Interview: Shane West from "A Walk to Remember"

"I'm very cynical myself. I'd like this movie, I would, if I saw it"

Shane West
Warner Bros.

2002's A Walk to Remember might be over a decade old, but the film is considered a teen romantic drama classic even by young people who were too little to actually see it in theaters. Based on the 1999 novel by The Notebook author Nicolas Sparks, the movie stars singer Mandy Moore as Jamie Sullivan, a naive and plain-dressing teenager who becomes the target of the affections of aimless Landon Carter (Shane West), a teenager who once thought very little of throughout their years growing up together as Landon learns that there is more to Jamie than he ever thought or expected.

About.com interviewed West, who at the time of the release of A Walk to Remember was also starring on the TV series Once and Again.

Is it hard to make the transition from your character on television to the kind of character you play in this film?

Actually, for me, Eli, the character I play in Once and Again on television, is kind of similar to and has some similar troubles going on as Landon does in this film. Also, for a lot of people, I think that if you're doing a sitcom, or a half-hour sitcom, it could be difficult to make that jump but Once and Again is an hour drama and it's shot on film. For me, it's more or less a training ground. It's kind of good practice.

Which character are you more like—Eli or Landon?

I think I'm more like Landon. Eli's troubled, but Landon is—mainly in the beginning of the movie, especially -- he's kind of an angry teen. He's dealt with abandonment issues; he doesn't know where he really wants to go, what he wants to do with his life.

Besides that, that was a little bit more like me. I didn't have abandonment issues but he's a little bit more like me because Eli is a little bit more self-destructive and I'm not exactly that way.

Mandy seems like a pretty self-assured person, but she's not a really experienced actress. Were there times that showed through and she needed reassurance?

Her personality obviously shines and her natural ability came very easy. The little things, like one of the scenes we did in a cemetery with a telescope, I think we did four takes in a row where she didn't step on her mark. It was like little technical things, or she overstepped it, things like that. That was funny because she got it and it was just a part of learning something new. I used to crack jokes all the time and tried to make her feel comfortable.

Did you and Mandy have misconceptions about each other when you first got together for this film?

Yes, I guess. I remember this. Mandy and I had tested together but I guess the misconception came before that, rather than on the set. I think she thought I was some punk, some pompous jerk or something. I thought it was like, "Who is this music girl coming and trying to act?" And so, I think I was quoted in a magazine as saying that and I was like, "Eww, that didn't come off as well as I meant it." For me, it was just a preparation to see what type of a person this was. As soon as she smiled and as soon as she was so cool, after the first two days of it being a little awkward, we bounded really quickly.

That worked for your characters.

It did. It did make the kisses—I mean she was nervous. She was really nervous. I got a little nervous for her, and then for me. I was okay at first because I've done it before but she's so sweet, and so innocent looking. I swear to God I saw her tremble at one point and that just made me want to cry. I would joke around and try and make her feel better. But it made the kisses onscreen, it made the kisses so real. It made it very awkward and great. It was very real, and very cool.

Your character sort of bucks tradition with his friends by going with the girl who isn't so cool. Do you think you would have done that if there were somebody you cared about who wasn't cool?

I totally would have. I didn't run into that person in school, unfortunately for me. I definitely would have. I went through a little of both in high school.

Probably from 5th to 10th grade I was in the "unpopular" clique. I met some friends in the end of 10th, beginning of 11th, who were in the popular group so I finished off high school in that group and got to see both sides. I would have dropped anything for something that would have been a little bit more real.

Was the car used in the movie enjoyable to drive?

The '67 Camaro? I bought it, I have it. I have the car from the movie. It's in the shop. It was enjoyable to drive. There were two—one we kind of wrecked, but put back together. The other one was the picture car. I think I paid $5,000—they just took it out of my check. Now I'm basically putting in $5,000 to replace the engine and everything. But it's a cool car and it means something to me because it's what I drove. The greatest thing is when they brought it in from North Carolina and they put it down at my house, I had signs still in there under the seats from many, many months ago. That was really cool.

You're a musician, too. Did you two talk about the music side of things?

We did. We come from two different, completely opposite sides of the spectrum of music. I'm a little more into The Clash, and things like that. That's kind of where our vibe is. But I understand where the pop music industry comes from because with that, that helps things be more radio playable. So if our brand of music - with my band, we bring some of that Clash-type in, which actually made it very well on the radio - I still have that pop sensibility in me to have a catchy hook or to have a catchy riff. We did talk about it a lot. She was actually very instrumental in getting my song on the soundtrack, which is great. We were very thankful for that. Our band is called Average Jo, but that is going to be changed soon due to legal problems. Currently on the soundtrack we are "West, Gould, and Fitzgerald," which are our names. We had 24 hours to think of a band name, which wasn't cool. So we decided to just go by our regular names and wait until we sign a deal.

Where did the "Average Jo" name come from?

That was just a name I had thought of. We've been together about a year and a half, close to two years, but I'd thought of that long ago. I thought it was just a simple term for, at the time, being a very simple band basically learning our instruments at the same time. It's such a generic, general term, that it kind of became a problem once we got into the legal matters.

You are kind of young to be into The Clash. Where did that interest come from?

