Nardwuar vs. Aziz Ansari
Before talking with Scott Caan, the actor, I had no idea of what to expect. I mean, I’d seen him on the big screen in Novocaine and all of the Ocean’s series, and on TV in Entourage, but these were just characters, not the man himself. How close to the real Scott Caan were the people he portrayed? While I was supposed to be on the phone to talk about “Vanity,” his new book of photography and concurrent show at Martha Otero Gallery in Los Angeles, I was just as curious about finding out who he actually was. Who I discovered was a guy bursting with creativity and a clear outlook on life, whose talents stretched far beyond acting into music, writing, and of course, photography. He’d be just as comfortable on an Action Bronson track as he would be in a gallery, showing off the images he captured in a frame. Which is why we had this conversation in the first place.
The most obvious way to start this interview is by asking about how you got into photography?
On the first film I directed (Dallas 362) my cinematographer was a guy by the name of Philip Parmet. When I began the film I had the idea that I was going to focus on the acting, and while I knew what I wanted the movie to look like and understood what I felt was an interesting frame, I never really got it the way I did Until after I had spent six months with Phil Parmet. I basically glued myself to his hip while we were making the movie and he really inspired me to want to take photographs and understand the craft. He’s a fantastic photographer, and like I said, he inspired me to start shooting.
What was the first camera that you shot with?
A Nikon FE.
And you got this from your father as a gift?
Yeah, it was a camera that he had owned for a long time and then he gave it to me. He saw that I was getting into photography and film. It was a good gift.
Do you ever use a camera phone at all? Are you on Instagram?
None of that?
I actually looked on Instagram for you and instead found a pretty funny feed that was dedicated to your ass. So… the title of your book that’s coming out is Vanity.
Where’d you pull that name from?
You know, over the years I’ve done quite a few things to step outside of the world of just being an actor. I just always remember there’d be a critic or someone writing something for a magazine, or whatever it was, and they’d say that the work was a vanity project. You know? “It’s a vanity project.” It always had kind of a negative undertone. It just seemed like a bad thing. I was always confused by the word, and about 10 years ago, I looked it up. I don’t remember which definition it was specifically, but it was something about pride in oneself. I remember looking up the word and I still didn’t understand why a vanity project was such a terrible thing? The critic’s idea is basically using one’s clout or cache to put something out. The idea of art and photography or acting or painting or whatever it is, the fact is that if someone does it for the wrong reason, there’s a judge out there that says there are right and wrong reasons to want to be creative is bananas to me. The fact that people can destroy things and hate you and want you dead because you did it, it’s like I wonder what those people are doing on the weekends? By the way, I’m not angry about it. I don’t want it to come off like I am…
I completely understand where you’re coming from.
It’s like such a goofy trip. The whole thing. I remember being at a screening of a buddy of mine’s movie and he had just come back from Cannes where they told him it was the worst piece of shit they’d ever seen and that he should never make a film again, and that he should die. I remember him saying at this panel where a bunch of people liked the film—subjective, which is another interesting thing—he said to this crowd: “I didn’t do this for any other reason than that I wanted to. I just wanted to go make a film and I thought it was interesting and this guy wants me dead because I did it.” Anyway, for me, my first book was sort of tainted. I love the book, but it was sort of pushed in a direction that I didn’t necessarily want it pushed in. They wanted a ton of celebrities in the book, they wanted a ton of nude girls in the book because that’s what sells. It also got me thinking about the idea that people don’t really do anything anymore. People don’t do projects or things unless they’re potentially lucrative. No book has ever been lucrative, but obviously people want to make their money back. Studios make movies, they want to make their money back. I get it. It’s the idea, it’s what we’re doing. To me, I wanted to make a book—this book—to be just about pictures that I liked. They’re not about what will sell, they’re kind of all over the place, there’s not a real theme to the book. It’s just photos that I dig. Pictures that I’ve taken over the last ten years. The title, “Vanity”, comes from a combination of my photography being accused of being a vanity project, and owning it. If that’s what you want to call it, then that’s what it is. They’re just photos that I dig and I was able to put them out, you know? Hopefully, people won’t want me dead because of that.
