Today is my birthday, and it's not off to a good start. There's no cake, no celebration. I'm pacing around my living room, waiting for things to happen. I figure this is the one day of the year I shouldn't have to work for it. The mail arrives. It's a birthday card from my dentist. The clock ticks, in slow motion. I stand over my kitchen sink, eating the world's loneliest brunch, a lavender duck sandwich from a quaint nearby eatery. As I left the restaurant, I held the door for the magnificent Melissa McCarthy of Bridesmaids. I'm told that Emily Blunt and Elizabeth Banks frequent the place, too. Frankly, why did I take my sandwich to go? Why didn't I stay in the restaurant, instead of eating alone over my kitchen sink? Is there a damaged part of me that prefers being miserable? I change the subject. It's way too heavy for my birthday. My cell phone rings. I run to it. I actually run to it. It's a pocket dial from my ex-girlfriend's mother in Portland. (You can't make this shit up.) A horrible revelation hits: If this is what's happening on my one, special day of the year, what are the rest of my days going to look like? This is the state of mind I'm in as I prepare to interview global superstar Heather Graham for the Blu-ray and DVD release of her fantastic film At Any Price, an exceptionally well-crafted study of the dangers of American capitalism, starring Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron.
Everyone loves Heather Graham, and they absolutely should. What's not to love? She's amazing, beautiful, talented and the proud owner of enduring performances in modern-day classics such as Boogie Nights, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and The Hangover. With At Any Price, Graham finds herself in yet another outstanding film. Set against the ruthlessly competitive agriculture industry, At Any Price showcases how doing whatever it takes to succeed can backfire, and leave us shattered by consequences we never saw coming. It happens all the time. Our drive for success skews our moral compass, and we lose sight of what actually matters. In the end, we lose instead of winning. The film has a good message.
Dennis Quaid -- at the tippy top of his game -- plays an aggressive and ambitious Iowa farmer who'll stop at nothing to expand his family's farming empire. Zac Efron -- who I once stood next to, and haven't felt attractive since -- beautifully portrays Quaid's son, who'd rather drive a race car than work down on the farm. The astonishing Heather Graham plays the astonishing "other woman" in each of their lives.
"I thought At Any Price was an interesting story," Graham says, when I ask what drew her to the project. "I did research, and I watched the documentary Food, Inc. I thought that the farming industry was interesting subject matter. I was also really excited to work with Dennis Quaid, who I've always loved, and Zac. I was intrigued by the storyline of having this love story with a father and a son. At Any Price is an interesting commentary on the American mentality of 'winning at any cost' without thinking about the consequences of our actions. We want to win and be the best, but we don't really think about what this is doing to the environment, or to other people. We don't think about how we're treating other people or the relationships in our lives. All that matters is that you win, and that you're the best. We want to be the best, and certain things get sacrificed. So, this movie is a reminder to look at your priorities in life. The movie makes you slightly disturbed by the mentality of 'win at any cost.'"
I tell Heather Graham she is very good at doing interviews, and she laughs. I enjoy the sound of Heather Graham laughing, so I ask her what she finds funny?
"I find things that are real and just human foibles funny, and I find sex funny," she says.
Okay. Now, I'm on the edge of my seat. Now I'm starting to have a happy birthday.
"Why is sex funny?" I ask the actress who has sex wearing roller skates in one of my favorite films.
"I think when people are really honest about themselves and their lives, it's funny. So much of the time we spend trying to be cool or seem a certain way, but when you're really honest about how you feel, I think a lot of times that that's funny. Not just sex, but sex and relationships. I think sometimes certain situations we get ourselves into with people based on sexual attraction can be ridiculous and funny. And you might look at it from the outsider point of view and say, 'why are you doing this?' Sometimes people pursue things that are completely in opposition to what makes them happy. People might be attracted to something, but if they really thought about it, they might find it really repulsive. I think that's kind of funny."
Heather Graham giggle/laughs. This Heather-Graham-laughing thing is really working for me.
I ask Heather Graham if she's been spying on me, and confess that I'm familiar with the scenarios she's describing.
My admission gets a big, extended laugh from Heather. I just made Rollergirl laugh. Who needs a birthday cake?
Speaking of birthdays, I ask Heather Graham what she does on her birthday?
"I like to be around my friends and I like to do yoga, and maybe get a massage. Mainly, I like to be around the people that I care about. I have a girlfriend that I went to high school with. She comes over and she brings her family, and a bunch of my friends come over, too. We'll all get together and have a party. That's really fun. I'll have a bunch of friends at my house and we'll just make dinner. My best friend has two kids, and we often find ourselves playing music and dancing around with the kids. We usually have a dance competition with Beyonce's "Put A Ring On It" song. My friends try to repeat all the moves exactly, and perform it. It's pretty funny, but you sort of have to be there."
It's nighttime. Two of my writer friends take me to a Hollywood club. There's a 1920's motif. Waitresses dressed as flappers. We grab a table. A birthday cake heads my way, passes me by, and lands a few tables away. Flapper/waitresses sing "Happy Birthday" to someone else who shares my birthday. There are pitch issues, but they pull off the performance on the strength of emotional commitment. I drink Allagash Curieux.
We go for a long walk to ditch all effects of alcohol before driving home. A donut shop is open, and we go inside. Hookers occupy the counter. They stare at us, wondering if we're cops or customers. The only good time we're looking for involves caffeine and eclairs. There's a moment of tension, but soon the barriers disappear. A shared humanity permeates the donut shop. We are similar, not different. We're all humans just wanting happiness to begin and suffering to end. Like the Dukes of Hazzard, we're all just making our way the only way we know how.
"It's his birthday," my writer friend says, motioning to me.
"Happy birthday," Hooker #1 says, "What did you do today?"
"I interviewed Heather Graham," I reply. I normally don't discuss interview subjects with donut shop prostitutes, but it's late, I've had a couple drinks, and it's still my birthday.
"Felicity Shagwell," Hooker #1 beams. "I love her! She's very talented."
"She can do drama and comedy," Hooker number two chimes in. "I respect that."
My writer friend proclaims that "Hoochie Donuts" would be a good name for a rock band. My other friend suggests, "The Blownuts." Everybody -- writers and hookers alike -- laughs.
The clock strikes midnight, and my birthday ends. I reflect back on the day: A conversation with Heather Graham, Hoochie Donuts, and a birthday card from the office of Sally D. Rockaway, D.D.S of Encino, California.
I'm not trying to win at any price. I just want to break even.
At Any Price is available on Blu-ray and DVD.