Born in Baton Rouge in 1978, Shane West was raised by punk-rocker parents. His earliest memory of punk is humming along to a Jam song at age three. At 18, he picked up a guitar and moved to Los Angeles. Around the same time, he started auditioning. In 1998, he formed a band called Average Jo, later called Jonny Was; at present, it’s on hiatus. The acting was more successful — he played Evan Rachel Wood’s brother Eli Sammler in the ABC-TV show Once and Again from 1999 to 2002. In 2004, West signed on as the lead actor and executive producer of What We Do Is Secret, a bio-pic of the late-’70s LA punk band the Germs and its bi-sexual, nihilistic, and ultimately suicidal lead singer, Darby Crash. The indie film — titled after a 44-second Germs song — started, ran out of money, stopped, and restarted. Last year it played the LA Film Festival; now it’s finally getting national release. West plays the antagonistic, confrontational Crash, who overdosed, Sid Vicious–like, on December 7, 1980. Further mixing real and reel life, he sang lead with the Germs on tour (they played Axis in 2006), and he’s still a Germ, whenever guitarist Pat Smear is off from his other gig with the Foo Fighters.
These days, however, West is best known for quite a different role: On ER, he plays Dr. Ray Barnett, a double-leg amputee during this final season, whose job includes tending to bloody wounds. In What We Do Is Secret, as Crash, he slashes his bare chest, Iggy-like, in concert. And so . . .
Do you prefer to bleed or be the guy who stanches the bleeding?
You mean be a victim or taking care of someone? Being the victim’s a lot more fun when it’s pretend. It was fun to do it in What We Do Is Secret and put on fake gashes. But as to being the caretaker, I’ve always been that with my friends and family. It’s kind of bred in me.
It’s hard to think of more-opposite roles.
Honestly, ER fits in wonderfully. The first year I started with the Germs, we were trying to raise money and learn songs, I wasn’t on ER, and then ER came along and gave me this opportunity. It helped me out financially, and also career-wise. It helped me get acknowledgment that I can play an adult. It was a blast to join a very successful show. During those three years of hell, when I was trying to put together What We Do Is Secret, eight months out of the year I was able to go to the finely run machine that was ER to relieve my financial worries and help me stay sane.
Speaking of sanity: Darby wasn’t really blessed that way, was he?
Darby Crash is a legend, a martyr, and very revered in the scene. But as many people that would have possibly died for him, there were just as many that would have been very interested in breaking a beer bottle over his head. He was a leader. He was very disagreeable, but he was also very intelligent and knew what he was talking about. He was well read, and a lot of these people in the scene were not. It wasn’t very difficult for him to win a war of the words or match wits.