C. Thomas Howell has been doubling up work of late, going back and forth between the “Southland” series set and his role in the hotly-anticipated big screen “Spider-Man” reboot starring Andrew Garfield. It’s a schedule squeeze that Howell is well aware most actors would give their eye teeth to experience.
“‘Southland’ has been real accommodating,” reports the actor, who rose to fame in such ‘eighties film fare as “The Outsiders” and “Grandview, U.S.A.”. “This week will be the end of shooting for the 10 episodes this season, and I’ll go back to ‘Spider-Man’ after that.”
His Spidey role has been the object of intense speculation on movie and comic book blogs alike, but Howell must stay mum. “I had to sign, basically, a bible about not expressing anything, not talking about details,” he tells us. “It’s understandable they want to keep things secret. There’s so much money in it.”
Still, Howell admits, “It’s so hard keeping the iPhone out of my pocket on the set, when I want to take photos left and right. The other night we were on the back lot of Universal, and they had it dressed up to be downtown New York, with steam coming up out of the ground and cabs crowding the street. You’d never have guessed you weren’t in New York City. I felt like a kid in the ultimate playground.”
Howell can say that his is “not a major role, but it is a poignant, important role.”
The one-time teen idol can also say, “My son, who is in 8th grade now — his class is reading The Outsiders, and one of his teachers asked me to come speak about the experience of playing Ponyboy. Of course, my son said, ‘Dad, you’re not coming!'” However, “With ‘Spider-Man,’ I’m now the coolest thing in the world. They’re all fans of super hero movies,” he says, referring to his two sons and his daughter, ages 10, 14, and 17, with wife of 18 years, Sylvie. “I know they go to school and say, ‘My dad’s in the ‘Spider-Man’ movie.”
They don’t watch much of the gritty, ultra-realistic “Southland” — but countless other Howell fans do. With his series character of abrasive, newly-reformed alcoholic police officer Bobby Dewey, “I get all kinds of reactions. It’s an effective role, and I love playing him. People don’t really know what to do with it,” Howell says. “I was at the market the other day, standing in line, and this woman says, ‘Oh! You’re in ‘”Southland.” And before I could say anything, she said, ‘I hate you,’ turned around and walked away.” He laughs.
Other times, it’s been different. “I can’t tell you how many people come up and throw their arms around me, and say, ‘Oh my God, I can relate to what you’re doing and what you’re going through.'”
According to Howell, Dewey started off “as just a small role in the pilot three years ago. I’ve become sort of a permanent guest star. He’s such a colorful character, the writers saw something they really liked in the beginning, and they were open to me running with it, which has been great.” Officer Dewey was such a drunk, he even wrecked a squad car during a binge. Now he’s back from his suspension, espousing the wisdom of his 12 step program, “but there’s still an edge to him,” points out Howell. “He says all the things other people might think, but don’t have the ability to voice.”
He has found that Dewey draws more reaction than any other character he’s played.
“In my dreams at night, I’d just like for the show to continue to be picked up. I’d like to be a main member of the cast. Even though not I’m not credited as such, in terms of responsibility and acceptance, I feel as if I am a main part of the show. That’s really good enough for me. I’m happy to see the ratings going up, that people are accepting it. It’s a great show, and that’s a great feeling.”
As for himself, at 44, “I feel like a nice old bottle of wine. The parts have been getting better for me in the last few years. I’m so glad I didn’t end up a) in the Betty Ford clinic; or b) quitting the business. I anticipate a great run this year.” Indeed.