What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation


If She Hadn’t Been a Film Critic, She Might Have Been a Nun

Claudia Puig Could Watch To Kill a Mockingbird Over and Over

August 28, 2015

Claudia Puig reviewed films for USA Today for 15 years. She began her journalism career in 1986 at the Los Angeles Times, covering local news, including the L.A. Riots in 1991. Before moderating a discussion on how to film the Mexican-American story, Puig revealed her childhood interest in becoming a nun, the worst movie review she ever wrote, and the moment she almost gave up journalism.

Q: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Different things at different times. One was veterinarian. I love animals, but I keel over at the sight of blood. I went to Catholic school, so at one moment I wanted to be a nun. Also: a teacher, and an interior decorator at one point.

Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Traffic—but it’s so boring to say that. One of my pet peeves as a film critic is people using phones in a movie theater.

Q: What’s your favorite American movie?
To Kill a Mockingbird. I think Atticus Finch is the perfect embodiment of a human, so principled, so dignified. He’s a loving father. I love Gregory Peck’s characterization. I love the whole story—a quintessential American story in the South.

Q: What movie earned your most critical review? Why?
I can’t give zero stars, though there are some I wanted to give zero stars to. I really hated Antichrist, Lars von Trier’s movie. It was so disturbing. I don’t mind disturbing if it’s for an intriguing reason—but this felt prurient, exploitative, meandering, dull. That’s the first that comes to mind. But the very worst review would’ve been an Adam Sandler movie. It had Andy Samberg in it—That’s My Boy. I wrote such a bad review, it was included in a roundup of the harshest reviews by Roger Ebert.

Q: What’s your favorite condiment?

Q: What was the hardest story you had to cover when you used to cover city government, crime, and courts at the L.A. Times?
The hardest story was when I was an intern in the Minority Editorial Training Program at the L.A. Times. I had one year of experience at a little tiny paper and a college degree. I was assigned to city government and I was supposed to go and watch a city hall meeting. I went to city hall and they said they were going to have the council meeting, but that Howard Finn, a member of the city council, was ill. I sat around and thought there was no story. He died that night. And it was a big story. I questioned whether I should be a reporter. I looked to people in the training program—and I was encouraged to stick it out.

Q: Where would we find you at 9 p.m. on a typical Friday night?
With my fiancé, probably at home reading a book or out having dinner. I’m not watching a movie on Friday night, though I’m watching one Monday through Thursday.

Q: What are you reading right now?
At the moment, I’m reading Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. I’m really loving it. I just finished reading Americanah by a Nigerian author—I have another book by her in my purse. [Pulls a book out of her purse.] Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche.

Q: How do you procrastinate?
Reading, crossword puzzles.

Q: Did you have any nicknames as a kid?

Q: If you had to lose one of your senses, which would you choose?
Definitely not sight. Probably the sense of smell. I could live without that. There are probably more bad smells than good smells, though I’d miss roses, or baking bread, or chocolate chip cookies.

*Photo by Aaron Salcido.