Not long into his film career, it was obvious that actor Tom Sizemore had what it takes to be one of the greats. He has a charisma that jumps off of the screen – the ability to relax you with a warm smile one moment, a palpable sense of fury in his eyes that can break you in two, the next.
The so-called “nice boy from Detroit” grew up on movies featuring actors such as Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Robert Duvall. It’s no surprise as his commitment to his craft and the intensity of his performances brings to mind those actors’ work.
Sizemore’s first film was director Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Ron Silver. Bigelow would go on to cast Sizemore in two more of her films, Strange Days and Point Break. Other directors have worked with Sizemore multiple times as well. Oliver Stone (Born On the Fourth Of July, Natural Born Killers), Lawrence Kasdan (Wyatt Earp, Dreamcatcher) and Tony Scott (Enemy of the State, True Romance).
Sizemore has also worked with the following legendary directors: Martin Scorsese (Bringing Out the Dead), Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down), Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan) and Michael Mann (Heat).
It would have seemed clear to anyone by the early part of the ’00s that Sizemore was on top of the world. He was sought after by the top directors in Hollywood, was a critically-acclaimed actor who brought an old-school edge to his work in films that were huge box-office successes.
But an addictive personality lay inside Sizemore, one that he managed to control and beat down in the past, but ultimately reared its ugly head to nearly take away everything he had, including his life.
Through many ups and downs, Sizemore has battled back and become a working actor again. Thanks to the help of addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky and counselor Bob Forrest (both of whom Sizemore calls friends), he has been clean and sober for one year (his anniversary is this coming Sunday, May 30th).
Sizemore is working constantly, taking great pains to regain the trust that he acknowledges he had a hand in squandering in the years that addiction and arrests, rather than acting and family, took over his life. He credits his friends and his family for keeping him strong. He recognizes that, while it may take a long time to get back to the types of films he once was cast in with regularity, being able to work and to be healthy for his kids is paramount above all else.
The following is my full interview from a month ago with Tom Sizemore. Rock ‘n Roll Ghost wishes him a very happy sober anniversary.
Rock ‘n Roll Ghost: How are you doing today?
Tom Sizemore: I’m doing well. Things have been better for me. Just feeling better. Like any injury, as time goes on and I don’t aggravate it, it gets better. I went in on May 30th, 2009, so I’m coming up on a year here, shortly. I’ve been clean since I went in. It was tough at the beginning, as you probably noticed on that show (VH1′s Celebrity Rehab and Sober House).
Has this been the longest time you’ve been completely clean since you resumed?
Tom Sizemore: I was clean from ’97 to 2002, that was the longest I didn’t do anything. Didn’t smoke marijuana, nothing. Since I started using this drug, methamphetamine, yes, this is by far the longest time of sobriety I’ve had. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I think that most people, if they knew what they were getting into with regards to drug abuse probably would say – if they could see in a crystal ball what was in store for them – would say, no thank you. I certainly would have. But my own arrogance, hubris…’cause I knew about drugs. I didn’t know about this drug, though. And this drug is a little bit different than the other drugs I’ve abused. It was difficult to stop doing it and it exacted a certain physical toll that I wasn’t prepared for. As it stands, I didn’t damage myself permanently in any way so much as I exhausted myself. That comes back. I don’t think I’ll go run a marathon any day soon. (laughs)
Most important thing is I’m healthy and I can look at my kids and dad’s there with them. I believe that they can tell a difference. Kids know. I know my boys know. My son Jagger says to me frequently, ‘Dad, are you going to stay this time? Are you going anywhere?’ It’s sad that I’ve made them nervous. There’s a certain anxiety he has. It’s from me saying I’m going to the store, for instance, and not coming back because I was arrested. I don’t want to hurt these kids. These kids are innocent and they didn’t ask for any of this bullshit.
In any event, I’m feeling a lot better. My relationship with my kids is better. And I am working. I just got done doing a movie called White Knight. And then I have this (Bernie) Madoff movie, Madoff: Made Off With America. I’m going to start shooting Bullets For Breakfast, this fairly large movie in Las Vegas, in July. Then I’m doing “The Greek Movie”, it’s going to be shot in Cypress – I don’t know what the title is. Then I’m doing An Evening with Donald Klemsky, which is about a blind gentleman, sometime in the fall. I’m the lead in that. The female lead was going to be Miss Lindsay Lohan but I don’t know whether or not that’s still the case. She’s having challenges of her own. I’m hoping to do it with her, if she’s willing and able. Or Miss Kristen Stewart, she’s terrific, too.
