In the last 10 years Jay Bulger has been a Golden Gloves boxer, a day trader, a male model with a cover of Vogue Hommes under his belt, a music video director, a journalist, and a documentary film maker. Oh, and add cancer survivor to that list. He’s also just 30 years old.
The reason we’ve met up is to discuss his latest career move as a documentary film maker. He’s just put out his first doc, Beware of Mr. Baker, about legendary and controversial rock drummer Ginger Baker. You can catch it at Film Forum now.
But as we’re in the business of fashion and Bulger is a former male model–we had to pick his brain about his former career as well as his new one. And since Bulger’s modeling days are behind him, his take on male modeling and the fashion industry is delightfully unfiltered.
Fashionista: So how did you end up modeling?
Jay Bulger: I was boxing in college–I wanted to be the middleweight champion of the world–and someone took my picture for the Daily News. So there was a picture of me in the newspaper and someone contacted me, kind of serendipitously through that, and they were like ‘Hey you should do this editorial that is about people who box.’ So I did it. And I really despised the experience, I really hated it. I went and met Bruce Weber who I thought was the creepiest human being on the face of the earth.
How come? He’s pretty revered in the fashion world.
He was like ‘Hey nice to meet you, take off your clothes, and let me take pictures of you.’ I didn’t know the business. But then this agency IMG was like, we really think this Terry Richardson thing would be good, so I went and met him and it was totally different. He was so fun and I just had a blast. He was like, ‘Let’s put a tarantula on you.’
That’s funny because between Bruce Weber and Terry Richardson, Richardson is the one who gets a bad rap in the industry.
I love Terry. I never participated in his, you know, personal photoshoots or whatever. But the ones I did with him were just really fun. He’s not interested in me, let’s put it that way.
So how long did you model for?
No one ever hired me twice, so it was a short-lived run. It was about a year and a half.
That’s still a long run.
Well there are a lot of companies out there. It was fun. The fashion show part was the weirdest for me, because they told me, ‘You are not a good walker….you need walking lessons.’
And did they give you lessons?
Calvin Klein paid this person to come in and give me walking lessons. I was like, I think we’re over thinking this thing here guys. It was funny to play possum, like we call it in boxing, where you just kind of sit back and pretend to be dumb to see the reaction and it worked a lot better. Once you start talking and you start mentioning what you majored in during college, and then people are like, ‘What?!’ But I thought, ‘OK, if I’m doing this I need to be doing something else.’ It opened up so much opportunity to express myself, because I had so much cash from standing around and looking like a cyborg.
Which eventually leads you to making this documentary. Tell me about it. How did you find Ginger Baker?
My friend is a real music head type, who plays drums. He brought over [Ginger Baker: In Africa, a documentary about Baker's trip to Africa in the '70s] and I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I’ve always loved Fela Kuti and when I saw that Ginger Baker was this most famous drummer in the world who turned his back on fame, fortune, and family to drive across the Sahara to get off heroin to go play with Fela and go to the motherland of the drum…I was like this is not only an interesting story but this man’s quest is like nobody else’s…So it was a long circuitous journey to find his number, and I finally got in touch with him and connected, and he was like just ‘Come here, I can’t hear you, I have bad hearing and I don’t want to talk on the phone.’ So I was like, ‘Oh shit I’ve got to do this now.’
And you lied and said you were from Rolling Stone to get him to talk to you…
Well, there was that, that was kind of my bullshit that got me in the door…it just sounded good. It came out of my mouth and I just started going with it. At a certain point he was like, look if you want to do the documentary I want to see the article first. So I backed myself into a wall. [Bulger did eventually publish his story in Rolling Stone. It was the cover story, and helped him finance this documentary.]
And what was he like?
I think he’s able to speak or express himself best with music. But that’s convenient, because he’s a potentially horrid human being in real life. But I do think that his greatest relationships have been musically and as a musician he’s not selfish or any of the things people have been accusing of in real life. He took [Eric] Clapton and pushed him to the greatest extent of his capabilities ever. And that’s the thing, everyone has this inner conflict with him because, fuck, he makes me sound so good, but how hard is he to be around. He walks around with grenades in his pocket…He’s a pirate. He doesn’t live by our rules.