'Hung' Star Thomas Jane on Sex, Drugs and Sobriety

By Anna David 12/20/11

Squelching gay-for-pay rumors, Hung's Thomas Jane opens up about the DUI that was actually a failed suicide attempt, and how waking up in jail to a cop asking for his autograph got him to clean up his life.

Thomas Jane
The Truth About Thomas Jane Photo via

When Thomas Jane offers you a drink, he’s not screwing around.

There’s no alcohol in the fridge of the 42-year-old actor’s cozy home, which is tucked away in the Hollywood Hills, but the dizzying array of bizarre beverages he recently picked up at a Japanese market—including but not limited to a cold can of coffee and a bubblegum-flavored fizzy drink decorated with an array of Hello Kitty pictures—are more interesting than any alcoholic cocktail you can imagine.

Stronger drinks—and drugs—went out the window for Jane back in March of 2008, when he was thrown in jail for a DUI while driving home from a friend’s funeral. But that doesn’t mean the avid practitioner of meditation has no vices: he wonders whether we should talk on his deck so he can light up a cigar, but it's raining. So we take a seat at his dining room table, and as we talk, he's so distracted by the unlit cigar that I eventually all but insist he smoke it.

It’s hard to reconcile this intense, serious-minded actor with the affable male prostitute he plays on the HBO hit, Hung. A far more fitting character for Jane is the one he inhabits in the recently-released Mark Pellington indie I Melt With You—a nihilistic drama about college friends (played by Rob Lowe and Jeremy Piven) who reunite every year for a "lost weekend" of drugs and alcohol. Shooting the overindulgent party scenes “really wasn’t very fun,” Jane admits. “Once you’ve transcended something, the overall feeling that I’m left with is, ‘Man, I’m real happy that that’s over—that was painful’ and some gratitude in the form of, ‘Wow, I don’t have to live like that or take that home with me.’ So in that way it was great.” Jane talks about the movie, which he sees as “a parable for modern living,” and even reveals, for the first time, that his DUI actually saved his life.

You not only acted in I Melt With You but you’re also a producer on it. What attracted you to it?

The DUI sort of marked the end for me. I had a couple of whiskeys in me and was pulled over four times that one night and let go every time except for the last one.

I loved the writing. I loved the fact that these guys basically live their lives in between vacations, waiting for a chance to ameliorate themselves with drugs and alcohol and forget about their lives for a minute. I think the reason why we have such amazing addiction issues in America is because we are consciously and unconsciously encouraged to live out addictive behavior and be addicted to things that are outside of ourselves to fix ourselves: that’s the way capitalism works. If you exacerbate that, you get something like I Melt With You, where people are trying to destroy their lives in a short period of time so they don’t have to think or feel.

Can you clarify how, exactly, you think capitalism is related to addiction?

We’re taught to fulfill our emotional and physical and spiritual needs by consuming something—whether it’s a product or a service or an idea. You’re taught that a better car is going to make you feel better—or a bigger house, more money in the bank, a prettier wife, a richer husband or processed foods that are easier to eat and full of all kinds of crazy shit. Addiction issues would drastically be reduced in this country if we were taught what our God-given birthright as conscious humans is from an early age instead of having our brains actively switched off in school. That’s what school is: a prison for your mind. It’s a travesty that we do this to our children.

You have a child [eight-year-old Harlow, with ex-wife Patricia Arquette]. Is she not in school?

My kid’s not in the American school system—no fucking way. I dropped out of high school and my kid goes to a school where I believe they have a hell of a lot more going on than we do in America. There are alternative schools, and I highly suggest that everyone look into them.

What do you do personally to combat the other problems that plague society?

Well, I’m an artist, so I get to live a little bit outside the margins. I don’t watch television, even though I’m on cable right now. I don’t read the newspaper. All the major news, the things that are going on in the world, I get from word of mouth: I get it from friends—sort of an oral tradition in the village, so to speak. I pick up headline stuff on things like Google News but [avoid] any kind of in-depth brainwashing that’s done by CNN or any news show. And I stopped drinking and doing drugs—I shut myself off in that way.

When did you stop drinking and doing drugs?

A couple of years ago. I’ve stopped on and off throughout my life. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with alcohol and drugs: I love the freedom that they seem to afford you by breaking you out of your conventional thinking but they always lead you to the confining trap of being sort of—in one form or another or to one degree or another—addicted to the freedom that you feel drugs and alcohol are affording you. The truth is, it’s not true freedom, so you’re not truly enjoying God’s gift of consciousness when you’re fucked up on alcohol or drugs. 

Did you quit drugs and alcohol after you got your DUI?

The DUI sort of marked the end for me. A buddy of mine had just died and I was actually driving home from his funeral. I had a couple of whiskeys in me and was pulled over four times that one night and let go every time except for the last one. Each time I got pulled over, I was driving faster than I was the previous time. The first time I got stopped, I was sleeping in my car. Not driving, just sleeping: passed out behind the wheel. Then I got pulled over for doing 100 miles per hour, then 120. The last time, I was doing 142.

In a 55 zone?