Bullets For Breakfast will probably be directed by Jesse Baget, who directed White Knight. That kid is truly talented. He has a very eccentric but at the same time a pop-culture take on his subjects. White Knight is a comedy about a Grand Dragon from the Ku Klux Klan who’s in prison and falls in love with a very young Spanish maid. Sounds like it wouldn’t be very funny. When it was brought to me I thought, ‘the Ku Klux Klan can’t be funny, ever.’ I was wrong. The kid has a kind of Coen Brothers vibe to him.
What’s Bullets For Breakfast about?
Tom Sizemore: It’s a thriller. It’s about a CIA, deep cover Black Ops guy, me. We find out there are elements of an Iranian terrorist group who has a suitcase nuke and I’m to go retrieve it. But then I’m going to sell it to someone else we don’t like. I go rogue as they call it. It’s in the Jack Ryan, (Tom) Clancy vein.
Made Off With America is about Bernie Madoff and his…(starts to laugh) I don’t mean to laugh, but I didn’t know much about it. I was busy…
Well you were one of the few actors not involved in that, so that’s good.
Tom Sizemore: (laughs) I didn’t have any money to steal.
You had your own pyramid scheme.
Tom Sizemore: (laughs) I was the only investor and the only loser. I had no idea the extent of the scam. The money he stole. Just outrageous. I still don’t understand the logistics of how he was able to do it all. I play a Government Operative who’s trying to catch him. I have like five scenes. It’s an independent feature.
It’s sober work, too. It’s more fun to do it now. Right before I went on that show last year, the previous six to nine months, had I been hired to a movie, I’d have been unable to do it. So, just to be up and working and not be an issue with producers, it’s nice to be off the radar and not causing people anxiety and stuff. I’m still in early recovery.
The way people describe it as, it’s a whole life…
Tom Sizemore: It’s a lifestyle change. That’s what I was never willing to do. I didn’t even consciously know I wasn’t willing to do it. When they say change everything – they, the people who practice the twelve steps – and I had known (Dr.) Drew (Pinsky) for years and I’d been to Las Encinas Hospital for treatment back in 2004 and he was my doctor and Bob Forrest, who’s an old, old friend of mine – he’s a counselor on the show – he was my counselor back then, too. Bob always told me you have to change everything. Where you live, your friends, everything. I did it this time. I’m doing it. I moved. I don’t talk to people that I used to talk to that I used with. It’s been hard, because some of those people I did use drugs with aren’t bad people. Most of them are still using drugs. I just do what I’m directed…it’s called following directions. It sounds really simple and stupid, but it’s really hard to do.
Have you found that you’re the type of person that it just works better when someone puts a box around you?
Tom Sizemore: It works a lot better. Part of my personality, I know this, I don’t like to be told what to do. For whatever reason, I don’t know why. I was at my wit’s end when I went in there. I was willing to stand on my head for a year if it would relieve this addiction and bring me peace. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m a 9 level addict. I had to reach some kind of low where I was willing to let go of all of my BS and go, okay, what should I do? Just tell me and I’ll do it. I wouldn’t have known how to get sober.
And then there are some people who can just, out of nowhere, stop.
Tom Sizemore: I’ve known people in the previous fifteen years who have used narcotics daily who’ve just stopped. They just went somewhere, not rehab, went home and came back here to Hollywood and they had stopped and they stayed stopped. I’m not that person.
Tom Sizemore: It is helpful to have someone…Bob guides me. ‘This is what you should be doing. And this is what you’ll do. And I’ll be picking you up and taking you to this meeting and that meeting.’ He’s been very helpful.
When you talk about the people you had to leave behind, even though they were good people, did you ever have the sense – and I imagine this is something they tell you to avoid – but the sense of trying to save someone else?
Tom Sizemore: The gal I started the show with that I was living with – she’s clean. But they don’t want us to talk that much. She’s having her own journey to sobriety. They say a year minimum for contact. I find myself sometimes wanting to call her and see how she is. She really was pushing me the previous six months to get into treatment as well as herself. She’s doing well. My field of friends have grown very limited because of the perpetual drug abuse, so there weren’t a lot of people to save.
What are your thoughts and feelings on Dr. Drew and Bob Forrest?
