Peretz’s local learning curve

‘Idiot Brother’ director recalls Boston roots

“That experience . . . just really made me think, ‘Oh my God. This has got to be the coolest thing to do,’ ’’ Jesse Peretz says of acting in a film made by Emerson students while he was in high school. “That experience . . . just really made me think, ‘Oh my God. This has got to be the coolest thing to do,’ ’’ Jesse Peretz says of acting in a film made by Emerson students while he was in high school. (Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe)
By Laura Collins-Hughes
Globe Staff / August 30, 2011

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“I can tell you this story ’cause it’s a Boston-related story,’’ director Jesse Peretz said. In town to promote his new movie, “Our Idiot Brother,’’ which opened Friday, the 43-year-old Cambridge native and founding member of the Lemonheads was thinking back to his high school years here, and the time when he first realized he wanted to become a filmmaker.

“I was a busboy at Rebecca’s on Charles Street the summer between, like, my sophomore and junior year or whatever. I was 15 years old. I remember I had the biggest crushes on all the older ladies - a.k.a., 21, 22 - who were the waitresses at Rebecca’s,’’ he said, and laughed. “Anyways, two of them were film students at Emerson, and they asked me to be in their movie they were making, and of course I was super-excited to have an excuse to do something with them or whatever.

“And then I get the script. In the script, basically I play a 17-year-old kid that moves to Boston from Vermont, and I befriend . . . my eccentric neighbor, who’s, like, a 30-year-old guy and is obsessed with James Joyce and hangs out in his bathtub all through the summer, cold bathtub, talking to me about James Joyce and life,’’ he said.

“I’m sure there was deeper stuff going on in the movie, but all I remembered was my arc, which was that he discovers that I’m a virgin and sends in one of his girlfriends to deflower me. And it was the most traumatic experience for me to shoot this, like, pretty explicit sex scene, and it was definitively the last thing I did as an actor.

“But I will say,’’ he added, laughing again, “that that experience of those four days just really made me think, ‘Oh my God. This has got to be the coolest thing to do.’ And I ended up, you know, spending the money I made that summer and I bought a Super 8 camera and I started making Super 8 films and stuff.’’

It was toward the end of 1985, he recalled, in his senior year at Commonwealth School, that he founded the Lemonheads with classmates Evan Dando and Ben Deily.

“This sounds more perverted than it really is,’’ said Peretz, who was the band’s bassist. “But we would practice in the girls’ locker room at Commonwealth School just because it was a very non-athletic school and the locker room wasn’t used a lot. And they let us keep the instruments in a space in the girls’ locker room, which was never used after about 2 o’clock in the afternoon.’’

In “Our Idiot Brother,’’ Paul Rudd plays the hapless title character, a guy who’s lost custody of his beloved dog, Willie Nelson. Music by the dog’s namesake, consequently, is all over the soundtrack.

“Once we had named the dog Willie Nelson, I definitely spent like two months solidly listening to Willie Nelson. I probably have, like, 400 Willie Nelson songs on my iPod,’’ Peretz said. “I don’t love, love, love country music. But . . . Willie Nelson definitely appeals to the kind of country music, or countryish music, that I really like.’’

By which he means the Jayhawks, Gram Parsons, and particularly Lucinda Williams, “who I was totally obsessed with even in my total punk-rock days,’’ he said. “And even though Willie Nelson is probably more sort of in the conventional country world, there’s something about the production of many of his songs and that sort of really gentle quality of his voice that isn’t as really hard-core as some of the real hoedown country is.’’

So what does Peretz listen to when he’s not doing research for a film? He says he relies on recommendations from a couple of close friends who are still in the music world.

“They used to make me CDs. Now they will e-mail me a playlist of stuff that they think I’ll like, to try to keep me a little bit - keep one foot in the door,’’ he said. “But definitely my musical taste is still a little sort of stuck in the stuff I was into in the ’80s and the ’90s.’’

Thus his 4-year-old daughter’s immersion in the music of David Bowie and Elvis Costello, as well as that of Willie Nelson.

“Those are her three key musical artists,’’ Peretz said. “And I hope I can sustain that and keep her from Justin Bieber or whoever is bound to come her way. If I can squeeze two more years of control of it, then I’ll be really psyched.’’

Laura Collins-Hughes can be reached at

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