Who is J. J. Abrams?
FRIDAY: J.J. calls to say he's still sick. By this point, I'm not feeling too well either. He says he'd like to bring over chicken soup, but doesn't think he can drive, so instead we spend an hour talking about poetry ("I never could write it myself," he says, "but have the deepest admiration and respect for those who do"), recent fiction (he hasn't read Donna Tartt's The Secret History, but he read an interview with her and has a serious crush), families ("My mother is the coolest, most amazing person I know.
And my father's great, too. I remember that when I was leaving for college, my father took me aside, and said, 'J.J., I want you to remember to trust your own instincts.' And that freaked me out. I said, 'You mean, after all this, you're telling me that all you have is what you're born with?"'), his new film ("When Mel Gibson was cast as Daniel in Forever Young, and Warner Bros, was the studio, I got, like, so excited, because I realized that they were going to be on it and that was the biggest thrill for a guy like me") and hard work in general (he wrote a novel in high school, a dozen scripts before he got out of Sarah Lawrence, he plays and records music in the studio he set up in his house, he's doing the graphics for the poster for the movie-within-a-movie in James L. Brooks's new film, and is in the midst of helping at least a dozen friends with their various projects).
Can I go to sleep now?
SUNDAY AFTERNOON: I'm in the throes of the flu, but I promised my friends Alex and Shea (both 10 years old) that we could spend the day at the hotel pool. My girlfriends and I are sitting under the umbrellas reading The Times when Alex emerges from the pool with a weird look on his face. The look says, I am going to throw up. I'm applying cold compresses to Alex's neck when J.J. shows up, carrying issue #51 of the Rock 'n Roll Comics: Bob Dylan Part II (the one in which Bob has that serious motorcycle accident and lays up in Woodstock).
"You okay?" J.J. asks Alex.
"No," says Alex, who has taken on a greenish tinge. "I feel really sick."
"Then I guess you're gonna have to stick your finger down your throat," says one of the highest paid screenwriters in Hollywood.
"No way," says Alex.
"Yeah, I understand. I was on this camping trip when I was about 10, and I felt like you do. And the guy who was leading the trip told me the same thing, and I said no way, too. But then he showed me how and I felt much better."
Alex thinks this over for a minute and then extends his hand to J.J. They walk off together and remain in the bathroom for a long time. When we send Shea in to get an update, he comes out and shrugs. "Every thing's cool," he says. "Alex is throwing up and J.J.'s talking to him." I can only pray that Alex doesn't grow up to be bulimic.
I notice J.J.'s wallet sitting on the table. Should I? Shouldn't I? Should I? No, that would be loathsome. I look in the money part first. Three singles, a five, and a 10,000 yen note. Then I notice the driver's license: over the place where the picture goes is a cropped photo of J.J. at maybe a year-and-a-half.
Later that day, when he's feeling better, Alex asks if he can go see J.J.'s new movie. When I take a moment to ponder this, Alex asks me why I'm thinking it over, and I tell him I'm trying to remember if there's nudity, drugs or sex that might offend his delicate mind. Alex breaks up laughing.
"What?" I ask.
"No way can that guy write an R-rated movie," he says.
After a week of innuendos and outright lies, someone has finally hit on the truth about J.J. Abrams.
MONDAY: I'm dying. J.J.'s feeling only slightly better. But we are committed to finishing this interview today. I drive up to his house in Brentwood. I don't know what I expected, but this is definitely not it. This is a grown-up's house. There's a gorgeous view, comfortable and elegant furniture, and little oddities all over the place--a grouping of antique bowling pins, a video cover for a flick called Regarding Hiney that shows a man staring at a woman's butt with the caption "It was all in his mind," antique tin toys and a James Worthy basketball poster. "You like Worthy?" I ask.
"Well, that's not why I have it," he says with a smile. "See those people sitting on the court? That's me and my sister." This guy is way beyond lucky.
I walk into J. J.'s bedroom (bed made, lots of pillows and shams, an enormous telescope by the window) and go directly into the closet. Neat, a nice collection of suits, everything hung up. J. J. may be a kid at heart, but he's going to make someone a terrific wife when he grows up. Back in the living room, J.J.'s laid out fake movie posters he devised for the new Jim Brooks movie. One of the fake film titles J.J.'s come up with is Judge Mental and the poster for it shows a gavel dripping with blood. Lucky and funny. No wonder everyone wants his head.
We drive down to Sony to see J.J.'s office at Jim Brooks's Gracie Films, where he has a deal and works down the hall from Callie Khouri and Cameron Crowe. By the way, he doesn't offer to let me drive the Porsche. Before J.J. opens the door to his office, he starts to say something, but then changes his mind. When the door swings open, I practically fall on the floor laughing. The place is huge. J.J.'s laughing too.
"Okay," I say quietly, afraid my voice might echo. "Tell me something I don't know about Forever Young."
"When I finished the script," says J.J., "my agent and I decided to package it. And then we sent it to Mel Gibson and he said yes." See how easy it is to work in Hollywood?
"And what about the director of the picture?" I ask. "I mean, Steve Miner? This is a Mel Gibson movie!" The point I'm trying to make here is that on the Harrison Ford movie Regarding Henry, Mike Nichols directed. And even though I'm not sure Mike Nichols is really Mike Nichols anymore, I know Steve Miner for sure isn't.
"Well, they were looking at all these A-list directors, who, for one reason or another, couldn't do it," answers J.J. "I was in France with my father and I called the producers and said, 'Hey, you guys might think this is nuts, but how about Stever Miner?' I'd been aware of his work for a long time--he directed Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken and Soul Man and the first season of 'The Wonder Years,' which I loved. And they looked at some of his stuff, and called back and said, 'Okay, call him.' I was so thrilled, because he's a terrific talent."
"And what about Mel?" I ask.
"Well, I know this is gonna sound crazy, but Mel is just so fucking good-looking that you can't believe it. He has a really funny personality, and you find that you can forget that he's this mega-movie star when you're with him. But the truth is, I spent a lot of time just staring into his eyes."
Either that revelation or my case of the flu leaves me in momentary silence.
"Wanna get some lunch?" J.J. asks. Half an hour later, my tape recorder sits on the table between us in the commissary, still in its case. I'm too exhausted to even turn it on. When the waiter approaches, J.J. looks up and says, "Two bowls of matzo-ball soup, please." I could kiss him.
Martha Frankel interviewed Spike Lee for our November issue.
Pages: 1 2