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The recently knighted Brit on down-town steak-outs, Manhattan Beach bumming, and Hollywood dreams
My first visit to L.A. was in 1988, promoting PBS’s Fortunes of War. I was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and it was a shock to the system, it was so glamorous. I would walk from the hotel to Rodeo Drive and window-shop, not that I was in a position to make many purchases. I returned with my theater company to do a play at the Mark Taper Forum in 1990, and it was interesting to be in the city on theater wages, which was not much at all, to be dependent on communal transport and not be picked up in limousines. We would carpool from the Oakwood apartments on Barham Boulevard to the Music Center. We had to discover which bits of town were open after ten, when the curtain goes down. We found that if you were a meat eater, it was possible to have a great time around the corner at the Pacific Dining Car. It was a slightly more feet-on-the-ground relationship with the city.
Six months later I was back to properly do a Hollywood movie in Dead Again, with a lovely house in the Hollywood Hills and a very nice car, and to see a more shiny Los Angeles. The house was just above Chateau Marmont, with an amazing view of the city that was sometimes entirely clear, beautiful, and crisp and other times completely hidden. This has always been a city of contrasts to me, and I feel fortunate to have seen the extremes. I’ve always found it to be a friendly place because so many people are from somewhere else. You aren’t quite so lonely, in a strange way—you’re in the company of others who came here for work or for the sunshine or for the Hollywood dream. So whether I’ve arrived with a pound in my pocket or more strapped for cash, I’ve always felt at home.
That time was an incredibly dreamlike existence, and my day involved waking early and getting into the pool and then into a red Mustang convertible and coming down from the hills and along Sunset to Paramount. One of my biggest thrills was realizing that the soundstage we were on was where Orson Welles started filming Citizen Kane in 1941. My Angeleno friends talk about the city having no history and bemoan the lack of castles and palaces. But for me the recent history is rich, whether it’s where Citizen Kane was made or the studios on La Brea where Charlie Chaplin worked in the teens and would walk out the back into the lemon groves.
One of the things I enjoyed about directing Thor was to dig into a new neighborhood. Raleigh Studios, where we were shooting the interiors and visual effects, is in Manhattan Beach. People were saying that my wife [film art director Lindsay Brunnock] and I were going to need a passport to go that far south. They talk about the South Bay like it’s in the middle of the country. We found a house on the Strand, and we made friends and had a whole neighborhood life. We walked a lot on weekends and got into a routine that we liked in that it involved being outdoors. I would get up early in the morning to work out at the beach, where you come across an amazing crowd of characters, and soon you’re on nodding terms with all these mildly crazy and eccentric people, all trying to develop a relationship with that big lung that is the Pacific Ocean breathing its goodness back into the land—you just felt fantastic at the end of the day. I would play hooky while we were in postproduction and go down to the beach to catch the sunset. I like to meditate, and it was a great way to clear my mind. There’s a lot of passion in Los Angeles. The sun and lifestyle don’t dampen the enthusiasm with the world, which is contrary to how most people view Los Angeles.