Shepard rarely says what he wants—he simply does what he wants. At 19, after a long struggle of wills with his father, a retired Air Force officer turned California avocado farmer, Shepard lit out for Manhattan. He hired on as a bus-boy at the Village Gate and in his spare time spewed out plays like an uncapped hydrant—40 have been produced in the last 16 years.
Most of them, in the absurdist manner of the time, were dramatic catch basins clogged with vivid fragments of pop culture: rock, sci-fi, Wild West, drugs. Critic Clive Barnes wisecracked that Shepard was "to drama what Kleenex was to the handkerchief"; Elizabeth Hardwick, on the other hand, called him "one of the most gifted playwrights alive."
Shepard's acting debut, as a deceived husband in Days of Heaven, brought him his first real money and revealed the solid presence and the fascinating stillness that can make a man a star. The same truth and the same stillness are there in the very different character he becomes in Resurrection (left): a God-crazed cowboy with little killer eyes that look as if they see better in the dark.
Now in Texas for his third movie part—as a crippled World War II veteran in Raggedy Man—Shepard at 37 is no longer the drug-zapped cult of one who almost wrecked a good marriage for a flash affair with rock poet Patti Smith. He lives again with O-Ian, his wife of 11 years, and their 11-year-old son, Jesse Mojo, in a modest tract house in California's Marin County. And he still writes plays—his latest, True West, an unnerving tale of two brothers who exchange personalities, just opened off-Broadway.
Will Shepard give up movies? Probably not—so long as they give him a chance to gun his motor. He feels, he says, "an incredible dissatisfaction when there's no danger."
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