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Interview: Beastie Boy Ad-Rock Talks ‘While We’re Young” Working With Noah Baumbach, Spike Jonze & More

Interview: Beastie Boy Ad-Rock Talks ‘While We’re Young" Working With Noah Baumbach, Spike Jonze & More

If your first association with Adam Horovitz is “the guy from the Beastie Boys,” then you’ve got something in common with Adam Horovitz. A few years past the disbanding of the iconic rap rock group, Horovitz still identifies himself as such. Even as he amounts acting gigs — like a major role in Noah Baumbach’s latest comedy about aging, art and losing one’s edge, “While We’re Young as a 40-something father who’s the opposite of cool — Horovitz is proud to stick to this label of a Beastie Boy (read our review).

But the real Horovitz isn’t exactly interchangeable from his Ad-Rock stage presence. Speaking to the performer over a plate of muffins and fruits in a dimly lit Manhattan hotel room, we were enchanted by his sweet and self-effacing means of carrying himself. Peppering in no small amount of jokes at his own expense, Horovitz waxed poetic about his work on “While We’re Young,” his history with the band, and a few lesser known projects he’s been working on over the years.

As someone who has not acted in a ton of movies, what does a movie have to bring to the table to catch your interests?
Well, Noah asked me to be in the movie, so I said “yes.” Because I like his movies.

Is there something specific about his past movies that you related to?
Definitely. “The Squid and the Whale.” Growing up in New York as a child of divorced parents. “The Squid and the Whale” was a really good movie. And “Margot at the Wedding” was really painful. I really like his movies. And you know, when someone whose work you like asks you to do it with them, you say “yes.”

Why do you think Noah approached you specifically for this role?
I don’t know. I don’t know why. I feel like an actual actor probably would have been a better choice. But, hey, I’m happy he did. I don’t know why the hell he asked me to do it. Out of all the people he could have asked to be in it, I don’t know. He saw something in me, clearly, and he thought I would be good to do it. I guess I never asked him. “Why me? Why me!”

Well, it’s a movie about youth culture — both of the past and of today. And you’ve been an icon of youth culture for the past few decades. Do you think your outside-of-the-film identity as Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys lends something to the movie? Or do you think it stands in the way when you act?
You know, when I do a movie, I’m so focused… [Laughs] I think, maybe a part of it [is that] me, Mike [Diamond], and the Beastie Boys didn’t follow trends, and just sort of did what we did. I feel like people responded to us because we did what we do, and not what the cool thing was at the moment. And it would have been bad if we did. It would have failed. You know, I’m 48. Maybe Noah just saw [me as a] comfortable 48-year-old. [Laughs] I don’t know, I’m assuming.

Well, speaking of going against the grain…
I mean, I’m not really comfortable being 48. Maybe 41. Or 36. I guess 48 is okay. That’s closer to 50 than to 40. But I’m closer to six feet tall than I am to five feet tall, so there’s that. Something I feel positive about. How old are you?

I’m 27, and I’m closer to five feet tall.
See what I’m saying? Life is a give and take. You know what I mean? You want to get punched in the face or kicked in the nuts? Come on!

Going back to what you were saying about going against the grain, have you noticed any differences of what was demanded of you then as opposed to what it demanded by youth culture today?
It’s all the same. Now you’ve got to be on Facebook, you have to like people. If you unlike somebody, unfriend, whatever the fuck it’s called — you know what I mean — there’s all these rules. But when we were kids, there were all types of rules also. They were just a different format. It’s always the same, just different gadgets.

This is the first movie you’ve done in a while. Is getting back into acting in general something you’re interested in?
Depending on if other filmmakers ask me to be in their films. Then sure! Auditioning would not… I’ve done that before, and I’m really bad at it. That’s why I stopped. I gave up on the notion of doing it.

Was that during the “Lost Angels” era?
You’d think that my acting in “Lost Angels” would have been the reason why I gave up on it. But yeah, I’m just not that good at it. Auditioning is super weird, and I’m bad at it. My best friend is an actual really great actor. I play music, and it’s what I do. And she’s an actor; it’s what she does. You know, she can do other things, but that’s what her main thing is to do. I’m just sort of play-acting. So I’m not very serious about it.

But you have a good time doing it.
Eh, it’s all right. You’ve got to wake up really early.

