Strong and quietly determined, as well as being “sexy, fun and athletic,” as Lords of Dogtown director Catherine Hardwicke describes the role, finding the right kid to play the young Stacy Peralta wasn’t easy. That all changed, however, when 20-year-old John Robinson came on the scene. For the native Oregonian, who said he “hit the jackpot” with his breakout role working alongside famed director Gus Van Sant in Elephant, skateboarding was part of his youth and stepping into Peralta’s life was easier than expected. Looking much more 1970 than 2005–wearing a T-shirt, plaid pants and skater shoes–Robinson tells Hollywood.com about the pressures of playing a skateboarding legend and those that come along with young fame.
So did you feel like you were living every young boy’s skateboarding dream in Lords of Dogtown?
Robinson: “I’m from Portland, Oregon so I grew up snowboarding and I grew up on a lake so I wake-boarded a lot. I was definitely into the board sport world. And I saw the documentary [Dogtown and Z-Boys] and was obsessed with it. It changed a lot of kids perspectives. It was such a youthful story of these kids taking something of their passion and being the pioneers of something was such a profound story. When I got the opportunity to audition [for Lords of Dogtown], they immediately sent me to Tony [Alva] to see if I could skate. Just meeting him and kind of being around that was so surreal. I got the part and the next week they moved me down here and I started training for three months. It’s just kind of surreal how it happened.”
As Peralta, you also had to don some pretty long, bleached blonde locks. Was that your real hair?
Robinson: “My hair was pretty long, but I had extensions down to here. So it was mostly extensions which was difficult because I spent three hours a day in the hair trailer putting more extensions in because they’d fall out and you’re skateboarding and sweating everywhere and there’s so much hair everywhere. It’s definitely a huge hair movie.”
Did you feel any pressure working with the real Stacy Peralta?
Robinson: “He didn’t want to be like that; he didn’t want to be like ‘Mr. Critical’, which was really nice, obviously. I met with him and basically just in talking with him and through him showing me different moves and stuff like that, it made it a lot easier for me. I think the difficulty was the action. I mean, this was such an action movie and I felt like I had to be able to at least look like I could skate. Luckily we had three months of training with all those guys and they broke down every move for us and we were surrounded with every material, every opportunity to understand the world. Skateboarding is such a physical language that you can’t really fake. If you don’t know how to hold a board, you’re going to look phony. That’s was the biggest pressure for me was to have that respect and to look up to that.”
How difficult was it getting into this character?
Robinson: “With Stacy, it was interesting because you know he was within all this chaos, all these different lives that were so broken and so much anger and so much frustration and their skating came out of that, their different styles came out of that. Stacy had this more fluid style. You meet him, he’s just such a nice guy. Tony’s an awesome guy too, but back then, he was a real aggressive kid and they were in such a different place. Stacy was so sensitive [and] at the same time so competitive when it came to his skating. So for me having that element of being able to be competitive wasn’t a problem. I’m very competitive. I thought if I could skate first, acting would come second. I could say my lines and then go do what I was saying. You don’t have to fake it, you’re not really acting.”
Were you surprised by the different lives Tony, Stacy and Jay led?
Robinson: “Yeah. I mean, definitely. They were such pioneers with like this rock star attitude of the extreme sports world. So it was interesting especially since we lived these rock star lives. We had all these guys who were training us every day, all the skateboarding community was on the set every day. It was just crazy opportunity to see that whole world and the competitions that we had in the film, like Long Beach, it was just crazy and so much fun. I felt like I lived all those moments in the movie.”
Did you train on the original 1970s skateboards?
Robinson: “We had to train on the original boards, which was incredibly difficult because the difference between these primitive boards and today’s boards are so different, you know? We’d have this flat piece of wood with real narrow trucks. I mean, you can’t do a fraction of what you can do on the new boards. So we were training on the original boards learning how to do the original moves. So we didn’t necessarily have these luxurious boards that Tony Alva was skating around on.”
Are you still a big fan of skateboarding?
Robinson: “Yeah, definitely. Six months of my life training so intensely to skate and surf every day that I couldn’t not, like, be obsessed with it. Now I come down here [to L.A.] and go surfing. I actually surf in Oregon a lot, so it’s pretty cool to have that as actor. You get to learn all these different tools.”
How did your on-screen relationship with Emile Hirsch and Victor Rasuk compare to your off-screen one?
Robinson: “[Tony, Stacy and Jay] really looked at life completely different and that played into everything that they did, whether it was skating or with their friendships. And for the three of us, we had such a close relationship off screen, that it was so easy to have that on screen. You know, obviously we had some pressure having the real guys there and we really respected them in so many different ways and we wanted to live up to what they were doing. But it was great to have a basis of the real guys standing there and all our questions being answered. It made it easier for us to do that.”