Now Starring: Louisiana
Locally made films and television shows highlight Louisiana's culture and scenery. Watch it on screen, and then experience it in person.
Louisiana is a hot state that’s boiled together with a historic mix of French and Spanish traditions, age-old ghost tales, jazz, alligator-infested swamplands and a roux of voodoo. It’s the perfect setting for storytelling and, along with some attractive tax incentives, has in the last decade become a hot spot for Hollywood producers looking for a multicultural backdrop to their next blockbuster.
Starting with the silent Tarzan of the Apes in 1918 up to today, there have been close to 500 major films produced in Louisiana, featuring movie stars from Elvis Presley to Brad Pitt. Each month, there are independent and big-money films, plus network and cable television shows, being produced in locations throughout the state. No doubt you’ve watched a few, and perhaps they’ve inspired you to come for a visit.
Did you see Tom Cruise bite down on Kirsten Dunst’s neck in New Orleans’ French Quarter in Interview With the Vampire, and think you’d like to explore the hauntingly beautiful city that served as a backdrop for Anne Rice’s blockbuster? Are you one of the 5.5 million cable network viewers who watched Junior and Willie on Swamp People track down a 10-foot alligator, and now you want to get up close and personal with a similar monster?
Park your pirogue, mon cher, and we’ll show you how to do all that and more as we take a look at some of Louisiana’s most famous films and shows.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Scene: It’s based on Tennessee Williams’ 1947 Pulitzer Prize–winning play, and even if you’ve never seen the movie, you know the scene: in the French Quarter in New Orleans, post World War II, Marlon Brando as Stanley screams like a brainless maniac up to his wife, Stella, played by Kim Hunter.
Experience: At the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival in March, sign up to scream your lungs out at the famous Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest. Join dozens of other lunatics hollering up to the balcony of the Pontalba Apartments in the French Quarter, where there will be a Stella, or Stanley, stand-in.
Tarzan of the Apes (1918)
Scene: Re-created in at least 40 movies since the original, and made comically famous by Carol Burnett, the undulating yell of Tarzan is an iconic sound known by adults and children alike. The first film was silent, however, and filmed in Morgan City, where the Atchafalaya River Basin was the closest to an African environment Hollywood could get.
Experience: In 2012, the Tarzan: Lord of the Louisiana Jungle Festival was held in Morgan City in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the first Tarzan book. Although organizers are unsure whether the event will become an annual celebration, you can still learn about the film and its Louisiana roots through May 2013 at the Tarzan: Lord of the Louisiana Jungle exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum in Patterson. Afterwards, book a boat tour with Cajun Jack into the Atchafalaya Basin to see the “African” environment.
Steel Magnolias (1989)
Scene: A good part of the film takes place in M’Lynn Eatenton’s (Sally Field) fictional 1830s home in the fictionally named Chinquapin Parish. It’s the site of such memorable quotes such as one during the annual Christmas party when Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacClain) turns to M’Lynn and quips, “M’Lynn, what’s wrong with you these days? You got a reindeer up your butt?”
Experience: Laugh through tears (Truvy’s [Dolly Parton] “favorite emotion”) as you enjoy a weekend staying in the actual 1830s, six-bedroom, six-and-a-half bath Steele Magnolia House. The bed and breakfast is where much of the movie was filmed in Natchitoches.
Interview With the Vampire (1994)
Scene: Louis (Brad Pitt), an unwilling vampire, decides he’s had enough of his so-called life and takes a torch to his sprawling manor, setting the curtains ablaze, which really ticks off the aristocratic vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) who was rather fond of the place.
Experience: Louis’ homeplace was filmed at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie. Take a tour and see the restored, antebellum, Greek Revival mansion—sans flames—plus spots where the graveyard scenes were filmed. Decide for yourself if it’s a fitting estate for a vampire.
Easy Rider (1969)
Scene: On a break from their iconic, cross-country road trip, Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper), along with a couple of bleary-eyed prostitutes, drop acid in an ancient cemetery, prompting them to get dazed, philosophical and naked.
