Mike White

The actor-writer-director (his new series, Enlightened, premieres on HBO this month) on slasher movies and not owning socks
Photograph courtesy getthebigpicture.net

People are really surprised when I tell them I grew up in Los Angeles, because I’m an albino, practically, and I seem like an intellectual, I guess. They’ll be like, “You don’t seem like an L.A. guy. You seem like a WASP-y Woody Allen.” I don’t know if that’s an oxymoron.

I went to school in Pasadena, at Polytechnic, but the house I lived in was near Sierra Madre—Eaton Canyon, in the foothills, just a five-minute walk from where you could be up in trees. I’d walk the dogs there with my friends, and we’d go make trouble in the mountains. Either we would be hiking or playing weird movie games. I had a video camera. I was always making slasher movies—our own Blair Witch Project. Friends would meet and go throw rocks by the bridge. It was harmless stuff.

There was a lot of unsupervised fun. It wasn’t like a bunch of banshees. There wasn’t that same kind of anxiety about where kids were all the time. I remember coming out of college and hearing about kids having “play dates,” and I’m like, “What?” That sounds so lame.

I’m really attracted to a certain kind of L.A. that’s more suburban—a feeling of being depressed on the most beautiful day. The houses from my childhood are those I’m drawn to when we are picking locations. You know, those ranch-y midcentury modern houses. It’s funny that something with such a modern sensibility now feels older and haunted in a way.

After high school, all I wanted to do was get out of L.A. I wanted to have a back-East college experience of snow on the ground and reading the good books. I went to Wesleyan, and I didn’t bring socks my first year. I had Top-Siders. I thought I could make it to the holidays without getting socks, and then in November I broke down and bought some. I was just bummed out to have to wear socks. I realized quickly I had seasonal affective disorder. I’m not usually depressive, but I’d be so depressed and then I’d come home and realize, I’m not depressed—I’m just freezing.

I don’t think L.A. is the easiest place to figure out if you come flying blind. I tell people who move here that it takes about seven years. And the whole social scene is weird. In parts of the Westside, where I live now, you can find children’s clothing stores open later than bars.

I go to the Brentwood Country Mart a lot. J.J. Abrams got me a Brentwood Country Mart hat. He said, “You gotta wear this and represent, since I always see you here buying cookies.” You do run into a fair amount of celebrities on the Westside. You’ll put on your iPod and be walking the dogs and blissing out and then suddenly you’ll have a Tom Hanks run-in. It just adds a little layer of absurdity to the day.

There is one downside to being raised in L.A.: I have a feeling the sunburns of childhood are going to take me out of this life. When I was a kid, we didn’t come in until we were wheezing from asthma and had third-degree burns. I’ve already had one melanoma and two basal cells. Every three months they have to take a chunk out of me.