What Is the Deal With That Art Alexakis Cameo in 'Wild'?

Art Alexakis
If there were an Oscar for "Most Bewildering Rock Star Cameo," 'Wild' would be a lock. Nrbelex/Wikimedia Commons

There is not an Oscar category for "Most Bewildering Cameo by a Grunge-Era Rock Star," but if there were, Wild would have a lock. The well-received and very pastoral adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir features Everclear frontman Art Alexakis in a surreal turn as the tattoo artist who inks Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) and her husband (Thomas Sadoski) with matching "divorce-day" tattoos. "It happens," the goateed star wisely intones as Strayed shares the lurid details of their break-up.

But wait, we wondered: What is the goateed "Santa Monica" singer doing in a soon-to-be Oscar-nominated self-discovery drama? Though the film takes place in 1995, the protagonist's music taste in the movie runs closer to Simon and Garfunkel and Leonard Cohen than Everclear. Judging from a Twitter search, other viewers had the same question.

So we called up Alexakis and asked him: What is the deal with your cameo in Wild? He promptly explained himself.

So tell me about how you came to be in the film Wild.

Well, in the book, I guess in reality, it was a woman that tattooed Cheryl and her soon-to-be ex-husband, and the director and everybody felt like that didn't read very well when they were reading women for the role. They were having a hard time finding somebody, and Cheryl's husband, Brian Lindstrom, is a filmmaker and a social worker and a friend of mine from Portland. He was like, "What do you think of Art Alexakis doing it? He's tattooed, he looks like a tattoo artist." She thought it'd be great. She suggested it to Bruna [Papandrea] and Reese [Witherspoon], who were producing the film. They suggested it to Jean-Marc [Vallée, the director].

They had me read. I did two or three different readings for it, and each time it got higher and higher up the pole. There was a little bit of nepotism that got me in it, but I had to get approved by three or four levels of producers, including Fox Searchlight. They asked me to do it, and I went to Portland and shot it in a day. Not even a day—like an hour.

Didn't take a lot of takes to get it right?

No. You know what was funny, they gave me the script of what I was supposed to do. It was like twice as long as what I ended up reading during the part. And everything I read showed up on screen, so nothing ended up on the floor, which is kind of cool. I guess the writer who had originally done it had my character proselytizing and, like, lecturing and being this wizened old sage, which is kind of ridiculous.

I did the part exactly how they wanted me to do it, but then right about 10 minutes before we were getting ready to shoot, we were on set in this tattoo parlor in Portland. The script person is like, "So you've got the latest script, right?" And I'm like, "When did it come out?" "Maybe a week ago." I go, "I ain't got no new script since the audition, which was like a month and a half ago." They give me the script and it's like half the lines, which is fine, but the other characters—Reese's character and Tommy Sadoski's character—have totally different lines. They would say their lines and I just sit there and wait for them to do their lines, the lines I was used to to jump off on. We did two of those wrong, and Jean-Marc, the director, told me to pay attention and I got it in I think two takes. That was it.

Wild
Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed in 'Wild.' Fox Searchlight Pictures

Had you read the book?

Yeah, I read the book. What's really funny is I read the book and it never dawned on me that Cheryl Strayed was Brian Lindstrom's wife. I had met her several times. In the back of my mind I knew she was a writer. But I had met her before the book came out, so she was probably in the process of writing the book. I always knew her as Brian's nice suburban wife. I had no idea she had the life that she had beforehand, which was pretty rowdy and crazy.

I was very pleased when he reached out to me like, "My wife wrote a book and we'd like you to read for a part in it." I go "What's the name of the book?" "Wild." I wrote him back, I go, "You're married to Cheryl Strayed?" I'm just a knucklehead. I thought her name would be Cheryl Lindstrom, because I was introduced to her as Cheryl. It never connected that I knew Cheryl Strayed.

What did you think of the finished film?

I really liked the film. It's a hard sell when you have one person who's alone for a majority of a film. Everybody goes back to Cast Away. Well, that was different, because there was inner monologue- and outer monologue-ing going on with this guy. He wasn't on that island to confront ghosts and run away from ghosts, like Cheryl was. She was looking for her mom and trying to get away from the ghost of herself. Being a guy who's been clean and sober 25 years, I get it. I can relate to her character. I think a lot of people can, and do. I think Reese pulled it off. I love Jean-Marc's work. I loved Dallas Buyers Club and even some of the French movies he's done that are really, really powerful.

You've acted in a few movies before. Is that something you want to do more of?

I do. You know, it's funny, when I was a kid, my acting coach, he was my acting coach in junior high school. He taught outside, and he would teach me and he got me into... like, Lee Strasberg and the Actors Studio had a thing down in Santa Monica for kids. I went to some of those workshops. I thought it was cool, but I always wanted to play in a rock band. It was all I wanted to do since I was four years old. And now I'm 52, and I've done it, and I still do it, and I love it, but I get a buzz from acting now that I didn't used to get. So I would like to do more.

Was anyone in the movie a big Everclear fan?

Yeah, Tommy Sadoski, who's become a good friend of mine, reminded me that we'd been in a movie together, a movie called Loser, years ago. He's an old-school punk rock alternative guy, and he knew a lot of Everclear and a lot of people on the crew. I don't know if Reese was. I didn't really talk to Reese much. Did the lines, but she wasn't like a fraternizer. Really, neither was I. I wasn't hanging out with the crew going to strip clubs. I went back to my room and called my wife. I'm boring, I'm old.

You still have a new album coming out this year, right?

I do! Everclear's got our ninth album, which is awesome and kind of sad at the same time. [laughs] I need to get a real job, I think, after this long.

What'd you say?

I said, I probably should get a real job after this. I'm being a smart-ass. I've just been doing this for a long time. And I still love doing it! This album's just a big rock record. It's like a return to form, kind of an old-school Everclear rock record. Almost all guitars and just a rock record. We got a song going to radio in about three weeks, and the record comes out in April, and then we tour in the summer time. We do a tour every year called Summerland. It's an alternative '90s tour. Lots of bands from the '90s. I'm busy doing that.

It's funny, I'm starting to get calls from people who want me to be in indie movies and stuff like that. I'm just reading scripts, and I still want to read more scripts. I'm open to it. I'm in a place where I'm not chasing the carrot so hard that I have to do things I don't want to do. It's kind of nice.

Correction: An earlier version of this interview misspelled author Cheryl Strayed's first name.

What Is the Deal With That Art Alexakis Cameo in 'Wild'? | Culture