Allison Anders is talking melodrama, the kind she puts on the screen and the kind that happens in real life. Specifically, she’s talking about recent events involving Hugh Grant, the actor she says called her up a year ago when he read her autobiographical script for Paul Is Dead and said, ”Brilliant! There’s nothing on earth I want to do more.” After that, Anders says, Grant started growing his hair to play her fantasy version of Paul McCartney, and she lined up financing for the film. Then in April, a scant month before shooting was to start, Anders got a fax from Grant. ”He bailed,” she says. And her financing bailed with him. (”I’m very regretful,” Grant says through a spokesman.) ”It was a betrayal. Very wicked. Now, everywhere I go, there’s f—ing Hugh Grant’s face,” she says referring to the billboards for Four Weddings and a Funeral. ”It’s just like a knife in my heart.”
If it sounds personal, it is. For Anders, the line between her life and her work as a director is as smeared as mascara after a good cry. Her first solo film, 1992’s Gas Food Lodging, drew on her experiences as a single mom to tell a love story set in a Southwestern trailer park. For the just-released Mi Vida Loca/My Crazy Life, she looked no further than her own Echo Park neighborhood to get the raw material for her portrayal of L.A. girl gangsters doing what they have to do when their boyz are dead or gone. And while Gas Food Lodging took her off welfare and won her a New York Film Critics Circle Award, the daily melodrama of her life didn’t let up. She shot Mi Vida Loca — using real Echo Park gangsters in many roles — only a month after L.A. burned in the ’92 riots. It was a tense production with police often posted on site. And when one of the neighborhood girls who had a cameo in the film overdosed, Anders not only raised money for the funeral, she also decided to try adopting the woman’s orphaned son.
Bringing home a motherless 4-year-old is not the kind of thing most Hollywood directors are famous for. But Anders will tell you she doesn’t make her decisions the way they do. She says she never had a choice about whether the little boy would come to live with her and her two daughters, Tiffany, 19, and Devon, 17. ”On a spiritual level, it felt absolutely right and I never questioned it. How the hell else are you gonna decide to take on a child when you’re 39 years old? You’re gonna base your decision on reason?”
And so in the intervening year, while she edited Mi Vida Loca and struggled to launch Paul Is Dead, she also bought a how-to book for mothers of sons (”exactly one page devoted to single mothers, thank you very much”), scraped up money for Montessori school, and held her foster son when he cried out for his ”other mother,” who he says ”lives with the moon now.” Having the boy at home (Anders won’t name the mother or child or allow him to be photographed because adoption proceedings are not final) has ”changed my whole life,” she says.
Reason doesn’t rule Anders as a director, either. Though she went to UCLA film school, Anders works mostly by instinct, which makes for its own peculiarly intimate form of melodrama. To cast one male role in Mi Vida Loca, she sat around with women on the production and mused, ”Which one of these guys would we want to sleep with?” And when writing the script, she made sure that a character named El Duran got gunned down, which was her way of dealing with a tortured relationship she had years ago with Duran Duran’s John Taylor (who remains buddy enough to have done music for the film). For Anders, moviemaking is an alternative to appearing on Oprah.