being a favorite among the critics, Strait has only good things to say about the experience. “It was an interesting subject matter. You have to walk a thin line; it was much more a fairy tale than a history textbook. But you go one way and take it too seriously, you look foolish. The other way, you’ll also look foolish. I’m proud of it. Everything we set out to accomplish, we did.”
I talk with Strait about what being a celebrity entails – you know, being photographed on the red carpet, driving nice cars, living in plush mansions… the high life. Strait, however, is not wrapped up in material things, trading a Benz for a more eco-friendly ride. “I’m pretty low-key; I drive a Prius and I love my car.”
His choice of wheels accurately reflects his passion for the environment, a cause he cares deeply about. However, Strait keeps a low profile, and his activism is self-propelled. “The issue [of the environment], in and of itself, dwarfs so many different things. Because if the environment goes, everything we care about really doesn’t matter,” he insists. “I certainly try to do my part – I drive a Prius, recycle, and try to conserve as much as I can. I find it to be an incredibly important issue and the way things are going is pretty disturbing. It’s very important to me.”
This has also translated to his reading habits: he bought a Kindle because “it just saves a tremendous amount of paper per year.” Strait’s reading tastes vary. He loves Paul Auster, Denis Johnson, Kurt Vonnegut, and David Foster Wallace. He is currently into the 1959 novel The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass.
Strait makes the most of his down time, whether it’s hanging out with wife and fellow actor Lynn Collins or getting involved with children’s charities. “I was down at Los Cabos Children’s Foundation in Mexico and I went to one of their fundraisers. They’ve done a lot of incredible things for orphans with terminal diseases and the underprivileged… they’ve done great work.” With Strait’s personality and promise, we will continue to expect nothing but great work from him as well.