Former Teen Actor
If you grew up in the ‘80s you were likely raised on a diet of teen angst and John Hughes films. Who could forget Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club or Weird Science, a tale of two nerdy teenage boys who create a woman of their own after failed attempts to connect with girls their own age. Well, one of those “nerdy teens” is all grown up, has done rather well with the ladies (he’s been married for some 20 years and has two kids), and is an English professor at our very own Long Beach State. Long Beach resident Ilan Mitchell-Smith also starred in Daniel, The Wild Life, The Chocolate Wars and other notable films before making the exodus from the soundstage to the classroom. We chatted with this New York transplant to see what his post Hollywood life is like these days.
How long have you been a resident of Long Beach?
I’ve lived here about six years. My wife and I met in Southern California about 20 years ago, and we moved around a bit. We finally made it back when I became a professor in the English department at Cal State Long Beach.
Long Beach’s dining scene has changed so much over the years. Is there a restaurant that no longer exists that you miss?
My wife and I used to go to Bono’s for anniversary and birthday dinners, and I do find myself wishing that we could still go there.
Got a favorite Long Beach restaurant now?
I have also really enjoyed The Attic on Broadway. The menu has a range of dishes that all seem to be really tasty, and they have some whimsical offerings that I am a sucker for. The best Mac and Cheese ever, with Cheetos crunched up on top? Shut up and take my money. A Bloody Mary, garnished with a whole mini cheeseburger or a meatball? Yes, yes, thousand times yes.
What’s the one food you can’t live without?
As a New Yorker, the three foods I can’t do without are good pizza, good Chinese and good bagels. I don’t mean high-end places either – just simple, good and affordable food.
As a former actor what was your favorite thing to eat from Craft Services?
Oy! I guess I don’t remember Craft Services all that fondly, but I do remember that, somehow, the first time I ever had ranch dressing was at a Craft Services table. I think it was when I was filming The Wild Life, I was about 14, and not even that into salads at that point. I was a little embarrassed that everyon else seemed to know what it was. I remember saying the name a couple of times in my head so I would remember it for the future.
Well, ranch dressing is an important condiment. We’ll testify to that! Got a favorite Long Beach neighborhood for dining?
I really like walking before and/or after eating. I think the best combination of restaurants and nice walking is Belmont Heights. One of my best friends lives in that neighborhood, and I often ride my bike to his house and we’ll walk to various places to grab lunch or coffee.
They’re bringing you your last meal: What is it?
It would have to be something I’ve never tried before, although it’s hard to imagine enjoying anything when you know it’s your last meal.
Very true. We almost wince to ask you this question, but what three people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner and why?
I love this question. I’m tempted of course to go with some of the obvious and well-known folks who have had an influence on me: Chaucer, the anonymous writer of Beowulf. But , as cheesy as it might sound, I would want to invite my wife as I always love a date night with her. My sister, who I haven’t seen in a long time and we’ve always gotten along well – she also loves a good meal. And, finally, it would be Sidney Lumet, the first director I worked with and who passed away in 2011. He was one of the sweetest, smartest people I have known. I was 11 when we worked together on Daniel, and I have often wished I had the chance to have a conversation with him after I had grown up. Like my wife and sister, he loved good food.
Tell us about your most memorable restaurant experience in Long Beach (it can be funny, sentimental, awkward).
When I was interviewing for the job at CSULB, I was taken to Open Sesame on 2nd I was coming from a somewhat rural town where I was working in Texas where there was very little variety of food and the restaurants were often just not at all good. It had been a long time since I had had Mediterranean food, and the food itself was so well spiced and tasty that I pretty much made a hog of myself, letting all pretense of professionalism or good manners fall to the wayside. Luckily, I guess it didn’t hurt my interview too much, and now I get to go to Open Sesame whenever I like!
When we were undergrads at Long Beach State we spent a lot of time in the campus pub, The Nugget. How about you?
I find the University Student Union a really great place to hang out. I am continually impressed with the spaces, activities, and services available there. The campus is beautiful, and a perfect palace to enjoy how diverse, smart and interesting our student body is.
Do you mind if we sing a few lines from Oingo Boingo’s hit Weird Science?
If you must.
Okay then, here we go: Not what teacher said to do, Makin’ dreams come true, Living tissue; warm flesh. Weird Science.