PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — This scene is a year old. But in Kevin Polowy’s world of Hollywood, where projects take (seemingly) forever to develop and then pass (seemingly) in an instant, it may as well have been yesterday.
Here it is:
Polowy is puttering around a sunlit conference room on the ground floor of an office building on Yahoo’s Southern California campus. This is a trendy, techie spot, a place where work blends with play in the same way as the soy creamer stirs into the coffee from the cafeteria across the way (where, it should be said, the food and drink are plentiful and free).
Polowy is a native of Buffalo. But the boyish 37-year-old looks totally California. He’s wearing a striped cream button-down untucked over a pair of dark jeans. A tie hangs loose, and he’s got a 5 o’clock shadow at 10 a.m. He’s waiting for celebrity who’s due any moment to walk through these glass doors and sit with him for a Facebook live interview.
“I figure I have to ask about Bill Murray, since I ask everyone about Bill Murray,” said Polowy, who, as senior correspondent for Yahoo Movies, interviews celebrities on the daily. His interview list reads like a clipboard you’d expect to find at a Vanity Fair party. A (very) partial sampling: Al Pacino, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Shirley MacLaine, Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, Jeff Bridges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Lily Tomlin, Richard Gere, Annette Bening.
Today’s guest? The actor Chad Michael Murray. Hence the Bill Murray musing.
“He’s got to feel a certain kinship there,” said Polowy – lightly, since Chad and Bill are unrelated.
But Chad and Kevin are related, not by blood, but by Buffalo. Murray, who is 35, grew up in Clarence. He’s been a Hollywood guy since his late teens, and he, too, looks the part. Murray walks in with swept blond hair, a velvety gray jacket and star’s command of the room.
“I’m Chad, it’s nice to meet you,” he said, working his way around the small group of Yahoo staffers. He’s here to promote his movie “Outlaws and Angels,” but you know the conversation is going to extend beyond when, moments before they go live, Polowy pulls out a Buffalo Bills wallet, made entirely of duct tape, and shows Murray.
“I carry them everywhere I go,” Polowy said
“I’m the same way, man,” said Murray, who’s been searching for paper tape with a Bills logo. He wants to use it for marks on set. (Marks are the T-shaped spots taped to the ground to tell actors where to stand.)
“I can’t find it anywhere,” he tells Polowy, who suggests asking Bills co-owner Kim Pegula for it.
Murray might. He knows the Pegulas, and sometimes joins them in their box. Or he might have it custom-made. Whatever it takes to keep those Buffalo roots close.
Polowy can appreciate that. He grew up in North Buffalo, spending time at both his mother and father’s homes. (They were divorced, but their places were within walking distance of each other.) He developed young a love for movies. Maybe too young, he says in retrospect, since his mother took him to see “The Crying Game” when he was 12, and his father favored ‘70s classics like “Deliverance.”
“I think I’m still scarred by seeing ‘Deliverance’ that young,” Polowy said. “But it definitely helped shape my love for film.”
Many of those (too-) early film experiences came at the North Park Theatre on Hertel Avenue, which is where Polowy will be premiering his first full-length feature, “A Diamond in the Buff,” the story of the late, famed Buffalo singer Lance Diamond. The premiere is Thursday, July 20, and is a step toward Polowy’s next show-biz aspiration, which is to bring a little more Hollywood to his hometown.
Polowy, who graduated from City Honors School and studied journalism at Arizona State University, spent the first 13 years of his career working in New York City. He was a senior editor at AOL Moviefone and an executive editor at MTV Network’s NextMovie.com, where he did plenty of writing and some creative on-camera work, including running through the streets of Manhattan as the Harry Potter villain Voldemort and creating an interview show called “Chicken Wing Chat.” (The title is self-explanatory.)
In 2013, Polowy and his wife Prakrti, who goes by Pixie, moved to Los Angeles when he took his job with Yahoo. He’s working almost exclusively as an on-camera correspondent, conducting interviews like recent ones with the actor Craig Robinson and the cast of “The Big Sick,” and like the one last summer with Murray. Which, more than most interviews, gave him the chance to hype up his hometown.
During the conversation with Murray, Polowy shared a question that a woman named Jennifer posted on Facebook: “How have you grown through your career and what have you learned about yourself?”
The question didn’t invite a sound-bite answer, so Murray thought aloud for a moment before settling on his answer.
“I think what I realized was my roots were the most important,” he said. “Actually being from Buffalo.”
“716!” Polowy interjected.
“The greatest blue-collar city there is,” Murray said.
Polowy jumped back in. “I’m going to take it a step further and say the greatest city there ever was,” he said.
“There we go, I’ll take that man,” Murray said. “It’s a very blue-collar world, and I decided to approach my work as a blue-collar man.”
Polowy does that, too. On nights and weekends, after his daughters Lyla, 4, and Luna, 2, are asleep, and after he’s spent time with Pixie, he retreats to a lower apartment in his home and writes. He’s been working on multiple projects, including a couple of feature-length screenplays and, as he describes it, an “‘Alias’-meets-‘Shaft’” television series called “The Healer.” He’s been developing some of them for years; the Lance Diamond film was an offshoot of Polowy’s preliminary work on a movie about a fictional lounge singer. And to Murray’s blue-collar point, he’s been working on them hard.
On a recent weekend, Polowy flew to Atlanta to work on marathon writing session with his partner on the TV series, the Buffalo-bred actor and filmmaker Addison Henderson. Over the course of a weekend, Polowy and Henderson spent 26 hours finishing the pilot script for “The Healer,” which they are now shopping around Hollywood.
“What Kevin really brings to the table is that comedy — finding certain elements within the script that can be exploited for comedic effect,” Henderson said. “We get together and do it, it’s just like two guys from Buffalo. We sit down, have a good time, we crack jokes and it helps us through the process. It’s a lot of fun.”
If Polowy’s projects get made, he hopes to shoot them in Buffalo and be part of what he calls “the city’s blossoming film scene.”
It would keep him even closer to a city he never (emotionally) left.
Anyone who hangs out with him knows it. Including Chad Michael Murray. During their interview last summer, Polowy asked the actor, “How do you think the Bills are going to do in 2016?”
Murray slapped his hands. “Very well.”
“I like your prediction,” Polowy said.
Murray continued: The team will improve, he said, and make it to the big game. But, he added, “We lose the Super Bowl.”
They bantered some more, and Polowy said, “Again, I’m going to take it a step further. I’m going to say we win the Super Bowl.”
He was (obviously) wrong. But as Polowy added to his prediction, “I’m an optimist.”
This is Hollywood. You have to be. You have to be one in Buffalo, too.
Polowy never did ask about Bill Murray, by the way. He didn’t have to. Why ask about that when you can talk about Buffalo?