Sunday, October 11, 2009

John Buffalo Mailer: A Writer with an illustrious literary pedigree comes to Somerville.

John Buffalo Mailer (Right), Norris Mailer (Center), Norman Mailer ( Far Left)

Interview by Reza Tokaloo

As a new member of the “Bagel Bard” collective, I found myself in an interesting position. While at a recent meeting of the Bards at the Somerville Au Bon Pain, I was asked by the arts editor of The Somerville News Doug Holder and Timothy Gager (co-founder of The Somerville News Writers Festival) if I was interested in interviewing someone for the upcoming Somerville Writers Fest on November 14th. Many years ago I had taken journalism classes, and while in college I studied film production and have been a big fan of documentary films. In fact I made a few documentary films myself. In the case of this proposal, I looked at myself like the first Europeans who viewed the American interior: vast, green, and without a lot of exploration.

So the challenge was issued to me and the person of interest to be named is John “Buffalo” Mailer (yes the son of Norman Mailer). I welcomed the challenge to bring to light, with a few questions, the background and work of this American writer, actor, and producer. Luckily, Mr. Mailer took time out of his very busy schedule to respond to the questions I emailed to him (due to his current acting role for the sequel to “Wall Street”).

You are often credited as “Buffalo” Mailer. Where did the “Buffalo” moniker come from?

“People often assume it is a nickname or stage name, but in fact it is my actual middle name. My parents decided to call me Buffalo before I was born. They contemplated just calling me Buffalo Mailer, but decided that it would create unnecessary difficulties for me in many administrative areas, and so they decided on John Buffalo. The other possibility was Beau Buffalo Mailer, but I think if they had gone that route, I would have had no choice but to become a professional boxer instead of a Writer/actor/producer. As to why they called me Buffalo, that remains a family secret known only to my mother, my father, and me. We agreed long ago to keep it that way.”

You use to be an active editor at “High Times” magazine, a then counter culture hemp powerhouse. Are you in contact with the current staff there and do you still contribute to the magazine from time to time?

“I hear from one or two of them from time to time, but I don’t keep in regular contact, and I don’t write for the magazine anymore. What they are doing with the name brand and what Richard Stratton, Annie Nocenti, and myself were trying to do in 2004 could not be more different. Our goal was to restore High Times to what it started as, a politically charged independent magazine about outlaw culture. These days it is happy to be a magazine about growing pot, which is fine, but not my expertise.”

What are your thoughts and views on the legalization of cannabis?

“I think cannabis is illegal because of hemp as much as it is pot. Hemp is a direct threat to the Oil, Cotton, and Paper industries, while pot provides an alternative to Alcohol and Tobacco. Growing industrial Hemp and regulating and taxing marijuana in this country would be an economic and environmental godsend. Unfortunately, with some of these threatened industries have immensely powerful lobbyists, so I think regardless of whether there is a Democrat or Republican in office, it will be a long time before Cannabis is completely legal in America. But I do believe we will see decriminalization in most of the country before too long, and should.”

You published your first novella before graduating from college. How did this experience of success affect you looking back at this?

“My Father published The Naked And The Dead at the age of twenty-five and became the largest literary figure in American letters overnight, so getting a novella published in an elegant but small literary magazine at the age of twenty-one did not give me a big head. With the advantages I was given in terms of the interest people would have in regards to whether or not the writing genes were passed on to me, it was expected that I would publish young. The real test was whether or not I would last. The downside to the attention I received for my early works was that the critics would tend to come after me with forks and knives as if it were their duty, a necessary act for the good of humanity to show Mailer’s kid ain’t getting a free ride. In many ways the start of my literary career was the polar opposite of my father’s. I must say that those first few hard knocks thickened my skin and enabled me to appreciate even more the positive reviews from the kind of reviewers that understand what I am going for in my work, and so give a fair assessment as to how successful I was in pulling it off.”

Along with writing, you seem to have found a home in live theater. You received a BA in theater and you co-founded Back House Productions with a few fellow grad students. How has theater changed in your eyes since you first began?

