Don’t Miss a Beat: Jon Prescott
PHOTOS BY JACK SIEGEL
One of the seminal forces of the Beat movement finally gets the film treatment with Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Howl (out today). The story of poet Allen Ginsberg (played by James Franco), the film is a chronicle of the 1957 obscenity trial over over his most famous work, “Howl,” and the years leading up to its publishing. Aside from the always-game Franco, the film features an ensemble of hard working actors with their own devoted followers such as Jon Hamm and Mary-Louise Parker. Joining these heavy weights is Jon Prescott as the enigmatic Neal Cassady. A former host for the Outdoor Network, Howl serves as an opportunity for Prescott to show his full range. He talked to us about road trips and spooning with James Franco.
GILLIAN MOHNEY: Hi, how’s it going?
JON PRESCOTT: It’s going good. I just stepped off the street on 34th street and ducked inside some building to get a little privacy.
MOHNEY: What’s it like playing an icon like Neal Cassady? How did you prepare?
PRESCOTT: I read a lot of books and saw some footage—there’s not much of him. There’s one documentary that you can see footage of Neal, and it’s very brief. But reading Kerouac’s books–and a book his wife wrote in response to Kerouac’s On the Road, the main character in that, Dean Morriarty, was based on Cassady, and his wife wrote a response saying, “My husband was more like this”–was the most helpful.
MOHNEY: Had you read On the Road before?
PRESCOTT: I had read it a long time ago and then I got to reread it. It was a fun ride. It was fun to really directly take the place of the guy in the book. It’s like, “Oh I’m going to be this guy.”
MOHNEY: Did you go on any road trips?
PRESCOTT: Not then, but I’ve been on many before. I grew up on the West Coast and that was kind of my family’s main way of vacationing and traveling. Singing George Michael in the back of the Aerostar.
MOHNEY: Did you find that there was a difference between portraying a historical figure and a fictional character?
PRESCOTT: I guess so. You have a portrait in front of you that you have to do justice to and inhabit it with authenticity. You know, when you’re creating your own role out of fiction, then you have nothing you need to do justice to, and here you’ve got a little of that. But I didn’t let it overtake anything, I just got lost in the research and that helped.
MOHNEY: And how was it playing James Franco’s lover?
PRESCOTT: [James] is an incredibly smart and talented and hardworking guy. We both had fun and adventure going through some of these scenes where it’s like “Hi, nice to meet you, now let’s spoon.”
MOHNEY: I’m sure there was chemistry.
PRESCOTT: Yeah, we made it work.
MOHNEY: You used to host a show on the Outdoor Network, so what’s your favorite outdoor activity?
PRESCOTT: I would say it’s a tie between white water kayaking and snow skiing.
MOHNEY: Do any outdoor skills come in handy in New York?
PRESCOTT: Hmm… in New York? Not really. They came in handy this summer on the river when the raft fell over in a rapid. But in New York I don’t know—I guess there’s an awareness to your environment. When you’re in the wilderness you’re out there in the moment and concentrating on what you need then—”I need to build a fire because I’m freezing and if I don’t it will suck.” Now I need to heat my food. When you’re walking around New York City your hand is always on your phone waiting for it to ring, “Oh my god am I getting this call back.” You’re taken out of the moment. It’s what I like about nature.