Gabe Nevins was a teenager when he was casted to star in Gus Van Sant’s 2007 movie Paranoid Park through an open call put out to local skate shops in Portland, OR. He’d thought he was auditioning to be an extra, but, even with no experience, and perhaps because of his unselfconscious air, Van Sant liked him so much that he was offered the lead role of Alex, a young kid who accidentally murders a middle-aged security guard. The movie garnered a lot of acclaim, debuting at Cannes, and Nevins was anointed an unlikely teen heartthrob in magazines like NYLON and Teen Vogue.
It seems that portraying a scared lost kid in trouble turned out to be somewhat prescient for Nevins—it’s been rumored that things have not gone well for him, but few seem to know exactly what he’s been up to. The photographer Nick Haymes struck up and maintained a friendship with Nevins after shooting some press photos a few years ago and says that Nevins disappeared around the time of his 18th birthday. Nevins had spent time living on the street, sporadically reaching out to Haymes through Facebook and e-mail. They would intermittently spend time with each other, and Haymes would always make sure to snap photographs, even when Nevins was suffering through a bout of psoriasis that had left him with red pock marks all over his body. This March, Haymes released Gabe a collection of his photos of Nevins, collecting and tracing his life from his youth to his more troubled years as a young adult.
When I requested an interview with Nevins and Haymes to talk about the book’s release, Haymes told us it would be difficult to get in touch with Nevins because he was in jail, but assured me that he was heading down to L.A. to try to secure his release and would do his best to put us in touch. I sent some questions along, and Nevins responded to me just a few days later:
I just got out of jail. 2 months incarceration. So now I’m living in the back of a old ’80s van with a nice bed in the backyard of some land my friends own. Got the best sleep I’ve had my whole life last night, way better then a cement slab. It was pretty nice, caught up on some sleep since I’ve been homeless the last few years, never really found a home when I first stopped hitchhiking and left the gutter streets of SF. Some good things that have been going on is chasing tail, I’ve been locked up for awhile sharing a room with 6 people so I couldn’t even get a bloody wank in if I tried. I’m out for blood.
After interviewing Haymes and Nevins, it started to occur to me that I couldn’t completely ride for this book. Not because I thought Nevins’ role in the book wasn’t consensual—quite to the contrary, Nevins’ e-mail seemed to display a lot of affection for Haymes and for the photographs—but I just wasn’t sure how comfortable I felt being complicit in the fetishization of his demise. Artists like Van Sant have always found romance in sadness. Since My Own Private Idaho, one of actor River Phoenix’s last roles before dying of a drug overdose, he’s focused on the doomed lives of young men, forging a cinematic punk romance out of life in the gutter, that, in Phoenix’s case, came true, and that has countless moments in fashion, art, literature and music since. It’s the theme he continued with Nevins in Paranoid Park, the theme that made him a star. But what happens when life imitates art? By writing about this book myself, am I just perpetuating a media obsession that I don’t really support, that I don’t really believe does justice to the actual cost of a tough life?
Nevins assured me by e-mail that he loves Haymes’ photographs and was comfortable with them being published out in the world, and I decided that I have no reason not to believe him. “Nick is the father I never had….” he said in the e-mail. “All I’d like to say is I hope this book gets me somewhere I havent visited or places in my head I haven’t been.” And in a long interview, which we did decide to publish, Haymes seemed sweetly paternal, worrying about him like a dad and hoping for good things to come to Gabe’s life. Click through to read the full Q&A.