Dean Cameron loves show business. It hasn’t always been a mutual love, but it’s been in his blood for so long it has become second nature to the accomplished actor.
“My father was in a play when I was six years old and they needed a kid so I did it,” Cameron said. “It’s funny because I was just going through some old boxes and there was a review of the play and I got better reviews than any of the adults so it was cool to see it – my father had circled it for me.”
While his father was not always into his career aspirations, Cameron’s mother is the person who really pushed him to follow his own path. “My mom told me that if I never try it I will always wonder,” he said. “So I did, and I’m still trying to figure out if it was great or horrible advice.”
Whether it was good or bad advice, the young man from Norman, Oklahoma moved to Los Angeles after graduating high school and found himself taking on a difficult role early in his young career – the role of Jeff Spicoli in the television spinoff “Fast Times” – a character originally made famous by Sean Penn in the film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”.
“Everyone wanted to know who was the poor guy who was going to play Spicoli,” he explained. “It was a huge pair of checkered Vans to fill. Sean (Penn) had played this iconic, will-never-be-forgotten role in the history of film. I didn’t want to do it but I knew show business was hard and had to; I thought, ‘If I don’t suck, it will put me on the map in a good way.’ And it certainly did, and my subsequent success was directly attributed to ‘Fast Times’. It was only seven episodes, which was the right amount of time for it to last.”
Following “Fast Times”, Cameron’s star power would only rise when he took on the role of Francis “Chainsaw” Gremp in the comedy classic “Summer School”. “Amy Heckerling was initially supposed to direct ‘Summer School’, so the writer was aware of me,” Cameron said. “When I read the script I thought it was a great chance to make an iconic character; Chainsaw was a very well written part. She initially wanted Patrick Dempsey and Wallace Langham, and had Amy stayed on she would have made the movie a bit more hip and edgier. But Carl Reiner was brought in and he’s a legend; Carl smoothed out the script and the story.”
With the success of “Summer School”, Cameron was given a developmental deal with Paramount and was hopeful it would catapult him to another level of stardom. However, the untimely writer’s strike halted his movement. “The strike came along and stopped all the momentum I had built,” Cameron lamented. “We managed to sneak ‘Bad Dreams’ in there, but my career never really recovered from the writer’s strike, which is probably why I’m not a big fan of unions to this day.”
While his career didn’t skyrocket as he had hoped, Cameron’s popularity with audiences didn’t falter and his next big project was a chance for him to show his talent as a lead actor and a musician – 1990’s “Rockula”.
“I didn’t have to audition for ‘Rockula’, based on ‘Summer School’”, Cameron pointed out. “The movie was a cool take on things and it’s funny because the film started out as a serious film and when they finished the script they made it a comedy – fortunately. Most people enjoy it because it’s sappy and silly; not because it’s horrible either.”
Though “Rockula” is a cult classic, Cameron realizes it could have been a bigger hit had it been given the release it deserved. “It was another heartbreaker for me,” he said. “When it was ready to be released, the studio (Cannon Films) went bankrupt.”
Undeterred by the business side of Hollywood, Cameron went back to school – twice – to complete his trilogy of “educational” films. He also was able to channel his inner cartoon character when filming “Ski School” and “Ski School 2”.
“I’m doing as much Bugs Bunny as possible in ‘Ski School’”, he laughed. “I wish the movies were more high profile, but it’s like David Lee Roth said, ‘I don’t get all the girls I want, I get all the girls who want me.’ That’s how I feel about movies. They offered it to me – and the script had some stuff in it that was subversive for the time. And I said to the producer and the writer, ‘This movie is so stupid, we will have a great time making it,’ and I don’t think that was appreciated. We had a very good time doing that movie.”
Cameron turned down the movie “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever” after “Ski School”, but got involved in another comedy soon after, though he initially wanted no part of it.
“I turned the movie ‘Men at Work’ down a lot because I didn’t want to work with Emilio Estevez,” he said. “He was a ‘Brat Pack’ guy and I was still thinking I was going to carry movies and I obviously didn’t say a lot in that movie because I was gagged through most of it – which turned out to be a blessing. I was completely wrong about Emilio and it was all because of my snobbery. He was awesome and really cool to work with and it surprised me how professional he was – so in the end I had a great time. The downside being it was five weeks of night shoots so you didn’t see anyone. Your friends are all asleep when you’re working so it was really weird.”