How We Met: Gurinder Chadha & John Landis
'As with actors, a lot of directors are weird, so you don't become friends with many'
Gurinder Chadha OBE, 50, is an award-winning writer, director and producer whose films have included 'Bhaji on the Beach', 'Bend it Like Beckham' and 'Bride & Prejudice'. She lives in London with her husband and two young children
I was in LA for the first time, back in 1994, when my debut movie – Bhaji on the Beach – had just come out. I was chatting with a writer who I'd met for lunch and she handed me a note from John Landis saying, "Loved your movie; can I buy you dinner?" I was a fan of The Blues Brothers and American Werewolf..., so I thought, "This is über-cool."
I called him and he seemed delighted to hear from me; he's a big talker, and he went on and on... He invited me for dinner at his home in Beverly Hills; it was beautiful, with amazing views of LA and filled with stuffed gorillas of every shape and size. I was overawed, but his wife was wonderful and I immediately warmed to John; he was very Punjabi: loud, jovial and opinionated, but not pretentious. He talked about his kids and general stuff, while his wife kept saying, "Now John, let someone else speak."
We struck up such a friendship that I would see them whenever I was in LA and vice versa when they came to London.
One of the last dinners I had in LA was at his house a few years ago. He called me up and said "Come over for dinner, we're having roast chicken." So I turned up and there were six eminent directors there, including Frank Darabont [Shawshank Redemption]. I've been trying to get a bunch of female directors to my house to do the same sort of thing; he's taught me how to behave socially with other directors.
John's movies are fantastic in their representation of race: Trading Places was one of the smartest films I ever saw. He has made some seminal films, but Hollywood has a short memory. The last time I saw him in LA, he was reading bad scripts, so I told him to come to London. I set up a meeting and he found a script he liked [for Burke and Hare] and it all worked out [Landis has just finished filming in London].
Since I had kids, we've got even closer. He adores them, and now he's over here, he sees them a lot. I went on to the set of Burke and Hare recently with my twins and they loved it. He's always sending little gifts and books for them, most recently a beautiful little story about a gorilla; they call it "John's book". We're much more about our families now than about work.
John Landis, 59, is an American film director and screenwriter best known for his comedies 'The Blues Brothers' and 'Trading Places' and horror classic 'An American Werewolf in London'. He divides his time between Los Angeles and London, where he is working on his latest movie 'Burke and Hare', alongside his wife, costume designer Deborah Landis
I was at Sundance [Film Festival] in 1994 and a woman writer I was talking to mentioned she was meeting Gurinder Chadha after. I'd just seen Bhaji on the Beach with my wife and we'd both adored it; it was a fresh and wonderfully observed comedy, so I asked her to pass on a note.
Gurinder called me, and I asked her for dinner. Deborah and I used to have regular dinner parties with directors, so she came along to one of those evenings. There's no directors' club in Hollywood, so I've had to seek the ones I like out myself. And, as with actors, a lot of them are weird, so you don't become friends with many. With Gurinder, I found someone who was talented, funny and positive; I took a real shine to her. And her boyfriend [now husband] Paul was from LA, like me, so that connected us too.
She went on to work on some low-budget projects in LA, so she experienced the whole Hollywood ride. I was able to give her some counsel as some of it is so insane. I told her, "It's not you, don't worry." Talent doesn't mean anything in this business: there are plenty of untalented people who are very successful. But she managed to keep a positive outlook and keep making movies, and she's come out of it well. I remember a screening of Bend it Like Beckham in LA in 2002. I told her, "I don't think you realise what a successful movie this'll be." She was excited but she didn't think it would be an international hit.
She's so English, that girl; she's been to Buckingham Palace, got her OBE, and you can tell it really means something. I've met the Royals too, but I can't take it seriously like she does; she just has a tremendous respect for the culture of her country. And now, because of her, I'm living in London.
I was speaking to her on the phone last year in LA, catching up, and I remember saying, "Does Ealing [Studio] still exist?" And she said, "Of course, have you tried talking to [producer] Barnaby Thompson? He's running it now." So she set up a meeting which resulted in Burke and Hare, which I've just finished shooting; it was a wonderful gesture from Gurinder.
And Gurinder's kids, I love. Paul's half-Caucasian, half-Japanese, and they've now got these deliciously mongrel kids who are gorgeous. I'm drawn to babies now, it's like grandfather time, and when I see them I get them really wild, then say, "OK, gotta go." It's been great to see her so much and it's great to see how far she's come, too. When I first met her I remember thinking, "You're an Indian in England and you're a woman – go ahead, succeed!" And she has.
Gurinder Chadha's 'It's a Wonderful Afterlife' ((12A)) is on general release
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