“I wouldn’t say theater has changed drastically in the twenty years I have been doing it professionally except in a few respects. Ticket prices have gone up quite a bit, Broadway has taken a habit to recycling movies instead of gambling on brand new shows, and you need a star from television or film to get a large Off-Broadway production financed. That did not used to be the case. In The Heights, the most successful show Back House developed was in many ways an anomaly, having very few recognizable names. It was a case of Lin Manuel Miranda being so talented and writing such powerful songs, that some smart Broadway producers took a gamble and ended up extremely happy men. As did we all.”

It was during your time at “High Times” that you took a hiatus from theater. Why the change?

“At the time Richard Stratton offered me the job as Executive Editor of High Times, I was twenty-five and living in LA auditioning for movies. I had had a piece come out in People Magazine and decided to head to LA to see what I could do with it. I actually got a manager quite quickly and was close on a number of parts, but my mother got sick with cancer again, and so I needed any way to get back to New York so I could be there to help take care of her and my father, who was getting old. Richard’s offer came as a godsend and quickly I found myself entrenched in an industry that I had only done some freelance journalism for. I had interned at a hipster magazine in the 90’s before this position. I took a quite a bit of guff for that, but ultimately learned the magazine world from top to bottom and am proud of the issues we put out in that volatile year of Bush’s reelection.”

What made you want to become involved in the protest movement at the Republican National Convention? Do you view yourself as being very political? If so, how would you describe your political views?

“I’ve always had the sense that the mission in life is to do everything in your power to try to leave this world a slightly better place than when you entered it. Perhaps it’s the 16th Cherokee Indian in me, I don’t know. But with that in mind, I believe that if you are lucky enough to have parents with the means and conviction to give you a great education, come from a tradition of taking a stand on the issues of the day, were born with a voice (for better or worse) that enables you to get issues and events going on in the world hi-lighted, then it is not a choice, but a responsibility to be politically active in some capacity. So, yes, I like to think you could say I am politically active. As for my views, I think that would take too long to get into here. On some issues I’m so far Left I’m Right, and on others so far Right I’m Left. Independent is the easy way to describe it.”

Your play “Crazy Eyes” has quite an interesting plot. Very much tied to events that had happened in the real world in 2001 around the events of 9/11.

“My hope is that Crazy Eyes captures the effects that living under such fear of terrorism (as we did most in New York in October of 2001, at the height of the Anthrax scare) has on the decisions we make that define our national character. It’s taken nearly ten years, but I do believe we are finally ready to look back on that time and get some cues as to how to handle the next one, if God forbid it should happen.”

How was it working with Israeli actress Meital Dohan in her one-woman show?

“Working with Meital is like working with a tornado, you are mesmerized by it until it sweeps you up and you realize you have no idea where you are going to land. She is so driven, so talented, so sexy, and so dangerous. In other words, she is an Israeli super star for a reason. "You can see her latest web series with Jon Heder called 'Woke Up Dead' on"

As a writer myself, I have always found it difficult to work with other writers on projects. But you shared writing duties with your father in “The Big Empty.” How was it to work with another writer? And not only another writer, but a family member?

“Again, to describe the privilege and sensation of working with my father is deeper than I can get into here, as I would need to write a full book about it to fully capture even the essence of the experience. But in terms of working with other writers, depending on the medium, I have always been open to the idea and have collaborated with one or two other writers over the years on various projects. However, I always prefer to write alone, as that is the most fulfilling journey for me as a writer today.”

What can we expect from “Buffalo” Mailer in the future? Theater? Directing? Acting?

“I’ve been shooting Wall Street 2 for the past month and will be doing that until November 19th. I play Robby, an Options trader and The main Character’s best friend, which is not hard because Shia Labouef is not only easily one of the best actors of his generation, but a truly stand up guy, as well. After that, I have seven screenplays in play at various stages and will be tending to them. The magazine industry is drying up faster than anyone can pour water on it, but if the opportunity to do any journalism before it is too late presents itself, I’ll be all over that. And of course, there is the novel I have been working on for ten years, waiting for my preparations to meet the opportunity that will enable me to take a year off and do nothing else but write it. Either that, or hopefully get lucky enough to find myself with the time.”

Thank you Mr. Mailer for your time and we hope to see more of your work in the future.

“Thank you. It’s been a pleasure answering your questions.”

Mr. Mailer will read at the Somerville News Writers Festival Nov 14, 2009

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