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Big Easy Living: In the land of celebrities

Stewart likes to give what he calls his celebrity walking tour of the Garden District. It’s a route he and our mutt Lucy follow frequently.

We live a stone’s throw from Sandra Bullock, the Benjamin Button house, John Goodman, Ann Rice’s former digs (where we hear Nicholas Cage was a recent tenant) and the Manning house, where Archie lives and Peyton and Eli grew up.

A few weeks ago, Stewart walked in the front door and said, “Matthew McConaughey is standing in the street. He just said hello to me.” My youngest daughter Katherine gave Lucy an impulsive walk, on the spot, and verified the sighting.

A couple of months ago, I walked into the neighborhood Breaux Mart and saw Sean Penn at a checkout counter. I did a double take, then noticed the handheld camera positioned on him as he read (pretended to read?) a newspaper (tabloid?) while waiting. Over the next week, Katherine and I spotted Penn and his low-key camera crew half a dozen times, at Lafayette Cemetery and other places around the neighborhood.

Over the years, celebrities have liked living in New Orleans. Bob Dylan once had a house on Audubon Place, and Cage has owned several homes here, including mansions on Esplanade and Prytania avenues. The local Branjolina HQ can be found on Gov. Nicholls Street, while William Hurt once rented a shotgun on Camp Street, just around the corner from us.

It’s not a recent trend:  Helen Mirren and Taylor Hackney once had a home here (and bought a painting of a Storyville prostitute from a local artist). Celebrity couple Delta Burke and Gerald McRaney had a place in the Quarter for years.

I think one reason high-profile people come to New Orleans is because we leave them alone. Brad Pitt can ride a bike to the Lower 9 (as he allegedly likes to do), and Anjolina Jolie can take their kids for snocones on Harrison Avenue (as she has been spotted doing), without being pestered by paparazzi.

Or by locals. I once stood behind Goodman at Voodoo Barbecue, in a line waiting for pickup. Everyone recognized him, but no one bothered him. He had that vibe, and we respected it. (I also used to see him standing alone, apart from the other parents, at his daughter’s Carrollton Booster soccer games.)

David Simon and Laura Lippman bought a house in the Garden District when “Treme” came to town (good for them: investing in the city where he is directing the popular HBO series). They frequent our local Starbucks, where Stewart occasionally chats with them and other regulars about the weather, Jazz Fest, city problems.

I doubt that celebrity life is ever “normal,” but here in New Orleans we tend to let people pull the curtains in their glass houses.

With the new spate of movies coming to town to film, I hope that doesn’t change.

When “Benjamin Button” was filming on Coliseum, tabloid reporters and photographers rented apartments across the street to keep tabs on Brad Pitt. I ran into a couple of London paparazzi in Holy Cross one day; they had heard that Pitt was making an appearance at the Green Project house there, and were trying to track his whereabouts for photos to sell. They were actually quite likeable guys, funny and upbeat, with a repertoire of wild, paparazzi-in-the-trench stories. Still, I wouldn’t want them on my tail.

When Britney Spears was the local bad girl, her house in Kentwood was a regular stop for gawkers. Emeril Lagasse moved a few years back from the lakefront to English Turn, partly because so many people could just walk up and knock at his door (and did).

According to the Louisiana Film Commission, more than a dozen films are in current or pre-production in the city. That means that a lot of famous faces can be spotted these days at local watering holes. One enterprising local couple has started a city tour fashioned around current movie sets; Original New Orleans Movie Tours offers popcorn and clips from New Orleans-set movies when you board the bus.

For the rest of us, here’s a list of some of the movies being made in New Orleans at the moment – just for informational purposes. If you live here, I know you will leave their stars alone. Or at least just watch from the bus or car window.

21 Jump Street, a movie remake of the TV crime drama, features Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Brie Larson, Ice Cube, Rob Riggle, Dave Franco, DeRay Davis, Jake Johnson and a cameo by Johnny Depp, who starred in the original series.

Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter, based on a 2010 book in with the lanky president becomes obsessed with vampires after his mother is killed by one of the supernatural creatures, stars Benjamin Waler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell and Alan Tudyk. Tim Burton is producing. (Did you see the mid-19th century remake of Poydras Street a few weeks back for this movie? Awesome.)

Freelancers stars rapper 50 Cent as the son of a murdered policeman in an indie crime drama that originally was set to film in Grand Rapids, but was relocated to New Orleans because of the state’s tax incentives. Dana Delany, Robert DeNiro and Beau Garrett also star.

Medaillon will make the Big Easy look like the Big Apple: Nicolas Cage will play a guy who has only a few hours to rescue his daughter, who has been kidnapped and locked in the trunk of a New York medallion taxi cab.

Movies in pre-production, but coming to a filming location near you soon, include:

Headshot will star Sylvester Stallone as a New Orleans hit man.

Kane and Lynch will star Bruce Willis and Jamie Foxx as a pair of Death Row inmates who escape and cause mayhem, based on a popular video game.

Lay the Favorite, about a woman who becomes a pro gambler, has just added Vince Vaughn to a cast that already includes Bruce Willis (again),Rebecca Hall, Joshua Jackson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Frank Grillo.

For the Louisiana Film Commission’s complete list of movies filming in Louisiana, click here. The Mayor’s Office of Cultural Economy also maintains a web site for Film New Orleans.


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