Even at our first chance meeting, I urgently wanted to dislike Rob Lowe. To my mind he was a slick Brat Pack prodigy, a personable but priapic kid from Malibu who’d become an instant celebrity and who shrewdly played to his teenage idolaters.
Trouble is, once I got to know him I surrendered to the reality that he’s impossible to hate. He’s too cool, too self-deprecating and also too smart.
Surely these contradictions are what inspired him, though still in his middle years, to write a memoir titled “Stories I Only Tell My Friends” — how’s that for a shrewd title? Here’s ribald Rob willing to confide in us the secrets of his star-studded life for only $26 a pop.
And confide he does. The seemingly All-American kid (he’s really from Ohio) takes us on a tour of his drinking, his debaucheries (he was dangerous even at 15), his notorious (and accidental) sex tapes and his inevitable month in rehab. He even tells us why he dumped Princess Stephanie of Monaco because he found her boring and her father rude.
As a young wannabe actor Rob venerated Warren Beatty for creating “Shampoo,” only to wake up to the fact that he had, in fact become a version of the movie’s central character. One day he read a poll that stated that 68% of Americans loved Rob Lowe, which helped explain why packs of teenage girls pursued him. Years later he concluded, “Your emotional maturity is frozen at the exact age you become famous.” Rob knew he’d become frozen.
I never planned it, but I ended up working with Rob (I co-produced “Youngblood”) and found him frozen but focused and very professional. He was desperate to be a star and for a while he seemed destined to become one — remember his run in “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “About Last Night”?
He found himself competing against his buddies Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise, only to discover Cruise already was on cruise control. Rob kept reading terrific scripts like “Jerry Maguire” but didn’t get the parts. He auditioned for “Footloose,” but ended up with a torn meniscus instead of a role.
The central career problem, of course, was simply that Rob Lowe wasn’t credible in a character role because he was, well, Rob Lowe. He was too cute and too nimble. He was to become a star celebrity but not a celebrity star.
Few understand the apparatus of celebritydom better than Rob. He has glitzy friends, appears at glitzy events and continues to command magazine covers (witness last month’s Vanity Fair) even though he has no top movie and his TV shows have either been just canceled (“Brothers and Sisters”) or aren’t top 10 (“Parks and Rec”). He even is a member of the odd cast of characters who recently acquired control of Miramax (he was running around Cannes last week hustling this new venture).
Talk to him about his favorite role and Rob will tell you about Sam Seaborn on “The West Wing” — even though he had to take a huge pay cut to get the gig and adjust to the fact that he would be part of an ensemble and most definitely not its star.
So why did he write his memoir? Well, it will make him money. It will keep in him the spotlight (Oprah gave him a whole hour). The job of a professional celebrity, after all, is to sustain brand awareness.
But Rob has another message to impart: that it’s possible to resurrect your character and integrity even though you’ve drifted over the edge — way over the edge. Rob had the great ride. He loved it. It all but blew him away.
But he tells us he has settled down to his wife and kids and is a happy guy. And the most important story he can tell his friends is that, well, he’s unfrozen — and hopes they are, too.