Alexandra Daddario, the 27-year-old actress who plays Woody Harrelson’s first mistress on True Detective, the one who’s naked in the second episode and then Woody Harrelson beats her boyfriend up in the third episode, which drives her to tell Woody Harrelson’s wife that Woody Harrelson is having an affair with her in the fourth episode, is driving south through California on I-5. She’s driving 92 mph in a 65 and singing along to “Dreams” by The Cranberries. She pauses to say, “I dented someone’s bumper yesterday but I left them a note.” She swerves over an embankment to make our exit and laughs and says, “Don’t put that I drive like this in your story!”
Alexandra thinks for a second and smiles and says, sort of to herself, “But doesn’t me saying that mean you have to put it in your story?” I say, “Sort of. I mean, it depends.” I tell her that I think I will probably mention that she was driving 92 mph, not that 92 mph is like breaking the sound barrier, but I don’t think I’ve ever driven 92. She gets a sly grin on her face like a kid who broke a rule and you caught them and they know you caught them, but they also know you’re not going to punish them for breaking the rule, and then she says, “Can you say all the other cars were going 92 too?”
We are in her grey 2009 Nissan Sentra, which has scratches and dents around the bumpers. She says she hasn’t washed it in at least three months. It doesn’t have cruise control. The engine sounds like a fire truck siren when the car climbs a hill.
Alexandra says, “The car gets fatigued, just like a person,” and then continues, “I don’t really understand why you would want to write about me? I have a really normal life.” I say, “Yeah, I guess, in a way you do, like you drive a normal car and live with two roommates and clean up your dog’s crap and stuff, but, like, there’s a huge pile of fan mail in the backseat,” and she shrugs and I continue, ”And you’re gonna be in that movie with The Rock,” San Andreas, a $100 million dollar summer blockbuster that comes out next summer that she is about to move to Australia for four months to shoot. “You have like a quarter million Twitter followers. And, like, you were the star of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. I saw that movie.” She nods. She sees my point.
She also plays my real-life girlfriend in a semi-autobiographical movie I wrote that was shot at the end of last year and is being edited now. It makes me feel like she knows me somehow. I wonder if all screenwriters feel a little of this about the lead actors in their movies, like, “You acted out my script so you’ve been in some unique corner of my experience that no one else has,” but I also realize that conflating actors with the characters they’ve played is juvenile, like someone watching The Hunger Games and thinking that Jennifer Lawrence might occasionally eat a stew made with rocks she found in a river in real life. I don’t know if Alexandra knows me any better than the other ~750 people who’ve read the script.
When I met Alexandra for the first time, on the set of the movie, she was shooting a scene at a house in Westchester and a swarm of 11-year-old girls who lived in the neighborhood came over to get her autograph, giggling and trying to hide behind one another when she looked at them, because she co-stars in the Percy Jackson family movies series. They asked her questions about Percy.
I say, “I guess I just assumed that people I see in TV and movies, who get photographed on red carpets and stuff, all live like celebrities, e.g., driving crazy sportscars and swimming in the pool at Chateau Marmont. Like, your face has been on billboards in national ad campaigns. I guess it never occurred to me that someone whose face has been on billboards because they starred in several major movies wouldn’t live a life of massive extravagance.” She shrugs.
Alexandra is wearing baggy corduroy pants, a faded Where The Wild Things Are t-shirt, a baggy hoodie, a souvenir tan cotton baseball cap that says only “Atlanta GA,” house slippers, and little white athletic socks. Every piece of her outfit looks like it could have been pulled out of Mark Zuckerberg’s hamper. She changes into sneakers when we stop for lunch at a burger place. I wonder if she has to dress like this in public so men leave her alone. I try to come up with a delicate way to phrase this curiosity as a question without saying, in substance, “Why are you dressed like Mark Zuckerberg?” but I can’t come up with a good way to ask. At a party on Saturday night, a venerable female television critic told me, “She has the best natural boobs I have ever seen.”
