I write Ilan a breathless email. I'm fan of yours, I tell him. I want to drive to College Station to meet you. I want to sit in on your classes. I want to know EVERYTHING.
Weeks pass. I hear nothing.
“Do I have the right address?” I email the theatre owner.
“He's a little reluctant to do interviews,” he responds. But the next day Ilan writes back.
Nothing in the classroom, he asks politely, but he'd be happy to meet for lunch. He looks forward to meeting me. Would I recognize him? He looks pretty much the same – except older and fatter.
One year I decided to completely cover my walls in pin-ups. Every inch, even the ceilings. Michael Jackson, Judd Nelson, Tom Cruise, River, oh River.
I don't remember if I put Ilan up there, but I covered a lot of wall, and I bet he was in there somewhere. I imagine him with that shaggy brown hair he had in The Wild Life. Ilan: Loves karate. Ilan: Pronounced Ee-lahn. Ilan: Studies Medieval History.
The drive to College Station takes about two hours, and I listen to the “Now That's What I Call 80s Music!” compilation I bought at Target. Nuh-nuh-notorioussss! Doan-doan-doan-doan-Doan you forget about me. We're the kids in America (wuh-UHHH-oh!). I sing away my nervousness, passing low-rent farms and tiny Czech towns and haystacks and cows, lingering in the shoulder of the road. I go over my questions.
You were a ballet dancer in New York when you were discovered at 10 years old. I wonder what you remember about that time.
(My mother is a therapist. I sometimes talk like this.)
I heard you were hesitant to do this interview. I wonder if you can tell me what your concerns are so that I might assuage them. Did I say that word right? Ah-sewage? I always say that word wrong, and now my boyfriend imitates the way I say it and so I keep saying it wrong and so anyway, what are your concerns exactly?
Weird Science is Ilan's best-known movie, but it's not his best. If you watch that movie knowing that when I get nervous I smile, he says, my performance will make sense. No, The Chocolate War is Ilan's best movie. Even he thinks so. Ilan plays Jerry, a private school kid singled-out by The Vigils, an ominous secret society, for a little prank: For 10 days, he will refuse to sell chocolate bars for the school's annual fundraiser. He complies (they always do) but when the 10 days are over, Jerry still won't sell chocolates. He's mysteriously defiant, a high-school Bartleby, which needles the Vigils' machiavellian head Archie (Wally Ward, who also appeared in Weird Science and later became known as Wallace Langham when he appeared on Veronica's Closet and The Larry Sanders Show), who tries to coerce him into selling. He won't. In one scene he gets beat up by a bunch of little kids, yelling “Faggot! Faggot!” and as the director Keith Gordon shot it, it's an amazing moment, these punk kids beating the shit out of him and the Yaz song “In My Room” thumping in the background and the sky swiveling as he goes down. He returns home and curls up in bed and bleeds and says nothing, to anyone, just lies there and stares and whenever I see that scene, I want to cry.
Wow I'm a little nervous, I say.
Why? Ilan asks.
I don't know. I'm guess I'm silly. I heard you were hesitant to do this interview, I say.
Oh, yeah. (I'm kind of making this dialogue up, by the way, but it's more or less true.) It's that, well, I don't do interviews usually. The other day I got called by, umm, E? Is that a thing? E television?
I tell him it's a thing.
And they were doing this “Where Are They Now?” segment, and I turned them down. Because it's just not … did you see me pull up in the car just now?
I tell him I didn't, even though I did. I did, and I looked away as he kissed his wife goodbye and I can't entirely explain why.
Well, I have two kids. It's nothing personal, he says. I'm sure you're a nice person.
I am. I'm sure you are too.
We go from there.