Mommie's boy: Stark Sands makes an indelible impression as Charles Busch's sexy, psychotic gay son in Die Mommie Die.
Once he slid into them, you could hardly get him to stop lip-synching. "I've been a singer since I was in middle school, so that was fun," says Sands, whose first major job out of University of Southern California drama school was a two-episode stint as Lauren Ambrose's hippie boyfriend on Six Feet Under. "Before Die Mommie Die, I mostly played straight-arrow, all American boys next door, so it was exciting to play such a different and extreme character right off the bat."
Just how extreme is Lance? Well, he's a touch psychotic, for starting. He ,also plays the guitar in the buff, has been known to start gay orgies at school, and fit one memorable nude scene, implores Jason Priestley's swaggering tennis pro to "haul out that bratwurst and spread some mustard on it." "I've got to be honest," says Sands. "It was a fun line to say."
"People have told me that they find the scene between Stark and Jason really hot, which makes me happy," reveals director Mark Rucker, who was turned on to the comely newcomer by playwright Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out), who had seen Sands on Six Feet Under. "Stark just rose to the occasion. Everything I asked of him, he did and did extremely well. Some of the guys that I auditioned were too psycho. Stark was able to bring a sexiness and naivete as well as a sort of disturbed quality to the character without making him seem stupid, which is not an easy thing to do."
Particularly when you're going through hell in your home life. On his first day of work on Die Mommie Die, Sands learned that his father had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. "My first scene was in a bathroom stall at L.A.'s Ambassador Hotel," the actor remembers. "I'm looking around before we shoot, and scribbled below the toilet paper dispenser is DUSTIN HOFFMAN SAT HERE. My first shot, my first movie--whether it's real or not, that moment was really cool. I went back to my trailer and called my father to tell him about it, and that's when he told me. I lost it and broke down sobbing, and I had the whole shoot ahead of me. The only way I got through it was to pretend I was somebody else all day."
Sands's father didn't live to see Die Mommie Die--he died in March--but he did make it to Los Angeles to sit in the studio audience of his son's short-lived sitcom, Lost at Home. "I was so happy to see him sitting there with a big smile on his face when they called my name out," says Sands. "Later, back home, we got to have those conversations that are hard to have but are so important. He told me he was proud of me, and I told him I loved him and that I was going to try to do amazing things with my life."
So far, Sands is making good on his promise. Since Die Mommie Die he tins worked on the ensemble indie drama 11:14, the kid caper flick Mission Without Permission, the untitled Mandy Moore-as-first daughter romance, and, most recently, the J. Lo vehicle Shall We Dance? in which he plays son to Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon.
"My first day, they bussed me over to the house where Susan and Richard were rehearsing," he recalls. "I walked in, and it was like I had walked in the back door of a movie. There were childhood pictures of me on the wails, and 1 could hear Susan and Richard having an argument in the kitchen. Then they storm out of the kitchen into the foyer where I was, and Richard gives me a hug and says, 'Your room is the third door up on the right.' That was the weirdest, coolest moment. I was looking from Richard Gem to Susan Sarandon going, 'Wow, how did this happen?'"
Hensley is the author of Screening Party (Alyson Books).