'Other guys' in celebrity bands like Billy Bob's face double-edged sword
by Nick Patch
TORONTO - They were the forgotten victims of Billy Bob Thornton's recent tantrum on CBC: his Boxmasters bandmates, standing sheepishly in the background before being forced to perform without their petulant lead singer.
For the "other guys" in celebrity-led bands, it can be a double-edged sword having a star in the group.
Rob Mailhouse played drums with Canadian Keanu Reeves in their now defunct alt-rock band Dogstar. Mailhouse had been toiling away as an independent musician for years and a career in music had long been his dream.
He met Reeves at a California grocery store, when Reeves - a diehard hockey fan - approached him because Mailhouse was wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey.
At that time, Reeves wasn't particularly famous.
"He wasn't a huge international film star," Mailhouse said over the telephone from his Los Angeles home. "He was just 'Bill & Ted.' I had no idea what he would become. I mean, he was super talented, we knew he would get work, but you just don't know what it's going to happen to your friends."
Reeves and Mailhouse, who is also a working actor with roles in "Days of Our Lives," "Seinfeld" and "Sports Night" under his belt, jammed for years together before officially forming Dogstar.
Reeves' star began to rise just as the band found its footing, and Mailhouse says that Reeves' fame invited criticism.
"We didn't get much of a chance to sort of grow and fail on our own without being scrutinized because of the attention we got from him," he said. "So it was a double-edged sword, on the one hand it was good, but in the beginning it was kind of rough."
Thornton put in a memorable appearance on "Q" earlier this month, when the star was intentionally obtuse and antagonistic in an interview with CBC host Jian Ghomeshi.
Thornton, who came on the show to promote his band, the Boxmasters, took issue with Ghomeshi's introduction to the interview, which included references to the star's career as a Hollywood actor, director and screenwriter.
Mailhouse says he was just as puzzled - and entertained - by Thornton's behaviour as everyone else who made the clip a viral sensation.
"Maybe in respect for the other guys in the band, maybe he felt embarrassed that they would bring that up," he said. "But look, you answer a couple questions and you move on.
"That happened to us many times. And Keanu, I don't remember how he reacted - but I definitely don't remember him reacting quite like that."
Few celebrities have.
It's routine for stars to want to focus on the project they're currently promoting. But it's rare for anyone to be quite so sensitive to the very mention of their acting career.
Earlier this month, Kevin Costner promoted his band, the Modern West, in an interview with the Sacramento Bee where the "Dances With Wolves" star also held court for a number of questions on his film career.
Kevin Bacon, meanwhile, pointed out the obvious in an interview promoting his group, the Bacon Brothers - he said he knew much of the attention the band gets comes because of his star status.
"We knew there would be a certain amount of eye-rolling going on," Bacon told the New York Times. "It was inevitable. But the fact was we always played together. And we figured, look at the upside, people will come to the show because of the celebrity aspect, and then they'll hear great music and we've made a new fan."
Thornton later told late-night host Jimmy Kimmel that he was upset because Ghomeshi had been instructed not to talk about his film career.
Mailhouse said that they used to make similar requests when doing press for Dogstar.
"We'd go: 'Hey, can you not mention "Speed" because we really want to focus on the band today?"' he recalled. "Because we didn't want the whole interview to be about that.
"But then you get there and it's like: 'Holy crap, it's Keanu Reeves, and we're gonna ask him about "The Matrix."'
"It's like the 800-pound gorilla in the room."
Mailhouse is currently working on a mockumentary about a fictional '70s Swedish metal band called Sparhusen with Illeana Douglas, and featuring a cameo from his old friend, Reeves.
Though Mailhouse is far from a household name, he's a gregarious sort who enthusiastically answers questions about both his acting and music careers. It follows, then, that he can't relate to Thornton's outburst.
"I can't figure out why he would get so upset about that," he said. "Keanu never got too flustered about it.
"I mean, for Christ's sake, we're not curing cancer, it's just art."