Benny Safdie talks with Joel Wachs, who he stars in ‘Licorice Pizza’, about life in the closet in 70s LA

And for me, it made me so upset with the boyfriend sitting across from me. Because here I’m doing all this work, I’m trying to make such a change and it’s like, “How can you not understand how I’m feeling? For me, that scene is the most powerful scene for the character, because you get, for the movie version of Joel at least, that idea of ​​his idealism mixed with real-world possibilities.

Wachs: Funny: it’s a very real sense, in some ways, of what it is, although you find ways to deal with it. At the time, we went to gay restaurants. They had those. But ironically, 48 years later, there is one thing that has never been resolved in my mind. I never had a boyfriend back then. This boyfriend is fictional. In fact, I still don’t have a boyfriend. But I wonder if I had one back then, would I have come this way again, or would I have said, “Fuck this job, it’s not worth it.” I will stay with you ” ? I don’t know how I would have ever reacted, because I never had the opportunity to make a choice between a relationship and my career.

Safdie: And then just to add to that, some of the things that you were able to get across, Joel, in the ’80s in regards to fair housing, it got me thinking, “Okay. So there is that sacrifice you were making. Even if you just weren’t aware or whatever, you were trying to do something for a greater good and it took a lot of sacrifice.

Wachs: It was very real. In the late 1970s, when [singer turned anti-gay rights activist] Anita Bryant was expressing her vitriolic hatred, we passed the most comprehensive law in the land to prohibit discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation or sexual preferences in housing, business, finance and public housing and everything . And then three or four years later, when AIDS hit, we passed the first law in the United States, of any jurisdiction, prohibiting discrimination against anyone with AIDS or who was HIV positive. Because back then, if you were in an apartment building, they didn’t want you in the pool because they thought you would get it. If you worked in a restaurant, they thought you would contaminate the salad bowl. There was all this fear. I have always fought these battles because I knew that was what I had the power to do as a legislator.

Joel, you left LA and politics in 2001. Do you miss it?

Wachs: I loved LA I spent 50 years of my life there and I spent 30 years in office, which we do on a voluntary basis. You don’t have to be in post and go through it all. I have been elected eight times, eight terms of four years. The only reason I say “No” is because I moved to New York and love New York. I have been here for 20 years and think it is a fantastic place to live, especially for someone like me. I used to think that someday, if I retired, I would go back to LA and now I think, “Well Manhattan is the best retirement home in the world. The park is across the street. I go to the theater, I go to museums. My doctor is two blocks away, the dentist … Whereas when my mother was my age, she was in a big house on Mulholland Drive, like a lock up there. I love New York. And do I miss politics? No, because I have a fantastic job. I left in the middle of my eighth quadrennium to take on a job that means a lot to me.

Benny, you and your brother are used to using non-professional actors in your movies. Is there a role for Joël?

Safdie: Joël, I can imagine, would be a very good actor. What we do is if we meet people who have interesting personalities, and the key is just this idea of ​​someone who isn’t capable of being someone other than what they are. is. I think Joel is definitely Joel. It’s all the time.

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