Stars are engaged in a race to be crowned king of the trailer park. Emma Smith and Christopher Goodwin in Los Angeles check out the kit
It was Sylvester Stallone who threw the first punch, then Will Smith stepped into the ring and finally Robert De Niro entered the fray. These Hollywood heavyweights are trading blows to see who can build the biggest RV (that’s recreational vehicle, or motorhome to you and me).
The results are rolling mansions stretching up to 75ft, with up to three storeys and weighing in at as much as 40 tons – the equivalent of 331 Ford Fiestas. They do about six miles to the gallon – a few less than that other celebrity favourite the Toyota Prius – and cost up to £1m.
Stallone’s was a fairly modest affair at 175 sq ft, Smith’s is more than six times bigger, with 1,192 sq ft of living space while De Niro’s has a third-storey sun terrace, £5,000 satellite dish, home cinema and a high pressure air-con system that can cool the interior to optimal temperature in just 15 minutes. There’s room for 30 to sit down to dinner and watch films on the 100in drop-down screen or 11 smaller plasma TVs.
Rather than slum it in a tin box on wheels, barely more luxurious than the models on show at the local trailer park, Hollywood A-listers are increasingly demanding mobile homes to match their superstar egos. And the most extravagant come courtesy of Ronnie Anderson (recently voted “Most Powerful Mobile Home Maker” by Entertainment Weekly magazine) and his company, Anderson Mobile Estates. Stars from Mariah Carey to Vin Diesel can’t get enough of them. Carey, singer and notorious diva, prefers to stay in hers when she’s filming than go back to a five-star hotel. Nicole Richie, gossip mag regular and daughter of soul singer Lionel, and Ice Cube, the rapper turned actor, are also fans; Cube insists on having a recording studio in his.
Anderson built his first RV for Stallone when he was filming Rocky IV back in the Eighties. “I couldn’t understand why these movie stars made millions but spent their life in a $40,000 trailer,” he recalls.
He decided to take his cue from luxury yachts. In place of plywood, lino and net curtains he put burnished wood or marble floors, carved pillars, giant leather sofas, oak dining tables and cinema-sized plasma screens. The only thing these RVs have in common with their Volkswagen camper and Bedford Dormobile cousins are wheels – although Anderson’s often boast as many as 16 on eight giant axles.
Standing in the dusty parking lot of a small movie studio in the San Fernando Valley in temperatures approaching 40C, I’m glad of the shade from three of Anderson’s behemoths. Anderson ushers me into Will Smith’s van, known as the Aspen and designed to the star’s personal specifications (although it can be hired out to other stars when he doesn’t need it), big enough to comfortably accommodate the 6ft 2in star, his 7ft bodyguard, his wife Jada Pinkett Smith and their two children.
“Will wanted something casual,” says Anderson, “somewhere he could put his feet up, where his buddies could come in and drink a beer and watch the game.” For each customised model, Anderson visits the star’s residence and tries to recapture some elements of the home in his trailers. For Will’s RV he included cowhide pillows, chessboards and African masks.
“This one is for people who are looking for a completely relaxed, laidback experience,” says Anderson, who laughably calls it a “bare bones unit”. It may look casual to Smith, the star of Men In Black, but to anyone else it looks like something you’d never finish paying the mortgage on. It would cost you about £960,000 to buy, £4,765 to rent for a week or £1,600 for a day. But then it does have its own dance floor.
Shia LaBeouf, the young actor who appeared alongside Smith in I, Robot, was anything but laidback about it. “Will’s trailer was the coolest thing,” he says. “There’s a studio where he makes his music. It’s got marble floors. And the kids have a games room. I’ve never seen anything like it. My own trailer had a toilet and three cans of Sprite.” It takes Anderson four months to build one of these palaces on wheels in his factory in Detroit. When the RV is in motion the first floor is folded down into the ground floor (the first-floor furniture is designed to sit flush against the roof when it’s lowered, so it’s not a good idea to leave a candle on one of the tables). Push a button and the first floor reappears, powered up by computer-controlled motors in 30 seconds. “It’s like a giant Transformer,” says Anderson.
If you think Smith’s Aspen sounds impressive, you should see De Niro’s model. It’s called the Heat, although temperature is hardly a problem thanks to that turbocharged air-con. When I arrive for my viewing, The Godfather is playing, fittingly, on the 50in plasma screen. It’s all dark wood with ostrich-leather seats and a table made of carpathian elm imported from Italy. A curved granite staircase leads up to the first floor. Tyra Banks, supermodel and US talk show host, borrowed it over the weekend and has left tiny dimple marks all over the wooden floors with her high heels – De Niro will not be pleased.
The Heat’s most impressive trick is the master controller that can adjust everything in each room of the trailer, including the 11 TVs, each of which can be individually tuned to one of more than 500 stations. If you ring the door bell your image can be made to flash up on any of the screens so De Niro can decide if he wants to let you in.
There’s a private study and most of the first floor is a screening area that can comfortably sit 30 people, so they can watch “dailies” (the film shot that day on the set). The windows have an automatic window-frosting effect that can be activated at the touch of a button if the star wants more privacy. If someone breaks in, the security system would dial the owner’s mobile phone and transmit an image of the intruder.
Security is obviously important to Anderson’s latest client, the American government’s Department of Homeland Security, which has commissioned one of his units to be used as a mobile disaster training centre. Anderson claims he’s going to make one so airtight you’ll be able to drive it into an area that has been contaminated by a dirty bomb and emerge unscathed.
Ask Anderson if he’s been working with anyone famous recently and he sounds almost offended. “I only work with well known stars,” he protests. His next model will be even bigger and better, he says, with a garage on the back and room for a small sports car or four Harley-Davidsons, so the stars can make a quick getaway in between takes. It sounds as if De Niro could be in need of an upgrade.