Val Lauren Stars In “Sal” at KW Film Festival
By Shirrel Rhoades
Cooke Communications Film Critic
Val Lauren was destined to play Sal Mineo in a movie. He just didn’t know it at the time.
“Sal” will be featured among those films screening at the second annual Key West Film Festival. Val has the title role.
Raised in Woodland Hills, just outside of Hollywood, it’s not unusual he got interested in acting. But he credits his mother with introducing him to those great ‘50s and ‘60s movies -- and stars like Marlon Brando, Montgomery Cliff, and James Dean.
While studying at Playhouse West, he met another young actor named James Franco. “We started out together,” nods Val Lauren. “His car had broken down and he was staying with me part of the time.”
He remembers Franco getting the call to audition for a TV movie called “James Dean.” The two actors would meet at Jerry’s Deli after each audition call back.
To prepare, Franco immersed himself in James Dean. “I guess you could say I was his right-hand man on all the research,” says Val Lauren.
One day the director offered Lauren a small, uncredited part in the film. At the table reading, each actor would say his or her character’s name. When it came to Lauren, the odd man out, he would jokingly say, “My name is Val and I’m playing Sal Mineo.”
However, Sal Mineo’s character wasn’t in the movie. And, as it turned out, Lauren’s tiny scene got “lost on the cutting room floor.”
Then, a decade later, out of the blue he got a text message from his pal James Franco saying: “You’re going to play Sal Mineo -- cool?”
“Cool,” he responded.
Franco had gotten interested in Sal Mineo while doing his research for the 2001 “James Dean” movie.
Sal Mineo was a young heartthrob, but would later become the first openly gay movie star. Nominated for two Oscars (“Rebel Without a Cause” and “Exodus”), he appeared in such classic films as “Giant,” “The Gene Krupa Story,” “Crime in the Streets,” and “The Longest Day.” But at 37, he was stabbed to death in the alley behind his apartment building.
The irony was that Sal Mineo -- nicknamed “The Switchblade Kid” from a movie role -- died by thief wielding a knife.
James Franco optioned the book by Michael Gregg Michaud. When pitching the movie, he described it as “an unconventional movie about unconventional man who led an unconventional life.”
As Lauren explains, “We get to know him through the very last day of his life.”
Acknowledging all his research, Val Lauren also received a story credit on “Sal.” “I didn’t even know that was the case until we were at the Venice Film Festival and the credits started rolling. I looked over at James and he had a smirk on his face. A surprise gift.”
Val Lauren also will be appearing in “Interior. Leather Bar,” another film by James Franco that’s showing at the Key West Film Festival. And he’s filmed “The Last Knights” with Morgan Freeman and Clive Owen in Prague.
Lauren’s also wrapping up another project with James Franco based on “A Streetcar Named Desire.” He smiles at the small world we live in. “I’ve never been to Key West,” says Val Lauren. “I can’t wait to see the island, the beaches, the house where Tennessee Williams lived.”
He notes that he once posed for a snapshot outside the apartment Tennessee Williams used in New Orleans. “Maybe I can get a picture of me standing in front of his house in Key West. Start a photo album.”