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Author Shea Serrano might be the ideal candidate for our 11 Questions

Shea Serrano (Photo: Josh Huskin, Graphic: Natalie Peeples)
Shea Serrano (Photo: Josh Huskin, Graphic: Natalie Peeples)
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In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.

No disrespect to anyone else who’s answered The A.V. Club’s various sets of 11 Questions—certainly not beloved character actress Margo Martindale—but no one has rolled with queries about film quotes, food, and rewriting history quite like Shea Serrano. To be fair, Serrano is a culture writer for The Ringer and the New York Times best-selling author of Basketball (And Other Things) and The Rap Year Book), so he tackles such subjects for a living (much like we do). His latest book, Movies (And Other Things), which is out today, is also a collection of pop culture-related questions, including how to assemble a stellar heist crew and which film and TV queen bees could actually manage each other’s egos long enough to get through lunch together. Serrano’s droll, always well-considered speculation leads to personal insights as often as a great pitch for a new film industry molded entirely in the image of Dwayne Johnson. Which is why we were hardly surprised when The Rock—along with other Serrano-professed faves like Diane Keaton and Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne—came up when we posed our 11 Questions to the writer.

1. What’s your favorite fast food menu item?

Shea Serrano: I don’t know if you have that up there, but Chacho’s is this trashy Mexican food—it’s a drive-thru. You could get, you know, whatever at the drive-thru: enchiladas, carne asada, and cheese tacos... If that counts as fast food, ’cause it’s not super fast but they do have drive-thru, then I would say Chacho’s. They make really good bean and cheese nachos, and it comes with a whole bunch of other stuff on there. But the bean and cheese nachos is my number one favorite thing. If that doesn’t count because it’s slightly better than just regular fast food, then I would say—ugh, this is so gross. I’m embarrassed that I have to say this: chili cheese fries from Jack In The Box. They’re delicious. I wish I didn’t like them as much as I do. They used to be a permanent item. Now they’re a seasonal item. They just sort of pop up whenever, but when they pop up, I’ll make it a point to go to the Jack In The Box. I’m in downtown San Antonio, mind you. The Jack In The Box there is just full of all of the worst kind of fast food people that you would see in it. It’s always really sticky, and there’s always an animal inside, and somebody has a baby with no shirt on. And I love it, and I wish I didn’t, but I do.

2. If you could re-live an event or moment in your own life, what would it be?

SS: I’m going all the way back to the sixth grade. There was a boy named Albert Vidales who picked on me like crazy. We were at school, and he was messing with me, and he was in my face, and I didn’t punch him in the face, and I have regretted it my entire life ever since then. I think about it every morning when I wake up. I’m like “Fucking Albert Vidales.”

He was just so much bigger than me. I was a tiny guy. I was not even five feet yet. I was maybe four-foot-six, and I weighed 72 pounds, and my head was gigantic. I was exactly who he should’ve been picking on if this was like a movie that we’re in. You’re like, “Oh, that’s the kid he picks on.” And he was kind of beefy. He played football, but not any of the cool positions. He was on the offensive line. He was just a sloppy big guy. He picked on everybody, and he picked on me, and everybody was looking at me, and I should have done something, and I didn’t and I regret it every day. If I could go back in time, that’s the first place I would go. That’d be my number one stop, is to fucking fight Albert Vidales.

AVC: So rather than relive one fantastic day, you’d go back and try to fix something that went wrong?

SS: Oh, absolutely. I want to correct a thing. If a good thing happened, I don’t need for it to re-happen. But a bad thing—you know the bad ones are the ones that stick with you. The bad ones are the ones that, for me anyway, they eat me up.

AVC: That makes perfect sense. And you probably took a lot of pictures of the good thing anyway, right?

SS: Yeah, exactly. That’s been documented. This one is just in my head.

