For the past year and a half, Memphis has been a bit of a Hollywood hot spot, hosting the cast and crew of such films as Walk the Line with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, Elizabethtown with Orlando Bloom, Forty Shades of Blue with Rip Torn, 21 Grams with Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro, and the John Singleton-backed film Hustle & Flow. Go back a few more years and add Cast Away, A Family Thing, The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Client, The Firm, The Rainmaker, Great Balls of Fire, and Mystery Train to the list.
Needless to say, more than one Hollywood location scout has come to town to find restaurants that look as good on film as any A-list star. As a result, owners like Robert Anderton of Anderton's and Harry Zepatos of the Arcade have become old hands at show business.
"I wasn't really surprised when [the Johnny Cash biopic] Walk the Line called and said they wanted to film here," says Anderton. "21 Grams had filmed at the bar when they were in town, so it's not like it was something new. But [Walk the Line] wanted me to close for lunch, and I wasn't sure I could do that."
Anderton already had closed Anderton's during lunch for more than a month while he was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer. He'd just reopened the restaurant when Hollywood came calling.
"I really thought I should turn them down because you don't want your customers to come one day and you're closed, then you're open, then you're closed again," he says. "But they asked if they could come in one day after lunch and shoot into the evening. I said, 'Okay, let's do it.'"
The first Anderton's opened in 1945 at 115 Madison downtown. In 1954, the restaurant was designed to be the very picture of 1950s cocktail cool. The same mid-century style was used for Anderton's East, which opened in Midtown in 1956.
"People come in who haven't been in Memphis for 25 years and tell me [the restaurant] hasn't changed at all. That's why Walk the Line wanted to shoot here. It's for my decor. That period is a big part of Johnny Cash's life."
Anderton grew up working for his father but can't recall any notable encounters with Cash. He remembers other Sun luminaries quite well.
"Sam and Knox Phillips have been regular customers for as long as I can remember," he says. "And when Colonel Tom Parker was friends with my father back when he was still managing Eddie Arnold, [Parker] asked my father if he'd ever heard of Elvis Presley. My dad said he hadn't, so he asked me if I'd ever heard of him. I told him that Elvis was a local singer and that everybody was crazy for his music. And that's what my father told Colonel Parker."
Would Anderton let a movie shoot at his restaurant again? "Absolutely," he says. "Some of the nicest people I've ever worked with. I can't sing their praises enough. And one of the best parts is when people come into the restaurant and say, 'Hey, this looks like the bar in 21 Grams.' I tell them it is the bar in 21 Grams, and that's when they start looking at it differently. It's like they've just seen a movie star."
Like Anderton, Zepatos grew up in the business. Likewise, he never dreamed that the family restaurant would someday become the set of even one Hollywood movie. But there can be little doubt that the Arcade is the most frequently filmed restaurant in Memphis. Consequently, when something in the 86-year-old Arcade needs replacing, Zepatos makes sure the new addition doesn't compromise the Arcade's vintage feel.
"It's a good thing, but I'm starting to wonder if it's all too much," Zepatos says of the attention. For instance, a Disney project had just completed filming in the restaurant the night before. "Not every film that comes to Memphis can film in the Arcade, can they?" he asks. And of course, not every film does. Walk the Line, for example, isn't filming inside the Arcade, but they have filmed on South Main Street in front of the Arcade.
"I can't imagine that we're not going to make it into the picture," Zepatos says.
Like Anderton, Zepatos's greatest concern is the length of time his business will be closed for filming, especially for lunchtime diners who are creatures of habit.
Renting a restaurant for filming isn't a big money maker, according to Zepatos. "You essentially make what you would have made if you'd been open," he says. The reason he continues to do it is for the exposure and the stories.
"I remember when they were shooting Mystery Train," he says. "Nobody knew who any of those guys were back then. The [back dining room] wasn't open then, and [director Jim] Jarmusch turned the whole place into a lounge with rocking chairs and everything."
When the Cameron Crowe-directed Elizabethtown shot a chili-eating sequence with Bloom at the Arcade earlier this month, one member of the crew bought a stack of Arcade T-shirts.
"They said they might film on the plane where everybody is wearing these T-shirts," Zepatos says. "Maybe they will, maybe they won't. But it would be great if they did. They hope the film will develop a cult following and people will want to do all of the things that Orlando Bloom does in the movie, like have a bowl of chili at the Arcade. Now that would be great."