Alan Boyce in ‘Permanent Record’ (1988)
The actor Alan Boyce appeared in nine films between the years 1985 and 1997 then seemed to disappear without a trace. An extensive internet search unearths nothing about his life after ’97. In fact, apart from descriptions of his parts in the films he made, a handful of scanned movie stills, and one vidclip that shows Boyce playing second fiddle to Julia Roberts during her first screen test, there seems to be nothing directly related to him on the internet at all.
Despite the fact that Boyce was young, very good looking, received great reviews early in his career, and acted in some films that have passionate cult followings, he appears to have no fans who are sufficiently interested to name check him, hype him, or ask questions as to his current activities. In this, he would seem to be like the huge majority of attractive, talented young actors who get just enough notice and work to start careers but not enough of same to sustain them for long, who lose people’s interest as easily as they’d attracted it.
Boyce and I wound up being on different peripheries of the same social scene for a while, and we had some limited dealings with one another, so I have a sense of what might have gone wrong for him and a limited knowledge of what eventually became of him. No doubt because of this vague familiarity, his transformation from a very good and promising actor to a seemingly forgotten figure and non-issue is particularly strange and melancholy to me. This is my attempt to begin to fill in that blank for anyone else who might be quietly interested in Alan Boyce or who might be able to either make corrections in my quick sketch or flesh the story out.
Alan Boyce in ‘Seven Minutes in Heaven’ (1985)
Seven Minutes in Heaven (1985; Linda Feferman)
Plot: ‘Natalie Becker is staying at home studying and working on an essay to meet the president while her father is away. Jeffrey Moran, a childhood friend (whom her father does not know) is having trouble with his stepfather, Jeremy, who is an immature bully, so she lets him stay with her. All sorts of trouble and misunderstandings ensue. Natalie falls in love with gorgeous James Casey (Alan Boyce), only to discover he’s a lying, cheating cad. Natalie’s best friend Polly tries to date a pro baseball player, Zoo Knudson, and is very intrusive on Natalie’s personal life, jumping to hasty conclusions.’
Note: A mediocre, somewhat charming trifle of a movie that’s little and best known today as one of Jennifer Connelly’s first films. Boyce’s small role calls for him to be cute, charming, and two-faced, and he succeeds well enough.
Permanent Record (1988; dir. Marisa Silver)
Plot: ‘David Sinclair (Alan Boyce) seems to have everything going for him: he’s smart, musically talented, and very successful. To top off his senior year in high school, his band is trying to get a recording session. Therefore, David’s suicide leaves everyone, especially his best friend and band-mate, Chris (Keanu Reeves), with a lot of questions.’
Note: Although not without flaws, the film is one of the better extant portrayals of the consequences of teenage suicide. Boyce is remarkable, and while the movie was not a success, he received the kind of extremely glowing reviews for his performance that can launch an impressive career. For whatever reason, Boyce didn’t benefit from the acclaim whatsoever. He never again appeared in a mainstream studio film, and apart from one appearance in an episode of the television series ‘China Beach,’ he didn’t act in movies or television again for five years. ‘Permanent Record’ is rarely talked about today, and is mostly known for featuring one of Keanu Reeves’s early performances.
I met Alan Boyce at an art opening at a gallery on NYC’s Lower East Side not long after seeing ‘Permanent Record’. I tried to talk to him about how much I admired his performance in the film, but he seemed uncomfortable and disinterested. He was however quite interested in my boyfriend of the time, who later confessed to me that he and Boyce had snuck off into the gallery’s basement, shot heroin together and had quick sex.
Boyce was at the opening because he was friendly with a young couple in the NYC art and lit. scene who were close friends of mine. Depending on which member of the couple one asked, Boyce was either a good friend of theirs or a boy with whom they were involved in a menage a trois. Both described Boyce as a sweet guy who also happened to be a big mess: withdrawn, depressive, confused about his sexuality, and prone to being too heavily into drugs. They told me he’d felt unable to handle the pressures in and around the movie business and was taking a break from acting to get his life and head together.