Tom Sizemore: Not to sound overly sanctimonious or something, but they saved my life. Both of them. Before we went to the sober living house, I just didn’t care. I felt so crummy. The withdrawal from that drug physically isn’t that painful, it’s the mental, the psychological stuff. When I could see more clearly, had some more clarity about what had gone on in the previous five, six years of my life, I would get so depressed that I would just go ‘I don’t want to care about my life, because I ruined it.’ Bob was there, and Drew, to remind me that I hadn’t. And that this was just part of the slow recovery, that I would once again care. I cared about my children, but I was in such a depressed state that I thought all of the opportunities I could have given them I messed up. Which is why Bob would say, you can’t do this for them, you have to do this for you. It was really hard for me to do it for myself, because part of me didn’t really like me anymore.
I always considered myself a nice boy from Detroit. The kid my parents raised I didn’t think was capable of making all of these bad decisions. But that kid didn’t know he was an addict. I didn’t do heavy duty narcotics until I was in my 30s. I just was never exposed to them. I am a firm believer that I am an addict and that it is a disease. A genetic predisposition to addiction. I had it. I didn’t know I had it. But there are things that you can tell, like Bob said. All the obsessive-compulsive disorders I have. Being good at something – hyper focus on acting, for instance. I hyper focus on football. These are touchstones for addiction – for a potential addict. I have a brother in the program, which follows what they say, it runs in families. My grandfather was an alcoholic. He stopped at 52 after a lifetime of drinking. I’m starting to enjoy being me and kind of forgive myself. It’s hard, but it’s easier than I thought. Because the people that love me, like my mother, my kids and my close friends – Bob Forrest is a close friend of mine. They still love me.
That last year of addiction I didn’t enjoy doing it at all. I just did it to blur what I…I knew I made a mess of things and I was just doing the drug to not think about what a mess I made.
I completely understand that thought process. No matter what you do, no matter what other people may say, if you don’t believe it yourself…
Tom Sizemore: If you don’t believe it or see it then it doesn’t matter what they say. I have a predisposition to being depressed myself. When I would be in those deep, dark holes it didn’t matter if people told me ‘you’re talented, you have a lovely family’, it didn’t matter.
I’m trying to train my brain to just staying clean and be a productive employee. They call it getting right sized. Robert Downey Jr. and I talk about this. I really try to make it real that I want to be a productive part of the machine. Be a good employee and a good dad. Good employees and good dads don’t do dope.
That’s a solid foundation and good things can come from that. I think that once you prove yourself – and you will have to go through a period to show you’re reliable and okay…
Tom Sizemore: I accept that. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m good at putting myself in someone else’s shoes. If I were to meet me, given what I’ve done in the past, I would insist that person come in and see me so I can look at them in the face and perhaps even ask them to read for the movie. Given that they’d been, not a bad person, but had this problem. I am going to have to prove myself over again. I’m not angry about it or bitter about it. It makes sense.
I can definitely see that happening again because the people you worked with, just naming directors here: Kathryn Bigelow – who just won an Oscar, you worked with her three times, Oliver Stone, Tony Scott, Lawrence Kasdan – twice, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Peter Bogdanovich, Michael Mann – you worked with most of the premier directors of the last twenty or so years. I know that it can happen again.
Tom Sizemore: I think so, too. I’ve spoken to a couple of those people and they’re really pulling for me.
One person – different circumstances – but there’s one person that I can draw somewhat of a parallel line with – Mickey Rourke – he’s had the opportunity to come back and he’s now working a lot.
Tom Sizemore: He’s back. I’m friends with Mickey. I speak to him and he’s been a real inspiration to me. Even before his comeback. He fixed his life up a whole bunch.
With both of you I will pretty much go and see anything either of your are in. There’s something very real and vibrant and unexpected that each of you bring to your work.
Tom Sizemore: He’s been a good friend. He’s a real good Catholic and I’m Catholic. He would call me up periodically and say, ‘I’m going to church. I’m going to pray for you. Pray for your sobriety.’ He’s always been misunderstood. He’s a really sweet person. It’s great to see him back like this.
Definitely. I was looking forward to Iron Man 2 before I knew he was cast, but the fact that he’s in it…
Tom Sizemore: I think this movie will put to rest any worries. I understand he’s great in it and he was a pleasure for those guys to work with. He’s really turned his life around.
What were some of your best experiences working in films? Maybe your best experience was Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man with Mickey.
Tom Sizemore: (laughs) I had a great time on that movie, to tell you the truth. Funny that you said Mickey was your favorite…Mickey Rourke is my favorite actor. (Jack) Nicholson and (Robert) DeNiro were my favorites before Mickey Rourke arrived. When I had decided to become an actor I saw Mickey Rourke in Diner and then I saw him in Body Heat. I hadn’t seen an actor arrive on the scene who was quite like him and so much fun to watch. He was my absolute favorite to watch. Just working on that movie was a great experience for me because I was able to work with him.
