Tom Zutaut had a good thing going, far from the maddening crowd of the Sunset Strip. The Illinois-born A&R man, who signed Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe in the ‘80s, was living in the Blue Ridge Mountains east of Nashville, writing for television, working on various projects, and helping musician friends out, all in relative peace.
However, all that changed in late March. Thanks to the March 21 release of The Dirt on Netflix, a film version of Neil Strauss’s 2001 biography on Mötley Crüe, which features Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson playing Zutaut, the low-key and affable former label exec has a full voicemail inbox, and is busy juggling interview requests and business propositions.
As he shuttles between Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans and Tennessee for The Dirt and other projects, Billboard caught up with Zutaut.
How has your life changed since The Dirt came out on Netflix?
My social media has just blown up. Within days of the movie opening, I had 2,000 requests in a few days. It's actually all been really good. I was worried a little bit about what people might think of Pete Davidson's portrayal of me, but the spin has been so good. When he first got the part, I didn't really know who he was, and my younger brother was like, "Oh, this is a big deal." I don’t watch Saturday Night Live, but what I've learned is that people seem to feel real good after seeing him portray me. Everything in my life is on fire, because they like what they see in the movie and they want to ask me questions. People want to get to know me, they want more stories and all that stuff.
Are you talking about your family and friends, or strangers?
I'm talking about strangers, meaning the new generation of people who are finding out about this era of music through the movie. And a lot of my colleagues from back in the day. If we’re talking about my family, their only real comment has been that they wished there were more scenes like the last one, which is where "I" give Nikki Sixx and Motley Crue back their masters. It’s probably that particular scene, which is Pete’s exit scene; that is the most realistic to who I was back during that time.
Machine Gun Kelly spent time with Tommy Lee working his character. Did that happen with Pete and you?
It did. I met him on the set in New Orleans and he asked me a bunch of questions. He got to hear me talk and observe some of my mannerisms. It’s not a gigantic part in the movie, but the fact that the band and the producers and the director of the movie acknowledged that I had a significant role is] pretty good. I probably would have been a little harsher on Pete’s portrayal of me, but since the movie has come out, there's so much feel-good about the way he plays me, and people really feel good about his depiction of me. Yeah, I get kicked in the nuts and have a hotdog smashed onto my shirt…but worse things have happened.
Did you have an official capacity in the making of The Dirt?
I had a small little consulting situation, so I worked with screenwriter] Amanda Adelson on some of the script points. A lot of people might look in the credits and they’ll see Tom Kapinos, who did Californication. I went to have lunch with Tom, where he literally told me that David Duchovny’s character in that show was based on his imagination of my life in the ‘80s as an A&R man.
I was able to go through some of the script points with Amanda and I think that she and director] Jeff Tremaine really deserve a lot of credit for the movie that's actually streaming on Netflix at the moment. It’s really her vision and Jeff Tremaine’s vision and Erik Olsen, one of the producers, as the holder of flame that kept this thing alive for 10 years. Not to mention the band themselves, and Motley manager] Allen Kovac, who never gave up trying to make the movie.
How long were you on set in New Orleans?
I was there for a week. The funniest day on set was when I went into wardrobe and makeup and they turned me into Mick Mars’ guitar roadie. Pete walks over and Nikki tells him he wants his masters back. But just before they have that dialogue, Pete is talking to me. It's kind of funny to have a scene where you're literally talking to yourself, but you're talking to Pete Davidson.
Do you have any idea who else they were interested in besides Pete to play you?
They never shared that with me. Early on, we had a pretty big conversation about Jonah Hill because his persona was so similar to mine in Get Him to the Greek. Eight years later when the film was made with Netflix], I think they felt that he was too old to play a 19-year-old Tom Zutaut.
You saw the movie with your dad. What was it like watching the drug and sex scenes with him?
He started to watch it before I got to his house, and he said, "I got concerned that it was going to be a porno movie." I just laughed and I said, "Dad, just close your eyes for that first scene."
What has been your most-asked question by fans of the movie, and by your friends?
The thing they want to know the most is what's accurate and what isn’t. The second-most asked question is, "What did they leave out?" Read the book and compare the book to the movie. You might be watching, and it] maybe doesn't quite happen that way. Or maybe the scene is an amalgamation of three or four things that happened over the course of five years, but it's all played out in one scene. So when someone asks me the question, "Is this the way it happened?" the simple answer is pretty much "yes" because the movie incorporates all the elements and headlines of things that actually happened.
Let's talk about the scene where Vince Neil has sex with your girlfriend. How did you feel about the film including that?
I'll put it this way. For 20 years, I didn't even know that it happened. All I knew was that we went to the 1983] US Festival and we were having a good time at the show. She went to use the restroom or something, and I lost her. Then Mötley’s set ended and I went backstage to look for her. It was nuts. There was a backstage area with a bunch of trailers and mobile homes. I went to Mötley’s dressing room and the security guys would not let me in. Finally, they did] and I still couldn't find her. I found her maybe a half hour later, sort of standing outside a hospitality area. When we got back to our La Quinta Inn], she seemed really upset about something. I kept asking her what was wrong, and she would say "nothing," but then she was like, "I'm going to stay on the couch tonight."
We'd been together for almost a year; it was a pretty serious relationship. We’d been to some events with the band and they clearly knew that this was not just a date. This was someone who I cared a lot about, that I loved, that I was in a serious relationship with. The thought never crossed my mind that anything like that would happen. That she would do it on her end, and that someone like Vince would even try to do that. The next morning, we got in the car and she was like, "I have to break up with you, this relationship isn't working out." We drove back to my place, she grabbed her stuff and I drove her home to her parents’ house in San Diego. And that was pretty much it.
Then, 20 years later, Neil Strauss fact checks the book with me and he brings this whole thing up. I'm like, "Wow.' I was wondering what had happened. I never really understood it.
Have you been in touch with her?
Nobody can find her. Maybe with this movie, she’ll surface, or her parents will surface, and we'll be able to hear her side of the story. The only people that really know the truth would have to be the band, because apparently it happened in the band's trailer and they were all in there when it happened. I think there is some reference to them not telling me because they were afraid that they would lose their record deal. It's a mystery I would love to solve one day.
Did Vince apologize to you at any point?
Vince has pretty much avoided me since the revelation came out. The right thing for Vince to do would be to apologize to me, but that's really on his shoulders. We’re talking about something that happened a long, long time ago. (Neil did not respond to Billboard’s request for a comment.)
Were you surprised at the negative reviews focused on the film’s treatment of women?
Actually, I expected it to be a lot worse than it is. I find most of these criticisms are coming from millennial and grunge people. It’s the higher end of the millennial age group that missed the ’80s and really their first musical experiences were with Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Coldplay. They seem to be the ones with] the largest #metoo axe to grind on the movie. On the other hand, I think that it's an appropriate discussion to have. I really believe that women are equal, should be treated as equals and they should be paid as equals. If this movie opens up the discussion, I think it's a discussion that’s good to have. I would also say that having lived through the ’80s, sometimes it's difficult to apply what's politically correct in 2019 to what happened in the ’80s or early ’90s.
Is there anything you’d like to add about The Dirt, or your time with the band?
Everybody thinks Guns N’ Roses were this really dangerous band, but Guns N’ Roses actually had a moral fiber and a moral center to them. Of all the bands I worked with, Mötley Crüe were literally willing to push anything to the breaking point…I think that they were willing to push anything as deep and dark as it could possibly go, to the limits of the human psyche. If you use your imagination and understanding of that, there's a certain terror and exhilaration in a group of people that are willing to push the boundaries to the absolute limit.