If you are a child of the 80s, chances are you probably recognize Corin Nemec from one of his many acting roles, but most certainly from his iconic portrayal of Parker Lewis in Fox’s hit TV comedy ‘Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.’ Nemec began acting at 12-years-old, playing the son of Jeff Bridges in Francis Ford Coppola’s film, ‘Tucker: The Man and His Dream.’ He would go on to star as the title character in the critically-acclaimed miniseries, ‘I Know My First Name is Steven,’ which landed him an Emmy Nomination. From that point on he would further solidify his place in pop culture history, working closely with Stephen King on the biggest mini-series in TV history, ‘The Stand’ and co-starring in the internationally acclaimed sci-fi show, ‘Stargate.’ He also co-created, executive produced, co-wrote, directed, and starred in the cultish TV series ‘Starving’ for SONY TV. However, what you may not know about the multi-faceted actor is that he’s secretly lived a double life! That’s right! In addition to his stellar acting work, Corin Nemec has spent years moving in the shadows as a journalistic style photographer and legendary graffiti artist!
As a kid growing up in North Hollywood, Corin was deeply rooted in the graffiti art scene along with fellow actors David Arquette, Balthazar Getty and musicians Seth Binzer, Justin Warfield, and Mickey Avalon. Corin’s photographs would later be used for Mickey Avalon’s debut album and released as a coffee table book titled Pimp’s Paradise. Corin always wanted to write an autobiography about his life growing up as a graffiti artist in North Hollywood, California during the height of the LA gang wars. Truth can be stranger than fiction, and Corin feared his truth might be a little too strange to be believable. Corin caught his first tag on a wall when he was eleven years old and never looked back, and his passion for graffiti got him arrested and even written up in the San Fernando Valley edition of the LA Times for the unknown acts of vandalism. By fifteen, Corin found himself involved in a notorious LA street gang which would lead to a paralyzing series of events, including numerous shootouts and violent brawls with opposing gangs. Corin’s car was shot up, windows of his family home bashed in, and his family terrorized. Violence was around every corner and acting was the only thing keeping Corin from losing himself to the dark streets of Los Angeles.
Fast forward to 2018, where Corin Nemec has focused his creative vision of merging both of his worlds with his captivating first novel ‘Venice High.’ After years of consideration, Corin made the decision to write a fictional account of his life.
‘Venice High’ tells the story of Den, a teenage graffiti artist living in Venice Beach, California who lives a deeply troubled life while being an incredibly gifted graffiti artist. Den escapes his problems by painting the Venice Beach graffiti walls where he meets Maple, the most beautiful girl in the world. She’s from ritzy Bel Air and battling her own inner demons, proving that people can face identical struggles even if their lives are wildly opposing. ‘Venice High’ illustrates how death, danger, romance, and tragedy exist together in the mysterious subculture of an ever-expanding graffiti art scene. Touching on gang-life, street-codes, embattled friendships, poverty and wealth, this journey is a keyhole not just into the fictional world of his lead character Den, but also into the hidden and mysterious history of Corin Nemec.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Corin Nemec to discuss his passion for creation, his journey as an artist (both on-screen and on the walls of cities around the globe), his creative evolution and the lessons learned along the way.
You’ve become a familiar face through the years with your roles on film and television. In 2018, you are adding “author” to your list of credits with your new book, ‘Venice High.’ Let’s go back to the start. How did you get involved with the arts early on in life?
I was raised by parents who were artists. My mom was a graphic artist in the music and theater business throughout the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s. She worked for a huge promotional company called Standing Room Only in Atlanta. She did a lot of gig posters for rock bands. She ended up working for the Nederlanders’ at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta, doing poster design for plays and such. She then transferred to the Pantages Theatre graphic design department in Hollywood, as the Nederlanders’ own that as well. I ended up moving to Los Angeles with my mom and my sister in the early mid-80s. My dad was already living in LA at the time. He had moved to Los Angeles as an architect out of Arkansas and become a partner in a firm in Los Angeles. When they dissolved the firm in the early 80s, he ended up seeking out employment as a stage designer in film and television. He was extremely good at it and his work was well received by the industry. He went on to become an art director on movies like ‘The Goonies’ for instance. He became a production designer after that doing ‘Terminator 2,’ ‘Twister,’ ‘The Shadow,’ ‘The Saint,’ ‘Ironclad’, and a host of other films. So, I was destined to get into the world of arts and entertainment.
