Julian Schnabel was feeling overwhelmed. He had just arrived at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills for the opening reception for a show of his paintings and had been instantly swarmed by well-wishers. Fresh off an Oscar nomination for directing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Schnabel has attracted an A-List crowd including actors Tilda Swinton, James Franco, John Waters, Werner Herzog, Disney chief Bob Iger with wife Willow Bay, Cynthia Rowley, Casey Johnson and Minnie Mortimer.
He asks, to no one in particular, for a cigarette, and for the first time in my life I was genuinely glad to be a smoker. I hand one over. "You can ask me a question," he says. And then motions for me to follow him outside.
But each time Schnabel walks a few feet, he is asked to pose for a picture, autograph one of his books, pose for another picture. And another. Whenever there's a pause, he turns to me—"You ready?"—but he stops yet again near the exit to talk with Larry Gagosian, and, city smoking ordinances be damned, lights up the cigarette, which they share.
"You ready?" he asks me again after their chat, and moves to the sidewalk, where there is a long line of people waiting to get in. And whatever I had first intended to ask Schnabel, it has slipped my mind over the course of our 15-minute, 15-yard trek. So I open lamely with, "How long have you been in L.A.?"
"I came here from Rome on Monday," he says. His iPhone rings and he chats for a few minutes.
I ask him if there is a connection between the film and his paintings. "I found the X-rays in a house near a location for the film," he explains, with the cigarette nearly done.
"What does a Oscar nominee do the week before the Oscars?"
"I'm having an art show."
Another man with a long beard comes up and tells Schnabel that they once surfed together. In L.A., the conditions have been particularly good lately, he explains. "There's a huge swell on," the man tells Schnabel.
Then Schnabel looks at me and says, "I didn't get to go surfing this week."
Another guy stops to tell Schnabel about another art show a few blocks away. Schnabel says he won't be going.
"Are we done?" Schnabel asks me as he throws the butt away. Yes we are. On his way back in he adds, "You should come back and see the paintings when there's not so many people." The Schnabel show will remain on display at Gagosian through March 22.
Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage