Ten years ago, Christian Slater took the most significant vacation of his life. He was just past 40, with a canceled ABC series and two direct-to-video releases in his immediate wake. At Little Palm Island, an out-of-the-way resort in the Florida Keys, he met a woman. Her name was Brittany Lopez, and she worked at a large auction house in Miami. “I was smitten, gobsmacked,” Slater says. They’d marry three years later.
Quite a trip. But that’s only half of it.
Lopez had to return to Miami, and Slater stuck around, “killing time,” he says, when a yacht arrived at the resort’s marina and off stepped Billy Joel. Slater adores Billy Joel, refers to him as his “idol.” They spent the day together, walking around the island, hanging out. Day turned into night, and they ended up at the resort’s piano lounge. Another guest recognized Joel and egged him on, suggesting he could no longer play like he once had. Challenge accepted. Joel assumed his place at the piano, Slater stood by his side, and the duet performed “One for My Baby,” the Frank Sinatra standard. “It was a magical day,” Slater says. “Just a magical, magical day.”
Christian Slater is that guy now: a 50-year-old dad who keeps his hair closely cropped, his eyeglass frames sensibly stylish, and his love for Billy Joel undying. He’s as excitable as he’s ever been, but the subject matter is new, nearly all of it family-focused: BabyBjörns, which he calls “a rather brilliant device”; the gender-reveal party his sister-in-law hosted for the birth of Slater and Lopez’s daughter, Lena, who’s now nearly one; the virtual graduation party Lopez hosted in May for Eliana, 18, Slater’s daughter from his first marriage. (He also has a 21-year-old son.) He dad-jokes that his best friend is his trainer, with whom he works out over FaceTime. He naps when his daughter goes down.
Which is all to say that today Christian Slater feels happy and stable, two emotions that eluded him at the peak of his fame. He’s been acting for forty-two years—at eight, he landed his first role, as an extra on the soap opera One Life to Live—but the 1989 black comedy Heathers, in which he played a murderous misanthrope opposite Winona Ryder, made him a teen idol. Her, too. “I had a great time working with her,” he says of Ryder, “and would like to do something with her again.” The following year, his starring role in Young Guns II propelled him onto the short list of Hollywood’s Young Elites—Keifer Sutherland and Emilio Estevez, basically. Slater traded blows with Kevin Costner in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; in 1993, he and director Tony Scott brought to life Quentin Tarantino’s first screenplay, True Romance. With his slick hair and an onscreen magnetism that often drew comparisons to a young Jack Nicholson’s, Slater was the kind of star whom everyone wanted to fuck or emulate. He seemed impossibly cool.
But it was all a put-on. A mask. Fakery. Slater didn’t feel at all like the cool guy, and he worried that at any moment he’d be exposed. He cast about for role models to emulate. Once, when he was hanging out with Robert De Niro, someone took the older actor’s picture without asking permission. Incensed, De Niro demanded the camera, then pulled the film out to destroy it. Slater took note. “I went, Wow, that’s something,” he says. Shortly after, when a fan asked him for an autograph, “I tried on what it felt like to be a dick about it,” he recalls. “I hated how that felt.” Slater’s insecurities coalesced into anxiety. “You want to be that guy who’s on the screen,” he says, “but at the same time you don’t, because you might have to blow yourself up.” He drank and did drugs until both became problems. In 1997, at 27, he was arrested, not for the first or last time, for assaulting his girlfriend and a police officer, and was sentenced to three months in jail. “It was chaos,” Slater says. “I wouldn’t want to be around that person.” He means himself. “I mean, God, what an asshole. I just... I can’t believe it, and so much of it stemmed from insecurity and that fear of being found out.” In 2005, he got sober.
He kept landing roles, though with diminishing prestige from one to the next—Dolan’s Cadillac, Soldiers of Fortune, Hatfields and McCoys: Bad Blood. But he never quit working. Then, in 2015, he costarred alongside a newcomer named Rami Malek in the USA series Mr. Robot. The show was a hit, and Slater earned widespread praise for the first time in decades. He also earned three Golden Globe nominations and one win, in 2016, for Best Supporting Actor.
Earlier this year, Slater was in New York for the table reads for Dr. Death, a show about Christopher Duntsch, a Dallas neurosurgeon who was accused of killing or maiming 33 of his patients before his 2015 arrest. Slater will play Randall Kirby, a vascular surgeon who, with his colleague, played by Alec Baldwin, helped expose Duntsch, played by Jamie Dornan. Slater was preparing to fly to Texas to meet with Kirby when the coronavirus pandemic shut down production. Instead, he went home to Miami, where he expected to stay for a couple of weeks. It’s been five months. Slater and I spoke for several hours in May, before protests over police brutality and systemic racism gripped the country.
His work obligations are minimal. There’s been some promotion for his new show, Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story (USA). True-crime fans will be familiar with the 1989 crime on which it’s based. Slater plays Broderick’s husband, Dan, a successful California malpractice attorney who ruthlessly gaslit his wife. Slater brings the character to life in a way that is despicable to the point of believable. “Every day, crew members told me, ‘We really like you, but then the camera rolls and we hate it,’” he says. “It’s rough when you’re doing a scene and some of the crew are hissing.”
Otherwise, Slater spends his days with Lena. They’ve found a routine: He feeds her breakfast, then he throws on the BabyBjörn and they take a walk, ideally along the beach. They return home and listen to music. Lots of Billy Joel, naturally. Slater’s favorite Joel song is the not-quite-deep cut “Vienna”; Lena’s favorite is anyone’s guess. He is relishing this time at home—the time to be a dad to Lena. “It’s really my life now,” he says.
And like many dads, he’s the butt of most family jokes. It’s why he doesn’t watch his old movies with his older daughter, Eliana. “She thinks I’m just a goofball,” he says. “She spends more time making fun of me than anything else, which I’m cool with.” When a relative found a magazine from the ’80s that contained an interview with Slater, he endured ridicule for two weeks. Deservedly so, by his own admission: “I was literally just such an idiot, trying to be the cool guy. My arrogance was just appalling,” he says. “I was such a phony.”
In another thirty years, he adds, his family might dig up this interview and find the things he said worth skewering. “They’ll make fun of me for another two weeks,” he says, “and it’ll be fine.”
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