Fred Durst's second act
Sporting a bushy salt-and-pepper beard, skater shorts, and beat-up black sneakers, Fred Durst compulsively fidgets with his silverware in a corner booth of a sleepy L.A. diner. ”I’m OCD beyond comparison,” he explains, arranging his napkin and Diet Coke just so. Or perhaps he’s just nervous about sitting for a rare interview, remembering well the harsh treatment he endured from the press as the frontman for ’90s nü-metal superstars Limp Bizkit, and realizing the cycle of abuse could start all over again. You see, Durst is attempting a comeback — as a Hollywood director.
The singer’s first studio film, The Longshots, is getting a wide theatrical release on Aug. 22. Starring Ice Cube and Akeelah and the Bee‘s Keke Palmer, it’s a surprisingly sweet family film about a young female football player. ”It could easily be a cheesy movie,” says Durst, who has two kids of his own, ages 18 and 6. ”But by me and Ice Cube teaming up, we were able to fight it. I didn’t want to do a throwaway, mindless movie with fart jokes just to make 6-year-olds laugh,” he says. ”I want to provide my children with some substance.”
A decade ago, Durst and Ice Cube were touring together as part of the hard-rock and rap Family Values Tour, and Limp Bizkit were about to explode into one of the biggest bands of the late ’90s, eventually selling over 50 million albums worldwide. Durst, with his trademark red baseball cap and hyperaggressive stage presence, was rap-rock’s most visible star. But with the turn of the millennium, Durst’s popularity waned. After an embarrassing leaked sex tape and a public spat with Britney Spears, he went from bad-boy rock star to humbled laughingstock.
”That guy’s gone,” the now soft-spoken 37-year-old says of his aggressive old self. ”I mean, I’m still me, but that character, that alter ego, is backstage somewhere waiting to get on stage. The director has a whole other perspective going on.”
Durst says he wanted to be a director long before he wanted to be a rock star. As a high schooler in Gastonia, N.C., he fell in love with skateboarding and, along with it, the art of independent film. ”I lived through skate videos,” he recalls. ”I watched [1985 skate documentary] Future Primitive every day for years. I was obsessed.”
Durst’s enthusiasm for all things thrasher ignited his inner aggro, but other films, he says, brought out the softer side of an angry outcast. ”I got really affected by the John Hughes experience in the ’80s,” he says. ”It touched me. It was the right blend of sappy and cool. I was 16 when [I saw] The Breakfast Club. ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’? Forever embedded in my life.” Durst eventually graduated to more sophisticated film fare, soaking up classics like Chinatown, Badlands, and Lawrence of Arabia and immersing himself in the work of Coppola, Kubrick, and Scorsese: ”There’s something about their storytelling that I’m very inspired by.”
To hear Durst tell it, the astronomical success he had with music only served to derail his true ambition. Limp Bizkit, the band he formed at the age of 25, first rattled the rock world in 1997 with a paint-scraping cover of George Michael’s ”Faith.” A year later, the group skyrocketed to the top of the charts with Significant Other, which sold 635,000 copies in its first week and spawned four hit singles, including the ubiquitous ”Nookie.” The band’s reputation for raunchy lyrics, rowdy crowds, and an overall ”f— you” attitude made them stars — and anointed Durst as nü-metal’s equally revered and reviled poster boy.
But as the band’s following grew, so did the ratio of bullies to freaks, and Durst was growing unhappy. ”I was a kid who got picked on in school, and now the guys beating up those kids were wearing red caps and using my music to fuel that aggression,” he says. ”But if they listen to the lyrics, the aggression is targeted at them.” It didn’t help that Bizkit’s last effort, 2005’s The Unquestionable Truth (Part 1), only sold 93,000 copies; the band has been on hiatus ever since. ”It felt like a good time to step away,” he says, ”grow a beard, disappear, and make a movie.”
Later that afternoon, Durst drives his black pickup to the Sony Pictures lot, where he’s overseeing The Longshots‘ last-minute color corrections, score, and credits. In a plush private screening room, he fixates on impressively technical moviemaking minutiae, scrutinizing tone consistency from frame to frame for well over an hour. Though he seems to have this directing thing down, it stands to reason that experience gained mostly by manning the camera on Limp Bizkit videos might make him a bit of a long shot. Indeed, it was quite a ways getting here. Right after Bizkit went limp, Durst got serious about his film career, taking meeting after meeting with execs, tirelessly trying to persuade someone to give him a chance. His name got him in the door, but despite Durst’s unbridled ambition, he also saw plenty slam shut. It seemed he’d gotten his big break in 2002: He was tapped to direct the skater flick Lords of Dogtown, but when the film’s budget spiraled beyond the scope of a first-time director, he was replaced.
Undeterred, Durst pressed on, becoming a regular fixture on David Fincher’s sets (a pal and idol) while continuing to make the studio rounds, and got offered some ”really bad horror films,” which he turned down. Finally, an indie film about a New York kid transitioning to college life and confronting the bully who tormented him through high school came along. It was a serious movie, and the producers were excited by Durst’s vision for it. In 2006, he was hired as the director of The Education of Charlie Banks. ”I knew that as an independent film, I would reach the people who were important to me: filmmakers and film critics — people who [appreciated] that it wasn’t a Freddy-versus-Jason, let’s-take-the-rock-star-and-make-a-movie-out-of-a-music-video movie.”
Banks screened at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival to surprisingly positive reviews. Though never released, it earned Durst a rep as a legitimate directing talent. Among the converts was his old tourmate Ice Cube, who by that time was already committed to The Longshots. ”I was like, ‘This guy can direct,”’ Ice Cube says. ”’He has the dramatic feel we want. He’s the right man for this movie.”’ Durst got the job.
When it comes to the marketing rollout, however, don’t expect to see Durst’s name featured prominently in any of the Longshots campaigns. In fact, only after a final fade to black will audiences first see the words ”Directed by Fred Durst,” which is exactly how he wants it. ”I don’t think my name would necessarily draw people to come see the movie,” he says. ”It might hurt the movie, honestly.” Matt Alvarez, one of the film’s producers and a longtime Ice Cube business partner, who played a critical role in recruiting Durst, doesn’t disagree. ”It’s not what’s expected of him,” says Alavarez. ”But I also think people are going to be pleasantly surprised.”
If they are, and The Longshots pays off for director Fred Durst? ”Hopefully I can make a film that will become some quintessential experience for a generation, a landmark where you look back and it’s not just, ‘Oh, Limp Bizkit, this is silly.’ Something important. Something substantial. If I leave the earth today, I’ll be very grateful. I’m proud of myself. But s—: You can’t stop wanting to move forward, right?” Additional reporting by Vanessa Juarez