3. Who’s your favorite fictional villain?

SS: Amy Dunne from Gone Girl. I love Amy Dunne from Gone Girl. I’m really excited you asked me this question, because I did a podcast all about villains—we did Killmonger from Black Panther, Hannibal Lecter from Silence Of The Lambs, Regina George [from Mean Girls], Ernesto de la Cruz [from Coco]. We hit the ones I liked the most. But my favorite episode, the one I was most excited to record, was about Amy Dunne from Gone Girl. I think she is the best movie villain we’ve gotten since Heath Ledger was the Joker. I don’t think anybody has topped her yet.

AVC: I sensed you’d know just how to respond to these questions, because your work requires you to be just as obsessed with pop culture.

SS: She’s just a really interesting creation, really compelling, expertly acted. I can’t pick just one element to praise. I really like when there’s a movie character played by someone and there’s no one in your head where you can say, “This might’ve been better if this other person played it.” That’s my number one pick right now. Rosamund Pike is incredible as as Amy Dunne. I don’t know how many times you’ve seen Gone Girl, but I’ve seen it probably 10, 15 times. Every single line she has, every single look—it starts right from the beginning, too. The movie opens with a monologue by Ben Affleck explaining about being married to a person, and then she’s laying on his lap and she looks up at him and her eyes are just totally empty. It’s great. It’s incredible.

4. What’s a line from film or television that you’ve incorporated into your personal vocabulary?

AVC: Again, I feel like I’m just teeing this one up for you.

SS: Oh god, I have so many of these. I know which one I’m going to give you though. There is a movie that came out in 1993. It’s my favorite movie of all time. It’s called Blood In, Blood Out. Have you seen this by any chance?

AVC: Yes. [Laughs.] I’m Mexican, I’ve seen it.

SS: Okay. You know, you never can tell! But cool. So there’s a line in the movie where Miklo, the main character, goes to prison. He’s half white, half Mexican, and the whole movie is about him trying to prove himself to the Mexican community. So he’s in prison, and he’s trying to join the Mexican prison gang. He gets a meeting with the main boss, and when he walks in he starts speaking Spanish to the guy—El Mero Mero, the main boss guy.

El Mero Mero processes it for a moment, and you don’t even see his face in the shot. You see him from, like, the chin down, ’cause the prison bunk is hiding his face, and it’s a really great moment. And he says, “You speak Spanish, güero. So do parrots.” And I love that line so much. It’s like, “Even if you can come in here and speak Spanish, it doesn’t matter because I’m about to give you some information that’s going to change your whole way of thinking,” is what that line sets up for me. I’ve said this line a hundred different times to a hundred different people and in a hundred different scenarios—even when they’re not speaking Spanish, even when I’m just trying to relay this same thing. You can pretend to be something, but anybody can pretend to be something. And that’s the essence of the line. That’s actually the first movie line I think of whenever somebody asks me this question.

5. Who would play you in the movie of your life?

SS: For clarification, is this a movie about adult me?

AVC: It can be you at any point in your life. I think you’re qualified to pick both young you and the contemporary you.

SS: Okay, I’m going to overshoot it here. This person, this would be one of those situations where you look and you go like, “Oh, let me see the real-life version of this person from this movie,” and then you’re really disappointed by what they look like. [Laughs.] For me, if I get to pick anybody, I want the young version of me to be played by Mike Vitar, who played Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez in The Sandlot. Just an incredibly handsome kid. Handsome, cool, tall, great teeth, great eyebrows, great hair—all of the things that I was not. But if I’m going to make my movie and I’m casting it, give me that guy. Let me look really great.

As far as the adult version of me, I think best-case scenario is Michael Peña, one of my favorite actors. I really, really enjoy him. But, probably more likely would be this guy—he’s like a character actor who’s been in a ton of stuff and nobody knows his name, but when you see his face, you’re like, “Oh, I remember him.” His name is Jacob Vargas and....

AVC: Oh sure, from Selena.

SS: You know Jacob Vargas? Oh my god, this is the best interview I’ve ever had in my life. Okay, so that would be the more likely adult version of me. I’m probably more in line with him.

