Not a lot of RIP Paul Walker posts in my various feeds this morning, despite the Fast and the Furious lead having died a grisly death on Saturday. I guess Walker doesn’t have big profile in the literary scene. His films were middle brow. His acting wasn’t overly nuanced. So he died in the burning wreck of a Porsche, I can hear the collective consciousness murmuring. Wasn’t that kind of in the script?
Maybe. I don’t know. Who knows anything about death but the dead? But I did meet Walker once. So I can talk about the guy I met, who surprised me.
I was working for Toro Magazine at the time, Canada’s upstart Esquire clone that burned through a few million of a prominent Toronto real estate developors dollars before everybody came to their senses. They sent me to LA to interview him in early 2006, just pre-Flags of Our Fathers. Some PR genius set up the meet at the Peterson Automotive Museum (cars, get it? Fast and the Furious? Like a theme-interview.) We walked around looking at old cars owned by other actors for awhile, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen. Walker was unimpressed because he raced cars himself. He’d piled a GT3 into the wall at Willow Springs the week prior. No big deal because he’d use it as a parts car. (Chilling a bit to note that he was passenger in a GT when he died, but I digress.)
I gave him a break from cars and we found a booth in the deserted museum cafeteria. We got talking and were there for a couple of hours. And a very interesting person emerged: a guy who hated Hollywood, disliked being a public person, and spent half his time plotting an escape from both that he never ultimately made.
You can read the article here and decide for yourself what you think about him. But one part of the interview that didn’t make the article sticks with me most. It was the moment Walker realized that I didn’t cover Hollywood for a living, that I wasn’t part of the machine, and that was the moment he suddenly got very candid.
We were talking about the film he’d just produced called The Death and Life of Bobby Z, staring Walker and Laurence Fishbourne (who Walker hugely admired)…
Walker: Everyone was rock solid. And I just hope to God it comes out all right. Because it was just good people all around. Olivia Wilde is just awesome. She was on OC, she played what’s that Misha Barton… Is that her name?
TT: I don’t know.
PW: You’re worse than me. Even I know her name. But I don’t watch any of her shows. You watch TV at all?
PW: (Long pause.) Me either. Do you have a TV set up?
TT: Yeah, it’s set up…
PW: But you don’t watch it.
PW: You watch movies?
TT: I do watch movies.
PW: (laughs, shakes his head) You’re like me. I don’t know who anybody is. You don’t know who anybody is down here. (laughing)
TT: No I don’t know Hollywood at all. I didn’t know who you were. I had to look you up.
PW: (really laughing now, long pause) That is awesome!
[At which point Walker started to open up and eventually we get talking about life in Hollywood.]
PW:Honestly? I like my job, but I can’t stand the people. I hate LA. It’s misplaced priorities. Everyone’s got their head up their ass. No one gives a shit about anybody. Relationships are disposable. They play like they want to be your friend, but only because you’re the hot piece of ass.
TT: I suppose it’s because there’s a ton of money involved.
PW: Sure. Yeah. Wherever there’s money involved it’s gonna be like that. In big corporate America it’s probably the same thing. You know they want to be buds with you and shake your hand, but there’s no real loyalty. It’s pro sports. It’s anywhere. And I don’t want to live that life.
TT: But let’s be honest, you’re involved.
PW: Yeah but who wants to live that life? You can’t go anywhere without people going hey, hey, this or that. You lose your anonymity.
TT: So what’s it like for you walking down Wilshire.
PW: It drives me crazy! It’s bad. I mean you hear these stories about how certain people are such assholes. And there such pricks when it comes to it. And I find myself doing it sometimes. I’m doing the same thing. Earlier today, when somebody came up to me. I’m just eating my damn burger and it’s like I don’t want to be bothered, I’m sorry. I gotta run. I gotta go meet this guy. Dude, I had 25 minutes. I was just down the street. I thought, surely I can just get this and get out. But you want to know why I was late. Because the entire staff of the [burger joint name] had to come out. And I just wanted to go [throws up his hands]. But the only reason I didn’t is because I don’t want to be known as the Dick. That’s the only reason I stayed. But what I wanted to do is go: leave me alone I gotta go! I’m running late, you understand?It’s such a weird deal. It’s not grounded in anything.
TT: Does this underscore your desire to get the fuck out of Dodge?
PW: Yeah. But then no. It’s like: can you have a normal life and still do it? Can you eliminate all the pricks. Can you surround yourself with people you know are good people. Every one of those guys I worked with on Bobby Z? What comes first and foremost? Their families. They’re out there the whole shoot, and they’re not banging the hair stylist and then fucking an extra the next day. There are morals. There’s a morality. You know? But there are still certain days when I really feel, I can’t do it. I can’t do it.
RIP Paul Walker. You got away, only not in the way you wanted and no in the way I had hoped you would since our now-long-ago conversation. Peace to the Walker family.