Sacramento-raised director channels sorrow into Hesher

Thirteen was a key age for writer-director Spencer Susser.

It was the year he became fascinated by the kind of classmate who would inspire the antihero of his debut feature film, “Hesher,” opening Friday, May 13: “They were guys with long, greasy hair, smoking cigarettes, who hung out in the shadows,” said Susser, 34.

Thirteen was also the age at which Susser attended a “rough” public school in Sacramento, where drug abuse and teen pregnancy were de rigueur. One of the few Jews in his class, he recalled that several of his teachers were baffled when he took time off for his bar mitzvah at his grandparents’ synagogue in Los Angeles, because they had never heard of a bar mitzvah.

Spencer Susser photo/ap/chris pizzello

Susser was also 13 when a drunk driver hit and killed his oldest brother, London, then 18, an event that is still so raw for the director that he declines to discuss it.

The filmmaker has channeled those memories into “Hesher,” the story of a 13-year-old named T.J. (Devin Brochu), who is left reeling after his mother’s death in a car accident. Enter Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a maniacal, tattooed drifter who moves in with the boy and his mourning family and shocks them out of their stupor.

Natalie Portman — who selected “Hesher” as the first film to be released by her production company, Handsomecharlie Films — plays a broke cashier who befriends T.J. while confronting losses of her own.




“Hesher” opens Friday, May 13 at the Embarcadero Center Cinema in San Francisco and the California Theatre in Berkeley.

Celebrity Jews syndicated columnist Nate Bloom contributed to this report.

Naomi Pfefferman

L.A. Jewish Journal