But my best experience on a movie is a toss up between Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone), Heat (Michael Mann) and Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg) and Dreamcatcher with Mr. Kasdan. The reason I had such a good experience was I got to work with Mr. (Morgan) Freeman. But I really, really, really like Larry Kasdan, an enormous amount. He’s been a good friend to me and still is. Through great times and bad times. He’s from Michigan, I’m from Michigan. He’s a really nice man. A very impassioned film director. Those are my best experiences.
I think I caught Oliver right at his best when we were making that movie.
Artists often will have a white lightning time where everything they touch is golden.
Tom Sizemore: Everything he did touch was golden during that period. Started at Platoon and went on up to Any Given Sunday. I caught him right there in the middle of that. Like Michael Jordan in his prime. And it was just a great experience. Tommy Lee Jones, myself, the whole cast, Juliette (Lewis), Woody (Harrelson), Robert (Downey Jr.). Everybody was hitting the ball hard and it was just a great experience.
The great thing about that film is that it’s one of the most experimental mainstream films ever made.
Tom Sizemore: I agree. It was the last of that kind of movie. I’m not sure they could make that kind of movie in this era. I don’t think that movie would get greenlit. They gave him a whole bunch of money to make an experimental movie. I think it will be watched forever.
It spoke to a culture, but it also predicted a culture.
Tom Sizemore: (I saw that) he’s making Wall Street 2.
That was actually supposed to be out this month, but they pushed it back to September.
Tom Sizemore: What’s the scuttle butt on that?
Maybe to push it into awards season?
Tom Sizemore: I hope that’s the case, ’cause I like both of those men. Mr. (Michael) Douglas is…I’m friendly with him. It’s just a real tragedy what’s been going on with his son.
He ended up doing better than what he was facing.
Tom Sizemore: How much time did he get?
He got five years.
Tom Sizemore: He got five?
Yeah, five. He could have gotten ten.
Tom Sizemore: Ten’s a life ruiner, I think. Five’s still pretty tough.
Being in jail is never a good thing.
Tom Sizemore: It’s horrible. It’s just like being almost dead, but you’re not. I’m fortunate to not have done it again. I’m free now. I’m free with regards to I have no probation or any of that stuff. It’s over, that’s the best thing about it.
You worked with Kathryn Bigelow three times, did you get along with her really well?
Tom Sizemore: Oh yeah. We got along extremely well. I did my first movie with her.
Tom Sizemore: Blue Steel, yeah. With Ron Silver and Jamie Lee Curtis. We became friends on the movie and she subsequently hired me to do Point Break and then Strange Days.
That’s another one that was ahead of the times.
Tom Sizemore: That’s a great movie that got completely overlooked. It came out the same time Seven came out and kind of got lost. Not lost…
Sometimes there’s only room for one edgy film.
Tom Sizemore: That’s what happened I think. It was Kevin Spacey’s year. I love movies! It’s so nice to be doing them again and to be a part of the whole deal. Because I wasn’t for some time there. Grateful to be back doing it.
What do you do now when you’re not working? What is your routine and what do you do to relax?
Tom Sizemore: I exercise twice a day. That’s typical of certain addicts. I’ve started to draw. I always could draw, but I’m doing this Photoshop stuff. I get a big kick out of it. I’m going to start teaching my kids how to ride dirt bikes. I remember I had dirt bikes. I re-established my…I used to play football…although my boys aren’t at football playing age yet, they can throw a little ball. I’m part of an inter mural football league, flag football. This is something I would never have done as an addict and probably wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t gone through what I’ve gone through. I’m just trying to reacquaint myself with things I really enjoy doing. I always had a novel going for instance before and for two or three years I don’t think I even read a book. I’m reading Blind Ambition by John Dean now. I always have a book going and exercising and planning cool activities with my boys.
Do you feel that having free time makes you nervous in any way?
Tom Sizemore: I have some free time once in a while and I’m grateful for it. That hasn’t been a big problem. That’s one of Drew and Bob’s things -’we’re going to eliminate free time’.
You have to train your brain to be occupied.
Tom Sizemore: Free time is going to be filled with commitments and meetings. We’re trying to limit the time I have alone. Things have been so much better, I don’t care what they ask me to do.
I know this sounds strange coming from somebody that you don’t know, but I have to say I’m proud of you.
Tom Sizemore: Thank you. I’m proud of myself. I wasn’t sure I could do it. It was scary.