By Nicholas White
Christopher Atkins first made women swoon in 1980’s The Blue Lagoon, opposite Brooke Shields. His curly blonde mane and sun-kissed chest were the stuff of teen dreams … that is, in the year Ronald Reagan was first elected to office. Now 47, with two college-aged children, Atkins has a lifetime of grizzled stories in the wake of his early brush with stardom.
Starring in VH-1’s Confessions of a Teen Idol (a fame-rehab concept produced by Scott Baio and The Wonder Years’ Jason Hervey), Atkins is back in the national spotlight (somewhat). In the show, he goes through counseling and faces some of his personal demons. These days, he works part-time as a pool builder and makes independent movies – Confessions of a Teen Idol is his first reality TV show. Atkins is aiming for a Mickey Rourke-like return of a yesteryear star in a high-profile movie. Tops at the costar wish list? George Clooney and Meryl Streep.
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Atkins, who spoke with Fancast, reveals he was once so broke he had to collect cans to feed his family. And he may even have a piece of advice for Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan …
Q: How has it been going since we saw last you? You’re doing independent movies and building pools?
CA: Well, the little movies are always fun. For whatever reason, I’ve been lucky enough to always keep doing movies. I love to travel. I love seeing crazy corners of the world. Some of those movies you wouldn’t want your dog to watch. But they were fun for me, because I just do my job. Crazy places like Belarus. With the pool building, the person who owns the company is a really good friend of mine. We just work together and have a blast. She’s the female version of me, or I’m the male version of her. We’re like brother and sister. People don’t understand our relationship. We screw around constantly with each other, picking at each other. She’s probably one of the most talented human beings I’ve ever met. Her name is Debbie Ruff, and the company name is Tropical-Environments.com. When I got into it, I thought how cool is this: the Blue Lagoon guy building lagoons? I’m an outdoors guy. I love working with my hands, getting dirty. I have no problem banging nails. It is probably one of the most invigorating things. It’s incredibly creative and artistic, great exercise. I don’t think I’d ever give that up. I had a blast doing [the little movies], but it gave me more time to be a dad. And that was what I wanted to do.
Q: How do you feel about TV vs. features? Were you hesitant to do reality TV?
CA: After Blue Lagoon in the early 80s, I did Dallas. And, it was a huge deal! I didn’t know, I was 18, 19, 20 years ago, brand new in the business. I always wanted to go into sports medicine. I always wanted to play pro baseball. Here they were, making a huge deal about it. I remember my manager getting reamed because I was a movie star, and movie stars didn’t do television back then. Now it crosses the line all the time. What’s interesting, over the years, I’ve never really done a lot of television. I don’t know why that is. I’ve done a couple TV movies and Dallas. The reality show stuff was probably the last thing I would have thought of doing. Actually, I really didn’t want to do the show, but they really pursued me. I sat and talked about it with Scott Baio and Jason [Hervey], and it sounded interesting, different. I thought if I was going to stick it back out there, different is good. It’s that time in my life where my two kids are graduating from college. It’s sort of my time again. The timing was perfect.
Q: Were you a fan of reality TV before doing this and specifically the VH-1 shows?
CA: To me, they’re freaking stupid as all hell. I’m going to be honest. But they’re intriguing. You can’t help but watch some of them. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, are you kidding.’ Reality shows are going to evolve, that’s my feeling. I never watch TV. I’m a Discovery Channel, National Geographic kind of guy. But my daughter loves those shows. We’re sitting there watching The Girls Next Door.
Q: Did you think they were exploitative?
CA: Well, I think they’re definitely exploitative. I think that’s what everybody’s fear is. An entire generation has evolved into reality shows. It’s girls gone wild. And they love it. Exploitative has taken on a new terminology with today’s stars. I believe audiences are more attuned to humility, and people sticking it on their sleeves. Back in my day, when it was all starting, they were digging through anything they could to get dirt. Now, people are just saying it right out there. I think it’s intriguing. People get used to that kind of thing. They love it instead of judge it. That’s where I think reality comes from.
Q: What were the most exciting and gratifying things about Confessions of a Teen Idol?
CA: I think probably meeting all these different guys. At the end of the day, what made the show so different is it’s a bunch of guys who at one point in their life had tremendous amounts of fame. People knew them everywhere. In that respect, we shared that common bond. That was a lot more interesting than I thought it was going to be. There were no egos. Everybody was a really cool guy. They were really happy with their lives, and were satisfied with who they had become. Here we are presenting that, humility, to our fans, to audiences who had never really understood the inside track of what goes on. I just love to hear how the business affected us, our futures in the business. In fact, VH-1 was really pissed off that there wasn’t any drama. We were all saying, ‘Hey man, we’re a band of brothers.’ The difference: we’ve been around the block. We’re not 20-year-old kids who can’t wait to be on TV and get Punk’d. There was no crazy, off-the-wall Bonaduce-type character who was there. Most of the drama had to do with who we were.
Q: What did you gain from the show’s therapy?
CA: Probably the confidence area, I think more than anything. The whole show has to do with us and how we’re seen, and how we touched people in their lives, and what that represents today. The business comes back, and going into those good movie parts again, you get a little humble. The reason why I don’t have a series is I’m not an alcoholic and don’t need a sex change. You don’t need that. That’s where the confidence level comes in.
Q: How would you describe the effect of fame on you, having it and not having it?
