It was during a scene from Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers – in which Casper Van Dien’s Johnny Rico gets acquainted with the Roughnecks – that a face in the background suddenly caught everyone’s attention. Forget the well-executed CGI bugs, Michael Ironside’s scenery-chewing performance and Dina Meyer’s shower scene… the gleaming grin on the guy standing behind the two leads was about to steal the show and it could mean only one thing: Jake Busey had arrived!
Although the young actor – the unmistakeable son of Hollywood’s Gary Busey – had been working since the age of seven (thanks to his first role opposite his dad in Dustin Hoffman’s Straight Time) it was this appearance along with others in the likes of Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners and Robert Zemeckis’ Contact that really brought him to the forefront, cementing him as one of the freshest faces to watch. From then on, it was a rollercoaster of success for the LA-born actor with appearances in Enemy of the State, Tomcats and James Mangold’s brain-twisting thriller Identity, filling his CV to the brim with potential.
Yet, as the years went on, although Busey continued to work, there was no escaping the fact that he had all but vanished from the mainstream, something that the actor admits was in some way intentional, although the result wasn’t quite what he was hoping for.
“I had moved out of Los Angeles,” Busey explains. “I made the wrong choices with trying to do interesting independent films and/or pay the rent. I wound up going in a direction that I didn’t want to go in and had some personal issues that kind of took me out of the game for a good five years. Then, after those five years I was trying to get work and trying to get back to where I had been and I found that the world had changed, entertainment and media had changed and the whole landscape was different. I was a forgotten toy, like in Toy Story, you know!”
As the actor struggled to get back on his feet, a string of arguably forgettable roles would follow, including stints in the likes of Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3 and Nazis at the Centre of the Earth. Then something incredible happened, for which the actor would be forever grateful.
“John Fogleman was my former agent,” Busey explains. “He’s the reason that I had the success I had in the 90s. He was at William Morris, I was his first client and when they went to start this El Rey Network and started on From Dusk Till Dawn, somebody brought up my name and thankfully I had history with everybody. I think anyone else wouldn’t have hired me but these guys knew me, and we had sort of relationships and so it really worked out.”
“Robert Rodriguez I had known 20 years ago,” Jake continues. “He and I had been personal friends and we had mutual friends and he’s just a really great down-to-earth guy. He understands the human plight and that people have their issues and they overcome them. He told me that one of his favourite things to do is to cast actors against type or against expectation.”
To that end, it should come as no surprise that when it came to Rodriguez casting the fan-favourite role of Sex Machine in his TV-bound reworking of From Dusk Till Dawn, he would turn to Busey.
“Sex Machine was originally Tom Savini, a sort of swarthy guy, shorter and stockier and then he went with me, this tall, Swedish galute,” Busey laughs. “He’s truly a different Sex Machine than in the movie too. In the movie he was kind of like a red herring. He was the guy in the bar and you thought he was just another scallywag and then when the shit hits the fan he’s there to help our heroes. The Jake Busey Sex Machine is kind of the other way around; he’s more of a snake in the grass. It’s funny, they really built a big back story about the new Sex Machine and then didn’t film any of it. We had this whole thing about him being a professor at the university and you see him with the college girls and you see him have a weird Buffalo Bill (The Silence of the Lambs) sordid relationship with the students and maybe he’s reckless at home while he’s a man on the scene as far as the nightlife and things like that. So he lives a dual life. But none of that was really fleshed out in the first season and I don’t know if there’ll be flashbacks to get to it, but the point of it was he’s the demure guy that we all know and love as our helpful professor but then when the shit hits the fan, in contradiction to the film, he’s got his own agenda. He’s had a passion for 15 years to find out about these culebras and then when he gets close, the power and the magic and all that is very alluring and he decides he would love to be a part of it. So I really owe From Dusk Till Dawn and Robert, it’s really kick-started my career in a lot of other avenues.”
And just like that, Busey is finding that the hyperbole that surrounded his initial arrival onto the mainstream entertainment scene is beginning to gather momentum again. Next up for him is Texas Rising, an all-star TV mini-series starring Brendan Fraser, Thomas Jane, Crispin Glover and (of course… you know, this has ‘Texas’ in the title) Bill Paxton.
“You know what, I don’t think that Texas Rising would have happened for me had I not been working on From Dusk Till Dawn,” Busey admits. “My wheels were greased, I was working every day on the series and the audition popped up. I’m really bad with walking in a room and doing the song and dance for an audition, it’s just not in my wheelhouse to do that so the fact that I had to put it on a tape and send it to Los Angeles I think really benefitted me. I also benefitted because Robert Patrick had his acting coach in Austin with him and so I was able to work with him and we did an all-day session to get the Texas Rising material on tape so I’ve got to thank Robert and his guy Stephen Bridgewater for helping me get the role. One thing leads to another.”
So, it would seem at last that Jake Busey’s career is well and truly back on track. And while his professional revival presents a ray of hope for the future, it is by no means the only light in his life.
“My daughter is doing very well,” Busey beams. “She’s very healthy and growing every day. Around her birthday, when she turned two, a lot of things really started accelerating. Like she took some sort of growth accelerant. It’s crazy, her speech has tripled in the past month and it’s really been incredible to be a part of.”
With a second season of From Dusk Till Dawn gearing up for production in the new year and Busey’s life looking increasingly bright, you can’t help but wonder whether Sex Machine might get a chance to flash his groin arsenal once again.
“It sure would be nice,” Busey grins. “It’s probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in the last 10 years and I really am thankful to have been a part of it and I hope to continue to be a part of it. Given the circumstances and the way TV goes I think it’s possible that Sex Machine could come back and I sure hope he does. We just need them to blog about it, that’s all.”
From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series Season One is released on DVD on September 22nd.