A "baptism of flashbulbs." That's what he calls it. In the summer of 1991, a quiet, relatively unknown actor named Jason Patric went from obscurity to headlines by falling in love with a much talked-about movie star named Julia Roberts. The relationship was highly chronicled by the paparazzi, who hid in the shrubbery, ambushed them on the streets, and hovered outside restaurants, from the East Coast to the West. The very shy and private Patric was introduced to millions of tabloid readers standing by his woman, his lips closed in anger, his eyes turned down. He was a mystery man, drowning in the light.
Suddenly he has surfaced again, head up this time. The astounding blue eyes he once shielded from the cameras now peer purposefully off billboards and magazine ads as the star of Geronimo: An American Legend, the ambitious Western epic about the capture of the Apache warrior. And once again he appears to have come from nowhere. Although Patric has never starred in a major box office hit, he has top billing over veterans Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, and even Wes Studi, who plays the title role.
All this begs one question. Who the hell is Jason Patric?
Without a doubt, his career is one of the strangest on record. He has been by turns underhyped (in films that were hits with critics but unseen by most moviegoers) and mis-hyped (as the reluctant costar of the Jason-and-Julia show). "He's much better known among the community of actors than he is to the public at large, at least to this point," says Geronimo director Walter Hill (48 HRS.).
Truly distinct in a town so motivated by the bottom line, Patric's clout owes not to proven box office muscle but to his extraordinary work in only seven films, notably the low-budget critical favorites After Dark, My Sweet (1990) and Rush (1991). In a world of yes-men, he is known for saying no. He recently turned away Paramount's blue-collar drama Dexterity, and he sat still for a year after Rush, saying no to Tom Cruise's role in The Firm. "I have a reputation in town for not wanting to work," he says quietly, "and that's not the case. It's just that I really, you know, didn't find anything of interest."
Now, with the release of Geronimo, Patric once again finds himself in one of the most awkward spots in our pop-cultural mosaic. For while most audiences know him only as a photo in a tabloid, he is also with only marginal room for argument Hollywood's best actor under 30.
Sitting tall on a bourbon-coated horse called Whiskey, Jason Patric has paused for just a moment on a craggy rim of Hasley Canyon, less than an hour's drive north of Los Angeles. He looks over the brown, scrubby landscape, its edges charred by a recent brushfire. The hills roll quietly among a sparse population of ranch homes sprawling under red tile roofs, and the wind hollersabove his silence. His eyes match the sky.