The lips are bee-stung full and pouty, the torn (of course) T-shirt is torso-tight, and the pushed-back hair has enough of an oil slick to call out the Environmental Protection Agency. Sasha Mitchell, a Calvin Klein blue jeans model turned actor, is an insistent echo of Montgomery Clift, James Dean and Marlon Brando. Madison Avenue mavens can quickly place his face from ads past: In a commercial for Memorex, driving a Porsche, Mitchell, 21, was the rebel without a pause; in a spot for Pepsi, he brooded over his burger better than Brando while seated next to Michael Jackson. Now Sasha has found a hot new slot as star of the Paul (Trash) Morrissey film, Spike of Bensonhurst.
Mitchell plays Spike Fumo, a street-smart boxer who, though married to the mob, manages to get an annulment and still keep his vital signs intact. After making his break from organized vice, Spike goes on a moralistic crusade, railing against crack, corruption, coke-sniffing liberal politicians and his own gay-and-coming-out-of-the-closet mom. Controversial, violent, sexually provocative and ultraconservative, Spike of Bensonhurst might be the first youth movie for the George Bush era.
It’s an odd combination of elements, granted, but then Mitchell himself is an odd combination. Onscreen and off, his attitude and accent are pure Italian-American hood: His favorite expression is “Forget about it.” But his background is wealthy, conservative Russian-Jewish (his goal, he claims, is to become the first Jewish President). “I was born July 27, 1967—good sevens,” he announces, beginning his life story. “I was 3 lbs. 9 oz. Am I starting too early?”
The younger of two children, Mitchell grew up in Manhattan and the tony Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles. His father, Sherwin, 51, a garmento, worked his way up to the presidency of Evan Picone, a mid-price line of women’s clothing, and is now part owner of Max-Mara, an Italian fashion house. Sasha’s mother, Renée, 50, is a housewife. “I had any food I needed,” says Mitchell, continuing his autobiography. “Forget about it. I have great parents. My mother is like the Mom. My family is No. 1. Forget about it.”
If Sasha’s family is No. 1, school was somewhat lower on his hit parade. “I had too many ideas for the teachers,” says Mitchell, who, after becoming bored with regular schooling in L.A., was sent at age 15 to New York Military Academy for two years. “It was the best thing that happened to me,” he says, referring to the challenge of being on his own. He then entered Bernard M. Baruch College, where he was asked by a photographer friend to pose for some pictures. The glossies were submitted to several modeling agencies, including Click, which took one look at Sasha and signed him. A few months later he was tapped by Calvin Klein to be the company’s jeans model. “Everything I’ve done comes from hustling,” says Mitchell, explaining his quick success. “I got a big mouth, and I can hustle people.”
Sasha Mitchell may smolder more than Mount St. Helens, may appear born to wear black leather and may talk as though he swallowed the Brooklyn Bridge whole, but don’t be taken in by the Peck-torals bad-boy packaging. He has done public service announcements about the dangers of crack, refuses to appear in beer or underwear ads (forget about it) and won’t do sex scenes in movies. Really forget about it. “I think it’s garbage, and it’s wrong to do it,” says Mitchell flatly. “I don’t want kids to have to watch them. Sex is something for the bedroom.” Furthermore, he decries drugs to anyone who will listen and idolizes the sanctity of the family. “My family is real tight. Now, you have a sister, you’re going to fight, but if somebody comes near her or shows her trouble, I’d kill him, know what I mean?”
“Sasha is really protective and generous,” says his sister, Marissa, 25, who lives with her brother in the Mitchells’ three-bedroom Laurel Canyon house. “He was right there if someone was bothering me.”
It’s doubtful that anybody’s going to bother Sasha, who stands 6’2″, bench-presses 270 pounds and keeps two pit bulls and a Rottweiler. “I love my dogs because they don’t want anything in the world except to make me happy,” he says. There’s also a two-legged creature who’s making Sasha happy right now—his girlfriend of one month, Elise Goldman, 22, a student at USC. “A nice Jewish girl—my mom’ll be really happy ’bout that,” says Sasha, who in his spare time rides motorcycles, collects knives and cultivates bonsai trees. “I really care about Elise a lot. She’s just sweet, and she loves her family a lot. She’s got no problems. No drug problems or anything.”
Mitchell’s acting career seems likewise problem-free. He has his next movie lined up—another Paul Morrissey job, Urban Renewal, about a con man who wants to become the new Donald Trump. “There’s something very strong about Sasha’s personality,” says Morrissey. “Somewhere in the ’60s actors became wimps and basket-case psychotics. All the young actors now play innocent and sensitive, groping for true love. But Sasha is a throwback to the self-assured actors of the ’50s. He’s not the type to look down at the floor and cry sensitively.”
Unless, of course, you bring up Mom, mention apple pie or tell him to strip down for an underwear ad. Then forget about it.
—Joanne Kaufman, and David Hutchings in Los Angeles