Some years ago, before the lucky lotto-winning guy named Earl Hickey came along, Jason Lee was a professional skateboarder from Huntington Beach. Pictured shredding on the covers of magazines like Thrasher and the now-defunct Power Edge, he made his first memorable film debut in an epic 1991 flick for BLIND skateboards called Video Days, directed by another former skate-industry grom, Spike Jonze. Lee credits an impromptu skating session with Mark Gonzales, Neil Blender, Mike Vallely, Natas Kaupas and Chris Patras as a seminal moment in his life. Not only were these guys geniuses on skateboards, but the way they lived embodied a true bohemian spirit that Lee admired. It’s not a coincidence that they all went on to be recognized artists and/or skate-industry leaders.
While some may argue whether Lee invented the 360 kickflip (Rodney Mullen fans, take note), he stunned the skating world by exiting at the top of his game in 1996 to pursue acting. Appropriating his goofball good looks and lanky 6-foot-2 frame for more interesting, comedic co-star roles instead of taking on leading-man status, he turned down Mark Wahlberg’s part in Boogie Nights. Fast-forward to now, and we meet Mr. Jason Lee (Scientologist), star of Golden Globe–nominated, Emmy-winning My Name Is Earl. Although the role of a small-town do-gooder with his Karma payback account in the red was not immediately attractive to him, it has become Lee’s favorite character. Taking some of its cues from the Coen Bros.’ Raising Arizona, it’s also filmed on location, and suits his sensibilities.
“It was an opportunity to play the colorful, supporting character, but in the leading-role position,” says Lee.
The mustache was his idea. And if you’ll notice, the easy story lines and smart writing are flexible enough to accomodate Lee’s friends and personal heroes. Giovanni Ribisi plays a recurring role as a villianous best friend, and longtime Lee hero Burt Reynolds makes an appearance as the local strip-club owner. Will Mark Gonzales ever make a guest appearance?
“Damn, that’s a good idea!” Lee says. “He’d be great.”
Building on his early acting successes and using the creative influence and energy that skateboarding culture provides, Lee revived the Stereo Sound Agency, a design-driven skateboard company, with Patras in 2003. Originally conceived in 1992, Stereo’s identity relied heavily on Blue Note album graphics and 16 mm skate videos set to jazz beats. The current version of the business model includes a partnership with Etnies Shoes, Kangol and a newly revamped and very visible skating team. Patras, an accomplished artist in his own right, handles the day-to-day creative vision at Stereo. “Chris basically runs the show,” says Lee. He’s also godfather to Jason’s son, Pilot Inspektor.
In between acting gigs, Lee picks up the Polaroid, shooting high-maintenance 20-inch-by-24-inch-sheet film, the result showing promising black-and-white portraits and landscapes. It’s clear he’s learned a few things from working on film sets and studying Andre Kertesz’s technique. So far he’s published pieces in Anthem magazine, but is reluctant to release much as it’s personal work, and, given the medium, very precious.
“People and environments inspire me to shoot… Right now I’m working on a series that I plan on finishing this summer. I’ll exhibit the work next year.”