Did the Real Life Troy From Reality Bites Sue Over His Depiction in the Film?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The writer of Reality Bites was sued by the real life Troy Dyer over the depiction of Troy in the film.

Helen Childress’ script for Reality Bites is impressive in how well it captures a particular point in US cultural history, specifically the lives of the so-called “Generation X” (young adults during the 1990s).

However, the film, which stars Winona Ryder as a young film-maker named Lelaina trying to make a documentary about her life (and her friends’ lives) torn between two men, Michael Grates(Ben Stiller) and Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke) might have been a bit TOO true to life for one man – the “real” Troy Dyer!

First, here’s Hawke as Troy with Ryder…

Dyer went to USC film school with Childress during the late 1980s, when she dropped out to pursue the film she was working on (which ultimately became Reality Bites).

Childress contended that she named the character of Troy (who is basically the ultimate slacker) after Dyer as an “in-joke” because the real Dyer was pretty much the opposite of the fictional Dyer.

She also claimed that the real Dyer gave her permission. He, naturally, denied that he ever gave her permission.

In any event, Dyer claimed that he inquired into suing Childress when the film opened in 1994, but he figured that the Statute of Limitations likely had tolled on his defamation claim, but he felt that the release of the 10th Anniversary DVD of the film re-opened the door, as Childress discussed in the commentary for the film that she did, indeed, name the character of Troy after a former classmate of hers.

The real Dyer was a financial consultant in Wisconsin, and he alleged that the association between he and the fictional Troy had been detrimental to his business, as clients wondered if he was the inspiration for the fictional Troy, and I suppose people didn’t want to do financial business with the “ultimate slacker.”

Childress (and the studio behind the film) tried to get out of the lawsuit on First Amendment claims, but that was denied, as Dyer’s name was not seen as being central to the film’s message, which was a discussion of Generation X politics.

So the case went on. Eventually, the case was settled a few years back to what Dyer described as “everyone’s mutual satisfaction.” He also mentioned that he remains close friends with all of his past classmates at USC film school, and is currently working as a screenwriter and film producer. His resume is available at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3606414/resume

The legend is…


Thanks to Dyer for the information about the case being settled.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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