Thomas Dekker: Fearlessly Disappears into Characters

Photo by Eric Ray Davidson. Thomas wears t-shirt and jeans by Levi’s, vintage leather jacket. Styled by Rachel Pincus.

In February, Thomas Dekker was working social media for his new Fox series Backstrom and noticed that William Shatner had posted about the show. Never one to bite his tongue, Dekker shot back at the Star Trek icon, “I wonder if he remembers we worked together when I was six?” Shatner didn’t (though he did remember Dekker from another show, and replied with a thumbs-up emoji). Shatner probably isn’t alone in his hazy recall of Capt. Picard’s son on Stark Trek: Generations. Few remember Dekker as the creepy blond-haired son in John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned. Or for the fairly significant parts he had as a child on Seinfeld, ER, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, or Seventh Heaven.

Dekker had a great time as a kid, but doesn’t particularly care about being lauded for that period. “My father was a huge film aficionado and he had — it’s still in my house — a huge library of movies, three to a videocassette. My favorite when I was eight years old was Carrie. My father showed me Kubrick and Bergman when I was like nine,” says Dekker. “So there was definitely something in me from a young age that loved great cinema. But it really didn’t feel like those films were connected to my own experiences as an actor.”

“By the time he was 17, Dekker was ready to move on from acting; he filled out an application to work at Amoeba Records, put a band together, thought about directing. But instead of quitting, he switched representation, booked a huge role on what would turn out to be the mega-hit Heroes, then quit that show to play John Connor on Fox’s TV adaptation of the Terminator franchise, then landed the lead in Gregg Araki’s Kaboom in 2010.

When it was done, and I was at Cannes, at Sundance — I just felt like, My god, I am part of a universe now that I have grown up obsessed with,” says Dekker. “I still can’t believe that I was given the opportunity to be a character that weirdo kids — like I had been myself — loved and watched.”

It was a role that his agents had advised against (too sexual, too risky), but they were missing the point: For Dekker, it was a transformative experience. Suddenly he was free to go for it, to play roles in any sort of off-kilter way that seemed right. And that’s
what he did, taking on all sorts of twisted projects, like the eccentric Lance Loud on HBO’s Cinema Verite and a heroin-addicted rocker in Catherine Hardwicke’s Plush.

Which brings us around to his current gig with Fox: On Backstrom he plays the flamboyant, petty- thief roommate of the title character. It would be a pretty run-of-the-mill police procedural if it weren’t for his character, and for the fact that Backstrom is
played by the similarly eccentric Rainn Wilson. “We said the whole time that it felt like we were shooting two different shows: Backstrom and The Backstrom and Valentine Show,” says a laughing Dekker, who admits that he embellished what was originally a much smaller part when he auditioned. “I’ve never
wanted to be this guy that you recognize in every role. What’s interested me has always been how different I can be from one role to the next, how unrecognizable I can be.”

Hair: Tony Chavez
Grooming: Jo Strettell

Your Daily Guide to Trending Topics

Every day there are some topics that are trending, Since many of them don’t make sense, we provide easy contextualization. Also, this way, you won’t actually have to know anything about anything.

Robert F. Kennedy

RFK Jr. is trending today because yesterday his estranged wife, Mary Kennedy, died, reportedly from having hanged herself at their Westchester, New York estate. It’s just the latest tragedy for the seemingly cursed American political dynasty, which has seen more than its fair share of members die in tragic and untimely ways. The Kennedys were married in 1994, but last year Bobby filed for divorce amid rumors of Mary’s substance abuse issues and of his own philandering. “We deeply regret the death of our beloved sister Mary, whose radiant and creative spirit will be sorely missed by those who loved her,” the family said in a statement.

Nick Stahl

In other curse news, people are searching up a storm (both online and in person) for actor Nick Stahl of Terminator 3 is the latest cast member of that franchise to run into trouble. The 32-year-old’s wife has reported him missing, saying the last time he was seen was May 9 and adding that Stahl had been frequenting a down-and-out part of Los Angeles, perhaps a hint at drug use. Stahl took over in the Terminator franchise for Edward Furlong, who left the series to find his own problems, including stints in rehab and accusations of rather serious violence against his wife. Troubled actors including Christian Bale and Thomas Dekker have also been part of the series of films.

Tyra Banks

Over at Yahoo!, things are a little more lighthearted; the site’s number-one search term is “Tyra Banks Too Fat.” But the readers there aren’t hating, they’re searching for an essay the America’s Next Top Model host wrote  for The Daily Beast supporting the new Vogue rule banning underage and malnourished models. In the piece, Banks discusses her own battles with weight and how difficult it made her teenage life. Then she explains what exactly it is about her modeling competition show that is healthy for young viewers. No, of course she doesn’t do that part. 

iPad Mini

People are nuts about Apple products—spending money on them instead of more valuable Apple stock—but this is crazy. The internet is wild with iAddicts searching for a report that says that Apple might be planning to release a 7-inch version of its tablet, which would retail for about $250, to compete with the Kindle. There already is an iPad Mini, guys, it’s called an iPhone. Whatever, see you all in line.

John Travolta

Bing users are still a bit hung up on movie star and pubic hair hippie John Travolta and the mounting lawsuits against him for making homosexy advanced toward masseurs and other guys. Too bad searching for Travolta news on Bing doesn’t bring you this hot nugget: According to the wife of late Grease star Jeff Conway, Travolta once tried to wake the now-deceased actor with oral sex, leading to a rift in their friendship and what might have been a lasting distaste on Conway’s part for morning action.

Lil Kim

Twitter is bonkers for the Queen Bee this morning, due to her appearance on a New York radio show and also the news that she has taken in her estranged father, who’s reportedly suffering from Alzheimer’s but could also be a spy sent by Nicki Minaj and Foxy Brown to attack from inside her home. The story is developing.

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