Handsomeness May Be a Hindrance, as Rob Lowe Gripes, but He's in a Class by Himself
Character acting is what Lowe would like to do, but the gods have conspired against him. The merest glimpse of him sends teenage girls into a swarming pattern. Even though the new comedy Class is only Rob's second film—he had a featured role in Francis Coppola's The Outsiders—he is already a bit worried about being typecast. So he is delighted that in Class he plays Jacqueline Bisset's preppy son rather than her adolescent lover. "People think I would have the romantic lead," he says. "I don't, and I like that." Class was also Lowe's first shot at comedy. "I had to be at 110 percent every day," he says. "It's scary to do comedy for the first time. But now I know that I can do it."
What Lowe hasn't yet figured out is how to combine an acting career with a love life. Two years ago he was driving down La Cienega Boulevard in L.A. when a car with its horn honking pulled alongside. "Somebody with orange skin and big glasses asked, 'Are you Rob Lowe?' " he recalls. It was Melissa Gilbert, still in makeup, returning home from the set of Little House on the Prairie. So began their romance. They are still an item, although when asked to describe the item, Lowe is hard pressed. "We are definitely boyfriend and girlfriend, but I don't know what rules apply," he admits. "When we're both working it's not practical to be together, and we're always meeting new, interesting people."
On the set of The Hotel New Hampshire in Montreal, Lowe met Kinski, who is cast as an Austrian whom he befriends in the big-screen adaptation of John Irving's best-selling novel. Their clinches continued well after the cameras stopped rolling. But when the movie wrapped, Nastassia was off to Paris to dub Exposed into French. She left Rob a parting memento, Baudelaire's poems (in English), underlined personally. Says Lowe, "Nastassia is like a butterfly that you can't capture, and that's what's fascinating about her." In some ways he became even friendlier during The Hotel New Hampshire shooting with Jodie Foster, 20, who plays his sister. "We are like brother and sister," he reports. "Jodie and I don't even have to talk, we know what the other is thinking. I never know what Kinski is thinking." Nastassia, on the other hand, finds Rob very open. "Boys his age seem much more knotted up and embarrassed to show any kind of emotion," says the 22-year-old actress. "Rob isn't like that at all. He's like a child."
Rob has been acting since he was 8, beginning with regional theater in Dayton, Ohio, where he grew up and where his father, a lawyer, still lives. His parents were divorced when he was 4, and nine years later Rob and two younger brothers moved to Los Angeles with their mother, Barbara, a writer. Although the move was prompted by Barbara's allergies, it didn't hurt Rob's career. Six months after he arrived, he registered with an agent. His mother and stepfather, psychiatrist Steve Wilson, supported Lowe's acting ambitions, but they didn't push him. "Half the time I had to take a two-hour bus trip for an interview," he says. "It was a test of my commitment."
His breakthrough came when he was 15, playing Eileen Brennan's son in the short-lived ABC series A New Kind of Family. He also starred in a couple of after-school specials. But as Rob grew older he was no longer right for kids' parts, and his career began to sputter. "I was washed up at 17," he says. He was losing teenage roles to rivals who were over 18 and not subject to child-labor laws. Lowe was persuaded by his agent that if he stuck it out until he was 18, his luck would change.
So it has. Soon after the magic birthday he won roles as the greaser Soda-pop in The Outsiders and as a boy undergoing a heart transplant in Thursday's Child, a CBS movie. The shooting schedules conflicted, but CBS postponed filming Thursday's Child for two months so Lowe could do it. No sooner had he completed those films than another conflict arose. Last fall he was scheduled to enter UCLA as a film major. Offered the role of Skip Burroughs in Class, he decided to put off college. "If you don't go to college in the right frame of mind," he believes, "it's just a holding tank." Whether he matriculates this fall depends on what his agent comes up with to follow The Hotel New Hampshire. "If there are no films around that interest me," Lowe says, "then I'll go to UCLA."
In the meantime Rob plans to hang out at the Malibu beach where he lives with his family. But already his pubescent fans are curtailing some of his activities. "I hope I can still do the things I like to do," he says. "I know that now I can't go to a theater in Westwood and stand on line." Although he gave his unlisted number to only a few friends, whenever he called during the filming in Canada, his mother would read off a list of messages on the answering machine. "Jennifer called, Tulip called—I have no idea who any of them are," he says. Listen, Rob, if you were a character actor, they wouldn't be calling.