Larry Karaszewski and his writing partner, Scott Alexander, have written the screenplays for the movies Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, and most recently, Big Eyes, a biopic of the painter Margaret Keane directed by Tim Burton. Before a screening and discussion of Big Eyes, Karaszewski talked about the movie he’s most likely to quote (Cooley High), getting out of the mopping-up-blood business and into the entertainment business, and why he’s kind of like Thousand Island salad dressing in the Zócalo green room.
What’s the last great book you read?
The Run of His Life by Jeffrey Toobin.
What’s hanging on your living room walls?
A Margaret Keane painting. I have a very interesting house in the Hollywood Hills that’s almost all white inside. I married into a family of art collectors, but we had almost no art on the walls until I made this movie. Now I have a few Margaret Keane paintings. I have a sunken living room that’s kind of retro-looking, and there’s a blue Margaret D. H. Keane hanging above it. The painting’s in the movie—there’s a scene where Amy Adams goes off on a numerology rant, and that’s the painting she’s standing in front of.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
I was the person who mopped up a butcher shop. That was terrible. I was 16. I started working for the TV station in Indiana pretty early on. I got out of mopping up blood early.
What salad dressing best describes you?
Thousand Island. Because you don’t really quite know what Thousand Island is, but at its core it’s pretty simple: ketchup, relish, and mayonnaise—a weird combination of things that makes a third flavor.
What’s your cure for writer’s block?
His name is Scott Alexander.
What’s your favorite thing about Los Angeles?
That you never know what you’re going to get—that it’s still forming. I really think Los Angeles is a 21st-century city, and that’s what makes it different from New York. Neighborhoods are still being developed. I’m a foodie, and I love the fact that great restaurants pop up in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a mini-mall, right next to a 7-11. The surprise element of Los Angeles: You have to crack Los Angeles. A lot of cities are easy to get. You have to keep your eyes open to find out what’s great about L.A.
What film are you most likely to quote?
Cooley High. It’s the black American Graffiti. I actually like it better than American Graffiti. It was the first movie I saw where I really could kind of identify with the characters. My mother was a waitress, and my dad worked in a factory in South Bend, Indiana, about an hour and a half outside of Chicago. Cooley High was a black film, but I recognized the people in it. To this day it’s the movie I quote all the time.
What was the most important year of your life?
I’m going to say 1976—because I was going into high school, and I ended up in a local television troupe called Beyond Our Control. It was sort of a Saturday Night Live for young people. I’d always wanted to be a writer, a director. Through that group I had a support system that sort of pushed me forward and also allowed me to realize that it’s not impossible.
What’s your favorite condiment?
Where would we find you at 10 a.m. on a typical Saturday morning?
Probably reading something in bed, or figuring out what time a movie starts at the ArcLight. Usually the first movie’s at 10:30 or 11, and I’m figuring out whether I can talk my wife into getting in the car.