CA: I have no clue what they’re talking about when they say fame addiction. It has to be the stupidest thing I’ve heard in my life. I think it’s just some hook they came up. But fame is interesting. That’s where fame is real. I want to be able to get good parts again. I’d love to get back to offers. That’s my goal. I want to get back to acting. I want to work with the Ben Stillers, have them Punk me out, and work with George Clooneys, get back into film. That’s what I do and have done. That would be fun to me, a second chance. The fame comes is just talk once the ball starts rolling. I don’t want to start the ball rolling again. I’m a vanilla guy. I don’t have any sex tape or alcoholism. If you’re not screwed up on something crazy, it’s weird today. … Working with a George Clooney, or somebody would say, ‘I remember him, let’s give him a movie.’ If I could do something like that, that would be cool, get myself back up on the silver screen again.
Q: Which of today’s young stars handle fame well and which don’t handle it so well?
CA: Well, that’s a good question. I don’t really follow all of the gossip stuff. Dude, I build pools. I don’t really follow the Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohans. Somebody told me, and I didn’t disagree, when High School Musical came out, it seemed people wanted clean and fresh again, instead of the craziness and drugs, wild sort of thing. Generations keep going. I saw the VH-1 thing that Britney did, and I thought that was really cool of her to do that. That’s one of the aspects of a reality show that I think is good. Superstardom is not an easy thing to do.
Q: Being a Studio 54 veteran, would you advise young stars to avoid high-profile clubs?
CA: Dude, I loved it! I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I want to get some more dirt going again! A good club I can go to, come on. My goal this time is I’ll remember them.
Q: What TV shows are your favorites today?
CA: I watch Discovery, History Channel all the time. I’m a freaking little kid, I love Family Guy and Simpsons and South Park, all those stupid cartoons. It’s a fault of mine and maybe I should start doing it again. I’m not a big TV guy. I’ve got a beautiful monster screen TV to watch football games, sports stuff and Lakers, I love doing that. House is one that I like and enjoy a lot.
Q: How did Scott Baio convince you to do Teen Idol, or did he have to?
CA: There was a lot of convincing to do. I kept saying to myself, ‘Why do I want to sit with a bunch of older actors from the 80s and talk about the 80s? Well, that’s a half hour, what’s after that?’ I mean come on, yawn. They seemed to want to make it some ‘fame rehab’ kind of show. I had no clue what that was about. That was like the hook. But what they were pitching to me that had to deal with fame was interesting. There is some really gnarly stuff that goes down.
Q: What’s it like being a dad with college-aged children and single again?
CA: You’ve got to understand what a knucklehead I was. When I was 16, I used to teach sailing back in New York. Every check I got, I put at least $1 away for someday when I had kids. That’s how much I wanted kids. I had my son when I was 24. It was one of those things that I consciously did, so that I could be a dad. I didn’t want to be one of those dads who looked over his shoulder and said, ‘Geez I wish I’d thrown a ball to my son, I wish I read a book to my daughter every night before she went to bed.’ I didn’t want to miss a minute. They were my two little kids. They’re like my buddies. They’re still with me. My daughter lives with me. My son is going back to college and he’s hoping to get drafted pro this year. I’m rooting for him. My job as a dad was to help my kids achieve their dreams. There comes a point in time when as they’re going along, they’re going to have to do it on their own. My son, next year is his big draft year, and then he’s out of college. He’s got a degree. He’s on his own and can do whatever he wants. I kind of gave up the business a bit to be more of a dad. I think it was part of the downfall for my marriage because I wasn’t making enough money. We struggled a lot of times. There were some really hard times I fell on where a businessman stole all my money. There were really tough times. Literally, at one time, I was collecting cans. I was piss-ass poor. It’s not easy. People think the business is glamorous and we’re filthy rich. I’m rich as a father. I’m not rich financially. Someday it will happen again, and I’m not too worried about that.
Q: What goes through your mind when you see Blue Lagoon today?
CA: Oh my God, was I nude! I saw it for the first time in a long time a couple months ago. My daughter had a friend from some school came over. We were talking. I said, ‘Check it out, I haven’t seen it in a while.’ I’m sitting on the couch, and so is my daughter and her friend. This girl is 20 or whatever. I’m watching and remembering all these things. All of a sudden I’m going, ‘Oh my God, am I naked!’ I don’t remember that much. This is really awkward. My daughter’s friend from film school is sitting next to me. Her dad’s friend was naked in front of her onscreen. It’s got to be a little weird.
Q: Watching the show, do you like the way you’re being portrayed? Why/why not?
CA: Scott and Jason let us know that it’s not going to be a bed of roses, but we’re not going to make you idiots because our names are attached to it. We want to see this show succeed, and you guys aren’t idiots. We want to show the world through your guys’ eyes as what fame was like, and how it affects you and the people around you. I think we’re all going to be portrayed fine. They didn’t try to hurt us in any way, but they put us through some things. It’s dramatic and has its moments. It really made us in some respects hate them, and then come alive as the performers we are.
Q: What’s next?
CA: I just finished a picture with Rosanna Arquette called Exodus Falls. I’m starting a film in February, and another possibly in March. I just met on a picture with Meryl Streep, which would be exciting to come back and jump in a scene with Meryl Streep. That sounds kind of fun, but I think I’m too young for that part. We’ll see how the show does, to see if it opens any doors. I’m ready, and it’s time again. That’s one of the thing my daughter said in the beginning. It touched me and impressed me. When I was packing to go on the show, she started crying, sitting on the bed. I had no idea why she started crying. She said, ‘I’m just really excited for you. It’s your turn again.’ I thought it’s really wonderful to see my daughter as who I am as a person, to be excited for somebody else. To see her caring about me really touched me a lot. Then it helped motivate me throughout the show. Call me back in a month.