When we stop at a convenience store in Ramona, Alexandra gets change from the guy behind the register and he says, “You have such beautiful blue eyes.” He looks down at the cash drawer. “I’m puttin’ the money in the wrong place and stuff.” When we get back into the car, she puts a pair of big sunglasses on.
We drive away and I ask her if this kind of attention is a problem for her because there are certain things she might have a harder time doing than average, e.g., having businesslike interactions with men, because of how she looks. It makes me think of the Freakonomics proposal that very ugly people should get tax breaks, but I guess a converse problem because she clearly comes out on top for looking like a perfect human specimen, but still, it probably gets pretty annoying. I guess when I walk down the street or go into stores, I can really get my business done efficiently, i.e., without being dragged into conversations with every man whose direction I glance in. Isn’t it normal for the average-looking man to be curious about the experience of the perfect-looking woman?
She says that sometimes the way she looks is a problem. She says, “My orthodontist just asked me on a date, like last week. I was getting fitted for a retainer. I had retainers in my mouth and I was talking ‘like thith’ and spitting all over his hands. He asked me if I wanted to go to a good Spanish restaurant and I thought he just meant, ‘Do you want to know of a good Spanish restaurant that I recently discovered?’ It didn’t even cross my mind that he would be asking me out in that situation, like where I was his patient. So I said ‘yeth’ and then he was like, ‘Great! Do you want to go on Friday?’ And obviously I have to decline, but now, like, do I have to find a new orthodontist?” (This is a rhetorical question.)
After we’ve been on the road for two and a half hours, I make my last attempt to convince her to drive to Mexico, which is about 45 minutes away. When we first got in the car, she said, “My dad,” who was the head of NYPD Counterterrorism under Mayor Bloomberg, “I’ve never heard him so stern as when I told him I was thinking about going to Tijuana. He made me promise him I wouldn’t go.”
Instead, she is driving us to a camel dairy north of San Diego, where, obviously, they milk camels. I say, “I’ve never pictured a camel as having an udder. Honestly, before you said you wanted to go to a camel dairy, I didn’t even know camels produced milk. I mean, I guess it’s a mammal.” She says she got the idea to go to the camel dairy from her mom, who was a model before she became a lawyer — she once modeled in Israel on top of a camel for a postcard.
Our agreement about this trip was that I would consent to go to the camel dairy if she would allow me to try to persuade her to defy her father and drive us to Mexico after the dairy, but now, she reveals that she left her passport at home, intentionally, which means she’s broken her half of the deal because the possibility of getting into Mexico is foreclosed by her having no passport. She seems really apologetic when she tells me she left her passport at home. She says, “I’m really sorry.” I say, “It’s probably better this way. We shouldn’t be going to Mexico anyway.”
Outside Poway, we drive through mountains covered in huge boulders. Alexandra says, “These mountains are cool. They almost look like movie sets, like production designs of cool mountains.” I look around at the mountains and scroll through songs on my iPod. Alexandra screams, “Use your blinker, asshole!” and looks at me and points to a car and says, “He didn’t signal!” She laughs. I find “LA County” by Lyle Lovett on my iPod and put it on and Alexandra says she loves country music. “It’s all about love and loss… And farming! And being an American.”
I say, “You grew up in Manhattan though, right?” She says, “Yeah, but I went to an all-girls school until 11th grade, when I went to a professional high school, so I didn’t really interact with boys that much. I just wanted to have a high school romance, like to drink beer under the stars on a school football field and drive in some guy’s truck and go make out in the back of a bar wearing cowboy boots. To me, country music is the most romantic thing, maybe because it’s the opposite of how I grew up.”
She tells me about some of her sad memories from growing up as an actress. “I remember, when I was a kid, not getting a Cheez Whiz commercial. I couldn’t stop crying. I was so miserable. I kept saying to myself, ‘I’m so ugly, I’m terrible, I’m untalented.’ And I was on All My Children when I was in high school and they let me go. I guess I wasn’t really very good, but Amanda Seyfried was on it too and she got let go also. It was really devastating for me. Even this time last year, I called my manager crying after every audition. I said, ‘I’m quitting acting and moving back to New York!’ I mean, if you hate yourself and you’re crying and you walk into the audition room, you’re not the character — you’re just a stressed out actress who wants a job.”
