"This is my favorite place," says Alden Ehrenreich.
It's 11 a.m. outside The Musso & Frank Grill on a clear, crisp Los Angeles day, and Ehrenreich is chatting about the previous night's "Hail, Caesar!" premiere, where his grandmother got to meet George Clooney. In the film from Joel and Ethan Coen, now in theaters, he plays the fictional 1950s studio system star Hobie Doyle, a cowboy with a thick drawl and some serious rope skills. It's the kind of out-of-nowhere, star-making, steals-scenes-from-Clooney performance that makes you want to know where you've seen him before and when you might get to again.
It's no wonder that the 26-year-old, who's been compared to everyone from Jack Nicholson to Leonardo DiCaprio, has already caught the attention of the Coens, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, and Warren Beatty.
Anyone who already knows about Ehrenreich has probably heard the too-good-to-be-true story about how Spielberg saw a video of him at a Bat Mitzvah and decided to set up a meeting at DreamWorks.
He got his first movie a few years later at age 17 – a leading role in Francis Ford Coppola's "Tetro," thanks to a fortuitous meeting with legendary producer Fred Roos, who assembled the breakout young ensembles for countless classics like "The Outsiders" and "American Graffiti."
"He had just been signed by a manager I trust. When she forwards me something, I pay attention," said Roos. "Francis and I have always been good about spotting kids. How you choose somebody is hard to put into words. It's just a gut feeling and I trust my gut."
Classic Hollywood establishments like Musso and the Polo Lounge hold a special place for Ehrenreich, a Los Angeles native.
Inside the restaurant, he points out the booth where he shot a scene for Beatty's upcoming Howard Hughes biopic. At the table, he takes a moment to read the placard about how Charlie Chaplin dined there regularly with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Rudolph Valentino.
"My parents were big film buffs," he said. "When I was young, we would do film festivals in the house and we'd watch all of Chaplin's movies and then all the Marx brothers movies. When I was 12, I decided I was only going to watch Westerns for a few months."
The study only intensified when he found like-minded "film geeks" at the storied private Crossroads School in Santa Monica populated by the offspring of famous actors, producers, directors, agents, and industry insiders.
"I think it's a great introduction to the movie industry. You get to see behind the curtains first. You get to see the kids who don't care about what their parents do," said Ehrenreich, who had no familial connections to the movie business. "It was good perspective."
There's also nothing quite like capturing the attention of Roos and Coppola to jumpstart a career. So at age 17, Ehrenreich suddenly found himself briefly living in Buenos Aires with Coppola.
"He's such an individualist and he's so dedicated to trying to push the boundaries in art," Ehrenreich said. "I am so grateful that he is the first person I got to spend a lot of time around in the movie industry. It's all so crazy."
"Crazy" is a word that comes up a lot with Ehrenreich as he looks back on the past decade. He's appeared in a number of Coppola clan projects, played Cate Blanchett's estranged son in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," and led the Y.A. film "Beautiful Creatures."
But while he can appreciate working alongside his idols, he knows the sheen of their legends and their stories aren't, ultimately, the most important thing.
"At the end of the day, it's kind of like going to places (like Musso). It's really cool, but that wears off and you're left with 'Well, what am I actually doing?' What's wonderful about the people I've gotten to work with is when you actually get to the part that matters – the movie making – that's where that has actual value. You can feel that you're working with people who are masters. That's the most exciting part – after the fog of how fancy the name is has worn off and you're just in there with them making the movie."
Ehrenreich pauses to listen to the barely audible song playing throughout the now bustling restaurant: Dean Martin's "Everybody Loves Somebody."
"I love this song," he said, taking a beat.
He'll soon be on a plane to Germany, where "Hail, Caesar!" will open the Berlin Film Festival.
"Last night was amazing. They had the old music, they made it like an old Hollywood premiere. But the best part of this happened a year ago ... It's pretty wild. I still can't believe how lucky I am."