Anthony Bourdain dishes on writing for 'Treme'
Anthony Bourdain is famous for wearing multiple hats: chef, author, Travel Channel jet-setter, and Bravo judge. Now the renaissance man can add another hat to his rack, as a writer for HBO’s New Orleans drama, Treme, which premieres its second season April 24. We talked to Bourdain about how he got the job, why TV writing is easier than book writing, and why he gets giddy over Treme creator David Simon.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You got a thank you credit in the first season finale, but now you’re writing scenes. How did you get the gig?
ANTHONY BOURDAIN: I was a huge fan of the show. I would’ve never dared dreamed of approaching David Simon, but he called me out of the blue. For me, it was like a little boy who’s a Yankees fan and Joe DiMaggio calling out of the blue and saying, “Hey, how’d you like to throw around the ball in the backyard?” So after I steadied myself and fought off a case of the vapors and calmed my squeaky voice, we had lunch, and he asked if I’d be interested. I remember calling my agent and saying “Treme is going to be calling. Whatever they ask, say yes. Whatever!”
Did he shed some light on why he picked you in particular?
I didn’t ask. When David Simon — who’s responsible for, to my mind, the greatest television in the history of the medium — when he calls, I jump. And I will jump anywhere, in any direction, to any height.
So how much writing for the show did you do?
I have done a fair amount, and there will be more. It’s going to be a very foodie season. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing, far and away. It’s the most creatively satisfying thing I’ve ever done. I’m enjoying myself so, so, so much. Just sitting at that writers’ table with those guys is the greatest professional honor in my life. Nothing’s come close.
How does TV writing differ from book writing for you?
For me, it’s easier to write something and then a few weeks later see videotapes of actors mouthing your words. It’s unbelievable!
Did you read up TV writing before you started?
I just write the stuff as best and clumsily as I can. I don’t think they expect me to be polished. I’ve never written fiction, or for television or screenplays, so if I’m getting the language wrong — smarter people than me will fix or improve it, [like writers] Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, and George Pelecanos, so they can do whatever the hell they want with what I write. If I get a sentence in there now and again, I am just beside myself with glee.
It’s been reported that you’ll be writing the kitchen scenes.
I think it would be fair to say that I’m confining myself to those areas in which I have some knowledge or something to add. For the most part, I won’t be putting words in the mouths of New Orleans musicians, nor am I presenting myself as an expert on New Orleans. There are other distinguished chefs consulting and advising on the details of New Orleans cuisine. I’m staying very much in my comfort zone and voices and subjects with which I have some familiarity and confidence.
And I hear that your so-called “arch-enemy,” GQ food critic Alan Richman, will be playing himself and speaking lines that you wrote?
So I hear! I’d written [the lines] for someone very much like Alan Richman. I’m astonished and, I hate to admit it, very impressed that he agreed to do it. It’s not a character like Alan Richman; it is Alan Richman! It kills me to applaud my enemy, but it’s not worth having an enemy if they don’t have something going for them. I think it shows a lot of balls and sense of humor on his part. Hate to admit that. I’m trying to write good television here. I had a one-month-long writing class years ago and my teacher’s first rule was never settle personal hash in your writing if it’s fiction. I feel free to do that in my non-fiction, but I’m writing a drama here. I always try to write as well as I can.
Does this job make you want to write more for TV, or is it a Treme thing?
It’s a David Simon thing and the people he works with. I’m a huge fan of all of them and their work. I don’t know what writing for TV’s like and I don’t particularly want to know. I know what it’s like working with those guys, and I really like that.
Photo: John Lamparski/WireImage.com