My family is from Louisiana for generations on both sides but I didn’t move to New Orleans until late 2009. I’d lived in Maryland, Japan, Washington D.C., Alabama, New York, and almost 18 years in Los Angeles before finally following my heart home. Looking through photos for this blog post, I saw the story of a New Dat becoming a Saints season-ticket-holding Who Dat, a parade-goer becoming a Pussyfooters parade dancer, strangers becoming friends, and a blogger becoming an author. I saw the evolution of my love story with this city, and with the man I met my first year here.
I’d just produced Hell Ride with Quentin Tarantino when I decided to leave Los Angeles. It was a 7-year dream come true – that was also excruciatingly painful. Other than Quentin, people I trusted changed as soon as the money showed up. After nearly 2 decades of building a sturdy career in L.A, it was time for new dreams. I’d figured out that most people there didn’t care about what I cared about, didn’t value what I valued. L.A. is about exclusivity, profitability and newer-is-better thinking. New Orleans is about community, giving back and cultural preservation. I wanted to live in that value system.
When I first got to New Orleans, the Saints were well on their way to their Mid-Mardi-Gras Super Bowl victory. I attended dozens of parades that Carnival season and fell in love with the adult dancing krewes – especially the pink-corset and white-combat-boot wearing Pussyfooters. Those parades were magical and “other,” even for someone who makes her money in movies. Now I dance with the over 100 women-over-30 in at least 4 parades a year, including 2 Mardi Gras parades. I’ve gone through the looking glass and become one of the eccentric things people photograph to point at and say, “Only in New Orleans.”
One of the new dreams I came up with when I moved here was that I wanted to earn my second line parade. I wanted to contribute so much to the city that people would feel the need to dance in the streets to celebrate my life. I certainly haven’t done enough yet to stand out in this city of culture bearers, Grammy winners and other legends, but over 100 people showed up to dance in our wedding second line.
Shortly after I moved here, my sister-in-law had a dream that I was in a small, local bookstore and something important happened. She thought maybe I would meet the man of my dreams in this little shop. (I didn’t, I met Andy at the Lost Love Lounge. Seriously.) When I finally stumbled onto the Garden District Book Shop, I knew it was the store from her dream. Since then, the GDBS has hosted signings for all of my books. It was a teenager’s question at the GDBS signing event for my novel, Lemonade Farm, that led to the birth of the New Orleans-set Charlotte Reade Mysteries series – a dream Quentin had planted in my head before I left L.A.
Quentin said I should write a series of detective novels – that he thought people would be fascinated to see how my mind works. Thanks to the GDBS and that teen in the crowd, I went home that night and opened an old box from my move labeled “Mystery Notes” – and found I’d already set my ideas in New Orleans. One of my new dreams had been to become a local author telling local stories. Charlotte Reade isn’t a detective series, but the mysteries-not-murders are praised for their authentic capture of the local culture, lifestyle and people. And I may not have met the man of my dreams at the GDBS, but many of the employees have become friends and a whole book series was sparked there.
I’ve been here long enough to watch the children of bands members go from toddling and tooting a horn with no mic, to standing out in their own bands like Jazz Henry (daughter of Corey Henry) in the Original Pinettes Brass Band, and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux’s grandson, J’Wan Boudreaux, in Cha Wa. Michael Mullins, teenage son of trombonist Mark Mullins, leant lead vocals to Bonerama’s recent release Bonerama Plays Zeppelin.
I’ve been here long enough go from attending the New Orleans Film Festival (NOFF) to seeing my face in a Brandan “BMike” Odums mural on St. Charles Ave. advertising the fest, and later watching myself in some of the festival’s movies. I’ve gone from guest teaching at universities to being an adjunct professor teaching a course I designed with help from my own book, Know Small Parts: An Actor’s Guide to Turning Minutes into Moments and Moments into a Career with foreword by Richard Dreyfuss and endorsements from Kevin Costner and a dozen industry luminaries. Definitely a dream come true – a dream I’d had from before I ever became an actor, when I taught college English and dreamed of Lemonade Farm being “the great American novel” that would be studied in universities.
Of the first 12 students I taught in University of New Orleans‘s graduate class for directors working with actors, I’ve already worked with 5 of them. Max Fisk got to be the first director to film me getting a banana cream pie in the face – 3 times (maybe 4, it’s a blur). I love working with former students as crew on big sets, but bringing their own smaller projects to life feels like a rare opportunity to see if they learned what I taught them as they direct me.
In the 5 years since my last summary post, I’ve gotten to act in movies with icons and fan favorites like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barry Bostwick, John Schneider, Scott Bakula, Christopher Lloyd, Kate Bosworth, Tyler Hoechlin and Ruth Buzzi. I starred in 2 shark TV movies (Zombie Shark and Ozark Sharks) and had a recurring role on 2 more television shows, Queen Sugar and Hot Date. I went to a few autograph signing conventions and met new friends like Tracie Thoms and Agnes Bruckner. And I got elected as a delegate in my local SAG-AFTRA union. As a delegate, I returned to L.A. after 5 years away. Both me and the city had changed.
In the time since my Living in New Orleans – the first 5 years post, we’ve lost many important New Orleanians and NOLA-adjacent people like Allen Toussaint, Paul Prudhomme, Saints player Will Smith, broadcaster and former Saint Hokie Gajan, Pelicans player Bryce Dejean-Jones, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, stuntman John Bernecker, Tom Benson, Ella Brennan, Eva Louis Perry AKA praline queen Tee Eva, Chef Leah Chase, Art Neville, and Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. AKA Dr. John.
We also held giant second line parades for David Bowie, Carrie Fisher and Prince. Carrie and I met in the early 90’s and shared several mutual friends. I’d last seen her here in New Orleans at Paul Allen’s 60th birthday in 2013. Sadly, my longtime friend and sometimes New Orleans neighbor, Paul, passed in 2018. As did my Aunt Norma who I’ve mentioned several times throughout the years. Some of our favorite places are also gone including Dreamy Weenies, where we finished our wedding second line parade, and the original Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. I’ve accumulated hundreds of memories in that airport since I was a tiny child so, though I hear the new one is beautiful, I’m sad to see the old one go.
In these first 10 years of living in New Orleans I watched the city rebuild after Katrina, then battle gentrification and short term rentals. Greed, corruption and ineptitude were exposed nationally when the Canal St. building collapsed a few months ago. I boycotted last year’s Super Bowl and paraded with the Who Dat Nation as we protested the infamous No Call. Things go wrong and the city rolls on. Our streets are still epically pot-holed and crime is a problem, but the New Orleans is still beating the funky, soulful drum that pulses our country. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Enjoy some highlights from the last 5 years. You can find previous photos in Living in New Orleans – the first 5 years.