The Proust Q&A: Rex Pickett

California born and based Rex Pickett is the author of Sideways, the popular novel centred around the characters of Miles and Jack, who escape LA for a wine road trip around Santa Barbara before Jack gets married. The 2004 book was turned into a film the same year, which won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Pickett published the sequel to Sideways, Vertical, in 2010. His Sideways: the Play is currently enjoying an extended run in LA.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A dinner date with Kate Winslet after she has seen my Sideways: the Play in the West End where it is a smash hit and she tells me how much she loves it. That, and the idea that I might be remembered for a few years for something I wrote.

What is your greatest fear? 

Having no home, no money and no place to write.

Who do you most admire?

The director of Sideways, Alexander Payne. He has the power to make whatever movie he wants, within budgetary reason, for probably the rest of his life. In film – as with Buñuel, Rohmer, Mizoguchi et al, he’ll be able to play out his cinematic sensibility, and that’s an enviable place to be. I admire that.  And he earned it.  I like to feel I played a small part in his having summited that rarefied, Himalayan height.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I have none. I live modestly and want for nothing. The only thing a burglar could steal from me that would piss me off would be my MacBook Pro. But I would just buy another one.

What is your current state of mind? 
I’m in a twin state of exultant and circumspect. Exultant because my Sideways: the Play is having a smash run in LA. Circumspect because I’m fielding a lot of offers about what to do next creatively and I know that whatever decision I make, it’ll govern the next two years of my life. I’m both content and wary, but that’s better than being anxious and wary, which would sum up my state of mind for most of my life.

What is the quality you most like in a woman? 

Ambition, a reckless sense of humour, and a film and literary aesthetic sensibility that, to some degree, mirrors, or complements, mine. A woman who isn’t obsessed with her looks. Someone who knows when to leave me alone, who isn’t needy, who isn’t an emotional basket case, who can take care of herself, who is self-sufficient.  A woman who doesn’t always have to make plans, but who can operate spontaneously.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Ironically,” and not always correctly. Or: “I was reading this great article in The New York Times.”  Why do I always have to preface comments with that?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?

In truth, the greatest love of my life has been my work.  Where, early in my life, it seemed almost intangible or not quite real, now it truly buttresses me.

When and where were you happiest?

At the first premiere screening of Sideways at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara filled with 1,500 people and raucous, deafening laughter. And when my ex-wife won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short for a film I wrote entitled My Mother Dreams the Satan’s Disciples in New York. I wasn’t at the Oscars. I was at a party when Cate Blanchett and Jude Law handed her the Oscar. I wrote her speech. That was a happy moment.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Fluency in a foreign language, and the ability to get in peoples’ faces when they’re screwing me over, instead of repressing it then exploding years later when it probably doesn’t matter.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would like to learn to relax around people, listen better, and not talk a blue streak as I’m wont to do sometimes.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

The fact that my novel Sideways is finally getting discovered. The film lives on to this day. Time has been kind to Sideways. I see it at every performance of my play, where the characters and story still endure. I see it in my Sideways sequel Vertical. And now there are people clamoring for a Part III. Without question, Miles and Jack in Sideways is my greatest achievement. I hope it’s not the zenith of my career.

Where would you most like to live?

I grew up in Southern California, but I don’t really like it here all that much. And I particularly despise LA, although at a certain price point I wouldn’t mind living somewhere else in this city if I could afford it. At this point in my life I think I’d like to live in a foreign country, and certain opportunities might afford me that chance. South America, Spain, New Zealand. I have to be close to the ocean because I grew up by one, and when I’m not I feel landlocked.

What is your most treasured possession?

My brain. I’m not a materialistic person.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I make people laugh with my rapier-like wit. Or so I’m told. I don’t tell jokes. Humour, for me, springs unexpectedly, and with abandon, out of the moment. I seek humour in every situation; it’s an anodyne for the anxieties of life.

Who are your favorite writers?

The Collected Works of C.G. Jung were huge. A towering achievement to have read all 20 volumes when I was only 19. Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye had a lasting effect on me. Ditto for The Sun Also Rises. Peter Handke’s Short Letter, Long Farewell was seminal. As was Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell for more or less saying, “Nothing is sacred; there are no rules.”  The beauty of Fitzgerald’s prose. Ditto for little known mystery writer Ross MacDonald.

Who is your hero of fiction?

Philip Marlowe, because he never did it for the money; he did it for the disinterring of the truth.

What is it that you most dislike?

Aesthetic stupidity.

Physical violence to another human being; even someone punching soneone in a bar appalls me.

People with no sense of humour.

People or organisations who think they have the answers to life. Religions, cults, monomaniacs and megalomaniacs all fall into this loathsome category.

Reactionaries.

People who want to censor me.

Hot, dry air where there is no body of water.

Bad restaurant food.

Cheap people. Especially ones who have money. In fact, put this at the top of my list.

Credit grabbers. Liars in general. People who take credit for things other people have done.

The abuse of power.

Specious people.

People who don’t come through on their promises.

Empty, shallow people who live for material possessions and a jet-set lifestyle.

What is your greatest regret?

I have several: not firing an actor in my second feature film who ruined four years of my life out of his selfishness.

Not speaking out when Sideways producer Michael London started to lie to the press about what he did to make Sideways a success, when the truth is he owes me everything for handing Alexander Payne to him on a silver platter.

Signing a deal that my publishing agent twisted my arm into with Alfred A. Knopf to write a novel I didn’t want to write.

Letting my younger  brother take over my mother’s care after she suffered a debilitating stroke and, in the course of two years, squandering all of her savings.

Letting myself go to a few years of celebratory hedonism after the success of Sideways when I should have had my business hat on and been wary of all the people making millions while I cavorted around in a state of ostensible bliss.

What is your motto?

What you’re doing is what you’re becoming; what you’ve done is what you’ve become.

Who would be your ideal dinner party guests and what wines would you serve them?

I’d love to have dinner with Alexander Payne, Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church, pour my wine I’m coming out with – Ne Plus Ultra Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – and ask them why they’re not in pre-production on the Sideways sequel. Tens of millions on the table and no sequel. Why? The book’s been written. It’s already been adapted. I think over dinner I would have my answer. Friendly, no pressure, over wine and slow-cooked goat shanks.

One Response to “The Proust Q&A: Rex Pickett”

  1. Martin Campion says:

    This has to be the best PQ&A yet.

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