I grew up drawing and writing my whole life. Fortunately, I was raised in a generation without the technology we have today. I would not be the type of artist I am today had things been different, I’m sure. [laughs] My mom didn’t make a lot of money doing what she did and there wasn’t a lot to do. She would work several nights a week bartending on the side to make that extra money because she was taking care of 2 kids and whatnot. My sister and I had quite a bit of time on our hands and I was extremely mischievous! I was really into the hip hop and rap scene when I was really young, and I was breakdancing at 8 or 9 years old. I started being interested in the art form that came along with hip hop culture, which was graffiti art. When I was about 11 years old, I started drawing my own. I was in a breakdancing crew and my name was Kid Cruz. I would draw my name in bubble letters, arrow letters, and stupid shit like that! [laughs] Eventually, when I moved from Atlanta to LA, I met some proper graffiti artists in a graphic arts class I was taking in 8th grade. They showed me what the next level was! I really gravitated toward it very organically. Like I said, I was already pretty mischievous! I was adventurous as well. When I lived in Atlanta, my friends and I were always off playing in the woods, chasing cows in cow pastures, snake hunting, jumping off cliffs into quarries and things like that! It was real ‘Stand By Me’ type shit! [laughs] When I started getting into the graffiti scene in LA, it wasn’t the type of forest I was used to, but a concrete jungle! The idea of going out on the adventure was a really big part of my life. The idea of graffiti art and the idea of it being something you take on the road with you was really inspiring. You would hear about a graffiti yard from another artist that was way out in Pacoima, down a train track and on the back side of an abandoned factory. You’d also hear stuff like, “Watch out for Pacoima Flat! They hang out around there and they will jump you for your paint!” Then you would set off on your adventure with a couple of homies to cruise out to some area you knew nothing about and have never been to! You’d follow the directions or meet up with someone who’s been there and ultimately you find this place that’s become associated with graffiti art and there is all kinds of amazing artwork there for all kinds of different artists. A lot of times, you would even meet other artists when you would go to those places. It’s bizarre!
At the same time, I was an actor as well. I had a foot in both of these worlds, very much so. My whole social life and normal life that I lived, outside of being an actor and all that comes with, was spent hanging out with graffiti artists, gangbangers. We would go out, catch tags, paint and do all sorts of crazy shit, ya know? At the same time, I loved acting. As an artist, it was just part of my expression. When I was 15 years old, I got involved with a street gang, in Los Angeles, through associates of mine who I was doing graffiti with. Two of them, who I’d known for a long time, ended up getting into a gang that started in South Central and Hollywood. They ended up getting into it, so I ended up getting into it with them. That changed the whole dynamic of my high school experience! [laughs] It was insane! Absolutely insane! Through all of that madness, I still pursued acting vigilantly. I was disciplined enough to take acting seriously and disciplined enough to always shut up, suit up, and do what I love to do. By the time I got ‘Parker Lewis,’ I knew everything had to change. I knew all the past experience with the activity on the streets, gangs, and all of that had to change. I still hung out with my buddies, but I said, “I’m not doing anything crazy with you guys anymore! This is it! I have a real chance at a legitimate future and a lot could change.” The guys that I was involved with got involved with some really heavy shit that was making news around that time period. I was really, really nervous that my past associations with these guys was going to come out in the media. Fortunately, we didn’t have the same technology we did then as we do today! Otherwise, everything I did would have been out in the open! [laughs]
