Photo by Scott NathanScott Nathan lives just north of Hollywood Boulevard, in a nondescript, 40-unit pink stucco building owned by a friend. His two-bedroom apartment, which he describes as very “bachelor,” features a lot of heavy ashtrays and stacks of magazines; a painting of Bijou Phillips’ grandmother, which the actress traded him for a laptop; a fully stocked kitchen of fancy cookware (“My aunt has worked for Crate & Barrel since the beginning of time”); and “one good piece of furniture,” his 1940s leather couch.
Tons of his own photography is propped against the wall and he has a couple of paintings by a former roommate/professional model, who likes to paint using her naked body as a brush. She also gave him a portrait of herself standing on her head naked, which she painted in his apartment, while standing on her head naked.
The way Nathan figures it, even if he doesn’t end up rich and famous, the life he leads from this apartment is already a hell of a lot more interesting than it would have been if he had stayed back in Chicago and married the first girl who said yes. That said, he hopes his epitaph doesn’t read: “He was this close.”
While he waits for his big break, Nathan likes to be around people who are living the dream — as he calls them, “big kids who get to do their jobs that are fun.” Meaning, people who get paid lots of money for working creative jobs. Or the chosen people, whose “vacation is their vocation.”
“If you surround yourself with success, you are more apt to be successful,” Nathan explains. “You hang around losers and slackers who don’t have jobs, your drive starts to decline.”
He’s been to the Playboy Mansion more than once, designed a Web site for Jenna Jameson and been to a lot of the same parties as Paris Hilton. Like a modern-day Forrest Gump — a friend first made the comparison, but Nathan thought it was funny and started using it himself — he seems to be everywhere. If everywhere means Hollywood parties, clubs, store/spa openings or the Whiskey Bar, and not because he wants to “schmooze and meet people.” For him, it’s about “being around the energy.”
The 30-something, 6-foot-tall redhead has been hanging around the energy for a long time. Back in Chicago, during the days when “everyone was getting signed” to record deals — the Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair and Urge Overkill — Nathan had a scouting job for a publishing affiliate of Warner Chappell. Since then, he has done a lot of other things. He was a computer-network designer and consultant for the studios and production companies, and for Hollywood big shots like Nic Cage and Sid Sheinberg. He ran digital equipment at Davis Factor’s photo studio, in exchange for Factor’s tutelage in photography, and he has a Web-site company. He also books about five or six commercials a year as an actor “to keep up the SAG insurance.”
He knows a lot of people, like the guys in Maroon 5, Bijou Phillips and a couple of rich business men. And occasionally he tries to put his friends together to see if business sparks fly and he might get a piece of the action. Potential deals — and fashion models, for that matter — he explains, are like popcorn kernels in a pan: “You never know which ones are gonna pop.”
In fact, it appears that back in the ’90s he was the one who introduced Leonardo DiCaprio to producer Charles Evans Jr., who owned the rights to the Howard Hughes book, Howard Hughes: The Untold Story. At the time, Nathan, who was buddies with DiCaprio’s then-girlfriend, worked as a computer consultant for Evans Jr. and asked to read the Hughes book “just for fun.” After, he asked Evans Jr. what the producer would give him if he could bring him a name star.
Evans Jr., who himself made headlines fighting to keep his name on the project that became The Aviator and even to get photo ops at the Golden Globe Awards, confirms that Nathan was the one who gave him DiCaprio’s cell-phone number, which the producer ultimately used to contact the actor.
But Nathan, who has a way of making everything sound as if it were a folksy happenstance, says he did more than that. First, he told DiCaprio’s girlfriend how great the book was. So she read it. And to hear him say it, she, like a present-day Scheherezade, started telling DiCaprio about Hughes and the book and the movie. The rest is controversial Academy Award history.
(In interviews, DiCaprio cites a longtime interest in Hughes and credits director/producer Michael Mann with getting him involved in the project, but Nathan did end up getting a little money from Evans Jr., and Evans Jr. retains a producer credit on the film.)
More recently, Nathan, still with an eye on the big finder’s-fee or commission dream, introduced a rich Canadian to another producer friend over a game of golf. The producer promised to “take care of him” if anything comes of it. And not long ago, Nathan was asked if he knew any potential buyers for a painting by the expatriate American portraitist and impressionist John Singer Sargent, which he says is going for $7 million to $10 million.
“It’s not one of those things where I’m gonna hunt down strangers,” he says regarding the painting. “I put my word out. I sorta put it in the pipeline and say, ‘You make your calls and I’ll kick you back if anything happens.’ ”
Meanwhile, Nathan is focusing on his rookie photography career (which is not going bad, thank you) and taking dates to parties where there are gift bags, open bars and free food.
Sunk into a deep sofa in the infamous Chateau Marmont lobby, with HBO star Peter Krause in one corner and Benicio Del Toro in the other, Nathan spies his vibrating phone on the table, ignores it and sips from his green tea. “The Chateau is my office. All my friends know that I am always here. I am a creature of habit,” says Nathan, flashing his Cheshire grin.
He says he was even hanging out in the lobby the day Helmet Newton drove into the wall outside and died. He remembers seeing the famous photographer’s wife, June, with hotel manager Phil Pavel in the days following, just drinking and talking and sitting in the lobby, bereft.
Like many non-celeb habitués of L.A.’s chicer establishments, Nathan doesn’t venture far from his favorite spot. He stays between La Brea and La Cienega. “You know that old saying, ‘No good can come from staying up after 2 o’clock in Los Angeles’? Well, I have a new one: No good can come from going east of La Brea.”
