Hey, Sean, Did You Enjoy Being Roomies or Was It All Just an Act?
By JOSEPH HANANIA , SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 14, 2001
Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 1 Entertainment Desk
32 inches; 1132 words |
Type of Material: Mainbar
Sure, I confess. It was a kick in the pants to be your sort-of
roommate. So we shared an apartment for only eight days, including the
time it took your crew to move you in and out. That still counts, doesn't
The news that you wanted to move in came in a call from my landlord,
Pat Cramer. "How'd you like to be in the movies?" his voice boomed over
the phone. OK, it wasn't really me who was going to Writer Joseph
Hanania's Santa Monica apartment was used as a set for the upcoming film
"I Am Sam," starring Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer.
be in your newest movie, "I Am Sam," directed by Jessie Nelson; it was
my apartment. Why split hairs? My apartment's "unusual" qualifications
for the role, according to the film's location manager, Russ Sega: My
bedroom window overlooks the window of neighbor Carl Wied above a garden
walkway. Both apartments also look out on the street.
The idea was that you would move into my apartment, Dianne Wiest into
Carl's. Playing a mentally challenged man seeking to retain custody of
his little girl, you would enviously stare through my window at Dianne's
warm home life. Along the way, you would so frustrate your high-powered
lawyer, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, that she would storm your apartment
and kick in your/my front door.
And so, barely 24 hours after my landlord's call, about 20 crew
members--the film is an Avery Pix production for New Line Cinema--were
standing on a traffic island, all seemingly looking straight up at my
windows. And then, they all arrived to inspect my apartment, whispering
about that kicked-in door. I guess I wasn't supposed to find out because
otherwise I might freak.
And then they were gone, leaving an apartment which suddenly felt
empty. Had it--had I--landed you as my roommate? Or had my contact high
with Hollywood already produced my first letdown? I needn't have worried.
This, I learned, had been my apartment's second audition.
During the first, my landlord and the location manager had knocked on
my door while my maid was cleaning and explained their mission. She had
let them in but, believing that any talk of your wanting to move in must
be another Hollywood fantasy, she had never even told me about the visit.
And so it came about that your crew decided that yes, indeed, my
apartment would be perfect for you. The question, then, was how much to
charge for you to move in. There is no standard rate for renting out a
home, says Morrie Goldman, spokesman for the Entertainment Industry
Development Corp., which coordinates on-location filming throughout Los
Angeles. Mostly, it's catch as catch can, with the rate partially
determined by a location's uniqueness, its frequency of use and the
In Santa Monica, where permit requirements are generally tighter, a
film company must also get written permission from the manager or owner
of any affected residence, which mostly means those whose street parking
spaces are blocked by those ubiquitous movie trucks, says city permit
coordinator Vee Gomez. So my landlord, as well as the owners of nearby
buildings, were undoubtedly negotiating sweet deals for themselves. But I
was still none the wiser about how much to ask for.
Although you were scheduled to move into my apartment for only two
days, those two days would not be consecutive; rather, they would be
separated by a three-week stretch. To cut down on preparation time, the
film company's assistant location manager proposed that I allow my home
to remain, for those weeks, as your apartment. In short, my Tiffany-style
lamps would give way to your character's Woolworth-style lamps, my pearl
white walls to your dark gray ones and so forth. Thus, his pitch went, I
would get to "live in Sean Penn's apartment."
Still, before you could move in, I went through intense negotiations
for your planned stay, negotiations concluded less than 24 hours before
the first set designers were due to arrive on Feb. 21, transforming my
bedroom into yours. My fee: $7,000, plus what became a five-day
expenses-paid vacation for two, first at Shutters on the Beach, later at
the Fairmont Miramar.
It was a very sweet deal, but as the days went on, something gnawed at
me. I missed having breakfast at my own table. I missed being able to
walk two blocks over to my local tennis courts, without first having a
valet get my car. Most of all, though, I missed the regularity of my
And so, I began sneaking home to interview people from my phone in the
study, even as crew members popped their heads in, clearly wondering who
I was. Despite the chaos in my apartment, however, some changes your film
crew made were clearly for the better. For example, my apartment building
is called The Wonder Palms, that wonder consisting of two scraggly
courtyard palms. By the time you had moved in though, my building was
surrounded by planter boxes full of palms. Opening my study window, I
could, for the first time, actually touch a palm leaf.
What's more, my landlord was moved to replace the rotting wooden
trellis above the garden-walkway, which your film crew painted a glorious
white. Now my building boasts the Wonder Palms Sean Penn Memorial
By the day of the shoot, then, the Wonder Palms had completed its
Cinderella-like transformation, from a slightly rundown building to a
miniature Garden of Eden, its courtyard palm trees laden,
"Survivor"-like, with cameras and ladders, lights and filters. My living
room furniture, on the other hand, was in storage, replaced by three
directors' chairs, all facing the front door Michelle would kick in.
But we hadn't met yet, and when I told members of your crew that I
hoped to get a picture with you in front of our shared apartment, they
just shook their heads. In rather colorful language, they forewarned me
that you have, to put it mildly, a negative reaction to cameras. Rather
strange, I thought, for someone whose job largely consists of making
Still, wanting to start our relationship on the right note, I put away
my camera and stood with the film crew on the second floor walkway,
watching you act. In the scene, you dropped off an amazingly well-behaved
baby girl at Dianne's apartment, started walking away, then bent over to
wave a final goodbye through a nearly closed window shade. Your
performance, Sean, was affecting, that of a simple man in pain, fighting
for what's his.
True, Carl/Dianne's front door would not stay closed after you dropped
off the girl, and the director repeatedly called out to you not to worry
about it--a trifle overly solicitous, I thought. But hey, snafus happen;
all eyes were on you; and other than the crew's apparent edginess around
you, I saw no evidence of your "bad boy" rep.
So, after the scene had been shot, I walked over and introduced
myself. I was, I said, the man whose apartment you were renting. I was
also writing up the experience of renting my place to the movies for this
paper. Instantly, your face contorted with rage. A reporter with this
paper, you shouted, had told "lies" about you. Only if I got him fired
would you consider talking to me. Then you stomped off.
A couple of days later, the movers had hauled my furniture back in,
the crew had given me keys for my newly changed locks, the painters had
repainted your gray bedroom to its original white; I was, once again, at
home. Nor would we have to repeat the whole shtick weeks later.
Apparently, you had gotten enough shots inside the apartment that first
So, when you came back Wednesday to shoot a final scene--this one in
which you sit at a fake "bus stop" in front of the apartment--your film
crew merely replaced my white blinds with your gray ones, making it seem
as if the apartment were still yours. But it wasn't, Sean, not really.
This time, you stayed in your trailer down the street. Then, smoking a
cigarette, you arrived at the "bus stop" and prepared for your scene.
Looking at me from 12 feet away, you didn't even nod hello. A few minutes
later, your crew chased me off. My watching, they said, was "disturbing"
you. And so, as unexpectedly as you had moved into my life without a
hello, a goodbye or even a thank-you, you moved out. But if you ever want
to drop by, you know where I live.
PHOTO: Joseph Hanania's apartment turned out to the perfect
backdrop for "I Am Sam."
PHOTOGRAPHER: ANNIE WELLS / Los Angeles Times
PHOTO: Joe Hanania in the window of his Santa Monica apartment,
which plays Sean Penn's home in "I Am Sam."
PHOTOGRAPHER: ANNIE WELLS / Los Angeles Times