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Jonathan Tucker Gets Dirty

Lets get something out of the way: Yes, youve seen Jonathan Tucker before. Hes been in 17 movies, including The Virgin Suicides, the 2003 remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and last years In the Valley of Elah. Hes also appeared on 10 television shows, most recently as the star of last years The Black Donnellys. But its his role in 2001s The Deep End that youre most likely to remember.

I literally met [costar] Josh Lucas one afternoon, and the next day were doing these intense sex scenes together. It was like, Um, hey, bro, were going to have some gay sex scenes tomorrow. OK, cool. Nice to meet you, he laughs.

In The Deep End, Tucker played a 17-year-old caught up in his first gay relationship, a lethal entanglement with a notorious club owner played by Lucas, who sported a look straight out of 1970s Falcon videos for the role. Though Tucker was just 18 at the time, with few credits under his belt, he didnt hesitate to accept the part.

I was never cautioned against taking that role by anyone, he says. Its so hard for writers to create interesting, truthful roles for teenagers -- there are so many clichs and pitfalls. If the character happens to be gay, then inherently something interesting is going on. Hes trying just to identify who he is as a man in the world, and then youve got his whole sexuality that he has to deal with. Theres just great depth to that kind of character, and that really appealed to me.

Tucker grew up in a heavily Irish Catholic section of Boston he refers to as the Peoples Republic of Charlestown. His father is an art history professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and one of the countrys foremost authorities on Claude Monet. When his mother, a PR and marketing analyst, phones during our interview, he politely excuses himself to take her call, rather than relegating her to voice mail.

She was making sure I was watching Caroline Kennedy and Ted Kennedy endorse Barack Obama, he says. The actor, who has done spots for Amnesty International, resists the opportunity for political grandstanding, simply adding, Im a political junkie. Ill feel much better about the country if we see a runoff between Obama and McCain.

A performer from an early age, Tucker danced for five years with the Boston Ballet -- I appeared in every single production staged during those years -- until he landed his first national commercial and hung up his ballet shoes. Ballet was a huge part of my life at a certain point, from the time I was 7 or 8 until I was 12 or 13, he remembers. Characters are physical as much as anything, and often you can tell a lot about who somebody is by the way they walk down the street. Ballet made me aware of that very early on."

Tucker is now lending his athleticism to this months The Ruins, based on the 2006 best-selling horror thriller by Scott Smith. [Read more about queer director Carter Smith here.] He plays a premed student who persuades a group of Americans vacationing in Mexico to come along with him on a remote archaeological dig in the jungle.

Ninety-five percent of the movie takes place on top of a hill in an area thats probably only 50 square yards, he confesses. So its not like the movie is four people running around in the woods screaming and falling down. And I dont want to get all Hollywood and self-important and make it sound like its the most significant movie ever, but it was like the head of every department had an Academy Award. The Ruins was shot by Darius Khondji, director of photography on Se7en, Evita, and Panic Room. The special effects were created by people who had worked on the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. Ben Stiller and Steven Spielberg numbered among the producers.

Though the movies director, Carter Smith, had never directed a feature-length film, Tucker wasnt concerned. Id seen Bugcrush, which is some of the most disturbing 30 minutes on film, he says of Smiths short, which won Sundances Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking in 2006.

Carter was blessed to have a terrific support system, and they were just as blessed to have him, Tucker says of his experience on The Ruins. The trailer may look like a run-of-the-mill horror movie, but its far more like Bugcrush than anything else -- theres nothing over-the-top or fake about it.

For a decidedly East Coast guy who spent of much last year shooting The Ruins on Australias Gold Coast -- he claims Los Angeles as his current home, but he still keeps an apartment in Greenwich Village -- Tucker is just as happy to be on location as anywhere else. People always ask me, Dont you want a home-cooked meal? Dont you want to sleep in your own bed? Im like, No, I love hotels, and I love going out for dinner. At a certain point I was ashamed to say that -- but not anymore!

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