Rising Star [Evening Standard UK]

by James Mottram. January 1999.

Actor Sean Gullette reveals that his worst memory of making his new film Pi (the mathematical number, pronounced 'pie') was when he had to smash up a cow brain at three in the morning - and it turned out to be putrid. 'I just stood there, 15 feet away, in abject terror, shouting, "You guys are all amateurs! Why didn't you keep it in the icebox!" '

In the ultra-low-budget black-and-white Pi, which was the US arthouse hit of the year, he plays a paranoid mathematician who thinks he's discovered a code that will crack open Wall Street. Gullette - who resembles Richard E. Grant at his most crazed - calls it 'a digital Faust story'. He found filming it an intense experience. 'My girlfriend was shooting a film at the time as well,' he laughs sardonically. 'It was a terrible time in our relationship.' He committed nine months to developing the project with the director, his long-time friend Darren Aronofsky. 'One of the things about the director being a friend is that he knows what buttons to press.'

Raised in Boston (and named after Sean O'Casey by his college-professor father), 29-year-old Gullette met Aronofsky while studying literature at Harvard - and instantly recognised a kindred spirit. 'I was surrounded by all these lock-jaws. Prince Charles types. Darren was walking round with a shaved head and leather jacket, carrying William Burroughs books. I was like, "Yeah, we could be friends." '

After appearing in Aronofsky's graduation film, Supermarket Sweep, and doing a stint as a cab driver, Gullette launched a magazine, KGB ('critical theory meets pop culture'), which lasted nine issues. Then he returned to acting, despite a complete lack of formal training, when Aronofsky flew in from LA to recruit him for ?.

Gullette calls himself 'a regular working New York-based actor', which means he's still supplementing his income with his other long-standing day job as a graphic designer (he did Pi's web page). And, much to his agent's horror, he deliberately took another backwards career step by filming a short with Deborah Harry called Joe's Day. 'I'm a little bit of a wild card from a casting point of view,' he laughs.

Further parts await in Aronofsky's two forthcoming films, a Second World War submarine horror drama called Proteus and an adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr's novel, Requiem For A Dream. But Gullette may have to write his next role himself: 'What I'm looking for in my heart of hearts is the next Pi, the next immersive experience, where I can take two years and forget about my life.'