To the chagrin of many a viewer’s inner angsty teen, Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-ager Lady Bird, about a Sacramento 17-year-old’s quest for acceptance by her mother and peers, left Sunday night’s Oscars empty-handed. While lauded for its universal message, you wouldn’t expect that the actor who played the film’s best eye-candy, math teacher Mr. Bruno, would have identified with the film’s titular character. But despite his chiseled looks, actor and Dallas native Jake McDorman says that he felt Lady Bird’s struggle growing up in the sprawl of early 2000s Texas suburbia.“I was like, ‘That’s where I came from? I wanted to be different,” McDorman says.
Like Lady Bird, McDorman pursued the dramatic arts. “Going to public school in Dallas, it’s not the most popular choice on the aptitude test to be an actor,” he says. “Most people want to be a football player in Dallas. But I didn’t.” Unlike Lady Bird, to him, theater and film was more than a half-baked extra curricular. “I was just so laser-focused at that age, on acting and making movies,”McDorman says. “Probably to the detriment of my schoolwork. The faster I could find a route out, the better.”
While Lady Bird moves to New York, McDorman migrated west, moving to Los Angeles at just 16 and soon landing a part on the Fox sitcom Quintuplets. Since then, he’s been a Hollywood fixture, starring in the CBS show Limitless and appearing in American Sniper, Shameless and The Craigslist Killer.
Beyond his suburban roots, McDorman had a special insight into his role as the magnanimous math teacher who takes a shine to Lady Bird’s best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein); his girlfriend of four years, Analeigh Tipton, whom he met on the set of the film Manhattan Love Story, attended Greta Gerwig’s high school alma mater, St. Francis, on which the film is based. “She was maybe three, four years younger than Greta but was there in her wake, and looked up to her,” he says. “So I had heard stories.”
Considering his personal and professional connections to film, one would forgive McDorman for taking the Oscars snub harder than most. But to him, making the film was reward enough. “I enjoyed the whole [Oscars] this year. I mean, Obviously when you’re part of something, it feels more personal. But Lady Bird, from the moment I read the script, was just something really special,” he says. “I feel like Greta’s and my generation [were] so hungry to have an identity, and to be part of something greater. Or maybe it’s just being young and naïve.”
At 32, McDorman considers himself a Texan-Californian mutt, a hybrid he says is more compatible with Austin than his home city of Dallas. “L.A. represented a culture I felt really at home with. And what’s cool is Austin is like that in Texas. It’s this blue city in a big red state,” he says. Just in time for South by Southwest, read McDorman’s guide to Austin.
Cup of Joe: Mañana. Great staff. Well-lit and airy with a beautiful courtyard attached. It’s also attached to the impeccable South Congress Hotel, which houses a bunch of other places for good food/drinks.
Power Lunch: Komé, hands down. They offer an incredible variety of Japanese sub-cuisines during lunch, all of which are done to perfection. Now that they’ve expanded into their new space and added a cocktail program, it’s only gotten better.
Cocktail Hour: Cheer Up Charlie’s. Friendly staff. Cheap, refreshing drinks (especially their juice cocktails). It’s set in this cove carved out of a massive hill of limestone and the owners have done an amazing job of landscaping and curating the space to make it really, really pleasant. There’s always some kind of incredible music show or event, pretty much every night. Honorable mention: Hole In The Wall, Kinda Tropical, and Hotel San Jose.
Retail Therapy: Uncommon Objects. The sheer volume of amazing antiques and arcana could occupy your interest for days. There’s sort of this mantra in the city. “Keep Austin weird.” Uncommon Objects has weird in spades. Honorable mention: Room Service is another shop full of similar knick-knacks and old furniture, and New Bohemia is a great vintage clothing store.
Field Trip: Summer Classic Film Series at the Paramount. Getting to watch anything in this old vaudeville theater pretty magical, but when it’s Lawrence of Arabia or 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm or Ozu’s Tokyo Story, you feel like you’re on another plain of existence.
Date Night: Justine’s is a great day-date place. It’s a converted, old Victorian house with a yard that’s been turned into a restaurant. The atmosphere is really cool. Honorable mentions: Sway. Laundrette. Uchiko. Olamaie. Bullfight. Even the Alamo Drafthouse. There are a lot more, honestly. It all depends on what the night calls for.
Don’t Miss: Any natural swimming hole in town, honestly.
Hidden Gem: Veracruz All Natural Tacos. Delicious. Absolutely delicious.
Main image: photo © Catie Laffoon