6. What’s a movie that you’ll always stop and watch if you’re flipping channels?

SS: Something’s Gotta Give. Jack Nicholson. Diane Keaton. There’s a chapter in the book about this one specific movie, just a whole chapter about Diane Keaton. She is in my top four favorite actresses, and I really like her in Something’s Gotta Give.

But I’d also have to say The Social Network. That’s just a pretty movie. It makes me feel things that a lot of other movies haven’t made me feel. I like when a movie can do that, make me feel insignificant when I’m watching it. And I can’t fully explain why. It’s the same feeling I get when I like look at the moon and I just start thinking about everything in the galaxy and how in our real life none of this stuff I’m doing is ever going to matter to anybody outside of like seven people.

AVC: Who doesn’t want a movie to make them feel like that?

SS: I get pulled in every single time and I don’t know why.

7. What is a possession that you can’t get rid of?

SS: I have a wallet—it’s this slim, cheapy thing. We got it off Amazon. It was like 15 bucks, I think. And it’s in tatters. It’s tattered right now. The cards don’t slide in there right because the inside has fallen apart. It’s just a total hassle and a total headache every time I have to put something in or take something out. But in my head, it’s good luck. Ever since I got it, good stuff has happened in my life. Of course, I ignore all of the bad stuff that’s happened since then. [Laughs.] I’m like, “That doesn’t matter, that doesn’t matter.” I don’t know how the association came to be, but I just think how all of the good stuff is because of this wallet that I got. So, I can’t get rid of it.

8. What specific skill would you bring to a post-apocalyptic society?

SS: If we have wifi, then I’m going to be good on Twitter. If there’s no wifi, which would make sense because it’s post-apocalyptic, then I’m going to be the guy in the group who dies because his glasses fall off of his face while he’s running away from the zombies. That’s me. That’s the role that I’ll play. Every group needs that guy, the one who, you’re 17, 18 minutes into the movie, and he dies a dumb death. You’re like, “Well, that sucked.” That’s me.

It’s an interesting thought because most people are like, “I would do fine in that situation.” Anytime you watch a movie where the plane crashed into the side of the mountain and they’ve got to survive, in your head you’re like, “I would be great in that situation, no doubt about it. I’m so tough,” or, “I would be fine.” But the truth is you’d get a piece of glass in your foot, then you can’t even think straight, and you’re like, “Actually I would die in 10 minutes if any of this stuff ever happened to me.”

9. Who is the most underrated person in your industry right now?

SS: I guess we’re going to say writing is the industry. You know what, if you would’ve asked me this question six weeks ago, I would’ve said Jia Tolentino, who’s a writer for [The New Yorker]. She just put a book out, and it exploded, and everybody realized she’s a genius and maybe the best writer in America today. So I wish we would’ve had this interview then. I could’ve said that. But behind her is Doreen St. Felix. She’s won some awards already, too, but she hasn’t taken off in that way yet—but I think in a year, she’s going to be wearing one of the crowns, for sure.

AVC: I’m a big fan of her work.

SS: Any writer who I admire from afar, who I make a point to read all their stuff, it started because I read one single thing that they wrote at some point that, for whatever reason, stuck with me. [Doreen] wrote a thing about Childish Gambino when his album came out a couple of years ago—she was at MTV at the time, and I had not even heard of her name before. I think I was following or I started following her on Twitter and started reading whatever she was putting out. And then she wrote this thing and there was a line in there where she described it as “cloying.” I’d never seen the word before. I didn’t know what it meant. But in the context of the paragraph, where she was writing about a particular song that she didn’t like, I knew exactly what she meant and exactly what she was doing, and all the pieces just sort of snapped together. And when a writer can do that, I think they can do anything. If you could make a person know what a word means without having to tip your hand at all, that’s an incredible talent to have. And ever since then she’s been at the top of my list of people who, if they put something out, I need to read that thing that day.

