We'll Always Have Nobu : Robert De Niro

Reposting on the occasion of Robert De Niro’s 75th birthday. I guess you know you're old when all your crushes have turned into old men! Anyway ... here’s the one about the time ...

I put down the phone, hoping no one could see my hand was literally shaking. Bob's assistant, Elena, was calling from New York, wanting to see if I could organize some lunch for her boss. Her boss Bob. Bob as in Bob De Niro. Oh, that Bob. The actor was going to be in LA and planned on squeezing in a quick meeting with Rowdy Herrington, the director shooting the next episode of Tales from the Crypt. As the APOC at Tales, it fell to me to take on the task. 

An APOC—Assistant Production Office Coordinator to the uninitiated—is nothing more than an overworked secretary to about 150 people. Twelve hour days minimum. No overtime. My job meant inputting every single one of those names, phone numbers and addresses into the Crew List data base and keeping it updated. I generated the cast list which included the names of the talent, and the phone numbers for their agents, but never their own phone numbers or addresses. God forbid some prop guy showed up at an actor's door, script in hand, pleading for them to read it. The producers and the A.D.s were only ones with access to those personal details and they weren't telling. Otherwise all contact had to be made through the actor's agent and manager. Email addresses? In 1989 we didn't have any stinking email addresses. Cell phone numbers? Please.

The Tales production facilities were located in an old pasta factory on a particularly ugly corner in Culver City. When I couldn't wrangle a p.a. to do it for me—some of the p.a.'s had a mysterious habit of disappearing between errands to hang out on set, my weak delegating skills to blame, I'm sure—I distributed all those crew lists, memo's from any of the plethora of producers, invoices, copies of production reports, phone messages and script changes into large manilla envelopes stapled to the wall alongside my desk. The front of the envelopes cut down to create pouches, the names of the departments—ART—CAMERA—HAIR & MAKE-UP—WARDROBE—printed in big bold block letters in black marker. 

I made hotel and plane reservations for cast and crew coming in from out of town. I purchased office supplies. I faxed camera department orders. I sent pa's off to deliver updated scripts to actors. I took the production reports handwritten in pencil by the AD's on set and typed them up neatly. I made xerox copies of the actor's sides and I fielded phone calls from all kinds of grips and production assistants looking for their next gig. I ordered second meal when we weren't going to wrap before the 12 hour day was over. I asked transpo—nobody ordered the teamsters to do anything—to go on beer runs for the crew when each episode wrapped at the end of the week. I sent production assistants to the grocery store to keep our kitchen stocked with everybody's special requests. No Yahoo drinks in the fridge? What if producer Joel Silver stopped by? Curses!

And I ordered lunch for Bob De Niro.

Ordering lunch shouldn't be a big deal. Just because I worked in an industry where a lunch order delivered without the precisely prescribed list of individual requirements—I said two additional servings of ranch dressing on the side (you idiot, implied)—could cause you to lose your job, didn't mean I had to worry about getting Robert De Niro's order right. I simply had to pick up a phone and order some top notch sushi and have it delivered to our office where Rowdy and De Niro would be meeting. No big deal. 

The fact that Robert De Niro's assistant had called me a week ahead of the meeting, making sure I got it just right because Bob was really really a fan of sushi, was no pressure. Why should I worry just because I didn't know sushi from a sous chef? While sushi wasn't as ubiquitous back then, the sushi trend got its start in California in the 80's, and there was nowhere sushi was hotter in, than Hollywood. Money wasn't an issue, the only issue was freshness. Proximity was paramount so after asking everyone from the caterer to the executive producer's assistant to the craft service guy for input, I decided to order sushi from some restaurant I'd never heard of, Matsuhisa, a supposedly hot sushi place opened only a year or so earlier by a chef by the name of Nobu Matsuhisa. On La Cienega, it was just 15 minutes away from our location at Venice and Robertson. Still, it was summer and hot. I ran it by Elena. Not to worry, Elena said. Bob would love it.

But I did. I worried. I fretted. Robert De Niro was coming to Tales and most of us were psyched. Some of us just handled it with more cool than others. I was a nervous Nelly and everyone knew it. On the morning he was expected to make his appearance I made a ton of typos as my cool-as-ice blonde boss stood watching me from the doorway of her office where she leaned, arms folded, smirking and shaking her head. When I wasn't scanning the parking lot out the glass double doors—I didn't have an actual office, my desk was plonked right there in the lobby—I ran around like the proverbial chicken. Unable to sit still, I double-checked the upstairs conference room making sure it was ready for the king. I wiped down the table one more time. Straightened the chairs. Made sure the bento box of sushi was easily accessible on the top refrigerator shelf. When one of the production managers caught me polishing silverware, he couldn't stop howling.
"Most people eat sushi with chopsticks, ya know."
       "Just in case" I blushed. 

I wanted it to be perfect. How could I not? Actors came in and out of our offices all the time. Each new episode of Tales from the Crypt meant a whole new cast. Demi Moore at the height of her fame. Jeffrey Tambor when he was just another heavyset character actor. Patricia Arquette still little more than Rosanna Arquette's sexy little sister. Arnold Schwarzenegger just a big, cigar smoking, swaggering star; the idea of his ever being governor nowhere near anyone's mind. Bobcat Goldthwait and Don Rickles. But no one like Robert De Niro.

To be honest, single at thirty six, I didn't think of the then-46 year old De Niro simply as one of the greatest actors of his generation. Goodfellas, Casino, Heat were all still to come but I'd seen him as Michael in The Deer Hunter in the late 70's.  As dark and disturbing as the film was, I came away finding his sideways grin captivating, the mole on his right cheek sexy. So yeah, I was excited. Capital E.

I should never have double checked my hair in the bathroom. 

An electric shock ran through me when I came out. He was in the building. I could feel the pheromones flying, my sexual senses tingling. I flew downstairs to find he'd come and gone, one of the oft disappearing p.a.'s had delivered his lunch. 

"Don't worry" the p.a. consoled me, seeing the look on my face. "It was fresh." As if that was all I cared about.

There, there he was! Robert De Niro hadn't left the building. He was just down the hall, walking away from me, talking with Rowdy. I bounded after him, discreetly, oblivious to the snickers coming from my fellow Tales staff. But what could I do? Tap him on the shoulder and say "Excuse me Mr. De Niro, I'm the one who ordered your sushi?" 

And? I could hear him now.

"You talking to me? You talking to me?!" 

I was a ninny, just not that big of one. 

Instead I walked politely behind him, hoping the actor would sense my presence, my hovering hormones, and turn around. He never did. And just like that, Robert De Niro walked out of my life. 

He walked out of Rowdy Herrington's life too, eventually turning down a part in Striking Distance, a film that Herrington—in demand after the success of Road House with Patrick Swayze—was planning to direct next. Smart move by De Niro. Herrington eventually cast Bruce Willis in Striking Distance and the movie ended up bombing out when it was released in 1993.

Robert De Niro made another smart move around that same time, encouraging the owner of Matsuhisa to open the first Nobu in NYC in 1993. De Niro, that sushi lover of old, is co-founder of the upscale chain of Nobu restaurants known around the world as the place for sushi. Even by me.

Did Robert De Niro like the sushi I had delivered that day? Elena said he did, sending me a note on a buck slip, thanking me, saying how much Bob appreciated it. Ninny that I am, I kept it. 

1993 turned out to be a good year for me too. The best year. The year I had my son. As for sushi, to be honest, I just never developed a taste for it.

Sorry, Bob. 


postscript: to be honest, Robert De Niro's assistant may not have been named Elena, I really don't remember. Robert De Niro, on the other hand, who could forget.

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