Wednesday, January 16, 2008
From the Arts section of the NYTimes
By MATT ZOLLER SEITZ
Published: January 16, 2008
Brad Renfro, the former child star who played a witness to a mob lawyer’s suicide in the 1994 legal thriller “The Client” and a suburban youth tutored in evil by an elderly Nazi war criminal in the 1998 film “Apt Pupil,” was found dead Tuesday morning in his Los Angeles home. He was 25.
Mr. Renfro’s girlfriend discovered his body, and the Los Angeles Police Department did not suspect foul play, The Los Angeles Times reported.
In recent years, Mr. Renfro was known as much for his legal troubles as for his acting career. He was charged with marijuana and cocaine possession in 1998, avoiding jail because of a plea bargain, according to The Associated Press. Mr. Renfro was an admitted heroin and methadone user who was photographed being arrested by Los Angeles police officers during a Christmas 2005 sweep of that city’s Skid Row. He was sentenced to three years’ probation for attempted possession of heroin and entered a drug rehabilitation program.
His career was short, but busy and varied. He was plucked from obscurity to play a frightened but resilient witness opposite Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones in “The Client,” an adaptation of a John Grisham best seller.
In a 1994 profile of Mr. Renfro in The New York Times, Joel Schumacher, director of “The Client,” said he was looking for “a tough and savvy survivor, a kid with an authentic Southern accent, a kid from a trailer park, like the character in the movie.”
He found Mr. Renfro, then all of 10, through the Knoxville Police Department. He had a reputation as a troublemaker and had recently played a drug dealer in a school production of an antidrug play. The film’s casting director, Mali Finn, said she intended to let Mr. Renfro audition for 10 to 15 minutes, but ended up letting the tape run for an hour. Mr. Schumacher told The Times that when he viewed the tape, “I was struck by the maturity and sadness of his eyes,” adding: “I couldn’t believe a 10-year-old that good-looking and smart who had a difficult life could actually act on the screen. It was too good to believe.”
Over the next decade Mr. Renfro carved out a niche playing inarticulate, vulnerable, alienated youths in everything from glossy Hollywood blockbusters to hardscrabble independent dramas. His acting was naturalistic and emotionally transparent; he played humiliation and frustration with disarming and sometimes upsetting frankness.
As Todd Bowden, the title character of “Apt Pupil,” a Stephen King adaptation by the filmmaker Bryan Singer, Mr. Renfro answered the spidery malevolence of his co-star Ian McKellen with a roiling, implosive blankness. Janet Maslin wrote in The Times that Mr. Renfro “put a diabolically wholesome face on Todd’s budding viciousness.”
In the 2001 Larry Clark drama “Bully,” about bored, amoral teenagers drawn into a murder conspiracy, Mr. Renfro was affecting as Marty Puccio, a sexually confused surfer seeking revenge against the title character (Nick Stahl), his peer group’s abusive alpha-male leader.
In the profile published before “The Client,” opened, the 12-year-old actor was asked how appearing in the film would change his life. “I’ll always be Brad Renfro, born on July 25, 1982,” he said. “Nothing’s going to change that. It won’t be any different.”