I was recently at French bakery on Kenneth Village in Glendale, ordering coffee latte when I noticed the person sitting on the table next to me is about to get up. I asked if he was leaving so I could take his table when he turned his face to me with a welcoming smile to confirm that I could use the table. I looked into his face and screamed : “Oh! are you Steven Zaillian?” To which he replied positive.
A week earlier I was working on an animation project about Armenian filmmakers and for that I had to work through several images of him as well and if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t even know how he looks. I was so excited to meet him that I even forgot the name of my favorite movie he had written and directed so I just said: “You are one of my favorite screenplay writers but more than that I’m a big fan of… er (At this point I realized that I somehow have forgotten the name of the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer”) so I went like “Er…er… the Bobby Fischer movie.” He humbly nodded and corrected me “Searching for Bobby Fischer” and I was like Tarantino in Desperado, “Yeah him too!” But no seriously, I said “Yes, sorry I’m too excited and my brain stops functioning when this happens.”
Then he asked me how do I know his face because I guess he assumed screenplay writers are not really the celebrity type and I explained the whole animation thing. At that moment I was suddenly haunted by the thought that “What if he is not Armenian?” so I checked it right away and explained “Half-Armenian” to which I, with my entire stupidity replied “Well I guess your good looks must be coming from the other half.Haha!” AH GOD!!, Even now that I write about it I feel so stupid to joke about something like that with a Hollywood heavyweight who has films like Schindler’s List, The Girl with Dragon Tattoo and Gangs of New York in his writing credits.
He looked at me with a wry smile and probably thought to himself “Who is this moron?” but please understand that his face as you can see in the photo was soooo not Armenian (No big nose, no thick unibrows, basically too many north European features ) that it made me pop out something that I then thought might be funny. Anyway he told me about what he was working on and seemed pretty impressed that I was working on my thesis film at UCLA.
I explained to him what I thought about Searching for Bobby Fischer and how deeply that movie had impacted myself and family when we first watched it. He seemed glad to reach that far and thanked me for the compliment. We eventually shook hands as I told him that I feel so proud to call him a fellow Armenian. He smiled again and wished me good luck as he leaved, but later I started thinking about why do I have to emphasize so much on his ethnicity instead of simply having a conversation about film? Is it just us Armenians who do this because of our small population and insecurities or every other race and nation would have done the same? Would a Serbian do something similar if he had came across Emir Kusturica in an LA bar? Probably yes, but because he is not American. Would a black dude do the same when seeing Steven McQueen at a food court down in Pasadena? I guess they wouldn’t merely discuss film in it’s general sense and not race in specific so why do we do this? I’d really love to hear any thoughts so feel free to post a comment and share ideas.