I was on Highway 5 [a 70 MPH zone], driving back from Northern California. And the last time I was actually doing 147 but the cop wrote less than that on the ticket. But he still said, “I have to take you to jail.”

Did he write down less—and did the previous three cops let you go—because they were fans? 

I don’t know.

You have to admit it’s unusual to get pulled over four times in a night when you’re drunk and going twice the speed limit.

Getting woken up in a jail in Bakersfield to sign an autograph at four o’clock in the morning was when I said to myself, “This is not the way I want to live my life.”

It’s a little unusual. [Pause] I’d lost the will to live that night.

So you were on a “let me crash my car” mission?

I had just lost the will to be a part of the planet. It was a tough time. My friend had died suddenly. It was late at night and it was a very nihilistic time. Getting woken up in a jail in Bakersfield to sign an autograph at four o’clock in the morning was when I said to myself, “This is not the way I want to live my life.” 

Now that you’ve changed your life, do you have a different perspective on why people do drugs and drink alcoholically?

I think if you give people drugs and alcohol, they tend to not worry too much that you’re ripping them off on the parking meters and you’re putting people in office that don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. We tend to let a lot of shit slide with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in front of us. We can go down to the bar and complain about what’s going on instead of going down to fucking Congress and complaining to the people who really fucking need to hear it. Generally, the easiest thing to do is to fall back asleep and just sort of nestle in and wait for a bit until we slough off the mortal coil and call it quits. That’s the metaphor in our film of death. 

Speaking of death, what’s your view of the war on drugs?

Everybody with half a brain understands that there is a market for drugs and there will always be a market for drugs and that the people who benefit from the fact that drugs are illegal are making more money at it that way than they would if we were taxing it. The fact is, drugs make a hell of a lot of money: it’s a multi-billion dollar industry. So those people who are in power in third-world countries and have been cut out of the chain of power in other ways are compensating for it by running drugs, man. It’s just the opposite end of the oil crisis: the oil energy guys are the guys doing it legally and above board, supposedly.

What do you think of 12-step programs?

I think whatever works for you works for you, and I think there are pluses and minuses to every dogma or doctrine. There are pieces of every good, solid spiritual doctrine that you can take and lift and use. I’ve heard people say that they wish that everyone could do this 12-step thing, but the fact is, everyone can do it.

But people aren’t willing to do it unless they get in so much pain that they feel like they have no other choice.

That’s the big truism.

How do you think addicts are different from so-called normal people?

Ultimately, anything you can say that applies to an addict also applies to a normal human being. It’s just that a spiritual way of living comes a lot slower—if at all—to people who aren’t forced to find a spiritual way of living in order not to die. Addicts are usually more sensitive and a little more intelligent [than others]: they’re absorbing what they’re being taught at a little bit higher frequency and they’re mirroring a little bit better than the average American. And addicts are usually sort of spiritual astronauts to begin with: they’re on a spiritual quest, even as they’re doing the drugs, they’re doing it to transcend themselves in a way that a normal person maybe is not. And even though you’re transcending yourself in a way that eventually causes you harm, you’re still trying for some sort of transcendence.

Is that what happened with you?

My [spiritual] thing came kind of slowly. What really triggered the spiritual journey was when I started meditating. That’s when everything sort of changed for me, and I realized what my potential as a conscious being was. 

When did you learn?

Not very long ago: I started a year ago. I learned initially from a man named Dr. Greer. Then I learned transcendental meditation from the David Lynch Foundation. David Lynch is, I think, doing more to change our planet than anyone else—through his organization, Change Begins Within. He’s actually teaching kids by going into schools and youth prisons to free the minds of children. I work with his organization and try to help and I also work with an organization called Children of the Night, which helps runaway prostitute kids. I sponsor a program that teaches them piano and singing and David’s program teaches them meditation. 

Do you help runaway prostitute kids because you relate to their experiences? I read the LA Times story where you talked about “exploring your sexual identity” and how you weren’t “averse to going down to Santa Monica Boulevard and letting a guy buy me a sandwich” when you were broke and living in your car. Were you a gay prostitute, the way all those stories said you were?

No, I never said that. But I do work with the prostitute kids now.

So you were misquoted?

Yeah, definitely. In the interviews that I did, I never said I was a prostitute. I was talking about my [early] time in Hollywood: I said that I’d had a sexually adventurous time and I was trying to relate that to how I play a prostitute on TV—trying to relate my experience to my character’s experience—and well, people heard what they wanted to hear. Things fly around.

You didn’t try to correct them? That’s a pretty big misconception to have out there.

I didn’t even know this was out there until people told me. I suppose “sexually adventurous youth” wasn’t as much of a headline grabber.

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Anna David is the New York Times-bestselling author of multiple books about overcoming difficulties and coming out on the other side: the novels Party Girl (HarperCollins, 2007) and Bought (HarperCollins, 2009), the non-fiction books Reality Matters (HarperCollins, 2010), Falling for Me (HarperCollins, 2011), By Some Miracle I Made It Out of There (Simon & Schuster, 2013) and True Tales of Lust and Love and the Kindle Singles Animal Attraction (Amazon, 2012) and They Like Me, They Really Like Me (Amazon, 2013). Find Anna on LinkedIn and Twitter.