Wayne Kramer has directed numerous great actors, such as William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin in The Cooler, (Baldwin received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the casino boss); Paul Walker and Vera Farmiga in the action thriller Running Scared (voted Most Underrated Movie of the Year by the Golden Schmoes Awards, so give it another chance); and Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, and Alice Braga in L.A. immigration drama Crossing Over, which caused artistic issues with Harvey Weinstein who released it with no publicity.
Kramer is also the director of the horrible fish hook scene with poor Elijah Wood in the dark comedy Pawn Shop Chronicles, which again starred the late Paul Walker and Brendan Fraser.
Kramer reaches high, and as with a lot of directors in Hollywood, he’s had to play the long game.
I caught up with him at his home in Los Angeles.
Wayne, you’re not from LA. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in South Africa, in Johannesburg, I left to come here when I was 21. I always wanted to be a filmmaker. Especially then, but even today there isn’t a really viable film industry there. And there’s not a lot of money for film production. It’s all American financed and European financed, so if you want to become an international director, you really had to make your voice on the American stage.
What was it like growing up in Apartheid?
I always realized from a young age that it was a terrible system. I grew up in a family, where my father was perfectly ok with it, basically my entire family. I don’t want to say they were racist, but they were. They should have cared more.
One of the reasons I wanted to come to America was to get away from a racist society. We used to see American and English Films in South Africa that went out of their way to show a certain harmony between the races. Even though when you get here you realize, it’s as racist as anywhere else in the world. It’s just not on the books so to speak, but people’s behavior and the way of the elections… Anyone who supported Trump in my opinion is okay with racism is the kindest thing you can say.
America may be more racist than South Africa was back then. They had their history too where the segregation in the south which is what apartheid was about. Where South Africa has left a lot of that behind, America still hasn’t.
The first time I traveled internationally was when I came here when I was 21. Apartheid was still in effect. Everyone said “Don’t tell anyone in America that you’re from South Africa, tell people you’re from England. They won’t know the difference with the accent, otherwise they’ll be very dismissive or rude to you”. On the flight over someone asked me, “So where are you from?” And I said, “er, from England”, and then they started asking me specific questions about England, that I couldn’t answer, and I said eff this, I’m never doing that again.
Which is your favorite city to film in?
Prague. We shot Running Scared in Prague, even though most people don’t realize that, as it’s set in New Jersey. We did a week in Jersey, most of it was shot in Prague. It’s an enormously beautiful city, but also a fascinating city because the center is built up and very cosmopolitan. On the outskirts, it still has the effects of the Russian invasion, all the architecture is very Soviet looking. There’s an interesting film festival in Karlovy Vary, a resort town, a very jet-set, cosmopolitan area with this magnificent, world famous hotel where the festival put us up, the Grandhotel Pupp, which is Casino Royale in the James Bond movie. Very renowned for its spa.
They filmed a lot of Casino Royale in Prague too.
Have you ever had a bad travel experience?
We arrived in France to find out our connecting flights had just been canceled and they say, ‘oh don’t worry we’ll put you up for the night,’ and they take us to some outskirts, out-of-the-way airport hotel and put us in a room like a solitary confinement cell. I dunno, I’m sure there are beautiful hotel rooms in France but not those miss-your-flight type of layover places.
What’s the funniest airplane movie you’ve seen?
I like The Twilight Zone episode where the guy [William Shatner, pre-Star Trek!] sees a demon on the wing, and he’s like freaking out and nobody believes him. He finally has this complete nervous breakdown, because he sees this creature tearing up the engine, and they have to land the plane. Then you see the engine really was damaged.
What’s the nicest hotel you’ve stayed in?
The Four Seasons, Punta Mita just outside Puerto Vallarta. Mexico. When we arrived there, we got upgraded to a private suite right on the beach with its own little pool in front. You step outside your room and you’re right on the beach. That place was amazing.
The funny part of that story was my wife thought we’d been upgraded as they thought I was the other Wayne Kramer, with MC5, who’s a musician.
Most overrated hotel?
In Cannes, they put us up at the Hotel du Cap. I thought that was overrated. Everybody stays there. At that point, they only accepted cash. If you wanted to stay at the hotel you had to arrive with a suitcase full of cash. Not sure if they still do, but that was their policy at the time.
Where would you go on a staycation around LA
Santa Barbara’s beautiful. It’s tranquil, spacious, and close to LA, or The Ritz Carlton in Laguna Beach — amazing views. Years and years ago I used to shoot wedding videos and shot a wedding video there. Ah, the grounds… and it’s right there on the cliffs.
Where’s your favorite place to eat in LA?
For Sushi, we like Nozawa which is a world-renowned omakase restaurant. It’s part of Sugar Fish in Beverly Hills, but in the back. There’s this private room where you have this private chef and a set menu of like 20 courses, and there are only 12 people in the room and it works out like $400-$500 for two people.
What would you like to see for the future of travel?
Teleportation. I don’t want to fly anymore. I just want to go into like a custom booth and it zaps your molecules or makes a perfect reproduction of you and kills your old version, and imagine stepping into a booth and boom you’re in South Africa, or boom the Himalayas.
If we could conquer teleportation the world would literally become one country. You wouldn’t need to be a citizen of any country. As a doctor, you could go work in the worst refugee camps in the world and then go home to your house in Beverly Hills every night.