Machine Gun Kelly on Playing Mötley Crüe Bad Boy Tommy Lee In 'The Dirt'

Machine Gun Kelly
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Machine Gun Kelly, aka Colson Baker, attends the InStyle And Warner Bros. Golden Globes After Party 2019 at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 6, 2019 in Beverly Hills, Calif. 

Mötley Crüe’s 2001 group memoir, The Dirt, is aptly named in more ways than one: a filter-free chronicle of the hair metal band’s debaucherous 1980s, the stories within range from the obscene-and-fun (tourmate Ozzy Osbourne snorts ants before lapping Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx’s urine off the sidewalk!) to the obscene-and-disturbing (drummer Tommy Lee knocks out his then-girlfriend’s teeth, having discovered she sold sexually explicit photos of them to a porn magazine). The tonal whiplash of the book seemed to render it unadaptable, until now: Netflix’s film of the same name debuts March 22, with rapper Machine Gun Kelly -- going by his government name, Colson Baker -- rocking a magnificent shag as Lee. “I read The Dirt when I was 13. It was my Bible,” says Baker, though he says his feelings on the Crüe’s bad behavior have evolved since then. As Baker headed to the airport to get to his daughter’s violin recital, the 28-year-old opened up about shitty tattoos and what it feels like when fans want you to live like a miscreant.

How did you get this part? 
Oh, my God, that was, I think, a six-audition process. The first two, I was auditioning for Nikki Sixx, and then the last four for Tommy Lee, over the course of two-and-a-half years.

Had you worn heels before?
Nothing like what they were wearing. But Tommy was big into Chucks and stuff like that back in the day. He was always wearing some combo of high white tube socks with [Nike] Cortezes with full hair metal glam gear.

From the calves down, that’s still wearable!
It is!

When did you first meet Lee?
He and I had partied together in Atlanta -- we were on the same show together. And I have his “Mayhem” tattoo [for Lee’s band Methods of Mayhem].

Makeup artists had to cover up your own full torso of tattoos to re-create Lee’s.
Many of my tattoos took less time than those prosthetics took.

What is your favorite ink of Lee’s?
I like his shitty Mighty Mouse tattoo -- the first one that he got. It’s just such a “first tattoo."

Was the lifestyle described in The Dirt the one you wanted?
Definitely. I had the wrong idols growing up, for sure.

What story in The Dirt made you think, “I want to be those people”?
Can we have that question instead be, “What was the gnarliest part?” Because the story that [made me] ask my friends, “Did you even know this was possible?” was when they called a girl’s mom on a phone that was up her vagina. It still is almost unimaginable.

Lee is so childlike in his energy and romanticism. It’s hard to stay mad at him, even when, as he readily admits, his behavior is reprehensible.
Tommy is like the puppy dog of the group. He makes mistakes, but you kind of love him more when he’s making mistakes.

You and Douglas Booth, who plays Sixx, became close. Did your exploits live up to Sixx and Lee’s?
Our first night together in New Orleans, [director] Jeff Tremaine demanded that we go out and have beers and really bond. Within the first 30 minutes, Doug was like, “I’m Nikki Sixx, bitch!” and bit [Tremaine’s] shoulder so hard he still has bite marks and purple rings around the bite marks. As soon as Doug bit the director, we knew that it was going to be a ride.

Has your reaction to the darker moments in The Dirt changed since you read it as a teenager?
When you’re 13, you don’t really understand problems too much, so you’re just looking at all the things that glitter. It wasn’t until we were on set and doing these scenes that we were like, “Whoa, this is dark. What are people going to think about this?” But there’s something about the truth in that book -- the fact that you do fall in love with these people [who] then do this giant nose dive into this dark place.

Do you feel pressure to live out what the public thinks you are?
My first single that came out was “Wild Boy.” What do you think everyone who came up to me -- whether it was at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m. -- expected me to be? [They were] expecting me to be on top of a table, breaking glass and out of my mind.

Did you play that role or resent it?
It was only punk rock when it was against what they were expecting. As soon as they want that, you have to move on to something else and get them to fall in love with that. That’s how you evolve. [The Dirt] is just a more intensified version of what all of our lives really are: making mistakes and growing from them. No one just gets it right.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 12 issue of Billboard.