I saw Boyce around NYC a few times after that, usually in the company of the couple, but after his indiscretion with my then ex-boyfriend, I didn’t go out of my way to talk with him. Then I stopped seeing him around, and one time when I asked my friends about him, they said he’d had some kind of breakdown and moved back to his hometown in New Hampshire.
An Ambush of Ghosts (1993; dir. Everett Lewis)
Plot: ‘Ten years earlier, George’s mother (Genvieve Bujold) ran over his younger brother in the family driveway and killed him. Since then, she’s been permanently out to lunch, and he has many responsibilities around the house. He’s a teenager now, with the usual insecurities that go along with that, but he also hasn’t reconciled the tragedy of his childhood. His difficulties are compounded when his schoolmate Christian (Alan Boyce) shows up on his doorstep asking for him to hide him; it turns out the boy has killed one of their classmates. George (Steven Dorff) is not willing to turn him in without taking some thought about it, and hides him for a while. Meanwhile, he acts as a go-between for Christian and his girlfriend Denise (Anne Heche), whom he develops feelings for. Eventually, the question of what is really real becomes an important one to find answers to.’
Note: Boyce’s best work post-‘Permanent Record’ was in two films by the director Everett Lewis. The excellent ‘An Ambush of Ghosts’, their first collaboration, was poorly received in its early screenings for critics and distributors and remained unseen for many years until it received a very limited release in the late 1990s. It’s an obscure gem, and Boyce’s quiet, intense performance is superb.
fanmade homage to the film
Totally Fucked Up (1993; dir. Gregg Araki)
Plot: ‘The primary character is Andy (a superb James Duval) whose view of life is bleak to say the least: Andy doesn’t believe in love, in commitment, believes he is bisexual even though he has never stepped out of his same-sex playing out, grows to depend on his friends, falls in love with a sweet talking fellow Ian (Alan Boyce) only to discover Ian is not at all monogamous, and finally feels the pain of heartbreak and makes a decision about life that ends the film.’
Note: Boyce’s appearance in this earlyish Araki film christens the second phase of his career in which, with one exception, he is an ensemble performer in films associated with the so-called Queer Cinema genre. Excepting 1994 guest roles in one episode each of the series ‘The X Files’ and ‘Red Shoe Diaries’, Boyce now stuck (or was stuck) to playing moody, often peripheral gay or bisexual characters. His performance here is pointedly restricted by the casual, introverted acting style Araki favored in his first several films, but he is nonetheless quite good: coiled, preoccupied, and charismatic.
I went to an advance screening of ‘Totally Fucked Up’ and was very surprised and pleased that during the course of the movie, Alan Boyce’s character talks up my books to the main character Andy. The cast was at the screening, and, at the reception afterwards, I approached Boyce and told him how cool it was to hear him reference my work in the film. He was polite but acted very uncomfortable. He said he didn’t remember meeting me or my ex-boyfriend, and a mention of our mutual New York friends made him grow silent and nervous, so I left him alone.
Later at the reception when I mentioned to an acquaintance who’d worked on the film that Boyce had seemed rather unfriendly, he said that while making the film, he’d found Boyce nice enough but very mysterious and kind of withdrawn. He also said that while Boyce had admitted to having some gay experiences in his life, he was essentially straight and that, along with a few other heterosexual members of the cast, he was determined that he not be tagged as gay just because he was in a queer film. My acquaintance thought my being so gay-associated might have made Boyce uncomfortable.
No Easy Way (1996; dir. Jeffrey Fine)
Plot: ‘Matthew, a gay concert pianist played by Alan Boyce, has kept his HIV positive status secret and refuses help from family and doctors. On the night he loses his job playing mood music in a fancy hotel, Matthew meets an African American streetwise panhandler Diana (Khandi Alexander) and the pair become wary friends.’
