Fall Preview: Howl's Jon Prescott

8.29.2010

By Michael Martin

The blow job scene is what people want to know about,' says Jon Prescott, referring to his onscreen tryst with James Franco in the new film Howl. Since he mentioned it... 'We shot a couple of takes. The directors liked where it was going, so they told me, 'Don't make it so easy for him.' So I didn't, telling him, 'Go ahead, push me down!' A little more tension developed in that take.'

Tense foreplay with James Franco aside, Howl, the biopic of beat legend Allen Ginsberg (in theaters September 24), offers an intriguing mix. Written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet, The Times of Harvey Milk), the film is split into three intermingling sections. One portrays Ginsberg's development as a writer-poet in 1950s San Francisco. Animated sequences illustrate his landmark 1956 poem 'Howl.' His prosecution for obscenity after publishing the poem is also shown in courtroom scenes. As Ginsberg, Franco is fiery and lovelorn. There is also cuddling. 'What was it like to spoon James Franco?' asks Prescott (opposite). 'Something I've been waiting for my entire career, definitely.'

Prescott plays Neal Cassady, the delinquent turned beat groupie who insinuated himself into Ginsberg's circle and was his sexual partner for more than 20 years. 'If Neal were to be labeled, I don't think he'd be labeled gay,' says Prescott. 'I think he'd be labeled straight with experimentation along the way. He had a lasting relationship with Allen, but he was married to two women at the same time as well. He lived life his own way.' Cassady, whom Ginsberg called 'the secret hero' of 'Howl,' ultimately broke Ginsberg's heart and died of substance abuse at 42. 'At the end, he wrote in a letter to Allen, 'The prick isn't for me,' and took off,' says Prescott.

Prescott's turn in Howl is the first of two recent gay roles for the 29-year-old actor. He also just finished shooting The One, an indie dramedy about a Manhattan investment banker who, a month before he's set to marry a woman, revives a relationship with a man from his past -- his old college hookup (Prescott). 'It's a film about fear versus choice,' says Prescott. 'It was a bigger challenge than playing the bartenders and town bachelors I'm often offered.'

Besides rising from near-obscurity to unbuckle Franco's belt, Prescott guest-starred this year on 30 Rock and Rescue Me. In person, his smooth matinee looks are almost freakishly perfect, but he's more beat pathfinder than a future Bachelor contestant. He's a wry, resolute New Yorker ('There are more artists here,' he says), and last year he climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro two days after running a marathon. His choice of Steve McQueen as his cinematic idol seems genetically predetermined. 'He was a big proponent of doing instead of saying,' says Prescott. 'That's who I want to be: an actor who behaves instead of tells.'

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