Rob Lowe Opens Up: 'Stories I Only Tell My Friends'

Lowe dishes on coming up with Charlie Sheen, Tom Cruise and Sean Penn

March 29, 2011, 12:46 PM

March 29, 2011— -- With only a few minor television roles to his name, Rob Lowe was ready to give up on acting and continue with life as an average 17-year-old. Prepared to pack his bags for UCLA to study film, he was sent on one last audition.

Thirty years later, the former Brat Packer is releasing a memoir that recalls the role that changed his life forever - as Sodapop Curtis in "The Outsiders" - and the tumultuous audition that preceded it. Complete with adolescent anecdotes featuring Charlie Sheen, Tom Cruise and Sean Penn, Lowe shares excerpts from his memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiograph, in next month's Vanity Fair. Here are some his juiciest revelations.

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1. Charlie Sheen was a nerd and conspiracy-theorist in high school.

Lowe remembers Charlie as "a wonderful mix of nerd and rebel." A member of the A/V club with a proclivity to play hooky, Charlie was also a "conspiracy-theory freak" who had a habit of wearing a bulletproof vest under his clothes to school. The classmates would "debate everything from the likelihood that the moon is hollow and whether the Trilateral Commission killed J.F.K. to the authenticity of the lunar landings."

2. Lowe was insecure about his acting career as a teen.

Having been accepted to both U.S.C. and U.C.L.A, Lowe was prepared to give up acting and enroll in college by the time he was finishing up Santa Monica High. He says, "At a time when all my friends are choosing which colleges to apply to, or finding an easier path in the business than I am, I'm wondering if Hollywood saw what it needed from me and decided I wasn't up to a career of substance or longevity. For the first time since I was an eight-year-old, I start thinking about finding something else to do with my life." Serious about his decision, the teen even notified his agents that he would no longer be available for any further roles.

3. Every struggling young Hollywood actor wanted to be cast in Redford's "Ordinary People."

Lowe was "devastated" after failing to be considered for the role every young actor strove for: the part of Conrad in Robert Redford's "Ordinary People." Emilio Estevez and Sean Penn vied for the role, but it ended up going to Timothy Hutton, who went on to win an Academy Award for it. Lowe became even more discouraged when he was unable to get a meeting for both "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," and "Taps," both starring his classmate Sean Penn.

4. Martin Sheen struggled with the stress of working with Francis Ford Coppola.

Spending a lot of time at the Sheen residence growing up, Lowe writes that working for Coppola changed Martin Sheen for life. "The stress, the hours, the heat of making "Apocalypse Now" had given Martin Sheen a heart attack in his mid-30s. He barely survived, and it changed him. Martin, usually full of life and laughter, was strangely quiet on the subject of all of us competing to work under the great master. In fact, he rarely speaks of "Apocalypse Now" or Francis at all," Lowe recalls. Before leaving for the set of "The Outsiders," Sheen even advised Lowe, "Don't let Francis make you do anything you're uncomfortable with."

6. Lowe was intimidated by Tom Cruise.

Competing with Tom Cruise for the role of Sodapop Curtis, Lowe recalls his nerves during the first reading in front of the director. Lowe remembers his first impression of Cruise and his undeniable work ethic: "He's open, friendly, funny and has an almost robotic, bloodless focus and an intensity that I've never encountered before." Afraid that Cruise would "try to find a way to bash my brains in and take my role from me," Lowe was determined not to get beat out of the life-changing part. Cruise later flubbed his audition for the role of Sodapop, stopping in the middle of the scene and telling Coppola "This just isn't working for me."

7. After the audition, Lowe experienced what he calls "Peggy Lee syndrome."

After the grueling audition process of "The Outsiders" casting, Lowe finally secured the part of Sodapop Curtis. Although the role is monumental for his career, he also admits to feeling let down, saying, "I am on the cusp of something and I feel a mixture of emotions: I'm proud, scared, cocky, insecure, anxious, and confident, all at once. And, truth be told, after the long, adrenaline-filled audition process, I'm also feeling a little let down. (I will later learn this is a hallmark of alcoholism; we call it the Peggy Lee Syndrome. You reach a goal you've been striving for, only to feel "Is that all there is?")"

8. Diane Lane was the "prettiest girl on the planet."

Already a teenage star at 16, Lowe recognizes Diane Lane upon her arrival on set of "The Outsiders" and thought "she may be the prettiest girl on the planet." It was no surprise that the other adolescent boys on set felt the same way. "The minute Diane enters the room, a competition for her attention commences," Lowe recalls.

9. Matt Dillon is a ladies' man and "hero."

Lowe recounts one incident with a groupie that instantly makes Matt Dillon a legend in his eyes: "He crosses to the elevators and passes the gaggle of fans. Then something remarkable happens. He stops dead in his tracks and whispers to a pretty brunette. She listens for a beat, then turns to the four girls she's standing with and whispers something to them. Matt fiddles with the volume on the boom box. The girls caucus for a total of four seconds, till the brunette leaves her friends behind and joins Matt for a walk to the elevators. He puts his free arm around her ... Matt yawns, and the elevator doors close. The entire transaction takes less than 45 seconds. So that's how it is, I think, and take note. Matt f----n' Dillon. My hero."

10. Francis Ford Coppola made the cast of "The Outsiders" do Tai Chi on set.

In a bizarre turn of events, Lowe recalls one of his first days shooting the film when Coppola had the cast gather round, saying, "I want us to meet like this on the spot where we will work, and to be together. I feel like we should do this every day. And now I'd like us all to begin our day with a halfhour of Tai Chi."

Click Here to Go to VanityFair.comThe May issue of Vanity Fair will be on newsstands in New York and Los Angeles on Thursday and across the nation April 5.

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