Note: ‘As Boyce’s luck would have it, this hardly seen, little noticed, low budget tear jerker gave him his only post-‘Permanent Record’ opportunity to both star in a movie and show off his considerable gifts as a traditional actor. The movie itself gets a few points for being somewhat restrained in its emotional button pushing and instant messaging of the importance of tolerance, but, other than the performances, it’s a rote affair mostly suitable for the collections of completist Khandi Alexander fans.
Kiss and Tell (1996; dir. Jordan Alan)
Plot: ‘Justine Bateman plays Molly, a performance artist who turns up dead with a carrot up her butt by LAX. Three detectives interview her friends lead by Heather Graham to find out who killed her and why.’
Note: This is a truly dreadful movie in every way possible. Boyce is in it for maybe five minutes tops and does next to nothing.
Around this time I was buying tickets to see a matinee of some forgotten movie when I saw Boyce in the lobby looking extremely high on something and barely able to walk. Everyyone in the lobby was staring at him. He was with a girl who steered him with great difficulty into the theater. It was an unnerving and depressing sight. The next time I saw a friend who’d worked on a film with Boyce, I told him about what I’d witnessed, and he responded with much exasperation that he and everyone he knew were really fed up with Boyce’s drug problems. He said the problem was bad and obvious enough that Boyce was losing a lot of acting jobs, but that friends’ and colleague’s concern hadn’t seemed to have any impact on the problem.
Red Ribbon Blues (1996; dir. Charles Winkler)
Plot: ‘A wacky group of HIV+ queers decide to take on the drug companies who are limiting their access to the AIDS drug, D-64. RuPaul and Lypsinka (both out of drag) play a long-term gay couple who join with Paul Mercurio and Debi Mazar as an unlikely gang of drugstore robbers.’
Note: I haven’t seen this film. The one person I know who’s seen it didn’t remember even seeing Boyce in the movie, so his role must be very small.
Skin and Bone (1997; dir. Everett Lewis)
Plot: ‘Inevitably set in Los Angeles, amid that city’s arid strip malls, newsstands, and endless dusty streets, Skin and Bone prowls through the insular world of a trio of rent boys controlled by a mysterious madam named Ghislaine (Nicole Dillenberg). Harry (b. Wyatt) is an ambitious hunk who splits his time between tricking and trying to make it as a movie star. Handsome Dean (Alan Boyce) is younger and more naïve and falls into whoredom through a kind of pathetic disengagement with life that saturates this world and its denizens. A clueless pal of Harry’s, Billy (Garrett Scullin), gets sucked into the life with disastrous results.’
Note: Skin and Bone was one of the most controversial films of the so-called Queer Cinema genre and is often lumped together with the crappy film based on my novel Frisk, but it is a far superior work. As has been the case with many of director Everett Lewis’s films, it had a limited release and has been more discussed than seen. Boyce plays a particularly effective variation on his usual emotionally remote, sympathetic lost boy character.
Nowhere (1997; dir. Gregg Araki)
Plot: ‘Nowhere chronicles a day (and night) in the lives of a group of 20 or more alienated Los Angeles teenagers in their personal lives of despair, alienation, failing relationships and more. Centering on one 18-year-old named Dark, an alienated UCLA film student; his bisexual African-American girlfriend Mel; her purple-haired, acid-tongued lesbian girlfriend Lucifer; Dark’s homosexual classmate Montgomery; and Montgomery’s poetess friend Alyssa.’
Note: Boyce’s last role is a tiny, barely noticeable turn as one of many bored, arch, pessimistic young hipsters who orbit around James Duval’s central character in this third part of Araki’s ‘Beverly Hills 90210 on acid’ trilogy of films.
Shortly after the release of Nowhere, I was talking with a young film director acquaintance. He was planning a new movie, and I suggested Boyce as someone he might consider for the main role. He said he had thought of Boyce for the part and had made some inquiries in that regard, only to be told that something really terrible had happened to the actor, and he was not available.