To help make ends meet, Nathan rents out the second room of his nearby apartment. Over the past six years, this arrangement has led to a seemingly ceaseless parade of beautiful models, who find out about his spare room through their booking agent. He says that he’s never dated any of his model roommates, and has a general policy that he likes to keep things platonic.
“I wouldn’t want to jeopardize my living situation: It’s easy to get laid. It’s hard to find a good roommate. But, yeah, on occasion, I have accidentally slipped and fallen into a couple of roommates’ vaginas.”
Nathan, who would be best described as less a Casanova and more someone who is just in the right place at the right time, explains, “Drunk people do things they wouldn’t do sober.”
Like that time he woke up to find a former model/roommate and her friend wanting to “molest” him after what had already been, for them, a long night of drinking.
But, in general, he stays away from such things. And even after the occasional dalliance with a roommate, he says, things usually go back to being just friends after a couple of awkward days. To this day, Nathan considers pretty much all of his former roommates friends. With the exception of one, who turned out to be a heroin addict — something he didn’t discover until he stumbled upon her rig and burnt spoons in the bathroom. She hung around long enough to clear him out of thousands of dollars’ worth of electronic equipment and his grandfather’s Rolex.
“I’m a little slow when it comes to women anyway,” he says. “I don’t even know if a girl likes me until her clothes come off. And even then I need to ask if she’s hot and needs me to turn the air conditioning on.”
Whether or not Nathan is as naive as he likes to portray himself — with “over 15,000 pictures” of himself with topless girls, celebrities and stoned porn actresses at photo shoots, how naive can a guy be? — it doesn’t seem likely that he will be changing his lifestyle anytime soon. Why should he? He still has invites coming in, and the girls are still taking off their clothes.
But he will admit that thanks to a couple of not-so-beautiful knocks on the head — like the one he got from the drunken girl who lived in his building and stalked him — he’s starting to wise up more every day. The rule he lives by now: “No fast friends.”
Even though he has met a lot of “really normal, smart, funny, responsible beautiful women” in this town — his last model roommate, for instance, was a “nice half-German, half-Asian Southern belle,” who attended a Buddhist temple and “would be like, ‘Darling, there’s dinner on the table’ ” whether he asked or not — incidents like the drunken stalker are sobering him up.
“No one without references is getting into my personal life,” Nathan says as he elaborates on the “no fast friends” rule. “If I don’t know you through a friend . . .” you probably won’t get very far. He doesn’t like the whole “Let’s hang out. Let’s hang out all the time!” thing. “I’m a head-down-in-the-elevator, not a borrow-a-cup-of-sugar type of guy. I don’t like to really know my neighbors.”
Still, it’s hard to keep it too exclusive when you have scantily clad models coming and going from your apartment at all hours. The neighbors can’t help but notice.
“Random guys in the elevator are like, ‘Who are these girls? We should go out sometime. Can you fix me up with your roommate? Does your roommate have any friends?’ ”
No such luck; Nathan doesn’t play matchmaker. He respects his roommates’ privacy and asks the same in return. He also respects their careers and wants them to have the freedom to do their own thing. That’s the dream, remember? Getting to do the thing you love and be around other happy, fun, satisfied people doing the things they love. So, don’t hate him for trying to make that happen in a world where the girls look like they are in a photo spread and the guys sometimes do too.
He’s booked some good jobs this year, got a syndication deal for his celebrity portraits and is shooting anything he can: bands, homes, TV shoots, publicity head shots and event coverage. He spent “virtually every cent” of his life savings on his photography, and when he’s not shooting, he is, as he describes it, “Willy Loman pounding phones all day,” or “trying to build new relations, acting as my own rep.”
Indeed, despite the fact that he is currently on “a dating spree,” after a year-and-a-half-long relationship with a model (not a roommate), he says he has been going out less recently. And, when he does, he’s more discerning about where he goes.
“When I first moved here, I would go to the opening of an envelope.” Now Nathan sticks to places where they know his name, which brings us back to the Chateau lobby, where the wait staff smile and ask how he is when they see him. Or the after-party of a friend’s band’s concert at the Universal Amphitheater: “An open bar and a hundred of my friends.”
“Everyone feels more comfortable in their own environment. I don’t think I would take a date someplace I have never been before. There is a distinct advantage to taking a date to a place where you know everyone. It gives you a semblance of credibility.”
Still, Nathan, whose father made an honest and very good living selling electrical supplies to big-deal brightly lit places like sporting arenas and skyscrapers, admits he has worried about the future. It would be hard not to — many of the friends he grew up with back in Chicago could retire by now.
But it works both ways. “My brother-in-law said something really funny to me recently. ‘So, Scott, when are you gonna settle down and get married and have kids? Why should you be the only one who is happy?’ I think it’s a mixture. The grass is always greener.”
Nathan gets serious for a moment. “I look at [my old friends] and they’re living in mansions with their families and I am jealous of them. And me, I’m living in a pink stucco apartment building. They see pictures that I’ll send them of the sun rising at the Playboy Mansion and, yeah, they’re jealous of me. But I don’t think I would trade places with anyone, really. I have friends who married their first loves, and I look at them and they look 20 years older than me and they’re getting the shit kicked out of them at Goldman Sachs and emasculated by some Art of War, half-wit Ovitz disciple. For what? A house and a newer Mercedes? I’d rather be set on fire.”