I was really averse to doing any publicity, talk shows or things like that because of that. I wasn’t able to be myself. That was a big problem I was having. I would go on to do a talk show and everyone was perceiving me as this character that had been created in a public forum. It arose from stuff like ‘Teen Beat’ magazine and those stupid photoshoots where they would dress me up in the clothes they wanted to wear and tell me how to pose. I was like, “Dude, this is just not me!” That coupled with the background anxiety of my associations with certain groups throughout the 80s really put me in the position to say, “I just want to act! I don’t want to deal with anything, I don’t want to talk about anything, I just want to act! I just want to pursue this artistic life and leave all the negative stuff behind.” So, I didn’t pursue publicity. I stopped using a publicist and only did the minimal amount of stuff I had to do from project to project. I never really talked a lot about myself. I would just stick to the point of whatever it was that I was marketing. I was just focused on doing the best job I could at marketing a particular project, whatever it might have been. Finally, I got to a point where I had been wanting to write this story of my life experience. The acting side and the Hollywood side of it, the merging of those worlds, was the part that would become so unbelievable to people! Here I was, this guy who was nominated for an Emmy at 15 or 16 years old and our gang colors were green, so I wore a green suit to the Emmys! Ya know what I’m saying? [laughs] Now, I can look back on it and I kind of had a catharsis where I was like, “I need to write something because if I don’t feel comfortable writing the whole truth as it is, because I don’t think people are going to believe me, I still need to write some form of it!” There was a time period, just around the time where I started getting involved with the gang stuff, that the graffiti scene was really happening for me. I was making a big name for myself on the scene and I’d been written up in the LA Times San Fernando Valley edition for my exploits! There was $5000 dollar reward out for me because of my graffiti. I had met this girl named Tiffany Lenhart, who was the stepdaughter of Haim Saban of Saban Entertainment. She went to school with me and we became really good friends. I went over to hang out at her place and when I got over there, I met her younger sister, who was good friends with Balthazar Getty. Balthazar Getty and Elijah Blue, Cher’s son, happened to be over there that day. At this time, my graffiti thing was really happening, and I had done some cool roles. I had done the movie ‘Tucker’ with Francis Ford Coppola and the last season of “Webster,” which was hell on Earth, but whatever. So, I’d done a little bit of that but the swag that I carried with the graffiti was really how I introduced myself. I wasn’t like, “Hey, I’m Corin Nemec, I’m an actor.” I was like, “Yo, I’m Chrome 1 from JKI Crew…” I met Balthazar there and him and Elijah had to get home. He was a couple of years younger than me, I was 15, and I wasn’t supposed to be driving but my sister was out of town and I had her car, so I went over there to hang out with Tiffany. I ended up giving him a ride home and we really hit it off. We ended up becoming really close friends and he got really heavy into the graffiti scene. It was that moment in time that I really captured in ‘Venice High.’ I knew gangbangers and I hung out with gangbanger. I wasn’t a gangbanger, I was just about the graffiti art, I was totally into the scene and I was getting up. I knew these girls who lived up in Beverly Hills, while I’m living in a two-bedroom apartment with 3 people, if you know what I’m saying! [laughs] I was trying to do my thing as an actor, but I was really all about the graffiti and hip hop scene. My friends from The Valley, these broke graffiti writers and gangbangers, we would go and hang out with these girls I knew, who were going to Westlake School for Girls or Beverly Hills High or wherever else I had met them, through social circles. We’d show up at these super rich parties. This was a time period where those worlds didn’t collide yet. The parties up in Beverly Hills, the kids that went to them, were from Beverly Hills! [laughs] We would show up there and my first experiences, the rich guys were very hostile towards me. They did not like me being around there. They didn’t like my tapered Dickie’s, my Nike Cortez’s, my pressed white t-shirt or my slicked back hair! [laughs] It was this weird clashing of worlds, so that’s what I wrapped the story of ‘Venice High’ around. It was this idea of what that life experience was like for me. Here I was, living broke in a somewhat crappy apartment in North Hollywood, while hanging out with all these wealthy upper-class people in a whole different cultural setting than I was used to! That’s the world ‘Venice High’ was born out of and I began to think, “Where does it go from there?” I was thinking as the lead character in the book, Den. He didn’t have acting like I had acting. What’s his journey going to be? How is he going to snake his way through this adventure and come out the other side unscathed? For me, if I didn’t have acting, I don’t know what would have happened.
Writing a book based on your own life experience is something most people never have the opportunity to do. What did you learn about yourself through the process?