We get to the camel dairy, which looks like a big farm, and it’s closed. I should have called ahead instead of having her drive two and a half hours here, feeling pretty sure it would be open because the website didn’t say it wouldn’t be. I feel like an idiot. We’re in the mountains and we aren’t getting any cell service. I wander towards the road near the camel dairy to see what I can see and Alex climbs up on the roof of her car and yells, “I get service up here!”
I come back towards the car and she says, “Do you want to go to the zoo? The San Diego Zoo? It’s not far.” I can’t get service on the ground so I can’t see if there’s anything else to do around here besides go to the San Diego zoo, so I agree.
On the way to the zoo, she tells me about being on True Detective. I say, “I haven’t seen the finale episode yet, please no spoilers,” and she says, “I haven’t seen the finale either!” I say, “Do you wanna stream it on my HBOGo on my phone? I really need to watch it.”
She says she would watch it but she is waiting for someone specific to watch it with. She says, “The show is really, really funny. I’ve laughed out loud a lot, both from the writing and from some of the looks Woody gives. The show is really incredible.”I ask her to tell me about her experience with her scene in the second episode. I’m probably blushing. She says, “I was so nervous about being naked, but the shock of it had real value in introducing in the right way a side of Marty that the audience hadn’t seen. And people were very complimentary about the scene, which was nice. I tried to have a sense of humor about it. I tweeted, ‘The President has seen my boobs’ with a picture of the President. I tweeted that right before I went to sleep and I woke up the next day and it was on a bunch of blogs.” She starts laughing. “My publicist called me and told me I was a social media genius!”
I ask her if her parents have watched the show and she says they haven’t. “Actually, I asked them not to. It would make them uncomfortable. My brother asked me if he could watch it. He asked how naked I was and I said, ‘All the way naked,’ and he said, ‘Ah, I can’t watch it.’” She says, “My mom watched Texas Chainsaw but she had to leave the theater a few times. She said she couldn’t watch her daughter screaming while getting chased by a chainsaw-wielding maniac.”
Before we get to the zoo, as the car climbs a mountain outside of San Diego, Alexandra tells me about getting a very detailed death threat. Whatever the most gruesome and horrifically specific death threat you can think of would be, that’s what this one is like.
She hesitates after telling me about it. “I don’t want to make people think they can get attention by doing things like sending death threats. You have to show my publicist the paragraph about the death threat. Do you promise to do that?” She makes me shake on it and threatens to sue me if I break my promise. Then she adds, in modesty, “I’m sure Kim Kardashian gets like 8,000 death threats a day.”
We get to the zoo and walk around. The animals look like they are either lazing in the late afternoon sun as animals are naturally prone to do or depressed because they don’t hunt and have no reason to live. Alexandra says, “Zoos are depressing.” We walk past an elephant with big tusks and she says, “I bet you could make a whole piano out of each one of those tusks.” She looks at me.“Don’t write that down!”
On the way home, I ask Alexandra what she would be doing today if we hadn’t driven to San Diego. She says, “I’ve been doing a lot of preparation to live in Australia for four months. Getting my visa, getting the right kind of credit card, forming a corporation. My corporation is named after my childhood teddybear. It just makes it easier to deal with money.”
She looks over at me as I am typing and says, “What are you writing down? You’re like a psychiatrist.” She thinks for a second and impersonates a paranoid psychiatric patient. Her knuckles are white on the steering wheel. “WHY ARE YOU WRITING THAT DOWN?!” Then she faces forward and starts shrieking at the traffic. “Fucking move! Fucking go!” She loosens her grip and looks back at me and says, sweetly, “Does the stuff I’m doing count for the story if I’m acting?”