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Jesse Bradford plays a college swimming champ seduced in the pool by a female predator; but shooting that sex scene (his first on screen) was more agony than ecstasy, he tells Andrew L. Urban.

In John Polson’s American directing debut, Swimfan, college swimming champ Ben Cronin (Jesse Bradford) is going steady and serious with his beautiful girlfriend Amy Miller (Shiri Appleby). But one day, new girl Madison Bell (Erika Christensen) seduces him in the pool – and begins an obsessive, one-way relationship that leads to … a short, sharp thriller.

Bradford, on a promotional tour in Sydney, chews his gum, leans back in his armchair and recalls that scene; “We had two weeks at the swimming pool, and that whole time, I remember the agony of getting soaking wet, then drying off, then getting soaking wet again, then drying off…it’s the drying off part that made it difficult.” 

The seduction scene was just one of the pool scenes, but the longest (12 hours) and the hardest. “The actual sex part of the sex scene was freaky…weird. It’s not something you can prepare yourself for. It was my first time to portray intercourse on screen . . . It was intense, because I wanted it to seem as real as possible, feel as real as possible and come off as real as possible. But it’s weird because it’s so NOT real, SO not real, yet you do everything you can to make it that way, feel that way, so it just naturally comes off.”

Those whole two weeks swim in a blur in Bradford’s memory: “I was just mopping water off my face all day long.” It’s a good face, dramatised by strong black stubble, strong black eyebrows and a well etched mouth. It’s a young leading man’s face, and Swimfan has already moved Bradford up the short lists at casting sessions. “Since Swimfan, I’ve gone to the top of the short lists. The film opened at Number One in the US, and that’s something nobody can take away from you. It’s stone cold numbers. More people went to see mine than anyone else’s movie that weekend. So f**k you! That’s the best way I can put it.” But he says it with a laugh, taking the sting out of it.

"a pretty decent film"

It gives his agent “some serious ammo . . ." it’s down to Jesse and two other guys? Well, those two other guys haven’t opened a movie yet’…. So it’s done nothing but good stuff. And I frankly think it’s a pretty decent film.”

Bradford takes off his black baseball cap and tussles his thick black hair, adjusts the crotch of his jeans and relaxes into the conversation. It’s a quiet afternoon in a hip new Sydney hotel, and Bradford lounges opposite Urban Cinefile editors Louise Keller and your reporter, never finishing his (long life?) chewing gum. We’re talking his business, and he’s enjoying the trip. At 23, he’s on the cusp, as they say, and he takes it seriously – although at times his maturity gives way to his youthful enthusiasm. But there is no doubting his sincerity when he heaps praise on Swimfan director John Polson. 

“He’s a good filmmaker, I think, regardless of where he’s from. He’s got a mind that works well in terms of telling a story through pictures…and pacing. He knows what’s important to a scene - and the other thing that helped with John is that he’s an actor, so he understands the process of acting, he understands what it takes to help and actor get to the root of a scene . . . and the freedom to experiment with it to make it the most comfortable to you. He’s definitely an actor’s director.”

It is not surprising that right after Swimfan was completed, Bradford was offered a role “that reminded me so much of Swimfan I just couldn’t do it. It’s got a half way decent, extremely beautiful actress in it, they wanted to pay me a shitload, and I was going ‘yeah, cool!’ – and then I read the script and whoa! Same kind of thing…he gets into trouble with a girl, the whole town turns against him, he’s got to take matters into his own hands and prove his innocence….not the same plot, but the exact same arc.”

One of his agents thought Bradford was crazy to refuse the role, the other agreed with him. In the end both agreed with him. “It was a period of turmoil between people on my team,” he says with the sort of matter of factness that comes from living inside the industry, where this is the norm for a 23 year old actor on the road to success.

And that’s important to Bradford. Success is what drives him. “Not so much fame, but that’s part of the package. Doing work that matters to me, that matters to other people and it puts me in the position of …. making a mark. I think that may be petty and selfish but I’m just being honest with myself.”

But that drive for success doesn’t necessarily mean 100 per cent confidence in one’s talent. “But yeah…I feel more or less confident…although I’ve had moments of doubt, I think we all have. Right now, I’m exiting out of a period of doubt and entering into a period of immense self confidence,” he says with a quick laugh. “Hopefully that’ll turn out for me instead of turning me into a giant asshole.”

Self exploration seems to be the current theme for Bradford, who has just come out of a two and half year relationship “that was intense to say the least. From both sides. We had an intense love…good intense on the whole, but enough problems that it couldn’t work.”

"Is he easy to have a relationship with?"

Is he easy to have a relationship with? Bradford puts the cap back on to contemplate the question. “I’m not sure anymore…I used to think I was [we all laugh] but I don’t know how much of us not working is my fault, how much hers. I have my opinions on the matter but it got bad enough that I can’t just blame her. You learn things about yourself…you know, I’m 23 I don’t know shit about myself yet, frankly. 

“I know this, though: since getting out of the relationship I haven’t fought with anybody. I don’t fight with people. I’m easy going and prefer compromise, but with her we’d fight all the time. So the fact that I don’t fight with other people makes me think there’s a chance for me not to be too f**ked up and that I can have a decent relationship.”

Published October 10, 2002

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Jesse Bradford



... in Swimfan

... in Clockstoppers

... in Bring It On

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