Critics can be some of the worst people in the world, honestly. Slay for pay.
Well, listen, everybody has to have a job. There’s nothing wrong with a critic. I don’t mind critics because their job is to tell you what they thought of the movie, but there’s also a mean way of doing it too where you can see people’s failures in their critiques, you know?
Yeah, a critic of the critic would be a fantastic job.
Yeah, I’ve always said that that would be kinda cool.
So, the range of photography that I’ve seen from you, it goes from your access to celebrity to nudes to people on the street. Are you carrying a camera with you everywhere you go?
I used to. I don’t anymore, but yeah, I used to. The truth of the matter is, a lot of photographers that I look up to and respect, they’ll spend months and years somewhere and come up with a collection of photographs and make a book with a singular focus. I’m really lucky in one sense because I get to move around a lot. I’m picked up and dropped places because of my job, but I’m never one place too often and I never really get to focus too much on one specific subject. I think that’s part of the reason my pictures are all over the place.
Whose photographs are you looking at the most these days?
I really like what Estevan Oriol is doing. I could go on and run off a huge list of names, but his photographs are amazing. Are you familiar with him?
Yeah. His work is truly authentic. Completely off subject, I heard you on the Step Brothers track “Byron G” and that song is tight.
Are you a hip-hop head?
Well, I kind of just run with the 90s, like the golden era. On the website, we have a column called Reminisce Over This which is a play off of Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s They Reminisce Over You. While doing some research, I dug up an interview with you and Alchemist (The Whooliganz) on Rap City in 1993. That blew my mind. How that was being on Rap City at the age of 17?
Look man, the whole thing to me looking back was amazing but when you’re younger nobody can tell you shit. When you’re younger you know everything, you’re where you’re at and I was right where I was supposed to be. I thought I was nice and we got a record deal when I was 17. You don’t get humble until you’re a little bit older. Humility isn’t part of life when you’re a teenager, your brain hasn’t even started working properly yet.
Sometimes, I wish that my brain had never started working properly.
Yeah, I guess in some ways, but in some ways not. It was a trip. For me, I knew school wasn’t for me and I knew I wanted to do something creative. At the time, rap music was my life. Just everything about hip-hop was what I was moved by for tons and tons of reasons, that was the creative field that made sense to me and I loved rap music and at the time I thought I had a talent for it. Now, looking back, I realized there were way too many people that had much more potential than I had. I thought, look if you at least can’t tell yourself that you’re going to be the best, you’re in the wrong profession, you know?
As much as I loved it, I realized that my heart wasn’t 100% in this shit. I’ll still fuck with Alchemist, and if Action Bronson was like “Yo, you want to do a track?” I’ll say “yeah, I’ll write a rhyme.” I can write a hot verse every couple months. But writing records upon records upon records? I’ll leave that to rappers. Rap music is a very specific thing. Everybody in rap either does or should think that nobody can fuck with them. Otherwise you’re not going to go very far.
Yeah, humble rap is few and far between. I think De La Soul performs humble rap.
Yeah, but to me back then it was different. Rap music is pop music today. Listen, I still think there’s a lot of hot shit out there. We’re really having a conversation about hip-hop right now. I think there’s definitely a lot of really really really nice MCs out there right now but back then, from 90 to 95, that was it. That was really it. I was raised on that shit.
(Editors Note/Postscript) Sadly, this is where the recording cuts off. I forgot to check the stupid app I was using, and it just stopped working, even though the conversation continued on for another 15 minutes or so. I can tell you that we ventured into talking about being rebellious youths, playing sports, and that Scott used to write graffiti under the name “NOTE.” He is also a playwright, believes in a minimalist way of living, and doesn’t own an expensive watch. Also, because of his role on Hawaii Five-0 and the amount of time he spends on Oahu, he has some great recommendations for food spots. One being Sushi Sasabune, where it’s omakase or nothing.
Scott Caan is doing a book signing tonight (8/30) and his show continues through September 13th. Go see it.
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