An artful life

Christian Slater is standing in a sleek black Lanvin suit in a psychedelic Summer of Love floor-to-ceiling flashback art installation when his cell phone rings. “Gotta grab this,” he says to the photo crew whose lens, lights, hair gel and attention are tightly trained on the actor, his second magazine cover shoot this week. “Hi Mark,” he says to what must surely be some high-powered press agent or executive of his soon-to-debut TV series Mind Games. The phone goes back in his pocket. “Sorry,” says the affable Slater. “Pool guy. Gotta catch him when you can.”

This is not exactly what you expect from a Hollywood household name whose alcohol-fueled rages in the ’90s landed him on the gossip pages for all the wrong reasons. After appearing on screens big ( The Name of the Rose, Interview with a Vampire, True Romance) and small ( The West Wing, Alias, Breaking In) and both Broadway and London’s West End, doesn’t he have people who deal with the everyday stuff? In L.A., yes. But in Miami, where he has lived largely under the radar for the past 2 1/2 years, the 44-year-old Slater is more likely to be slugging back a vente iced nonfat latte (four espresso shots, please) at the local Starbucks, driving around town in his black Jeep Wrangler or walking his pound-procured dog, Fish, down his quiet Coconut Grove lane than tap-dancing with executives, handlers and casting agents.

On this day he’s hanging out at North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art, where fiancé Brittany Lopez — who is herself quite a force — spent two years as director of corporate development before leaving earlier this month with plans to return to the art world this winter. After the shoot in the ceiling-to-floor installation by Brazilian art collective Assume Astro Vivid Focus that is part of MOCA’s permanent collection, the team moves Slater to a temporary exhibit of photos by Dawoud Bey. To create it, Bey brought together strangers living dramatically different lives in their common community. The juxtaposition seems oddly fitting for Slater, who himself is just finding his way in the city he now calls home.

Lopez is the reason he’s here. “I really scored, didn’t I?” he says between photo sets. He’s not talking about her lean beauty, so obvious that it shines through her no-makeup T-shirt-and-shorts appearance when she dashes to the museum with last-minute items for the shoot. At 26, Lopez has already developed the kind of self-assured competence that comes to most people decades later, if at all. “She’s helped me so much.”

She — and Miami — are just the L.A. antidote he didn’t know he needed.

“The great thing about being out of L.A. is having the distance between show business and my life,” he says a few days later, sitting in the dining room of their new house. “If you’re in L.A. you’re constantly inundated by the entertainment business. It’s crazy, and you can’t escape it. ... ere, I’m pretty removed. I’m in a lush tropical area surrounded by water. I feel safe, I can go to the store, shop. It’s a much more comfortable atmosphere for me.”

He still travels frequently to Los Angeles; to Louisiana to shoot Hot Tub Time Machine II, which releases next summer; to Moscow for a film festival; to Chicago, where Mind Games is set. Nymphomaniac, directed by Lars Von Trier in Europe, is due out in March. “You go where the work is,” he says.

By contrast, his Miami life is decidedly mundane. He picks up e-cigs, grabs coffee at Starbucks, works out, walks Fish, reads books, considers scripts, washes the dishes, cooks, does laundry, handles the pool guy, shops at Whole Foods. Takes his teens to the movies when they’re in town. Slater calls it “new and exciting.”

“I was a spoiled-rotten kid who had no idea how to take care of himself. Certainly after meeting Brittany I got a little more educated and learned how the dishwasher works, and the laundry...I get so excited about this stuff; I never gave myself the opportunity to do it before.” Not that domestic skills have come easily; he admits to ruining a few of Lopez’s items in the wash. “Right, Sweetie?” he calls into the kitchen. Occasionally, he has had to send back photos from the grocery to be sure he’s buying the right items. “In L.A. I went out a lot, I didn’t venture into the stores too much,” he says. Miami “has been an experience into reality, integrating myself into a real life here.”

That integration has included performances at the Arsht Center and YoungArts, movies, Heat games, two Art Basels, museum tours and artist visits (he’s particularly fond of the work of Magnus Sigurdarson, Bill Viola and Mark Handford); with nearly empty walls at home, he’s ready to start collecting. The only work now hanging is a nude self-portrait of Lopez in ink and water color that her birthday gift to him.

His new Miami life has also included standing in line for eight hours (two rounds of about four hours each) to vote in the 2012 elections. When he finally reached the check-in counter, Slater discovered that his name was missing from the rolls and his vote would be provisional. A subsequent letter from elections officials addressed to “Christina Slater” informed him his vote wouldn’t count because the signature on his ballot didn’t appear to match that on his driver’s license. “Next time,” he says, “I’ll vote absentee.”

That experience — posted live on Twitter during his brief flirtation with the 140-character social media service — and the inevitable frustration with traffic are his only Miami negatives, he says. “It’s great to be in a city and watch it grow up. All these buildings are new; all of this culture is continually getting injected into the city.”

