You know that quote by sportswriter R. Gordon Beard about how Baltimoreans don’t name candy bars after their sports stars, but often name their kids after Brooks Robinson? I know that’s true, because I did exactly the same. But lifelong Orioles fan Johnathon Schaech went one step further.
“I named my son Camden, after Camden Yards,” explained Schaech, a Baltimore County native and actor you might know as the “DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow” vengeful Civil War bounty hunter Jonah Hex, a hot drifter in “The Doom Generation,” or Gwyneth Paltrow’s clueless paramour in “Hush.” But you probably remember him best as the improbably handsome and impossibly arrogant musical dreamboat Jimmy in Tom Hanks’ delightful “That Thing You Do!”
“I’ve been traveling the world making movies for over 30 years, and the one consistent thing is the Orioles,” Schaech said by Zoom last week. “They’re good now! My son’s name is Camden for a reason.” He’s such a big fan that his black-and orange-gear has appeared onscreen without him. Ageless actor Paul Rudd, a Kansas City Royals fan, “stole my Orioles hat” and wore it in a scene about fantasy baseball in Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up.” That’s hardcore.
The two of us bonded on Twitter several years ago over our shared O’s-centric child naming and Baltimore connections. I am also a “That Thing You Do!” superfan to a degree that would embarrass any normal person. I actually used a quote from it on the dedication page of my memoir. That he found that charming — he even gave me a blurb for the book — is why we’re friends.
The Edgewood High School class of ‘87 graduate and son of a retired Baltimore City police officer is as busy as ever with two new projects: “Blue Ridge,” a TV movie he starred in for cable’s INSP network that did so well it inspired a full series he’ll be seen in later this year, and the erotic thriller “Suitable Flesh,” based on a H.P. Lovecraft story and co-starring Heather Graham, which premiered earlier this month at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.
It’s sort of ironic that Schaech’s current career upswing has come after he — much like his “Blue Ridge” character, Green Beret-turned-small-town-sheriff Justin Wise — left California and moved to the South. “I just wanted to be taken by a higher consciousness. I wanted to be more present for my family, for my little ones, and to let God take me wherever he was going to take me,” said Schaech, who now lives in Nashville.
Being away from Hollywood has also allowed Schaech to reflect on his decision to share claims that he was sexually abused by acclaimed director Franco Zeffirelli on the set of the 1994 Italian film “Sparrow.” The incident “sent me into a shame spiral” and cast a pall over his career and his enjoyment of it, “every audition, every performance. I didn’t like myself, and it got worse and worse.”
In 2018, Schaech wrote a moving piece in People magazine about his experience, which the director’s family denied. “I remember my therapist saying, ‘If you do this, you may never act again. That’s something you should really think about,’ ” he said. “But I made the decision. ‘I can’t live like this anymore.’ I thought I could help other people from falling into that spiral, and that if I did it, I would be OK.”
And he has. “After I finished shooting ‘Suitable Flesh,’ I was driving up from Mississippi and thought, ‘Oh my God, I had so much fun!’ ” he said. “I really enjoyed my co-stars. There were no icky feelings, no shame afterwards. I know that it [the alleged assault] wasn’t my fault, and that’s it. I’m so grateful to get to that place and not keep it a secret.”
Although Schaech is engaged in his current work and family — he and wife, Julie, have two children ― he still has love for “That Thing You Do!,” a genuinely sweet movie about The Wonders, a fictional 1960s band from Erie, Pennsylvania, who have a brief, improbable run to (almost) the top of the charts. It wasn’t an initial box-office hit, but decades later, it’s a genuine cult classic. I’ve always been Team Wonders: I saw it on opening night in 1996 at York, Pennsylvania’s West Manchester Mall and went back the next weekend to buy the soundtrack.
The sheer joy of the film, Schaech says, is all due to his director and co-star, who plays the mysterious manager Mr. White: “That movie is Tom Hanks. We should all aspire to be Tom Hanks.”
His character, lead singer Jimmy, was presumably the villain, a vainglorious artiste and bad boyfriend who, nonetheless, was protective of his music as a businessman and actually showed up to performances. “Jimmy was such a jerk, but he did have some chutzpah,” Schaech said. “He was the only one who had some focus.”
Schaech thinks audiences connected to the film’s parallels to their own nearly realized dreams. “It’s their lives, what they want to do. You have one hit and you can’t continue. The band falls apart,” he said. “But we want to be able to have that one hit.”