The Two Jakes:
All Work & All Play for Jake Busey
By Shirley Craig
Of today’s actors best known for their famous parents, Jake Busey is definitely in the top five. Not only is he a rising star in Hollywood, he is the son of iconc actor Gary Busey. Jake Busey is a new father, motorized-bike business owner, and visionary. Co-raising his 20-month old daughter, acting, producing, and managing his own business are just a few of the jobs Busey takes on every day. In an exclusive Q&A with the man whose wicked smile has haunted millions of moviegoers the world over, Jake Busey talks ‘shop’ and says he is really all about work and play with Reap's Shirley Craig.
So, Jake, tell us about the series, From Dusk Till Dawn you recently made in Texas.
From Dusk Till Dawn is the novel form of the film that was the short story. We’re shooting at Troublemaker Studios, which is Robert Rodriguez’ film studio in Austin, and it’s amazing what he’s done, what he’s accomplished, and the ability that he has to continue making films and TV. It’s really impressive.
Yes, Rodriguez is an amazing person. I understand he has his own cable network now?
Yeah…He formed a cable network called El Rey, and what’s funny is his main partner is a guy named John Fogleman, who was my first agent at William Morris in 1994. What got me the meeting with John Fogleman was a show called Motorcycle Gang, which was a part of a film series that Showtime was remaking from the 1950s B movies. They were working at the same studio, and so I saw him at the production office and the editing facilities and we would say hi.
And so that is where the dialogue began to bring the two of you to the same project?
Yeah. I went to the Machete Kills premiere, and I walked up to John and congratulated him on what a great effort and said, “Do you realize in all this time, we’ve never actually worked together?” And he said, “I know, it’s crazy.” I said, “Well, let’s change that, man. I really want to do something with you, whether it’s the sequel to Machete Kills (which would be the third one) or something else.” He said, “I’ll keep that in mind, brother,” and about a month later, Mary Vernieu, who is a local Los Angeles casting director and has been a big champion of my career and a wonderful support from the get-go, she brought me in for From Dusk Till Dawn to her office in Venice and we did a Skype session…I did a Skype audition because Robert was in Austin already filming. And one thing led to the next and there I was in Austin, playing Professor Tanner, doing my thing. It’s been really great.
Wow, that’s a great story. So, tell me about the character you play. Who is Professor Tanner?
Well, he is the chair of the Archaeology Department at Alamo State University in Texas. We couldn’t use U of T or whatever; we couldn’t get clearance. So really, I’m kind of a cross between Indiana Jones and Basil Exposition. I’m sort of the barometric referee of the show. I keep the audience abreast of what’s going on with the supernatural hieroglyphic-based content.
Sounds like your character has the pivotal role of keeping everything going, which gives you an interesting vantage point for the series.
Yeah. My guy’s a little off. The sheriff comes to me, or the ranger comes to me and says, “Why are these people getting killed, and why do they have eyeballs repositioned in the palms of their hands?” And I explain to him, “Well, whoever’s doing this looks like they’re repeating the behaviors of the Mayans that revered the vision serpent, the god of sight and taking action. And, they’re trying to make an offering or a penance, a peace offering, to the gods for some reason.”
Sounds very cool! Tarantino’s not involved in this, is he?
Well, he and Robert are buddies and they talk about stuff. Robert kind of throws ideas his direction, just like friends would, but he’s not on set. I haven’t met him.
So Jake, did you always want to follow in your Dad’s footsteps and become an actor?
No, I didn’t always know I was going to be an actor. It wasn’t until someone just gave me $100,000 and told me I could play a lead role in a movie and I walked on and did it. No, I’m just kidding. I used to put 60 miles a week on my car driving back and forth to acting classes from Santa Barbara to L.A.
So you put in a lot of time. Did you find something right away?
No. I just couldn’t get hired to save my life, and I finally quit. I said, “I can’t do this any longer. This is a waste of time. It’s never going to happen for me.” And it was like a Friday night and I said to my friend Lucy Fleetwood, Mick Fleetwood’s daughter … I was probably 21 years old and we were playing pool and just hanging out, and I said to Lucy, “I’m going to join the Coast Guard on Monday because I always wanted to fly helicopters.” I had auditioned for that Motorcycle Gang role and, as it turns out, they called me and said, “They want you to do it,” and the director is John Milius, who directed my father in Big Wednesday. He also did Red Dawn. He wrote Apocalypse Now. He directed Flight of the Intruder. Anyway, so it was John Milius who got me into the business, really, of acting.
Milius is a legend in himself.
And that’s what got me to William Morris. I’d been with a very small agent, but the notoriety of the show; the high profile of all the young up-and-comers in Hollywood; the series of films for Showtime; it was like the coolest thing at the moment. So, Tiffani Amber-Thiessen, and Jason Wiles, and Alyssa Milano, and Charlize Theron, and the twins from Dawson’s Creek, Jason and … anyway, this whole group of us that were up-and-comers, I remember doing photo shoots and things like that. It was an exciting time, and it’s funny that it’s all kind of come back around after so many miles, that I’m working with Robert on this project that was exactly 20 years since we met, and my agent at the time is now running his network. …it’s a beautiful time and I feel very blessed.
That’s really terrific! It’s a good job they called you. Otherwise, you would’ve hit the Coast Guard.
[Laugh] Yeah, I would’ve. I would’ve been attempting to fly helicopters for the Coast Guard.
Now, is this what got you into motorcycles?
No. I had gotten into motorcycles from a friend of mine in school—mini bikes, dirt bikes. My dad had friends that were stunt guys. And living in Malibu, there was either surfing or riding motorbikes in the hills. It was very, very country. Gosh, might as well have been like somewhere in Idaho or wherever. It was very rural and very remote. So, that’s what I did. I rode motorbikes in the hills when I wasn’t at the beach.
