Ryan Phillippe launched into A-list territory as a murder victim in the 1997 teen hit “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” which Variety deemed a “polished genre piece with superior fright elements.” Almost two decades later, he’s starring as a prime suspect on ABC drama “Secrets and Lies.” Now 40, with kids old enough to watch the R-rated horror pic (though he says they haven’t), Phillippe admits he feels like a dinosaur, with a remake of the popcorn thriller in development.
As a twentysomething, was your first Variety mention significant to you?
Of course! That’s a huge deal when you’re a young actor coming from where I did — this lower middle-class family that had nothing to do with Hollywood or acting. I saved probably the first 10 or 15 times I was mentioned. My mom bought probably four or five copies when we were in New York, because you couldn’t get them in Delaware, which is where I lived. I would go to New York as an actor, and that’s where I started getting paid to act on “One Life to Live.” It was proof that I had managed to accomplish something that wasn’t easy.
“I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Cruel Intentions” were cultural phenomena. Did you realize your star power?
No. I still don’t have that feeling of “I’ve made it.” I like staying humble. Both of those movies, I guess they’re seminal teen movies, and that’s a cool thing. It’s cool to have something in your career that people love over generations.
Was it tough being a sex symbol at a young age?
Things were really not that hard back then. They were uncomplicated, compared to now. That was sort of the end of my innocence. I made “Cruel Intentions” when I was 23, and I did “I Know What You Did Last Summer” when I was 21 or 22, so that was like the end of my youth, because I went straight into marriage and kids.
Did your early roles prepare you for “Secrets and Lies”?
Not really, no. As an actor or artist, the richer and more complex our lives become, the performances get that way, too, and “Secrets and Lies” is as complicated as a drama can get. It’s Shakespeare-heavy. Playing a father whose life is being torn apart — my younger self could not relate to any of those things, but I do, very, very much, at my age now.
You’re 40 now.
It’s crazy. And still, I get carded constantly. My daughter hates it, because sometimes people have thought I’m her brother, and she’s freaked out by that.
Are you upset about the remake of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” now in development?
Oh, come on! No. I think it’s a good idea. I’m excited about it. It just makes me feel old.