Talking about music being a big part of your identity — of course that’s a no-brainer — but since the Beastie Boys is no longer in effect, how do you view your identity these days?
I don’t. I guess I should?

You don’t have to get hung up on it.
I don’t know. I guess I’m the guy from the Beastie Boys. I’m one of the guys from the Beastie Boys. I guess that’s what I’ll always identify myself as. You never know. This could be the springboard. I could be huge, you guys! [Laughs] I want that in big letters, in quotes.

I guess I’ll always think of myself [that way]. Today, as you’re asking me, I do feel like I’ll always be “one of the guys from the Beastie Boys,” and that makes me really happy. Because I love that band, I love what we did for so long. You know, if I was to be in other movies and all of that stuff, then maybe I’d be like, “Oh, I was in that band for a little while, but now I’m…” I don’t know. I’m always going to be the guy from the Beastie Boys.

Are you interested in pursuing music as a solo artist?
I can’t sing. So that’s holding me back. But I love playing music, so I’ll do it in some sort of capacity. If I could sing, that would be cool. But I can’t. I mean, I physically can, but I’m awful. It’s weird to be really bad at singing. You know, you hear songs all day, and then you just think that you can do it too. But you’re just bad at it.

I feel like you thinking that you’re bad at things is becoming a theme in this conversation.
Well, I can’t sing, and I’m mediocre as an actor! But in the ’80s I did not take it seriously at all. So, I was pretty checked out. And that’s what I meant. Just seeing how my best friend actually approached her work, it was her work. And I [realized] that’s actually what I did with music. So I was like, “Why am I kidding myself with this, when this is actually what I’m more interested in doing?” Because I’m really good at a lot of things!

Back on the topic of the Beastie Boys, there were rumblings about the “We Can Do It” screenplay that you guys had written with Spike Jonze. And he said the script was surreal and ridiculous. I’d just love to hear your memories of that project.
It’s one of those things where you’re with your friends, and you’re like, “This would be the best if we did this!” And then you don’t ever do it, and sometimes it’s just so much better not to do it. But we would meet — me, Adam [Yauch], Mike, and Spike would meet at Mike’s apartment every day for a little while, and we wrote a script for this crazy movie. And it was really, really funny. And we were going to make it, but then things just sort of fell apart, and I lost interest in actually doing it. Maybe we should put the script out as a thing to read. I hadn’t thought about that.

I think people would really love that.
It’s not a bad idea. Why have I not thought about that? Okay. I have something I’m going to think about in my life!

“While We’re Young” is about the art form of documentary, and you’ve been involved with documentaries in a number of different capacities. You’ve composed music for a few of them. And, of course, you’ve been on the other side of the camera in “The Punk Singer.”
I’ve done a couple of movie scores, and I really like it. I like movie scores in general. When I started collecting records, I got really into them. It’s fun to do. It’s like a different way to make music, and I really like it. So I could see myself doing that.

[Speaking of] documentary, I made a documentary! And I never finished it. Yeah, I started making a documentary. It was, like, three years into it, and we still never finished it… It’s on a hard-drive somewhere.

What was it about?
Me and my friend Carmine [Covelli] and our friend Ryan were making this documentary [“Terror and Delight”] about our friend Ada [Calhoun Sjeldahl]’s dad, this guy Peter Sjeldahl. He’s an art critic for “The New Yorker,” and he has a crazy fireworks show — like the craziest you’ve ever seen — so we were making a documentary about him and his fireworks. And then things kind of fell apart.

But you asked about “The Punk Singer” and being on the other side of the camera… I was just there. I was watching my wife, and her friend filming her. But there’s a whole other side to that, which is very personal. Because she has been battling Lyme disease for years and it has been really hard to go through.

Well, on top of acting, you’ve spoken about composing for film, you’ve written a script, and you began shooting a documentary. Are there any areas of film you’re interested in getting into?
I was about to say, “directing.” I always thought that I would do that, but it’s way too much work. It’s a lot of work. That’s what I was doing with this documentary, but I can’t finish it. But you’ve got to talk to people, interact… who wants to do that? You have responsibilities and stuff. I don’t want to do that. But I like making music.

“While We’re Young” hits theaters in limited release this weekend, Friday, March 28th.

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