I’ve been writing screenplays for years. I started working on my first screenplay when I was around 19 years old. It was this crazy, futuristic, psychedelic mind-trip! I was on some old Tim Leary shit back then! [laughs] I probably have 15 or 18 screenplays. I have several that I lost when I had a hard drive crash that I have to find old copies of. So, I’ve been writing for years and years. The one thing that I’ve found was that without producing these stories, without getting them on television or film, no one gets to experience them except for me. I was just tired of that. I enjoy writing and I enjoy telling stories, so I wanted to turn some of these screenplays into novels. The stories are already there. All the characters and settings are already there. What I discovered through the process of writing a novel version of the screenplay was how much more connected I was becoming to all of the different characters and the different discoveries I was making about the worlds they were from and how to create a really three-dimensional version of these characters off of a two-dimensional page. Whereas, when you are writing a screenplay, you don’t have to worry about that because a lot of that story is going to be told visually. That was what was most exciting to me, being able to dive into a lot more of what my experience was and to be able to plug that in, and also to show a point-of-view or a philosophy behind it. I was able to reveal a story of “Why does this exist? Why do kids do this? Why is this thrilling? What is it?” When most people drive by graffiti, they either like it or don’t care. They don’t know the story behind it. You see somebody’s name on the wall and you have no idea of the amount of drama and madness that may have led up to that one tag!
Being involved with graffiti has allowed you to explore the world and connect with other people through your art. What have those experiences been like for you?
Traditionally, I’m just a graffiti artist. I’ve been a part of a graffiti crew since 1988, called The Chosen Few. It’s more of an art collective now than it is a graffiti crew but there are probably 180 members worldwide. We exchange art and provide people places to stay when they are traveling. We also connect people with artists in other cities and whatever we can do to help each other. I got into the street art scene because of some other artists in my crew. We kept hearing from our associates in the graffiti world and they were bad mouthing all of these stencil artists, people who were doing poster art and people who were using alternative ways of getting up. If you go and put a poster or stencil on the wall that’s really cool, it’s no different than putting your name on the wall. It’s just a prettier version that is a little more family friendly! In essence, it’s the same basic thing; it’s free advertising. That was kind of a joke we used to have when we would go out. We’d say, “We’re going to go out and get some free advertising.” [laughs] So, I got into stencil art and poster art. I had painted in the past and traveled around the world with different graffiti artists. We would go to a graffiti yard or here or there to do some paintings. The street art thing really opened things up again because, as an adult, I wasn’t really down with the real illegal aspects of graffiti art in terms of catching the tags, mashing cities, bombing and doing throwies and all that craziness. There is a lot of excitement and adrenaline to it, but I just felt there had to be a better way. That’s when I got into the street art side of it by doing the stencil.
I created a stencil of my son after I had gone through a separation with my ex-wife and I wasn’t around my son as much as I wanted to be. I created this stencil of him that I would hand paint and I took it all over the world with me. I would take photos of it so that I could show him that I was traveling with him! My son became my iconographic image for a lot of my art, when it comes to street art. I can’t even think of the number of cities around the world that I’ve done street art in at this point! It’s a lot of fun and the street art scene is such a rich, explosive scene right now! There are so many incredible artists that are really, really doing some great work. I’m stoked to be a part of it! I’m also really happy to be a voice for it and a keyhole to it. I haven’t personally seen much in recent times that tells a good story about what this world is like.
‘Venice High’ is your first novel, but you also have two other books that feature your artistic side?
One of the books is just a small little coffee table book of some of my street art that I’ve done around the world. I also included an old rap that I had written when I was much younger and included it at the bottom of it. I did that instead of writing the same ol’ lame shit that people write like, “This photo was taken… Blah, blah, blah!” I said, “Ya know what? Fuck it! I’m just going to throw an old rhyme I wrote when I was a teenager!” The other book is a photo book of Mickey Avalon, the rapper. I’ve known him since we were teenagers and he was a graffiti artist, along with Seth Binzer (aka Shifty from Crazytown). We were all graffiti writers and were all in the same gang actually when we were in high school! [laughs] Justin Warfield from She Wants Revenge was in my crew as well. That’s also how I knew David Arquette. Back when we were teenagers, he was a really well-known graffiti artist from Los Angeles in a crew called KGB (Kids Gone Bad). He was popping up all over the city!
Where do you see yourself going in the future when it comes to your artwork?
I am currently working with a partner out of the dotcom world and we have a street art entertainment/merchandising company we are launching called planetstreet.com. The test site is up if you want to see it. I am looking toward folding both of my polarizing worlds together, so I don’t have to live two separate lives anymore! [laughs]
When it comes to the work you do as an actor, are there any parallels to the work you do as an artist?
