Eavesdropping

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Reversal of Fortune

Before his big break in cinema, the director once believed his career was doomed from the start... all because of a visit to New York City's Feast of San Gennaro.

Play
Pause
0:00 0:00
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 25: Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon attends the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on August 25, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images for TheWrap)

Filmmaker Alfonso Gomez Rejon’s new movie, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance film festival.  His next movie is set to star Hugh Jackman and Rooney Mara. But fortune didn’t always smile on Alfonso, who tells Rico all about it.

DPD-Banner

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon: I was 17. I had been in New York maybe a couple of months. I had moved from Laredo, Texas to go to film school. And I go to the San Gennaro Festival and…

Rico Gagliano: Which is an Italian street festival.

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon: Right. I’d been in New York a month or two, like intensely shy, probably made a couple of friends… And I see this fortune teller… and this is a true story:

I see this fortune teller.  She starts reading my palm, she [says], “So, what do you want to do? What are your dreams? What do you want to be?”

And I said, “I’m going to be a filmmaker.” And I was so… I had such conviction, I was such a driven little dude.

And she says, “It’s never going to happen.”

And… I was literally in shock. I was like catatonic, walking the streets. I went back to my residence hall, which is this place called Weinstein, which was literally designed by a guy who designs prisons. And Rico, I’m not kidding, I thought of this woman for my entire life. We’re talking about it now, 25 years later! I mean I still think of her, I still know exactly what she had on, exactly what she looked like. Every day I think, “She cursed me!”

Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox
Alfonso on the set of “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl.” Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox

I go to grad school, I start writing scripts that I’m hoping to direct. I get an agent quickly… the script doesn’t sell… I can’t get the agent back on the phone.

I go back to New York, I go back to being a production assistant — exactly what I was doing before getting my master’s.  I was hosing down the outside of the 14th Street Armory, where like homeless people… when they eat, eventually they evacuateyou know how that works? And I had to hose that down, and I was like, “Oh my God, I have a master’s!” I never told my parents about that job.

And then I get a little movie, and it’s about to go… and it falls apart.

Another little movie, it’s about to go, we’re so close, I’m meeting with cast… the financing falls through.

And it just. Kept. Happening. Everything fell apart. She cursed me!

Finally, Ryan Murphy gave me a chance to direct my feature film debut, “The Town that Dreaded Sundown.” And two weeks before?  Yep, MGM is about to pull the plug.

But then we tightened the script, we cut it down, and finally… I’m 40, I’m in Shreveport, and I’m about to roll on the first shot.  And I’m just expecting something to happen. Like, lightning… I’m gonna fall off the boat (it was a house boat, in a scene with Denis O’Hare, it’s a wide shot from the back of the boat)… and we roll.

I see the slate.  It claps [he claps his hands].  We roll. And, “Cut!”

Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox
Alfonso on the set of “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl.” Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox

And I just breathe.  Like, I can’t believe this happened. I took my cinematographer inside, Michael Goi, and I said, “Did I ever tell you the story about this San Gennaro Festival 20 years ago?”

So… the spell has lifted. Is that what you say? “The spell has broken?” And then immediately, I went right into another movie.

So hopefully, I’ll show her.