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Val Lauren as slain actor Sal Mineo in bio 'Sal,' directed by James Franco, at Key West Film Fest

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Val Lauren has great faith in his good friend, James Franco.

Franco recently directed Lauren, a straight married actor in real-life, in two very gay roles: as actor Sal Mineo in a bio about the last 24 hours before the ‘50s movie star was stabbed to death in West Hollywood, Calif.; and as Al Pacino’s Cruising character in the sexy docudrama Interior. Leather Bar.

Lauren will be in South Florida for screenings of both films Friday at the Key West Film Festival.

“I not only trust his judgment, I trust his taste, trust the root that motivates, where everything he does comes from,” Lauren says of Franco, his pal since 1996 when they met at acting school in Los Angeles.

In Interior. Leather Bar, Lauren plays himself and “Steve,’ the Pacino character from Cruising, a 1980 shocker about a gay serial killer on the loose in New York City.

“The idea is I’m not playing Al Pacino, however great an honor that would be,” Lauren says. “I’m capturing Al Pacino’s essence.”

In Sal, a newly released bio available on demand from Amazon.com and iTunes, Lauren plays Mineo, a one-time teen performer nominated for an Oscar opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Mineo later co-starred in director George Stevens’ Giant (1956) and in Exodus (1960), which earned him a second Oscar nomination.

Warner Home Video this month released Rebel, Giant and Dean’s third film, East of Eden (1955) on Blu-ray.

Mineo became close with Dean and was devastated when the older bisexual actor died at 24 in a car crash two weeks after he completed work on Giant.

“I researched that quite a bit,” Lauren says. “At the time they did Rebel Without a Cause, Sal was not experimenting yet with his homosexuality. He did have an infatuation of sorts with James Dean. ... James Dean was much more of an older brother, protective figure to Sal. The dynamic wasn’t sexual. Maybe Sal had admiration and a boy crush.”

Mineo’s film career mostly dried up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He concentrated on the stage, taking on roles in controversial plays like Fortune and Men’s Eyes, a 1971 men-in-prison drama featuring a young Don Johnson.

“You saw him buck naked with Don Johnson and seven other men in a shower on stage,” Lauren says. “People had never seen that kind of courage, balls so to speak, to enact rape scenes and shower scenes. He had courage. It was that same courage that got him outcast.”

Broke and trying for a film comeback, Mineo, 37, was stabbed to death Feb. 12, 1976, by a stranger as he returned home from a rehearsal for the play P.S. Your Cat Is Dead.

Sal focuses on the actor’s last 24 hours. “He’s my hero,” Lauren says. “Sal Mineo lives.”

More on Mineo

Actor Val Lauren appears 6:30 p.m. Friday at a screening of “Interior. Leather Bar” and 8:30 p.m. at a screening of “Sal,” both at the Key West Film Festival, Tropic Cinema, 416 Eaton St.

Warner Home Video this month released restored versions of James Dean's three films, "East of Eden," "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Giant." Sal Mineo co-stars in "Rebel" and "Giant." The films are available individually ($28 each) or in a box-set with 40-page book ($100).

dean box

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