There can be perks to playing a psychopathic, violence-crazed former drug addict. Just ask Billy Magnussen, who stars as the weapon-loving Claude in Joel Schumacher’s “Twelve,” an ode to the boredom- and substance-abuse-fueled world of a privileged set of New York City high schoolers, opening August 6.
“That was fun. I don’t get to do that every day. I was like, ‘I get to shoot 50 Cent, are you kidding me?’ That was the first person I actually killed,” says Magnussen of knocking off his co-star during an Uzi-induced killing spree. “[Claude’s] a kid who actually just had no love and he’s reflecting it back on the world. He felt like he got kicked and spit on and s–t on and he’s like, ‘I’m going to give it right back.’”
Fortunately, the actor didn’t have any real-life material to draw on in channeling his character. Born in Queens, Magnussen grew up in Miami, Fla., and Cumming, Ga., the eldest of three sons to a personal-trainer mom and professional-kickboxer-and-bodybuilder-turned-carpenter dad. After graduating from the acting program at the North Carolina School of the Arts, he moved to New York, where he soon landed a role in a Joe Mantello production of “The Ritz” opposite Rosie Perez. He recently finished up a three-year stint on “As the World Turns,” will begin shooting the horror flick “Watch Island” and just finished recording his first album, “Studio Six,” with his band Joy State.
GOOD SPORT: Magnussen wasn’t always focused on an acting career. In high school, he was a “big jock” who wrestled and played soccer and football. But in his junior year, during the wrestling state semifinals, he ripped a hamstring. “I couldn’t take a gym class, so they put me in drama class…I did a school production and I was like, ‘This is fun.’ All the girls were in the class, cute girls,” he says. “And then I found out you can go to college for it, so I was like, ‘This is awesome!’”
IN YOUR FACE: At first the casting director for “Twelve” (based on the novel by Nick McDonell) thought Magnussen, 25, was too old for the film, whose lineup includes Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin and Zoe Kravitz. When she changed her mind, Magnussen gave her an audition to remember.
“I went in to see Joel and everything and I just scared the s–t out of them,” he recalls with a grin. “I licked the casting director’s face. [It was just about] intimidation.”
FULLY ARMED: Once he had the part, an already fit Magnussen embarked on a rigorous physical transformation to embody Claude, who had just come out of a boot-camp rehab program. “I gained 25 pounds — I worked out for four months, five times a week, had protein shakes, watched my diet,” says the actor. “It was a film with Joel Schumacher and 50 Cent — you have to step up to the plate.”