The next time I talked to a friend of mine who knew and had worked with Boyce, I asked what had happened. He said Boyce had had a very bad drug overdose that almost killed him, and, possibly as the result of suffering a related stroke, he had serious neurological damage and was back on the East Coast living with and being taken care of by his parents. About a year later, I asked this same friend how Boyce was doing, and he said no one he knew had heard anything from or about him.
Alan Boyce and Julia Roberts auditioning in 1986
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Thank you for talking to Nick. ** alex rose, Hi, buddy. Oh, cool, about Gaahl. He paints? I’ll go find some online evidence. Renaissance-y man. Dude, no comfort, I know, but it’s the same in the film world, from my experience. Film programmers can be the rudest, most neglectful people possible. Like answering a simple email with a simple answer is ebola or something. Leaving people hanging when it would take a minute tops to give them a rest, or even taking a mere few seconds to type ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It seems really chickenshit. So I feel you and dig you. I’m good apart from trying to pull teeth from two international programmers who said yes to a ‘PGL’ screening with Zac and me in attendance and now can’t seem to be bothered to tell us the screening dates less than a month before they’re supposed to be happening. So there’s that grr, but A-okay otherwise. Fuck em all, for sure, and love you too. ** Keaton, No good pastry in Florida? Weird, isn’t it? Even in LA, you just can’t find great pastries if you’re hep to what pastries can be. I think the galleries have just restarted their shows after the summer break, and in fact I was just about to hit the listings and see what the booty’s like out there. So I’ll let you know, and, for now, probably. Hope your weekend flew by. ** Mark Gluth, Hi, Mark. We’ve been in touch, and now I’m counting down the days! Whoo-hoo! ** Misanthrope, Yeah, but I do like poetry when it’s chilly and precise and abstract too. And getting that right, which isn’t easy, is gutsy, even if the pages don’t show much that’s going on below the poet’s neck. I wish artists in every medium were as daring and carefree as musicians and music artists are. That’s why music has so often been such an influence and template for me. Contemporary music has a gigantic reach, from the most radical stuff to the most polished, trad stuff, and I don’t think any other medium allows artists so much room to move and also to succeed with audiences in some way. ** Dominik, Hi, Dominik! Oh, could that bookstore I frequented and love still exist? Let me check. Hold on. Holy shit, it does! That amazes me. It’s The Book Exchange. Is that where you went? Wow, amazing it’s still there 30 years later. That’s crazy. My trusted reader is currently hitting a tight deadline, so I have to wait until they finish what they’re working on before they can read my novel, which hopefully will be this week. The wait is driving me completely crazy. Well, not really, but … The TV project is back, yes. Gisele’s working on the edit of the test footage with Zac’s and my input, and I’m about to start looking for 10 – 15 minutes’ worth of stuff that we can cut from each of the episode scripts because we have to. So, yes. For better or worse. Oh, that show you went to seems like shows I used to go to in the late punk era in LA. Punk scene guys out west could get very violent. I got swept into a nasty pit once and got pretty beaten up by some guys and had my shirt ripped off and then was grabbed by bouncers and dragged to the exit and thrown outside, all in the course of about a minute and a half. Memorable. My weekend was pretty okay, working. How’s your week ahead looking? Any fun signs? Lots of love back! ** Nick Toti, Hi, man. My honor my privilege, thank you so much again! ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I know Seth Price’s Vimeo page. I have one eye on him, although I did miss that new, big project. Gaahl is a solo artist now? ** _Black_Acrylic, Thanks a lot for watching the film and talking to Nick, man. ** Bill, Hey. Thanks for attending to Nick’s film. TV project is proceeding without that being a nice, interesting thing but out of necessity, but I suppose meeting necessity’s demands is pleasurable in a way. Cool you’re reading Richard Cheim’s book. I’m just crazy about his prose. ** Okay. This is quite an old post, as you can probably tell. Strangely, things around Boyce’s disappearance seem to be as mysterious now as were many years ago, as far as I can tell. See you tomorrow.