SXSW had barely begun and I had already slipped away from the crowd. Feeling overwhelmed by startup pitches, I had just made my way down to the lobby to get coffee with Joel, one of my best friends and partners in crime. I led him into the Omni’s sunny bar lounge and plopped down in a booth seat in the banquette farthest away from any other people. Joel sat in the chair across from me and looked at me expectantly, probably thinking I had something important to tell him.
“Sometimes I just need to sit and chill,” I told him.
“Baby, you got it,” he said with this faux-used-car-salesman air that makes me smirk every time.
We talked for approximately two minutes about how good it was to be in the same city again before I saw a man walk up and sit at the far end of the bar. My eyes widened with recognition.
“Is that Quentin Tarantino?” I asked Joel. He squinted at me and slowly shifted his body in his chair, keeping his eyes on me for any signs of Tom Foolery, before finally turning his head to look.
He snapped back to face me. “Yes,” he said decisively.
“Oh my God. Should we talk to him?” My pulse quickened.
“Um. Yeah. I want to get a picture with him.” One does not simply ask Quentin Tarantino for a picture, I thought, but I wanted one too. I don’t usually get celeb-crazy, but here was someone famous for actually being talented, who creates wildly entertaining films to stealthily convey his social commentary. He is no pawn or puppet of Hollywood. When Quentin Tarantino wants to make a movie, he kicks in the door and blasts the industry in the face with his agenda.
“OK. What do we do?” I asked Joel.
“Let’s just… go to the bar and order a drink,” he said. I contemplated leaving my coffee behind so I could actually have a reason to go to the bar, but I wanted it too much. I gathered up my belongings and we headed over to the bar.
Joel leaned on the bar in a space that was one stool away from Quentin, forcing me to sit there and act as a female buffer zone. I wanted to but could only stand behind the chair awkwardly. I didn’t want to bother him, and felt bad for even being near him. He was drinking a margarita, perceiving if we were about to annoy him or not. I was having a major processing malfunction trying to think of something to say. Joel turned to him and said, “I just wanted to let me know you’re a huge idol of mine.” Quentin turned to him with a look on his face that was humble, tired, standoffish, pleased, and a little skeptical — all at the same time. “Thank you,” he said, and focused back on his margarita.
Joel ordered his drink and I stood there stupidly for another awkward moment that seemed to stretch out into eternity. Finally I asked him, “Do you mind if I sit here?” He turned and looked at me. I was wearing my Texas best: A vintage button-down shirt, half-white half-black with southwestern triangles of the opposite color on each sleeve and a diamond cut out of the chest to make the collar look like a bow tie; standard black pencil skirt; cowboy boots. “No, go ahead,” he said, and gestured to the stool. I climbed on and sipped my coffee, thinking about what I could say to him that wasn’t completely boring, something that he hadn’t heard a million times in the past week.
“Death Proof is like, my favorite movie,” I told him. He arched his eyebrows at me.
“Oh yeah? Who’s your favorite character?” Oh shit. It really was one of my favorites, maybe not THE favorite but close enough. But far enough that I couldn’t remember “butterfly’s” actual name in real life or the movie.
“Well, I love the jukebox scene, I memorized that entire lap dance.” I blurted out. He chuckled.
A stranger walked up and point-blank asked him for a picture. “I’m sorry, no, I’m just trying to sit here and have a drink and I don’t want to take pictures right now,” he told the fan. Joel and I looked at each other wide eyed, glad we had at least some tact. Quentin turned back to me:
“As I was saying, did you know that entire sequence was filmed just down the street at the Texas Chili Parlor?” I told him to get out. No, he was serious. I relaxed a little, as we were pretty much old friends at this point. A woman with long, curly blonde hair came and sat on the bar stool next to him. “She’s a fan of Death Proof,” Quentin told her, pointing his thumb at me. I smiled at her. The bar manager brought up a bottle of tequila from the basement and displayed it for Quentin. Avion reposado. He ordered a second margarita, this time with the good stuff, and a shot for his friend. “Fuck it, I’ll have a glass as well,” I told the bartender. It tasted exactly like Quentin Tarantino’s drink of choice should taste.
As we sipped, we talked about his casting inspiration for Death Proof. I told him I was in awe of Jungle Julia, that I had never seen a woman who looked like her take on such a powerhouse role. He told me about the billboards they put up all over Austin while they were shooting, advertising Jungle Julia’s radio show like it was real. I told him I made my handle Amazon Arikia after I saw that movie, inspired to reclaim a name that boys used to call me in middle school when I was taller than all of them. “I’ll bet they don’t make fun of you anymore,” he said.
He told me that the funny thing about the actress who played Jungle Julia was that nobody wanted to cast her because of her ethnic look. I told him she was beautiful, and that it was really comforting for me to see someone with hair as curly as mine strutting around with confidence, kicking her shoes off and laying it down in the DJ booth.
We talked about how Death Proof was the movie that broke all the rules when it came to women in films. In college, there was a challenge that went around the Michigan Daily newsroom: Name a movie where there are A) more than two women B) Who talk to each other C) About something other than guys. Nobody could name one, but I fired back with Death Proof. I remember when it came out, people criticized it: “Who wants to hear a bunch of chicks gabbing for an hour in a movie?” they would say. I did, and I loved it, and the way they kicked the shit out of Stuntman Mike in the end.
Our drinks were getting low, and I turned to Quentin and asked him: “What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not making movies?” He shrugged. “Live life.” Then he furrowed his brow and said, “no, let me revise that. It’s ‘not make movies.'” He explained that it was difficult for him to put his work away, and to experience life without being compelled to process people and events for the big screen. “So how do you decide when you’re going to stop not making movies?” I asked. “Well, something really has to grab you to make you decide to do only that for the next two years of your life,” he said.
When he asked for the bill, I told him I didn’t want to be one of those fans, but could I please have his autograph? I gave him my journal, which I don’t think I’ve ever let anyone else touch let alone write in, and said he could have a whole page.
That, my friends, is how you win SXSW on the first day. Life lessons from this encounter:
- Dress like you want to be addressed, and if you want to be addressed like a cowgirl than fucking hell yeah, do it.
- People who say you don’t need to drink to have fun or get ahead in life are WRONG.
- If someone makes you nervous, it means you should definitely talk to them.