Director of Tyson, Black and White and (haha) The Pick-Up Artist, James Toback has gained a reputation as a creep for hitting on young, random women. A few years ago, Gawker posted a string of stories detailing his antics. Here's a recent one from a 24-year-old Bushwick resident who spent over two hours with the 67-year-old filmmaker.
About three weeks ago, I was on the 6 train and I realized I needed to get some iPhone headphones. I tried the Apple store in Grand Central. They didn't have any, but they directed me to the Best Buy at 44th and 5th. As I was turning the corner to enter the store, this man stopped me. He was heavyset, sweaty and wearing glasses but I could see that his skin was all scaly under his eyes.
"My name is James Toback," he started. "I saw you and I had to turn around. I've been following you for 20 yards."
He started running down his resume and listing all these celebrities he had "discovered," like Adrian Grenier (whom he worked with in Harvard Man).
"You need to be in my next movie," he told me.
I was completely caught off guard. I asked for his business card.
"Real directors don't carry business cards," he told me, but then he said to Google him if I needed to identify him. I did that right there and saw his IMDb page with his picture on it.
"Look, I know this is weird, would you come with me to the Harvard Club? It's across the street and there will be people there. You will be safe. It'll just take 10 minutes of your time."
I wasn't really doing anything that afternoon, so I went with him. I'd never been in that part of Midtown, but there's also the Yale Club and the Cornell Club on that street. I didn't go to an Ivy League, so I was thinking that I'd never get the chance to go to any of those weird clubs. Walking into the Harvard Club was a strange twist to my day.
Everyone there knew him. I found out later that he's a Harvard alumni. We sat down and I ordered a Coke. He ordered the same. He started rattling off about his life. He went into this longwinded story about being on a bunch of sports teams at Harvard. He told me he had wanted to take the highest amount of LSD ever recorded. I can't remember what the dosage he was basing this off of was, but he wanted to take more than that. So he did and he had an eight-day trip where he fucked all these woman. He felt like he was God. He had this experience where he was walking beside the river in Boston, and this was on the eighth day of his trip. He ran into this guy who had been missing, this football player, and he saw that this guy was God instead. It was really weird.
"My movie Harvard Man with Adrian Grenier was based on that," he told me. This first reference to sex led to him discussing the fact that he doesn't follow any organized religion, but he follows the Church of Orgasm. He told me that he has to cum at least seven or eight times a day, whether it's with a woman or by himself. He explained that before you cum, you can say, "I'm going to cum," and after you've come, you can say, "I have cum," but while you're cumming, "There are no words. You're in a different state." I thought it was so gross to think of him cumming seven times a day.
(The Church of Orgasm is figurative, by the way. There's not an actual church.)
He told me his goal when he was younger was to impregnate someone in every country. He told me that he had fathered dozens of kids he did not know, that he would go around and fuck women and impregnate them. He has a son that he does know, though, with his wife. I guess that's a completely separate part of his life. Later, he told me about this woman he had fallen in love with. He didn't put her in a movie like he said he would and she became very vengeful and tried to contact his wife. He got very serious.
"I told her, ‘If you want to do anything in this industry, I will ruin you. If you contact my wife, I will make your life very hard.'" I guess it stopped. I'm not sure what his arrangement is with his wife, but it didn't sound like she knew the details of what goes on in the Church of Orgasm.
He started on the movie that he wants to film. He told me I had this great aura and asked me what I did. I told him I worked in fashion.
"Yes. I could tell. Just the way you carry yourself," he said. I looked like shit that day. I'd been running all over the city. It was such bullshit.
He asked me if I wanted to work in costume design. I told him I worked as a wardrobe stylist.
"I can tell," he told me. "How does this sound to you so far?"
"It sounds really sketchy," I replied.
"Why don't you trust me?"
"Because I think you're just trying to fuck me."
"I would never have sex with a woman that wasn't begging me to have sex with her," he told me. "She would have to be begging and even then I might not do it."
Over the next two hours, he repeatedly asked me, "How does this sound to you?" I told him I was skeptical. He kept saying that I'd have to beg him to have sex. I felt really nervous. He went to Harvard. Obviously, the guy is smart. I told him that I felt like he was trying to manipulate me. I didn't drink any alcohol and sipped on that one Coke that I ordered the whole time.
