Ryan Guzman is 27, and his high school student character in “The Boy Next Door” is 19. Knowing this lessens one’s urge to call the authorities on the film, if only slightly.
Guzman, a 2005 West Campus High School graduate who grew up in Rosemont, plays Noah, a highly muscled but troubled teen who moves in next door to Claire (Jennifer Lopez). Feeling unloved because her husband (John Corbett) has been cheating, Claire falls into bed with her attentive teenage neighbor despite having a son near his age and being a high-school teacher in whose class Noah enrolls.
A determinedly B-grade domestic thriller in the style of “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” and Lopez’s own “Enough,” “Boy Next Door” adds “50 Shades” sheen with a highly charged bedroom scene. Then it twists logic, and the law, by portraying the teacher as the victim after Noah begins stalking her.
It’s all so nutty that NPR devoted a listicle to the more overripe aspects of the movie’s trailer, such as Noah’s comment to Claire’s son that “I love your mother’s cookies.”
But exploitation movies can offer, along with their naked shock value, meaty roles for actors. Guzman, who has been in two “Step Up” films (“Revolution” and “All In”), said he was starting to get typecast, before “Boy,” as “the ‘Step Up’ guy.”
The new film lets him demonstrate “diversity in my acting,” Guzman said by phone from Los Angeles, where he now lives. It’s his first villain role after playing nice guys in the “Step” films and on ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars.”
In “Boy Next Door,” Claire’s lapse in judgment engenders a karmic backlash in the form of the boy stalker and also endangers her job. But the story’s focus, Guzman said, is on what happens to Noah.
“Love overwhelms him, and he starts becoming delusional and living in his own world,” Guzman said.
The sex scene is steamy, Guzman said, partly to illustrate Noah’s investment in the short-lived fling. “It has to be extremely passionate, extremely memorable, because without that scene, my character has no reason to lose his mind,” he said.
Lopez, 45, has been famous since Guzman was in grade school (and his character was … let’s not think about it). But sharing intimate scenes with her was not awkward or intimidating, Guzman said.
“We felt an ease working with each other. You have to have that chemistry that you create for the characters, and kind of bounce ideas off each other and figure out what’s best for the (scene).”
Regardless of exploitation factor, a Lopez film directed by Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) is a more complex acting enterprise than the music-video-like “Step” films. Guzman’s lead role in “Boy” counters what the actor characterizes as a perception, when he went on auditions, that he was one note.
Guzman “used all that negative energy … to light a fire under my butt,” he said. He worked hard to diversify his résumé.
Guzman first honed his back-to-the-mat-avoidance skills through mixed-martial arts, training at Dave Huckaba’s Sacramento gym. (Guzman also played a martial-arts instructor, on “Pretty Little Liars.”)
Before he tried MMA, Guzman played baseball, pitching for West Campus and Sierra College. He took up modeling and MMA, he said, when it became clear baseball would not be his career path.
He moved to L.A. and signed with a commercial agent who booked him in a singing-and-dancing Old Navy spot. In hindsight, the ad is a bit embarrassing, Guzman said. But it won him notice in Hollywood.
He will sing again in October’s “Jem and the Holograms,” a live-action version of the 1980s cartoon. And he will play baseball again, this time on screen, for Oscar-nominated director Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”). Guzman stars as a center fielder on a 1980s college baseball team in Linklater’s “That’s What I’m Talking About,” due later this year.
Some filmmakers keep their minds open about what “Step Up” actors can do, obviously, or Channing Tatum would not have been cast in the Oscar-nominated “Foxcatcher.” Linklater was so open minded, during the 2014 shoot of “Talking About,” that he let Guzman and his fellow castmates rewrite lines on the spot, Guzman said.
“He is the most trusting, humble person you will ever meet in your life, for the (being) the genius he is. …There is so much to learn from that man.”
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.