Despite Miami’s flash-and-glamour reputation, Slater finds it refreshing. His fiancé, who grew up with Miami’s affection for shine, finds that ironic. Says Lopez, “I had to import a Hollywood actor to find someone down-to-earth in Miami.”

Once a month, Lopez takes him out on a date — to movies, ice cream, Meat Market on Lincoln Road or My Ceviche on Brickell. “I like to be wined and dined a little … it’s nice to be taken out on a date, I’d never had that experience before,” he says. “She’s very good at it. I love it when she’s in charge.”

A self-proclaimed “warm-weather guy,” the New York-born Slater was visiting the Keys for Thanksgiving three years ago when he met Lopez. He was staying on Little Palm Island, an exclusive cluster of thatched cottages that rightly wins acclaim for its romance quotient. She was visiting with her aunt, writing a story for Florida International Magazine. He asked to have his beach chair set up near theirs. That led to dinner, a kayaking trip around the island, a visit to the Everglades.

And several return visits to the Keys. Then Slater moved to a closer outpost — Fisher Island, just off Miami Beach. (When their dog joined the couple, they named him Fish in honor of their time there.) But the ferry ride became an obstacle, and Slater rented an apartment on the Beach, near the building where Lopez lived alone, determined to maintain her independence. It was a few months before she realized he had given up his Los Angeles apartment and moved to Miami full-time.

By then Lopez, who studied literature and economics on a merit scholarship at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., had met Bonnie Clearwater, then director of MOCA, at a design event. “She told me this very funny story about how she organized her mother’s wedding,” says Clearwater, now director and chief curator at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. Impressed with her maturity, Clearwater invited Lopez to call. When a position as MOCA’s assistant membership director came open, Clearwater hired her. “Right away she demonstrated what a great business mind she had,” Clearwater says. Lopez quickly moved up. “She has the gift of being able to talk with ease to strangers and engage them. She’s tenacious and goal oriented.”

But not, says Clearwater, a pop-culture buff. “I’m not even sure she’d ever seen one of Christian’s movies.”

Still, the romance flourished. Last year, on the beach near Slater’s Maine beach cottage, he asked Lopez to marry him. “We took a walk. I got on one knee. I got nervous. I mucked it up…I said ‘Would you be mine.’ I had to clarify,” he recalls with chagrin. Most of her family — including her father and two sisters — were on the Maine trip; her twin sister, a medical student in Michigan, helped him size the delicate, understated ring he found in Russia. Before proposing he asked permission from her father, General Asphalt owner Albert Lopez. Slater still calls him “Mr. Lopez.” They plan to marry before year’s end.

“Her family is lovely,” he beams. And large; her mother is one of seven sisters, and though her parents are divorced, various members meet frequently for birthdays and other events. All were on hand for the couple’s December 2012 engagement party at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, along with Darth Vader and a couple of storm troopers — Slater’s a Trekkie — and his son Jaden, 14, and daughter Ariana, 12, who live in Pennsylvania with his ex-wife Ryan Haddon. Slater and “Mr. Lopez” sang La Bamba together.

It was a preview of things to come. Last winter, the entertainment failed to turn up for the fundraising gala for Voices for Children, which supports Miami-Dade’s Guardian ad litem program. Organizers asked Slater to help out. “I went up there and told a few jokes. There was a piano, so I asked Brittany’s dad to play. He’s a fantastic performer — he plays drums, keyboard, the whole thing. We did a Billy Joel tune, a Sinatra tune, an Elton John tune. The next thing you know, I had the microphone and was walking around the room, saying hello to the mayor.”

The involvement isn’t just a social courtesy. Lopez’s sister once served as a guardian advocate. When supporters Yolanda and Jeffrey Berkowitz invited Slater to visit Miami-Dade courts to see how the volunteer advocates work with abused, abandoned and neglected children, he was impressed. “This really resonated with me,” he says. “These mothers who lose custody of these children get clean and sober, and begin to come back into these kids’ lives, instead of dragging them down.” Slater and Lopez will co-chair the organization’s 2014 gala, slated for Feb. 16.

“Everybody’s got stuff,” he says, recalling his own rambunctious days. “You can’t escape it. There are challenges that present themselves; you do the best you can with tools you’ve got. If you’re lucky you survive it and get a chance to hit the reset button, to choose a different path. You have to get over childish antics, immaturity, ego, invincibility and all that.

“I’m a simple guy — a very lucky, fortunate simple guy. I’ve Forrest Gumped my way into a phenomenal family situation here. I’m engaged to this very smart, very special, very sweet, girl who really loves me. ... I’m very fortunate to come to a place where I really just enjoy what we do together, the people we know, the place we live…it feels good.”