He talked about himself the whole time, asking me questions once in a while and then going off on another tangent. It was fascinating. These were the craziest stories. He told me he was married to some royal figure when he was really young. I got the feeling that he came from a well-to-do family. He told me when he was 14, he would go to the Dakota and there were all of these classical music guys that were super famous staying there. I don't know classical music well, so I recognized the names but I don't recall them. He said he would fuck these crazy famous classical music composers.
"I'm not gay, and I would never let anyone fuck me, but I would fuck them, and they loved me because I was so beautiful," he explained. For the most part, I believed him. Researching him afterwards, I got the sense that his background lines up with his story.
He told me about living in Los Angeles and there was a boxer or football player who had this crew that he would hang out in. He was the only white guy. They would have crazy orgies with everyone fucking everyone.
Almost all of his stories were about sex or tied back to it.
He asked me if I have a type.
"Generally, tall, skinny white guys," I told him.
"OK, now that is just a construct in your head so that you shut out other options that might be a little more challenging to you," he said. I asked what he meant. "I think you can be attracted to things that disgust you," he continued.
"That's actually what the movie is going to be about," he said. I asked him about the process. He told me he develops a very personal relationship with his actors. He told me he'd write this role for me and that way I wouldn't be acting at all. I'd just have to be myself.
"First, you need to watch all my movies," he said. "When would you be able to do that? I want to get started right away."
"This weekend?" I said. I was still intrigued at this point, and I at least wanted to hear him out.
"Can you meet me at the Angelika tomorrow at 7:25? I'm meeting Alec Baldwin there at 7:30. If you can meet me, I can give you the DVDs, but they're my only copies so you have to give them back," he said. He asked my schedule for the following week. I told him I was free Tuesday and Wednesday.
"OK," he said. "We'll meet Tuesday evening. We can have dinner here and then we'll go upstairs and start to do this type of psychoanalysis."
"Oh, it's a hotel."
"How does this psychoanalysis work?" I asked.
"I really need to get to know you so I'll write the character around you so that it fits you like a dress. I'll shoot out a word and then I want you to rap on it. We'll go from there. It's sort of a stream-of-consciousness way of me getting into your psyche and getting to know you."
"The room will be registered in my name," he continued. "There will be tons of people downstairs. You'll be safe. It won't be sketchy."
Yeah, not sketchy at all to go to a hotel room with a guy I don't know. That's when I accepted the fact that this whole thing was totally weird and he's completely crazy.
I told him I needed to think about it. He implored me to consider it.
"We'll be making art!" he said. "This is what you're meant to do. Isn't it weird that I saw you on the street and now you're here? You need to be making art. You aren't meant to be working in a store or as a stylist. There is something more that you're destined for. I feel it."
Looking at his prior films, I think he was lying. He worked with established actors and he had no idea whether I can act or not and I can't! I'd be terrible.
I told him I'd watch his films and gave him my card. When we parted, I was reeling and shocked by this experience. I ended up walking home from Midtown to Bushwick. It took two and a half hours. I was that weirded out by the whole experience.
I did not meet him the next day. He called me three times around the time we were supposed to meet. He waited there for an hour, but by then I knew this was too weird and I was going to stop engaging him.
After I was home, I thought back to something he told me: "I'm catching a lot of flack because people think I'm walking around Manhattan with my dick in my hands following every girl I see. And I stop guys sometimes, too." He rolled up his hands and stacked them at his crotch, like he was holding a light saber that was also his dick. It struck me as such a crude gesture. I had no concept of the extent of what he was talking about. He told me to Google him and see what comes up. The first three results are his IMDb, his Wikipedia and an article about his new movie that just premiered.
I didn't look past that until I got home. The fourth result is the Gawker article from 2010, Sleazy Film Director James Toback's Underage Pick-up Attempt. When I read that in the safety of my apartment, suddenly the whole interaction all made sense.
Here are the voice mails he left me from outside of the Angelika:
[James Toback picture via Getty]