It was already a few minutes past the 9 a.m. bell when the movie star pulled into the Friends School parking lot, making his grand entrance in his mom's gray Ford Taurus. The car door opened, the black cowboy boots hit the pavement, and there was Holter Graham, class of '90, returned to the scene of his crimes. He wore a collarless white shirt, a military jacket, a sexy chin of stubble, a thrice-pierced earlobe dangling with metal, a thick leather belt dangling with chains and keys, four silver rings, a dirty blond ponytail and -- perhaps most important -- blue jeans, which are forbidden at Friends School.
"I'm breaking dress code!" Graham said gleefully.
Then he took a swig from his can of Coke, swung a backpack over his shoulder and took the stairs two at a time to the auditorium, where he proceeded to regale a room of middle schoolers with behind-the-scenes stories from his new movie "Fly Away Home," which was screened last night at the Senator Theatre in a benefit for his old alma mater.
"This is the stage where I did my first Billy Idol lip-sync!" Graham marveled yesterday morning, sitting cross-legged in front of the students and speaking into a microphone. "This is the same microphone I used to announce the football games!"
It's every kid's fantasy, isn't it? Get a part in a well-reviewed movie, return home for a sold-out screening and come back to your school a big deal. There you swagger through the hallways, hang out with your old teachers, ham it up for the students, drop a few names, and take down your ponytail for the folks who knew you when. Oh, yes, and quote your favorite review of yourself, the one that called you "a rock 'n' roll Adonis with a charismatic head of hair."
Every kid's fantasy, perhaps, but yesterday morning was especially sweet for Graham, 24, whose memories of school are as fond as they are wild. Graham was the sort of kid that school administrators refer to as "colorful" and "mischievous," the kid who "tried people's patience" and "was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
OK, OK so what did he do?
"As far as Holter is concerned," said headmaster Byron Forbush, "I like to have a selective memory."
Don't worry. Graham's memory is anything but selective. He isn't ashamed to tell you about his penchant for showing up to class in sleeveless, cut-off shirts and spiked bracelets; about his disciplinary record (including the time he made a classmate's backpack explode); about his party antics (including the time he drank half a bottle of cooking oil); about his rock bands; his flame-spewing, souped-up Datsun; his collection of 23 pairs of cowboy boots and his motormouth.
"I was a little snot-nosed brat," Graham boasts. "I was told to shut up by almost every teacher I ever had, and rightly so."
But now he was back, and all was forgiven. Being in a movie can do that. But it's not as if anyone at Friends School was surprised to hear of Graham's success. He appeared in his first movie (Stephen King's "Maximum Overdrive") at the age of 13 and had parts in two other films ("Hairspray," "Two Evil Eyes") and a few television shows before getting the role in "Fly Away Home." The movie stars Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin as a father and motherless daughter who teach a flock of orphaned geese to migrate south. Graham plays Barry, a mechanic and ultralight plane buff who assists in the heartwarming mission. He got the part, he said, after his audition tape was approved by Oscar-winner Paquin.
Graham came home to promote his film, but this was no blase movie star. "Wow, I can get in the faculty lounge now? I'm all over that," Graham exclaimed, bounding into the room, where he held court for a group of beaming middle school instructors. First he shared stories of what it was like to work with Paquin and of his coming trip to Los Angeles to press the flesh with casting directors. Then he reviewed some of his favorite middle-school pranks, like the time he put the rubber snake in the teacher's desk and the time he built a robot from garbage. Then he took down his hair and demonstrated his patented head flip, which earned him the "Adonis" tag after he appeared in an off-off-Broadway play.
It could have been too much to take, but it wasn't. Graham's ego is harmless and thoroughly charming. What snotty actor gets excited that the opening licks of a song from his high school band made it into a scene in his new movie? What arrogant star invites his high school buddies to live with him on a movie set?
It doesn't hurt that Graham is also disarmingly beautiful, with a sculpted face and almond-shaped blue eyes. Clearly the kids thought it was cool, having a real-life glamorous movie actor pop into their classes to schmooze with the teachers. Still, no one seemed to be having as much fun as Graham.
"Isn't the school stage small?" he mused to girlfriend and fellow Skidmore grad Neela Vaswani, whom he brought along for the school visit. "It was big when I was here. And see that desk in the corner? That's where I used to get into so much trouble "
The great thing about going back to school is finding a ready-made and adoring audience of people that know your past and accept you for who you are. Which explains, maybe, why Graham felt totally comfortable admitting to his former drama class that no, he doesn't get scripts sent to him yet; yes, he does voice-over work to pay the rent in New York City; no, he doesn't have another movie in the works right now; and yes, he's been beat out for parts by actors from River Phoenix to Brad Pitt.
But he keeps trying -- sometimes dozens of auditions a month -- and he's still the same confident guy who once filled his pickup truck with water and drove it to school so his friends could take a swim on a hot day. In other words, he's feeling good about life, so the administrators at Friends School should be prepared.
Soon, lots of papers may be sneaking a peek at Holter Graham's senior yearbook.
"It's just not a very flattering image," said one squeamish administrator, reluctant to share the page with us without permission from Graham's mother.
We're assuming the school was worried about the dime-store photos of the young actor and high school buddy Henry Mitchell (Graham's the one with the beautiful eyes and the cigarette; Mitchell is pretending to smoke the french fry) thrusting their tongues at the camera. Oh, yes, there are also some quotes from AC/DC, Slayer and Judas Priest.
So relax, Friends School. Your graduate has done you proud.
Plus, as his girlfriend said yesterday, it could have been worse.
"In the college yearbook," she said, "Holter's naked."
Pub Date: 9/17/96