Mark Webber is not the first actor to become a director. But to his credit, the 28-year-old, who has appeared on screen in Woody Allen’s “Hollywood Ending” and Moisés Kaufman’s “The Laramie Project,” also penned “Explicit Ills,” his debut feature playing in theaters now. The film explores poverty and addiction through a series of vignettes set in the Philly badlands. It stars Rosario Dawson, The Roots’ Tariq Trotter and Paul Dano and is executive produced by Jim Jarmusch — whom Webber befriended during “Broken Flowers.”

KEEPING IT REAL: The movie’s subject matter is particularly personal, as Webber spent a year and a half of his life homeless after his single mother, Cheri Honkala, a well-known social activist, was fired from her Minneapolis high school teaching job after being accused of welfare fraud, although the charges were later dropped. The two moved to North Philly, where they lived on the streets until Honkala married a local union leader and settled into a house.

This story first appeared in the November 10, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

LEARNING CURVE: Webber credits his tough upbringing for fostering his gift for show business. “I had to do a lot of acting and a lot of hustling when I was a little kid, just keeping the game going that I wasn’t homeless to my friends [at school]. That was a big performance every day,” he recalls. “I’ve always wanted to be an actor. Initially, it was for shallow reasons and a form of escapism…quickly those shallow reasons changed when I realized, ‘Wow, I kind of have a knack for this.’”

The soft-spoken actor may have plenty of experience on set, but the publicity part of his job description remains a challenge. “I don’t do well at premieres.…I’m shy and it feels way too self-important. I can step into those shoes and play the game — I’m not hatin’ on it. I just get really anxious.”