My LA: Chris Weitz On Hidden Neighborhoods, Food Trucks & Malibu
Who: Chris Weitz -- Director, best known for the American Pie franchise, New Moon, The Golden Compass, and About A Boy, which gained him an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Current Neighborhood: Malibu
You live in Malibu--why there?
I love being by the ocean. It stills the voices in my head. Of course, I am often embarrassed to be labeled a Malibuite or Malibuvian, as I like to call it. I occasionally describe my neighborhood as "Topanga Adjacent" and try to stress that we are in the unfashionable, lower 2 miles of the "27 miles of scenic beauty." But, one should own up to this sort of thing. I live in Malibu, I'm here, I'll get used to it.
Do you surf?
I am a surfer, though quite a poor one. [He rides a longboard, 8'10" from his friend Jose Lozano's company.] No key to Point Dume, sadly. No local standing at Surfrider, which means I must nibble away at the carcasses of waves like a vulture once the big predators have taken the best.
What are your favorite neighborhood haunts for coffee, a quick bite or a drink after work?
Well -- stretching the idea of neighborhood considerably, Intelligentsia Cafe on Abbot Kinney; or Espresso Cielo on Main Street, which serves beans from 49th parallel, an amazing roaster in Vancouver. For food, Axe -- please come back soon; Venice Beach Wines on Rose for tapas. There is also a fantastic Japanese rice ball place on Main Street.
"A Better Life" took you to 69 locations throughout Los Angeles. Were there places you'd never been to or seen before? Did you discover any hidden gems?
So many places I had not been before--Pico Rivera, the genuine Mexican rodeo ring in Whittier; El Premier, the Mariachi club in Bell; Ramona Gardens, the housing complex in Boyle Heights (itself a revelation). Cesar Chavez Avenue, one of the brightest lights in LA; and Homeboy Industries, a beacon of hope with good food at Homegirl Cafe.
You shot a scene in San Pedro (where Carlos Galindo's car is pulled over). In an interview you said, "It's a place of intense loneliness..." If San Pedro stands for loneliness, what does Malibu stand for? Beverly Hills? Boyle Heights? Silver Lake? The Valley?
Malibu: a strange mix of comfort, beauty (the ocean) and horror (the plastic surgery). Beverly Hills: Nothing, really, except money. Boyle Heights: the Palimpsest of LA history -- an old Jewish neigborhood now Hispanic, misunderstood, full of beauty and life but feared. Silver Lake: Hipness, all the good and bad of that. One of the few places I could get my New York trendiness fix when I first moved here. The Valley: the undiscovered. I love it for the rinky-dink old survivors and have little patience for dismissive received notions.
The majority of your crew was Latino and Spanish was the primary language on your set. What do you find most intriguing about LA's Latino culture?
It's complexity. Like Anglo culture here, it goes from low to high, is impossible to pin down, multifarious. And it's not just Mexican. There is Honduran LA, Salvadoran LA, Peruvian LA...bilingual Spanish LA, monolingual Spanish, monolingual English...
Where did you hang out after shooting?
Straight home to my wife and kid! I never drink on school nights. I would drive home with Javier Aguirresarobe, who looks and acts like the man from the "Most Interesting Man in the World" commercials. We would practice our limping second languages on each other -- Javier also happens to be one of the greatest living DPs.
You filmed a scene with the actors eating lunch from a real food truck -- which one was it? Do you have any favorite trucks you follow?
It was -- oh I forget the name, that's very bad of me. But see the movie and you'll know! The tacos were very, very good. I do not have a favorite taco truck, but I am a late adopter of the new fancy-pants food trucks.
What do you love most about LA?
The climate and the optimism.
What do you hate most about it?
It's a factory town and sometimes people just won't shut the f--- up about movies (myself included).
You have family roots in Hollywood. Your maternal grandmother, the actress Lupita Tovar, was a silent film actress. Her husband, your grandfather, was a famous agent who represented Dietrich and Garbo. Do you remember any of their favorite haunts?
My grandfather loved The Cock and Bull and Chasen's, but was also a regular at The Apple Pan which he adores, as do I.
How do you think the Old Hollywood of their day has changed? What's better/worse about it?
Their Hollywood is gone, was dispatched without a care, and most of the people working in the new Hollywood don't remember or care to. But there are some executives and talent who love and preserve memory of those days and those films.
For some reason people started paying me for the only thing I could actually do. Some would even argue that point. Plus, did I mention it's sunny most of the time? And a mere 8 hours from Burning Man...
(Interview edited for length)