If you could take a look at the map of your life, your whole life, would you do it?" Stuart Townsend smoothes his fingers over the wobbly cafe table as if tracing the invisible hills and valleys of this future. He looks younger than 29, this affable guy in a baggy T-shirt and a day's worth of stubble. Abruptly he closes his hand over the imaginary map, folding it away next to his half-eaten slice of carrot cake. "I wouldn't," he says, the Irish in his voice more suggestion than an accent. "You never know, something that might seem like a problem a the time could lead you in a whole new direction. Without going through it blindly, you wouldn't have the same challenges." He grins easily, as if life has never leveled him with a sucker punch. "And then, knowing how it all turns out would take the fun out of it, wouldn't it?"
Right now, the main road of this guy's life map looks like one sweet stretch of highway, no potholes, no speed limits. Following a quick road stop in indie land (choice gigs include wooing a pre-Pearl Harbor Kate Beckinsale in the '97 crime caper Shooting Fish and wooing a pre-Almost Famous Kate Hudson in last year's romantic comedy About Adam), Townsend's latest journey has parked him within arm's reach of Hollywood's A-list. This spring he stars in The Queen of the Damned as the vampire Lestat, Anne Rice's hip-swiveling, blood-slurping, undead rock god. He then spins a 180 to play an ordinary hero in this fall's thriller 24 Hours, directed by Luis Mandoki (Message in a Bottle). As a doctor searching for his kidnapped daughter, Townsend swaps lines with Charlize Theron (his current girlfriend), Kevin Bacon, and Courtney Love. Not bad for a small-town Irish kid who saw acting as a shortcut to another, greater passion. "I wanted to travel more than anything," he sheepishly admits. "And this seemed like a good way to do it."
So with a little determination, Townsend got his chance to see the world (favorite destinations include Jordan, Israel, and Australia's Blue Mountains) and along the way became a movie star. It's a tidy fairy tale; too bad it leaves out all the bumps along the way. Two years ago, Townsend landed a starring role in a little movie called The Lord of the Rings. "I was a huge fan of the books," he recalls wistfully. He committed to playing the human lord Aragorn in the entire Rings trilogy, scheduled to shoot back-to-back, and headed off to New Zealand for two months of training. Then, one week before filming began, he was fired. Rumors flew about "actor-director chemistry" (PR speak for "difficult actor") and whether or not the admittedly slight actor was sturdy enough to be a lethal warrior. Viggo Mortensen was ultimately cast in the role.
Townsend somehow found the upside, what there was of it, to this gut-wrenching detour. Lord of the Rings costar Orlando Bloom became a good friend, and he used the gap in his schedule to explore Sydney with Aussie pal Toni Collette. Still, the last-minute dismissal stings, especially for a man whose wide-brown eyes light up talking about pushing himself and doing his best. "Let's just say the filmmakers aren't my favorite people," he says as he sits up straight, as if his spine were still prickling with the insult of it all. "Look, they recast the role with a guy who's 20 years older than I am and a completely different type. It's obvious they wanted something completely different for the role and made a mistake. So to say anything else…" Enough said.
There was no way to guess The Queen of the Damned may not have been the best salve for a fresh wound. "It's the first project I've taken that I haven't felt 100 percent about," he admits. When he signed on, the script wasn't quite there, but the character was. Living out a rock 'n' roll fantasy was too seductive to turn down. "I play guitar badly. I'm not about to join a band," Townsend says. "But to stand in front of 3,000 people and sing and strut around in this entirely safe arena, that's an amazing experience."
The movie should have been a joyful diversion, his chance to wear snakeskin pants and shake his groove-thing. And it was. But then came August 25th. "My agent called me at one in the morning to tell me that Aaliyah had died," he recalls. "I just couldn't believe it. She was such a great person, so smart and talented and real. "Townsend, who lost his mother seven years ago, wants to believe that those gone too soon find something sweeter on the other side. It is a sincere sentiment, not Hollywood lip service. "I've lost a lot of people in my life, so I have to believe that God takes good people like her away for a reason." When he smiles this time, it is bittersweet.
It's getting dark, Townsend still hasn't finished his carrot cake, and Theron is calling to tell him she's picked him up a present. "It's too big to fit in the car," he laughs, putting away his cell phone. "I wonder what that could be?" He's not likely to peek. He likes surprises, even if he doesn't get what he wants every time. But maybe this year, he'll finally get all the good things he deserves.
Thanks to Garnet for the pics that ran alongside this article !
Thanks to Rose for sending this information in !