Not really, no. That’s what’s been such a struggle for me in a lot of ways. There are so many moments in time where I’ve felt like I just wanted to stop painting, doing street art or engaging in that world, and just act. I do it because I’m compelled to. I haven’t been able to see an end to it. I know a lot of my artist friends are marketing a lot of their art. I’ve never been a gallery artist and I don’t have work for a gallery, so it’s been a weird trip! However, I think with this book, it all comes together and makes sense to me finally. It’s like, “Oh, that’s why all of this has happened throughout my life. Finally, it can all boil over and spill out in this book form! Obviously, it had originally spilled out in a script form but the story that I wrote in the script has a great ending for a book; it’s an open ending, but that’s what life hopefully always is. Should I be able to take this from the book form back into a script form and turn it into a series, that would be even more amazing because they I could continue the story and have the opportunity to tell this kid’s whole story!
Your story and the story you tell in the book are definitely inspiring. Looking back on your life so far, what’s the best lesson we can take from the journey?
That’s an interesting question. The best lesson, well, there are two. We all learn lessons from our failures and successes. I think the best lesson for me has been learning to believe in myself more than anyone else is going to believe in me. I think that’s been the most important lesson that I’ve ever learned. I learned that I can’t allow someone else’s belief in me to propel me. I can hope that people believe in me as much as I believe in myself and give me opportunities to work together and bring projects to life. However, if I leave it up to other people to believe in me, then every single time I don’t get a job, or something doesn’t work out, it’s going to be hugely devastating. That’s the main thing, for the artists, you have to disregard what everyone else potentially thinks of you or your expression. You have to believe in yourself and know that what it is that you are doing is true to you, hopefully you’re good at it and deliver at the end of the day! [laughs] That’s from the positive side. The second lesson, which is more of a negative side, has been learning to curb my passions and keep them within a controllable circumstance. That means not allowing myself to venture too far out into the unknown. I say that because what can happen, when you’re a young artist, is that the unknown is one of the most important factors in life experience, but you can also get lost in that unknown and get swept away. I think I was close on a couple of occasions to having that happen to me. With that said, the lesson is to always be on your guard and be extremely aware of what direction you are going in within the moment. It’s moments that create outcomes. Maintaining a much more controlled awareness of what’s happening around me and my involvement in whatever is happening around me has been a big lesson.
That’s solid advice and a great outlook. It’s important to note that you have plenty on your plate when it comes to acting. Tell us a little about what we should be on the lookout for in the near future.
Yeah, I have quite a number of projects coming out. I have a film based on a graphic novel called ‘Rottentail.’ It’s a fantastic movie directed by a guy named Brian Skiba. Source Point Press published the graphic novel, ‘Rottentail,’ which was a one-off. They also financed the film and I produced it with them. In the film, I play a mutant half-man/half-rabbit, who is out for revenge! [laughs] I also have another film called ‘Sleeping In Plastic,’ which is a very cool, gritty indie film about a small, derelict town and the dark underworld that exists there. I play a really nasty redneck drug dealer! [laughs] That was great! I also have a couple of Lifetime Movie Network films coming out. On is called ‘Snatched’ and the other is called ‘A Parent’s Nightmare.’ I also have a horror film, currently in post-production, called ‘Haunted 3:33.’ Hopefully, that will see the light of day at some point.
Well Corin, no one can ever say you don’t keep it eclectic when it comes to everything you do! It’s cool to see you in a totally different light and, by all means, keep up the awesome work!
Wow! Well, thank you very much! I appreciate the interest and I’ll definitely follow up with you as things progress!
Awesome! Thanks for your time!
Thank you, Jason! Take care and we’ll talk soon!
Corin Nemec’s ‘Venice High’ is released through Lulu Publishing and can be purchased on their website Lulu.com, Amazon.com, and Barnsandnoble.com! Also, through Lulu publishing is Corin’s photography book of Mickey Avalon, Pimp’s Paradise and The Paper Chase, a photo-book displaying street- art Corin has done around the world.
Follow the continuing adventures of Corin Nemec on social media via Twitter and Instagram. Check out the video below for a sample of some of the awesome content headed your way at www.planetstreet.com.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.