Ryan Phillippe broke the internet before it was even possible to break the internet, and it’s all because of one scene in the 1999 film Cruel Intentions. Ever since the film’s release, at least once a year, the scene featuring Phillippe’s derriere goes viral on social media.
“I used to have a really nice ass,” Phillippe tells Newsweek‘s Parting Shot about the famous scene.
“It’s so odd, because early in my career, doing Cruel Intentions and Gosford Park, people thought that I was like a rich kid, well bred. The reality is, I’m a lower-middle-class kid from outside of Philly, born in Delaware.”
This month Phillippe has two new films coming out. First there’s American Murderer, based on the true story of Jason Derek Brown—a con man who bankrolls his lifestyle through a series of scams that ultimately culminates in murder. Phillippe plays Special Agent Lance Leising, the FBI agent on the hunt for Brown.
“I love true stories. I love true crime. You know, I think, selfishly as an actor, it makes preparation somewhat easier, because your character is based on a person who did exist, does exist.”
The other film is Summit Fever, about a group of mountain climbers in the midst of a nightmare when everything goes wrong.
“When you do an independent film about mountain climbing, there’s no green screen. There’s no special effects.”
Below is an edited and condensed version of Phillippe’s chat with Newsweek‘s Parting Shot. Listen to the full conversation between Phillippe and H. Alan Scott on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get podcasts.
You play a law enforcement so well. What inspired you to do American Murderer and why do you think you play an FBI agent so well?
I do come from a relatively military family, and I’ve done a lot of military projects where I’ve had a ton of training with Marines or Navy SEALs or law enforcement. I put a lot of effort into those roles. I think there’s a certain responsibility there to do your work diligently in terms of preparation, so you look legitimate—because these people put their lives on the line in various capacities and you want to honor that.
[In] American Murderer, this man that the movie’s about, Jason Derek Brown, is still at large. He was at one point on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. He shot and killed an armored car driver outside of a movie theater. And there are those that think that if this movie is seen and talked about, it may help bring this person to justice, because he’s still out there.
I love true stories. I love true crime. I think, selfishly as an actor, it makes preparation somewhat easier, because your character is based on a person who did exist, does exist. So, particularly with this guy, I always kind of saw him as a shark, as a very focused, undeterred machine in some regards. And that’s kind of how I wanted to play him.
Summit Fever looks like it must have been very difficult to make. Did any of it scare you?
The thought of it did scare me to some degree, certainly. But I knew it was an opportunity to be trained by and work with some of the best in their field. And when you do an independent film about mountain climbing, there’s no green screen. There’s no special effects. It’s all going to be practical, right? So we had about two weeks of training, to get up to speed and make it look like we knew what we’re doing. And some of that training was absolutely terrifying.
I remember specifically on the first day of training, we’re going up the wall, a few 100 feet up… where there’s a bit of an overhang from my perspective, and I can no longer make eye contact with [the instructor]. And he can’t see me on the wall. And I got to a point where I didn’t know where to go next. I couldn’t find the crevice for my hand or my foot. And I felt like I was so close.
My legs started trembling. I got full body tremors. And I started to… not hyperventilate, but really kind of come a bit undone, to the point where I was so close to calling out to him, “I’m stuck. I can’t do this.”
And instead, what I did was, I went inward, I started a deep breathing process. And I said, “He just went before me, this is possible. I just have to calm my brain down and figure out what that next move is.” And that’s what I did to get out of that situation. And then from there, I was ready to take on whatever climb that he was willing to.
The scariest one, though, I have to say, was the ice climbing training. There are points when we were doing ice climbing where I’m looking down at a 10-to-15,000 [foot] sheer drop on either side of me, on a very narrow piece of rock. And I mean, it’s exhilarating. But it’s not for the faint of heart.
Early in your career, you hit it big fast and played a certain type of character. In recent years you’ve played quite a few authority figures, cops, etc. What is more close to you and who you are?
It’s so odd, because early in my career, doing Cruel Intentions and Gosford Park, people thought that I was like a rich kid, well-bred. The reality is, I’m a lower-middle-class kid from outside of Philly, born in Delaware. Family that struggled, very blue-collar relatives, all of that. And my dad was in the military. My grandfathers both served during World War II and were highly decorated. My uncles were in Vietnam.
So a lot of that stuff was a lot more close to who I am than the Cruel Intentions type of guy. That was fun for me, because I’m getting to lampoon or parody some of the people that I was jealous of in my youth, you know? The kids [who] pull up at school in a BMW when I had a used Hyundai XL.
So it’s just interesting how people will think of you in a certain regard. People used to think I was British, you know? It’s just odd how you deal often, for better or worse, with people’s perceptions of yourself in this business. And when you choose public life, you just kind of have to let those chips fall where they may in some regards.
Once a year, without fail, your nude scene from Cruel Intentions goes viral. Do you see these posts on social media, and what do you think of them?
I do. Of course I do. I get a lot of, “the moment when I knew I was gay.” And then a photo [or] screengrab of that. Or some people will say, “this made me gay.” And my thing is no, you already were. It just lit a fire. I used to have a really nice ass. [laughs]
Last year, there was an art exhibition in LA that was beautifully painted portraits taken from moments in the movie Cruel Intentions. And Roger Campbell, the director, and Selma Blair and Sarah Michelle Gellar and I all met up to go to a viewing of these paintings. And one of the paintings is, of course, my ass. And we all had a big laugh about that. [The paintings] are quite well done, too.
Considering some of those early films, you had a huge influence on queer fans, as you mentioned. Were you aware of that at the time?
I mean, it’s something I’ve always been grateful for and aware of, to some extent. The first real job that I had in this industry was playing the first gay teenager in television history on One Life to Live. That was a much more awkward stage for me, because I was 17 years old, I had been going to a religious high school, and they were kind of anti-the fact that I chose to take on that role.
That was a big transitional-slash-learning process for me, because very soon into that portrayal, my mother and I would get fan mail that was really emotionally touching—from kids who said they’d never seen a representation of themselves, from parents who said, “I found this show to be a point of connection with my gay teenager.”
So from that point on, I had a respect for the possibilities of what entertainment can be as a bridge or as a tool to educate or enlighten. And then, men being attracted to me has never been a bad thing. Anybody being attracted to you, you’re gonna be appreciative of, you know? And I’ve always been a very much a supporter of LGBTQ rights, and I’ve got so many friends in my life that fall under that umbrella. I think it is a part of my experience and my fan base that I have a lot of love for.
Listen to H. Alan Scott’s full conversation with Ryan Phillippe on Newsweek’s Parting Shot. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Twitter: @HAlanScott