My parents. I was born in 1978, so I guess I was born right when that was happening. My parents, who were about 22, were listening to that music. They raised me on that because that is what they were listening to. So I heard The Clash, The Kinks, The Jam, Iggy Pop, Siouxsie and the Banshees -- that's what I listened to. I was on little microphones at four years old, singing those songs. I had an interesting upbringing. Trying to play some of those things for some of my friends now is kind of difficult, especially The Kinks, but it's definitely a love of mine.

Did you write the song that's on the soundtrack?

I did, yes.

Do you play an instrument?

I sing and play the guitar. It's kind of a trio, in a Green Day way, in that essence.

You don't know the new name of the band?

It's like our back-up names are screwed. I'm learning all sorts of stuff now. We had a back-up name of The Young Professionals, which was also too general. We're kind of stuck right now but we're meeting with people right now anyway so it doesn't really matter. We'll just try and get the deal first, and then figure it out.

Do you have a recording deal for your music?

No, the first move that we made - that basically I made -- was getting us on the soundtrack. As soon as we found out that there might be some more rock on there, instead of just pop, I was very proactive. We recorded the song in July. Yesterday was actually a really nice day, to actually hold the soundtrack and see the song on there. We are meeting with Sony, and we have a couple of other labels that suddenly have interest and that's really great because none of them have actually heard our stuff. We're going to do that. We have a couple of managers we want to talk to. Just kind of keeping things fun.

What are you more passionate about now - music or acting?

To be honest, what I'd be more passionate about at this second would be music simply because I'm doing what I love which is acting right now. I'm definitely passionate about (acting) but if I had to go by a fraction of a something, since this is so new, I would definitely lean towards that. I'm not giving up acting, I'm definitely not going to stop. I'm going to do my best to do both and die of an ulcer at age 30.

Did Mandy have any advice for your music?

Not particularly. If she did, I don't remember. I don't think she did. I gave her advice about keeping her sanity when I started seeing her schedule, when she started showing me her schedule of the things she had to do. I was like, "No offense to John or whoever is your manager, say no. Say no to something. You're so young. Take care of yourself, I know you're young and you can get away with a lot of things - you have more energy." I gave her advice in that sense, to just try and still be her age. I'll be the first to call her as soon as we have a deal and as soon as we might go on tour. She's definitely the first person to call.

How hard is it to balance a TV show and your music?

It's fine. It's fine right now, what can I say? The show is based in L.A., the band is based in L.A. -- it's easy. I don't work everyday on the show, no one does. It's an ensemble cast, they kind of split it up all the time. It's eight days per show. I could work two days in an episode and the rest of those days, I'm practicing or playing a gig. I've played plenty of gigs after shooting. So it's easy right now but it could become difficult later.

What's coming up with your character on Once and Again?

As much as I can say because for the first time in my life, I got a script in my hand's that said, "Do not show anyone." My character is just going down and down, and something big is going to happen that's going to bring us all back up. But right now, I'm stoned 24/7 and pissing everybody off, and it's a lot of fun. It's funny, every time I go onto set they'll make a joke about what I'm eating this time. Honestly, there will be a scene where I have one line and the main scene is on somebody else, but I'm walking in with a sandwich. Something like that, or I'm taking chips away or something like that.

How do you think boys will react to this movie, and what would you like them to react to? What do you feel you got out of it, if anything?

What I got out of it was a great experience working with great people and it becoming a tremendous— basically—a family at the end that none of us wanted to leave. It was a great time, one of the best times I've had shooting anything. What I would want guys to take from this—I don't know, they are pretty cynical creatures. I'm very cynical myself. I'd like this movie, I would, if I saw it and I wasn't in it. I don't know if I'd cry but I'm not going to be as presumptuous to say that and steal someone's feelings and say what they are going to do. The thing is, this movie kind of has something for everyone in it. It may not be marketed that way, necessarily. It may just be as this love story, because it is. There are a lot of things in this movie that guys might be fine in seeing. I don't know how many of them might admit it, but they're lying. I know that there is something in there. It's not that sappy. It's more of a coming-of-age story. It's definitely a couples—I think couples would do fine with it. But I think there could be guys that could be into it.

When you were that age, would you have been ready to walk down the aisle as a 17-year old?

No. I was very introverted.

You were into acting?

I was, in my junior year. But I didn't really work for the first two years that I was in this business. High school was mainly me asking the counselors and teachers if I could leave to audition, but not booking anything. I was kind of introverted. Girls started noticing me a little bit more in senior year, and junior year, and that was weird. I got taller, let my hair go. I used to comb my hair back and do stupid stuff. But as soon as I had long hair, things changed. It always does in high school, it's a weird time. I'm glad I'm out of it.

Was it weird as a 23-year old going back into high school for this film?

Not really. I graduated in 1996. For me, that is a significant amount of time to be out of high school, but at the same time, sometimes it feels like it's been a year. When what's around you - such as scripts, or like me being on the show and playing 18, now me doing this film playing 18—it's kind of been what's been there for me. I feel like I know that stuff really well. By my senior year in high school, I was friends with every group. At lunch, instead of hanging out with the popular group, I went and said hi to all the groups. I was one of the few that had that door to every group and was allowed in. I understood people. So for me, doing these roles, a lot of it is not just me. It's me and what I've seen in the past.

Edited by Christopher McKittrick