I came to L.A. really young, probably when I was seven or eight. We had family here. Before The Wonder Years, I did a show called Morningstar/Eveningstar on CBS, and I lived at my aunt and uncle’s house in Encino. My grandparents would pick me up every morning and take me to work at—well, now it’s Sony, but it was MGM at the time. I would go to the stages where they shot The Wizard of Oz, and it blew my mind. I got—and I still have—a black satin jacket from the studio store with the Leo the Lion logo embroidered on the back. I wore it all the time. It’s so worn through, it’s crazy. The commissary had an incredible egg salad sandwich. If I have a heart attack, it’s because of my time eating egg salad sandwiches every day.
I stayed at the Oakwood apartments in the Valley. They were sketchy—dark and depressing. It didn’t feel very homey. I used to sit in my room memorizing [’80s rap act] J.J. Fad lyrics. That’s what I did at night. When people tell me they stayed at the Oakwood, I’m like, “Oh yeah. You’re legit.”
The Wonder Years was shot at a warehouse in Culver City with terrible insulation and no soundproofing. We shot season four of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia there, too. [Penthouse editor-in-chief] Bob Guccione had one of his photo studios there, so you’d see women coming in and out. When they would have exterior shoots, they’d build a barricade with Dumpsters. When the Dumpsters came down, it was like, “Oh jeez, stay away!”
I fit everything I ever missed out on into my senior year of high school. I was Captain Hook in the school play and a third-string fullback on the football team. I scored a touchdown at homecoming, thank you very much. The game was well decided, but Coach Brown put me in. Number 32 dove to the right—the hole wasn’t there. I looked to the left—Phil Fagan on the wing gave me a block, and boom! Thirty-three yards to glory. It was literally the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
I’m from Chicago. I still hold very dearly to my roots, but there were a lot of moments when I thought, “I feel like an Angeleno.” They’re all different: when I got season tickets to the L.A. Opera, ordered my first #19 at Langer’s, and learned the back way to get to the Westside from the Valley up Calneva Drive. When I bought my kids Dodgers gear—that was big. Even now there are little signposts. As a director, I bounce around a lot. The first time I had to get a studio badge, I was working at Paramount, and the production office was like, “Rather than call you a drive-in every day, we’re going to get you a badge.” There was some 19-year-old kid driving me in a golf cart to the security office who probably had a badge since he graduated high school. He didn’t care. But I felt like I had arrived. Now I look in my glove box and I have badges from every studio. They’re such silly totems, but I look at them and think, “I’m really doing this.”