'Cowboys & Aliens' Director Jon Favreau: I Discovered 'Magic' of Movies as Theater Usher

Eric Powell

The actor-director tells THR about the teenage job that opened his eyes to Hollywood.

As with most filmmakers, Jon Favreau showed a love of movies early. A day playing hooky from the Bronx High School of Science could mean jumping off the subway early to catch a Kurosawa film in Manhattan.

Acting was just a hobby when he was a 16-year-old kid biking through Queens who took a job as an usher at his neighborhood theater, the RKO Keith's on Northern Boulevard in Flushing.

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"You're drawn to what you love, and that seemed like the way I could be involved with movies," Favreau says. From 1983 to '84, he tore tickets, rousted sneak-ins and broke up fights in his corny mustard-yellow vest when such movies as Footloose, Beat Street and Return of the Jedi were in first run.

"It was a pretty rough crowd there," he says. By then the Keith's, a beautiful old vaudeville theater and historic landmark that opened in 1928, had fallen into disrepair (it closed a few years later).

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Still, "there was something magical about the whole thing," says Favreau, who would sit through films over and over. "I saw the full array, from the kids making out in the balconies to the people breaking in through the back to the people throwing shit at the screen at the midnight show to the families who were embracing each other."

The latter is a reference to Terms of Endearment, which provided the future writer-director a good look at the visceral effect movies can have. "You'd have to go in there after the show and clear the theater out and clean it up," Favreau says. "Every once in a while there would be a family left over after the lights came up, and they couldn't move. You left them alone. It was pretty intense. You saw how movies could touch people."