Experience: Don’t drop acid or get naked, but do get philosophical while wandering around the famous, above-ground St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, where the scene took place. Specifically, seek out the massive, queen-like sculpture set into the “Italia” gravesite where, like Wyatt, you can imagine yourself talking to dead relatives. Several tour companies offer cemetery tours.
Scene: Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) wakes up his father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), drives him out to a lake, and then carries him on his shoulders to the pier, where he sets him on a chair and they watch the sunrise. During the three-minute scene, there is a beautiful song, Sunrise on Lake Pontchartrain, playing in the background.
Experience: Start out early and park yourself on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, where the song takes its name. Watch a real sunrise while listening to the music and chances are you'll end up teary-eyed at the beauty of both. Afterward, take a ride by the Nolan House at 2707 Coliseum St., where the bulk of the film took place.
The Big Easy (1986)
Scene: Over conversation about a mob investigation, Remy (Dennis Quaid) wines and dines Anne (Ellen Barkin) at a steamy nightclub. Gumbo spices up the table and a zydeco band plays in the background as Remy tries to get Anne to loosen her lips and her skirt, in either order.
Experience: Take your better half on a date to the famous, real-life Tipitina’s music club in New Orleans. You can’t actually get gumbo there now, but you can get wine and beer and, on Sunday afternoons, a healthy serving of zydeco music during their Cajun fais do do (dance party).
Duck Dynasty (2012-current, A&E Network)
Scene: The millionaire Robertson boys deck themselves out with camo gear, shotguns and their famous, handmade duck calls, then cruise on an air boat through the North Louisiana marsh, gather ’round the duck blind and proceed to gleefully blast down one quacker after another. “My idea of happiness is killin’ things,” says patriarch Phil Robertson. “Pow, pow, pow.”
Experience: If that sounds like your idea of happiness, then order a few of the Robertsons’ custom duck calls from the Duck Commander company website and head to one of the prime duck hunting areas in North America: Chenier Plain in southwest Louisiana. On the Sabine and Lacassine national wildlife refuges in Cameron Parish, it’s where you can fire away at gadwalls, blue-winged teal, pintails, mottled ducks and white-fronted geese.
True Blood (2008–current, HBO)
Scene: Proving vampires have a heart for romance too, Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), the King of Louisiana and overseer of vampire order, plans a special evening out for Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin). With a fancy French restaurant all to themselves, Bill asks Sookie to marry him. After excusing herself to the bathroom to think about her answer, Sookie returns to say "yes" only to discover Bill is missing, and there are signs of a struggle.
Experience: Plan your own romantic getaway, free of a mysterious kidnapping, of course, at The Stockade Bed & Breakfast, where this scene was filmed. The Baton Rouge bed and breakfast has an away-from-it-all feel but is near the attractions of the capital city. Enjoy the view from your room's private balcony and be sure to stick around for breakfast.
Treme (2010–current, HBO)
Scene: Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) is seen playing his trombone in a jam-packed, smoky, hole-in-the-wall barroom alongside trumpet player Kermit Ruffins as they knock out a swingin’ Mardi Gras tune with the band.
Experience: Stroll through the Bywater neighborhood to Vaughan’s Lounge on a Thursday night and watch the real-deal trumpeter Kermit Ruffins blow the roof off the place. Or visit Ruffins at his newly opened Kermit’s Tremé Speakeasy. On Mondays, hear him play and enjoy a meal of red beans and rice.
Swamp People (2010–current, History Channel)
Scene: After a day of searching through the cypress-filled Bayou Sorrel in southeastern Louisiana, the hunters haul a 10-pound gator into their flat-bottomed boat, then realize it’s still alive and kicking. They blast it with a shotgun shell before it has a chance to take a bite out of anyone.
Experience: Let’s not kid ourselves—you won’t be going alligator hunting. Anyway, since this is the last of our list, take it easy in the Big Easy. You can enjoy the rewards of the hard-working men and women of the Louisiana swamplands by heading down to Mulate’s Cajun restaurant in the French Quarter and ordering a fried alligator po’boy, and call it a day. Laissez les bons temps rouler!