'Star Trek's' Damon Lindelof on 'Star Wars' Influences and His 'Fatal Flaw' (Q&A)
The Hollywood Reporter: What was the first time you realized that people wrote stuff?
Damon Lindelof: I think it was somewhere in the neighborhood of The Empire Strikes Back. My dad and I were buying Starlog and going through that; and there’s this guy with a beard who’s in these pictures with Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill pointing at stuff, and I’m like: "Who is he? What character is he in the movie?" My dad goes, "No, this is George Lucas. Star Wars was his idea." Directors, screenwriters and producers are totally lost on 8-year-old me. That this was George Lucas’ "idea" -- that made sense to me. At the time, I was always very interested in storytelling. My parents read to me every night. I was really into chapter books. If memory serves, my dad did all the Oz books first, Narnia, then started getting into more self-contained sci-fi. Then I started reading Piers Anthony books and started delving into fantasy. I started shamelessly cribbing Star Wars. All my early writing was very badly disguised Star Wars ripoffs. It’s like "Leo Skystroller." Probably around 11 or 12, Spielberg got very much on my radar, as a friend of George Lucas’, who made Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. I just wanted to see E.T over and over again. My dad said to me, "The same guy who made E.T, also made Raiders of the Lost Ark, which you also love." That made no sense to me. I understood how George Lucas could make Star Wars movies because they’re just Star Wars movies, but it’s like, "Wait, what? Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. are two totally different things." I do feel like a lot of filmmakers of my generation … that was our bread and butter. The first 15 years of my life was Lucas and Spielberg. It just was. Everything.
THR: Was your dad a big genre nut?
Lindelof: Yes, huge. He was raised in Indiana, and his dad was like Mr. Outdoorsman -- wanted my dad to be a Boy Scout, tie knots and play sports. My father -- until the day that my dad died -- didn’t know how many points you scored in a touchdown. He could say there were nine innings in baseball, but no intricacies of the sport. He was interested in gaming and in genre. He was a huge aficionado of television, as well. That was his escape growing up, and he shared that love with his brother. He was an avid comic book collector, and his dad shipped him off to Boy Scout camp, and his mom threw away his entire comic book collection when he got back. But he meticulously cataloged it, so he spent the majority of his adult life reassembling his comic book collection. I remember the day he got his final Walt Disney comic with Scrooge McDuck — you know, diving into his vault of gold coins. It was like, "Finally, complete." But by then, he was collecting all sorts of different comic books and when he died. … Right now his comic book collection is in a storage locker in Burbank because just to go through it all is so overwhelming. We always shared that love. He curated my love for that stuff.
THR: How about your mom? Did she share it or did she tolerate it?
Lindelof: She definitely didn’t share it -- some of it she enjoyed. I’d say one step above tolerance. "Hey, that’s not entirely my bag, but I’ll cry at E.T." My mom has always been a very enthusiastic cheerleader and supporter, not just of me but of most of the people in her life. My father’s and my passion for this … it was always a big event when a Star Wars movie opened up. Really, this only applied to Empire and Jedi -- I was allowed to take those Wednesdays off, and we would go set up lawn chairs at 8 in the morning outside our local movie theater and hang out. That’s pretty supportive, to let me have a sick day.
THR: Were you mischievous?
Lindelof: You’re probably asking the wrong person. In my view of self, I think that … I saw myself as a teacher’s pet but with a little of Ed Haskell mixed in. I was the teacher’s pet, but that didn’t mean that I was trying to pull one over. I would say that my fatal flaw, as a human being, is that I need people to like me, and if they don’t like me, I will obsess over it -- and try to change my personality until they like me --even if they don’t like me for reasons that have nothing to do with me and even if they’re strangers. There is a mischievous quality to the manipulation of people to get them to like you, as opposed to just being yourself. I had amazing relationships with all my teachers. My mom was a teacher. I had a lot of respect for teachers. I liked teachers, especially smart ones. At the same time, I was able to retain relationships with my peers where they didn’t feel like I was a goody-goody or that I completely sold out. I was able to walk between those worlds. I was the kid who did the morning announcements. I was there with Principal Delany. I had an in, but at the same time, I felt like I never compromised my street cred.
THR: Did you like school?
Lindelof: I did. I liked it a lot. I always remember liking school. I had problems in school, just like any kid does -- just figuring shit out, but the act of learning was always something that I looked forward to. By the time I was in middle school -- there were activities before school, afterschool activities and clubs -- I was a less-cool version of Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore. Although, he probably wasn’t even particularly cool, but when I saw that movie, I was like, "That’s the coolest kid, ever." I was the participant in those clubs; I was not the founder of them.
THR: What was college like?
Lindelof: The only school that I ever wanted to go to and the only school I ever applied to was Tisch School of the Arts, and when I wanted to go to NYU Film School because I loved the city -- I grew up in Northern Jersey, my dad worked in Manhattan and my mom taught in Harlem -- I just felt like I already lived there in a lot of different ways. From the moment that I first walked around the Village and I saw all those purple banners, I was like, "What is this? That’s a college." I thought a college was like a campus, and you have to be in a fraternity and all that stuff -- this was all happening when I was 13, 14. "No, this is where these students go to college." "They live here, in New York City?" "Yes." "And they make movies?" All the film students were in Washington Square Park just constantly making movies -- which is what I was doing with my friends on the weekends, anyway. Then I saw, The Freshman with Matthew Broderick, and that sealed the deal. It was like, "Oh, OK. He is a film student." At the time, I had hair and kind of looked like Matthew Broderick. I wanted to meet Marlon Brando; and so I was just like, "It’s going to be NYU or nothing." I loved my experience there. It was just complete and total immersion in three years -- I graduated in three years because I couldn’t afford four years. They were the best times of my life, no doubt.
THR: Did you make a thesis film?
Lindelof: I did, but I couldn’t afford to finish it. We got all the way to answer print, but I wasn’t able to get beyond that. I was able to complete the class. The name of my movie was A Gift for Quinn, and it was based on this Joyce Carol Oates story called The Premonition. I’m not a good enough director, you should know. Good enough to pass the class, but not good enough to feel like I’d ever need to do it again.