Making Ted Demme Laugh 20 Years Ago, When ‘Blow’ Joined a Long Line of Drug-Smuggling Classics

I’ve got a bit of a special place in my heart for movies by the late director Ted Demme. His 1996 film Beautiful Girls was already one of my all-time rewatchables by the spring of 2001 when I was invited to attend a college press junket in New York City for his new movie Blow. It did not interest me one bit which members of the cast were going to be there, as I was over the top amped to get the chance to tell Demme in person how much Beautiful Girls had affected my life and, just maybe, get him to sign my VHS copy.

It was a shitty, rainy day on the East Coast when I made the trek up to NYC to a tiny but swank film studio theater in the heart of Manhattan amid less than 20 other college newspaper writers. Blow was screened, and it was actually really, really great, which wasn’t too surprising, as Demme’s oeuvre thus far was already impressive. In fact, the young and super green me called it a masterpiece for my university newspaper.

Knowing Demme and Greg Dulli, the frontman for one of my favorite bands, the Afghan Whigs, were really good friends, during the post-screening Q&A I asked him, “Is there any truth to the rumor that originally cast in the Johnny Depp role was Greg Dulli?” Now, 95% of the film nerds in that theater had never heard of Dulli or the Whigs and were furiously scribbling down his name and that question in their notebooks when Demme burst out laughing; a full on, had to catch his breath for a second, bellyaching laugh. He made a joke about how the movie would never have gotten made were he to cast Dulli in the role. He told me to catch up with him afterwards, as he had a great story he wanted to tell me.

To further sway the impressionable youth in attendance, the studio had a bunch of swag on hand for us to take home, including shirts and movie posters, with one of the latter a really sweet 18×24 foil sheet with BLOW written in big, fat type across it. Demme was sticking around to sign the posters and I hung back and waited until near the end and he recognized me as “the Dulli question guy,” and proceeded to tell me a story about Beautiful Girls, where the Whigs played a bar band and pretty much gotten to perform two full songs in the film.

“I screened Beautiful Girls in a theater, just like this one for [Miramax studio heads] Harvey and Bob Weinstein,” he said. “When the bar scene with the Whigs in it was over, they both turned around in their seats to me and Bob said, ‘Ok…how much do you owe this guy?’ talking about Dulli. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ Harvey says, ‘Ted, you’ve basically got two music videos of this band in here. What do you owe the guy? We’ll pay it.'”

Demme busted out laughing, and when I pulled out the VHS of Beautiful Girls for him to sign he said, “Oh no way!” and started laughing again. I got him to dot a couple of posters too, both of which got absolutely ruined in the rain on the way back to Penn Station and I trashed them both out of frustration when I got back to the Philly station.

“I’m on the way to being this great writer,” I reasoned in an attempt to provide myself some solace. “I’ll have the opportunity to run into Ted again and we’ll have another laugh he’ll sign a fresh poster for me.”

Less than a year later, he died of a heart attack at the age of 38.

It’s one more reminder to never take for granted how precious life is, how you may never get the opportunity to do something again, no matter how great it feels at the time. A couple years later, I did get to tell Greg Dulli the story when I interviewed him for a solo album and was even going to send him an audio copy of the Q&A, which I never could find, one more discouraging element of the situation. But I have the memory, and it’s a brilliant one. And I still have this, which is long overdue for framing:

So, as Matt Dillon’s character Birdy might say in Beautiful Girls, “Does this little observation of yours contain anything at all resembling a point?” Yes, in fact, it does. Over at Ultimate Classic Rock, I took another look at Blow for its 20th anniversary. Here’s a direct link to the piece. Enjoy.

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