Gary Poultner: From homeless breakdancer to starring alongside Nicolas Cage in Joe

How a man with no social security number won a role in Hollywood

Gary Poulter was living on the streets in Austin, Texas, eking out an existence as a breakdancer, when he was spotted by the casting director on David Gordon Green’s dark new film Joe, starring Nicolas Cage.

The original intention was just to offer the homeless man a small supporting part in the film. Green, though, took a risk and hired Poulter to play Wade, the vicious alcoholic father of the teenage hero Gary (Tye Sheridan).

“He blew us all away. This was a guy with no address, no driver’s licence and no social security number. I think he had to take a great risk on us and a great risk on himself. We had to really trust him,” Green recalls. “He was a performer looking to be empowered. He was looking for someone to say, ‘you’re very good, I want to see more’.”

Poulter’s Wade is cunning, cruel and violent. Off-screen the film-makers found him “good-hearted and funny.” Nonetheless, Green acknowledges there were some dark episodes in Poulter’s past that enabled him to bring a “brutal reality” to set.

“What we saw in Gary is what we amplified in Wade. We saw a beautiful human that could act very negative and [with] an ugly past. We were there to film a representation of the ugly past but to work day-to-day with a beautiful human being.”

In one chilling scene, Poulter’s Wade tails a fellow alcoholic, kills him for his booze and then treats the dead body with a strange tenderness. “It was all in the book [Joe By Larry Brown] except the kiss,” the director says of the scene. “In his own twisted world, it was [like] tucking him into bed.”

It has been reported that the film-makers bought Poulter new teeth as a present at the wrap party but Green doesn’t mention this during our interview. “When we met Gary, he was at a point where he had just started a Facebook page at the library and was trying to put his life back together and reconnect with his children, whom he hadn’t seen in many years, and his sister. It was a very inspiring and tragic story.”

Poulter was a screen natural but, as it turned out, Joe was to be his one and only role. A few weeks after production finished, he died near a homeless encampment in Austin.

“The last conversation we had, he said, ‘I could die a happy man’,” Green recalls. The director attended Poulter’s funeral, and says: “It was a city service in the middle of nowhere. There was a volunteer priest and about eight people there.”

Poulter’s sister was one of the mourners. She showed Green pictures of Poulter in his twenties, when he looked very different from the grizzled old vagrant he became.

“He was an example of a guy who had made some unfortunate decisions in his life and had a last chapter of redemption,” says Green.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all