No, not in that way. I mean, yeah, he was supercute in The Outsiders but I had more of a crush on Rob Lowe, if anyone. I’ve always had a random feeling of fondness for C. Thomas Howell though. He starred in a couple of movies that I loved as a kid, including the ridiculous Secret Admirer, so I think he’s associated in my mind with the comforting memories of bad ‘80s movies. And besides, how could anyone not like Ponyboy Curtis?
I’m in the middle of reading Rob Lowe’s biography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends and there’s a section in it in which he describes the grueling process of filming his final, dramatic scene for The Outsiders. They’ve done about a million takes and Rob has been giving it his all, breaking down over and over again in order to get the shot and nail the scene, and he is totally spent. Francis Ford Coppola then informs him that they have only been filming the long shots and now it’s time for the close-ups. Rob basically starts to panic and freaks out internally:
Standing alone now, I know I’m in deep trouble. Through take after take I have poured my heart out, cried my eyes dry for the last hour. I have nothing left, and I’m terrified. I’ve wasted all my emotion on giant wide shots where you probably can’t even see my face. I feel like a total idiot.
Not to worry, though! Because C. Thomas Howell is there to save the day.
“Hey, c’m’ere!” says Tommy Howell. “I wanna talk to you”.
We step off the set into the shadows to be alone.
“What’s going on?” he asks.
“Fuck that, man. You gotta. You can do this! This is what it’s all about. Right now! You, me, and Swayze!”
I’m looking at my feet, getting lectured by a fifteen-year-old.
“I don’t know what to do. I didn’t know to save it for the close-up. Nobody told me,” I say lamely.
Tommy grabs me by my face, hard.
“Look at me,” he says, his eyes shining. “I love you. You’re my brother. We’re gonna get you ready”.
And then come the most loving, generous, wise moments I’ve ever shared with another actor. He starts a narrative, a hushed, hypnotic story of our life together as orphaned brothers. He tells me about our mother, how beautiful she was with her blonde hair, and about the day she nicknamed me Sodapop because I was always so happy. He asks me to remember Dad and how much we miss him — his strength, his laugh — and reminds me of the pony he surprised us with at Christmas. As he winds down, he pulls me close to him and whispers: “There’s no one else like you in this whole wide world, Sodapop Curtis. You’re my brother and I love you so much. You’re all we have left”.
“Come on, guys,” calls Francis. “We’ve got about twenty minutes before the sun’s up”.
“Don’t listen to that,” says Howell firmly. “You’re ready now. Go nail this fucker like you know you can”.
We walk back onto the set. I’m full now — full of the emotion I need, full of love and of unending gratitude for this amazing friend. His compassion and leadership will remain unmatched in my professional experience.
You guys, that’s it. I want C. Thomas Howell as my life coach, in my corner, giving me pep talks like this one every time I feel overwhelmed or scared that I can’t do something. I mean, fuck. What a cool fucking dude. And he was only 15 at the time! Maybe it’s just me, but I find that sense of belief in oneself pretty inspiring in someone so young – in anyone, for that matter. So, the next time I feel the nervousness of performance anxiety coming on, I am gonna channel my inner Ponyboy Curtis and rise to the challenge. Sometimes inspiring words come from random places — like a vignette in a Rob Lowe biography, for example — but I’ll take it where I can get it.