Sounds like you had a great childhood.
It was nice. I got beat up and kicked and made fun of because I was never tan enough to sit in, if you can believe that. I was too white. I got beat up by the white kids for being “too white.” So a lot of the time, I would just go out riding motorbikes in the hills, and it was something I could do by myself. I really had no one else to do it with then.
And this is how you and your dad bonded, by riding motorcycles together?
I got into racing and motocross stuff, and as a young guy, I really wanted to do things with my dad. So, yeah, I kind of forced him into riding. It was never something that was ingrained in him or his true passion. I feel somewhat responsible for his motorcycle injury thing because I was the one that was forcing him to ride.
Are you still close to your dad?
Yes, very close. He’s an amazing guy.
Would you consider him one of your biggest influences in your life?
I definitely would. When I was a child, he was in a rock band and he kept his drums in the living room. He used to play with Leon Russell and we would tour. I remember being on Leon and Willie Nelson’s tour buses as a little guy, going up and down the highways, living on the road. Then his career shifted and he really started acting; I was like 5 or 6 years old. So my two passions from an early age were acting and being a musician.
When did you decide to settle down and start a family?
It was at that time that I reconnected with the woman who I’d spent the 90s with and was my first fiancée. We got back together and decided to get married. And then she got pregnant and it was like, OK. I’m 40, I've got a baby on the way, I’m back with the love of my life, and this band is just not going to support this and it’s not going anywhere. So I called it quits on the band, and it was a command decision. I chose to channel all my attention to acting and building these motorbikes. So I've got this company, Jake’s Custom Motorbikes, and I built a great big website.
Tell me about your motorcycle business; that sounds interesting.
You should check out my website, TheJakeBike.com. I build custom motor bicycles down here in Santa Monica, and they’re fun transportation and we even have a racing series. Our bikes get 150 miles per gallon and go about 35 mph, which is fast enough on a bicycle.
Now, do you build these yourself?
Oh yeah! I’m at the shop right now. I’m standing here at my welding table talking to you.
Oh wow, that’s really cool! How long have you been doing this?
I have been doing this for about two years. Business is doing really well. It’s a very small market, but it’s taking off. It’s a new thing, both cheap and affordable transportation and 100% customizable.
These bikes run on gas?
Yeah, the gas tank is only a half a gallon at the most and it lasts maybe about two weeks, maybe a week, depending on how far your commute is. We’ll go on rides up and down the coast. We’ll do a shoreline cruise on the weekend, a big group of us. We’ll go to go-kart tracks around SoCal and race them. It’s a new little hobby.
Do you use the bike as transportation around town?
Oh yeah. I've got about five of my own. At any given moment, I’ll turn to you and say, “This is my personal bike,” and yet I've got about five of them. I've probably got 10 or 12 bikes here at the shop. I work at a really cool shop that’s in downtown Santa Monica. It’s been here since 1927, and it’s got a real rustic antique feel, which fits in with the motif and the vibe of the bikes because they’re kind of like bikes from the turn of the last century. It’s a pretty great environment as well. We have a good time down here joking with each other, just doing guy stuff and building things.
Let’s go back to your acting career for a moment. Any roles you wish you hadn’t turned down, or could’ve played?
Yeah, I wish I hadn’t turned down David Fincher for Twelve Monkeys because I think Jared Leto wound up doing a great job with the role, and I wish that I hadn’t turned it down.
Any other regrets?
I wish I hadn’t gotten distracted with alcohol 10 years ago. I moved out of L.A., and I was living up on the coast…enjoying sort of a premature retirement, you know? Living high on the hog and spending lots of money, and not paying attention to my career… I let my career slowly fizzle away, but now I’m on the comeback train.
Well, you’re obviously at a different point in your life now, and it looks like all systems are working well for you now.
Yes ma’am, absolutely. [Laugh] That’s the plan: to keep people thinking that I've got my act together and keep it going because now that I’m a father and have a family, that’s all that matters to me now and I really love working and that’s where I’m most happy.
Well, you’re at a point where you’re just starting to reach your prime, actually.
That might actually be very true. I was always a late bloomer, so maybe this is. And as much as I thought things would go huge when I was in my 20s, maybe they’ll go even bigger now.
I think so. You’re having your, as you say, a comeback, a re-emergence, and I think people are going to get to see you in From Dusk Till Dawn playing a very different character, and I think that’s going to pique a lot of people’s interest.
That’s very kind of you to say. I appreciate that. When my daughter Autumn is older, when she’s like 6, I want to start bringing her on film sets just so she can have the experience that I had growing up, which was wonderful.
It’s so nice to hear that you had a really good positive growing up family life and a good relationship with your dad.
Yeah, it was wonderful. When I was younger, I was kind of upset with my dad for not taking me hunting and fishing and camping and all those things you see on an Orchard Supply Hardware commercial, and I didn’t even realize that I was reaping the benefits of world travel at a young age. I finally realized about 10 to 15 years ago. I was a lucky kid to have him anyways.
That’s really nice! And, you met some great people who you will know forever in the industry, very classic Hollywood.
Amazing people, amazing people, lifelong friends, yeah. I hope I can give that to Autumn as well. I hope I can continue working and give her the experience of travel and meeting amazing people, and hopefully she’ll grow up and be a circus performer just like the rest of us. You grow up in the circus and stay working in the circus. [Laugh]
That’s nice. That’s a great ending, Jake. Thank you for your time.
For more information about Jake's custom designed bikes, visit his website here.