10. If you could be in any band, past or present, which one would it be?

SS: Am I replacing somebody in the band, or am I just an additional person in the band?

AVC: That’s up to you.

SS: I wouldn’t want to replace anybody in this particular band. I want to be a guy who does a tiny thing in the background that nobody ever really notices, but is vital, you know? Anyway, I would want to be in Rage Against The Machine. When I was in high school, they showed up, and it felt like everything changed, the whole world changed. I have been revisiting them because of something that this other writer, Sean Fennessey, wrote about Rage Against The Machine several weeks ago. Ever since I read it, I’ve just been listening through all the albums again. It’s crazy how applicable it is to all this stuff that’s going on today. So I’m just in a big Rage Against The Machine mode right now, and I would like to be part of that.

AVC: Would you play an instrument or would you be more of a rapper?

SS: No, I would play an instrument in the background. I would be their backup drummer. Like, they never need me, but I’m there. I’m in all of the photos.

AVC: Who needs to be in the front, right? As long as you get to go on tour.

SS: Yeah, I’ve never wanted to be the best player on the team. I just wanted to be on the team bus after the game making jokes.

11. What would you do during the purge?

SS: I would hide. Nobody would find me, and there you go. I wouldn’t try to kill anybody, I know that. I wouldn’t try to commit any crime. It would be too dangerous to go out and try to loot. I don’t need a TV at my house. I have a TV. It would be fine. I would just go somewhere and hide for the night. You’ve just got to survive, you know? Through the night to seven in the morning. I think I’d be okay.

AVC: So far, I don’t think anyone’s ever said that they’d commit a crime, which makes sense. Who would want to hurt other people? But at the same time, no one’s said anything like, “Oh, I would just, like, destroy all the credit card companies like in Fight Club.

SS: No, nobody’s trying to help anybody during the purge. You know what, I’m going to change my answer. Actually, I’m going to add to my answer. I’m going to go to Dallas, and I’m going to have my revenge. I’m going to admit it. I’m going to go see Albert. [Laughs.] What if he reads this interview, and he remembers me, and then he shows up at a book signing and just bullies and me all over again? That’s going to be miserable. I’m going to be so sad.

AVC: If he asks you for your autograph, then this whole thing will have been worth it.

So the second to last question, and this is from Jillian Bell is, if you had five minutes with any living person, famous or not, who would it be and what would you tell them? God, this is really just coming right back to Albert.

SS: No, I’m not wasting my time on Albert! Well, I mean, I should. That probably should be it. But I’m going to pick somebody else. I want to hang out with The Rock. I would like to meet The Rock, and I would like to take a picture with The Rock and post it on the internet, then make a joke about how I’m the new Dominic Toretto or Vin Diesel. Just post that we’re going to do Fast And The Furious 10, since they just finished Fast & Furious 9.

AVC: So you’d use those five minutes to kind of pitch him a movie idea?

SS: Oh no, I wouldn’t want to actually make a movie with him. I would just—I would show up. I’ll be like, “Hey, man, I really liked you in Fast Five. I really liked you in San Andreas. But why couldn’t you catch Dominic Toretto if you’re supposed to be the best man hunter in the world in the Fast movies? You never caught anybody until Hobbs And Shaw. And do you know what Michelle Rodriguez is up to?” Those would be my questions I would ask him.

AVC: Finally, what would you like to ask the next person we interview?

SS: My question would be, if you had to be dropped into any horror movie, like into that particular universe, what’s the one you definitely don’t want to be dropped into? For me, I wouldn’t want to be dropped into like the Exorcist movie universe because then that opens up way too many doors of demons possessing people. And that becomes a thing that I have to deal with in my life. If it was just Michael Myers, like in the Halloween universe, that’s fine. He’s 1,500 miles away. I’m going to be okay. But if Pazuzu can just bounce around and grab whoever he wants, that’s trouble for me, I think.