‘Cellmates’ star Tom Sizemore on acting sober, fatherhood, and second chances

Thelma Adams
The Reel Breakdown

Detroit-born actor Tom Sizemore, 50, has had his ups and downs.

Up: Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan."

Down: Prison time for assault, meth possession and parole violations.

Up: The short-lived, hard-core CBS TV series "Robbery Homicide Division."

Down: "Celebrity Rehab."

Up: Fathering twin sons, Jayden and Jagger, age 6.

Down: The eight-hour sex tape -- and dating former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss.

Sizemore's had more than enough past to want to forget it, but here he is, taciturn but trying, doing the circuit. He's promoting his leading role as Leroy Lowe, a jailed Klansman, in the prison buddy comedy "Cellmates," which he compares to the Coen Brothers' "Raising Arizona." It opens today in theaters and video on demand.

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Even Sizemore seems to have an "it's come to this" attitude while talking to me, trying to be a good boy to the press princess while inevitably resisting. It chafes. It can't be easy for a guy with so much raw talent, so much honed craft, whose hard-hitting acting style in movies such as "Natural Born Killers" and "Black Hawk Down" hit like brass knuckles while trying to resurrect his mainstream career one movie, one TV series at a time.

Asked whether he drew on his incarceration experience for the role of Leroy, Sizemore says, "Prison isn't funny." Point taken. I try another way in, buckling my seat belt.

Thelma Adams: What attracted you to this white supremacist changed by sharing a jail cell with a Mexican field worker (Hector Jimenez of "Nacho Libre") and the love of a good cleaning woman?

Tom Sizemore: The character was on the page. The fact that Leroy changes so dramatically: He goes from a KKK grand wizard and then is smitten and falls in love with a Mexican gal. When he leaves prison three years later, he gets a second chance at life.

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TA: Is a second chance something you relate to?

TS: I'm having that right now. I'm three years sober.

TA: How did being sober change the acting process?

TS: It was harder and it was easier. I gained weight for the movie. It made me self-conscious. I cut my hair patchy in areas. So doing that intoxicated might have been easier. I might have been less self-conscious.

TA: Is it easier to memorize lines sober?

TS: Initially, the first year of sobriety, it was harder. I had to drill with somebody because the brain has been injured. It heals. And it has. It's a different routine. It was harder and it was easier because I was rested, I could be honest about what I'm doing. The double life thing [of an addict] creates so much stress. You're free to focus, you're freer …

TS: In addition to being sober, has fatherhood changed you?

TS: Fatherhood didn't change me in the beginning very much. I was ill. And the boys were kept from me. In the last couple of years it's been great. I try to stop and take a 10-second break and ask myself before I do something: One, is this going to improve my life for my children, or two, will there be a potential for something to go wrong here?

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TA: What's next for you?

TS: I'm going for something really significant in the George Clooney league. I hope I get it. It would change my whole life again. I just finished 'Company of Heroes,' with Vinnie Jones, and I just finished 'El Bosc' in Spain. I'm very busy.

TA: And staying sober?

TS: I'm one day at a time. That's the only way I can do it. I have a pretty good idea if you would call me tonight and ask, 'Tom, are you still sober?' I'm almost 100 percent sure I'd say, 'Yes, Thelma, I am.'

TA: Do you miss your glory days, the 'Natural Born Killers,' 'Saving Private Ryan,' A-list express?

TS: I had a lot more money and a sense of entitlement, the typical B.S. that comes with becoming a famous person.

TA: Do you think you're better off now, even though you have less money, because you're getting your personal act together?

TS: No. I'm not better off. I'm trying to reestablish my career and do great work and give my kids the life they deserve. I'm doing it again. I look a whole lot better. I'm getting in better shape. But better off? No. Are you s---ting me?

TA: Never!