I knew who O.J. Simpson was—he and my parents traveled in some of the same circles. Growing up, we lived down the street from them in Brentwood. There weren’t a ton of mixed-race couples in Hollywood, and that was a bond that I was supposed to feel good about. But the O.J. Simpson trial was disillusioning for me. It was the first time I realized that sometimes privilege can trump justice. It seemed insane to me that the man could have so much evidence stacked against him and still, because he managed to get a great defense team, be acquitted. When the verdict came out, I was at Harvard, watching on TV.
But I remember it divided the city of Los Angeles so much—the verdict became a racial issue, but to me it was a justice issue. I hated the fact that Simpson was in any way representing justice for black people in California. I had wanted to be a lawyer, but after that I decided to do something else.
I think every teenager is prone to rebellion. In my case, with my parents being performers, my rebellion was, “I’m going to go be an academic or a business professional.” That somehow seemed legitimate and was going to make me autonomous from my family. My parents are excellent people. They were hippies. They made their own life here, their own careers. That was cool, but I wanted something that was my own. I will always be somewhat of a bookworm, but ultimately I realized I had to perform. It’s so freeing. Genetically, I’m probably programmed to love that.
I have great memories of growing up here: being at Westlake Recording Studios with my dad in the studio with Michael Jackson and his various animals. Visiting my grandparents on Broad Beach in Malibu. Having Passover seder at Chasen’s, where the Bristol Farms is now at Beverly and Doheny. One year, when I was eight, I found the afikomen, and I got a bag of See’s lollipops. That was probably the pinnacle of my life.
There are a lot of dangers to growing up in L.A. There’s no guarantee that your kid is going to turn out to be a hardworking, ambitious, not-superficial person with fire under their ass. When I was younger, I saw the East Coast as the opposite of that. I moved to New York right after college and always said I would never move back here as long as I lived. Of course, I did come back, and I’m very happy. And now I kind of get it: New York is like dating a very crazy person who you have mad, passionate sex with. You just don’t know when they’re going to turn on you and get angry, and the weather’s gonna be horrible, and they’re going to treat you like shit. L.A. is more neutral. It doesn’t tell you how to feel. It doesn’t guide you in the direction of what you’re supposed to be doing and how you’re supposed to be doing it. But you can come here and create a little world for yourself. It’s a very generous city.
Photograph courtesy wikipedia.org/Brian Birzer