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How Screenwriter Dan Hernandez Unwinds After Solving Crimes With Detective Pikachu

‘I‘d probably set some kind of Guinness record for how fast I get into my underwear when I get home’

We all want to relax, especially at the end of a long day, but we don’t all approach finding our chill in the same way. And so, we give you “Unwinding,” a biweekly column that asks different men about how they shake off stress and kick up their feet when they get home from work. Our hope is that their chill will become your chill and that you’ll pick up a habit or two that helps you sleep easier. This installment: New father Dan Hernandez, the screenwriter and producer best known for Detective Pikachu and the One Day At A Time reboot

What’s your stress level at this very moment?
Fairly high.

I have a six-week-old baby, and I’m busier than I’ve ever been professionally at the exact same time. It’s been stressful trying to balance keeping a baby alive, while also keeping my career alive. Basically, I’m trying to get my dad cred while also doing all of this outstanding work. Outstanding in the sense that it’s due, not in the sense that it’s so great.

I’m having to think more strategically. It’s no longer about whether I can come up with cool ideas and tell entertaining stories, it’s about refocusing my own productivity in such a way that’s like, “Well, my baby is asleep for hopefully the next 45 minutes. So let’s make the most of these 45 minutes.”

Work-from-home-wise, do you give yourself a “hard out,” or do you tend to find yourself still working from bed right before you go to sleep?
It’s completely dependent on what’s going on in the house and what’s imminently due. I’ve never been one to have those Stephen King writing hours, where you go into your writing shed from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Or Graham Greene, who I believe used to say that he wrote 500 words a day no matter what. I’m not that. I’m like, “If I can pound away at this outline from 1:30 a.m. to 3:15 a.m., I should have enough time to complete it in the morning if I wake up at 9:33 a.m. and work for an hour.”

It’s really catch as catch can. I think it’s always been that way for me. The only routine I make sure to follow is to give myself an hour of cool-down time at the end of any work session. Whether that’s at 8 a.m., or you know, midnight. 

What’s that cool-down hour consist of?
I wind into something a bit more relaxing, and not work-related. For example, I’ll get sucked into playing solitaire on my computer for an hour. I find it meditative in the right way. 

If you work at the expense of everything else, you eventually come to resent the work. It becomes a burden. It becomes an anvil tied to your ankle. It’s always at the back of your mind, making its way toward the forefront. By giving yourself time to say, “I’m going to allow myself some human-being time. I’m going to do something that maybe isn’t efficient or productive but is spiritually replenishing,” you’re doing your work a favor. You’re not going to burn out in the same way, and you’re giving yourself the ability to hit the refresh button. 

Do you turn off your phone or put it in Airplane mode at a certain time every night?
I’m pretty addicted to the phone. If you were to look at my screen-time readout, there’d be some preposterous amount of time spent looking at the thing. I’m especially addicted to this Star Trek game. Basically it’s free, except if you want to win, then you have to pay money to get energy. 

I acknowledge that it’s dumb. I acknowledge that it’s not even a good game. But for whatever reason, I’ve committed to it over the last four or so years. I basically decided that I’m going to play it as long as they continue to make it. I know I’ve spent way too much money on this game, but I find it relaxing to zone out on it. It requires little skill and mostly requires opening your wallet. And yet, I’m helpless against it.

What TV shows do you similarly zone out to?
Definitely British Antiques Roadshow. I bought the BritBox, which you have to pay extra for to get all the British content on Amazon Prime and Amazon video. I guess Antiques Roadshow in Britain has been running for like 38 years or something. So they have a bunch of seasons available, and it’s like in Blade Runner when he says, “More human than human.” It’s like more Antiques Roadshow than Antiques Roadshow. It’s very genteel. It’s also simultaneously the most boring show of all time and the most exciting.

Do you change your clothes as soon as you get home?
Immediately. I’d probably set some kind of Guinness record for getting into my underwear. It’s the first thing I do whenever I’m at home or alone in a hotel room. My dad was the same way. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Florida, where it was so hot and gross all the time. It felt much nicer to be casual in pajamas or underwear. Now that I live in the [San Fernando] Valley, I’ve carried it over. It was 105 degrees the other day. I walked in the door, said hello to the dog, said hello to my baby, said hello to my wife and then underwear time. 

Do you prefer bathing in the evening, the morning or both?
Morning works better for me. I found that my hair air-dries better in the morning because it’s so curly. If I shower in the morning, it looks pretty good by mid-day.

Do you have a nightly skincare routine?
My wife has often encouraged me to get more serious about my skincare, but I just can’t seem to rally the patience to do much more than a wash. I will say, though, I got my first proper spa facial a few months ago, and I could definitely sense the difference. I also got a lot of compliments. People told me, “Oh, your skin looks really good.” I didn’t know that was a compliment I was capable of getting, so that’s opened my eyes a bit to skincare. 

Of course, I didn’t realize it was going to turn me bright red. Luckily, I had a couple of days before the Detective Pikachu premiere, and it calmed down in time.

On a scale of 1-10, how guilty are you of sleeping in your contacts?
Sleeping in contacts reminds me of staying up all night in college and crashing for a few hours. It just brings up bad, visceral memories. So I never do that if I can avoid it.

Is there a specific time you eat dinner every night, or maybe a specific time you stop eating before bed?
I don’t eat dinner at the same time every night. And it would be hypocritical to say that I don’t believe in snacking after dinner because I’ve done it and continue to do it. I acknowledge that it isn’t the best way to lose weight, but I still do it. 

My ideal post-dinner nosh? I don’t really have a sweet tooth. Like, give me some mashed potatoes. Give me a nice cold piece of steak. Something savory. Give me some string beans even. All of that sounds amazing to me. Much more than chocolate cake. 

Do you have any preferences when it comes to your bedroom linens?
I have to have my pillow. The only way I can describe the kind of pillow I like is the cheapest, shittiest pillow — one that’s as flat as possible. Everyone finds this confounding, but it’s the only kind I like. I find I have a hard time sleeping without that certain kind of pillow. I don’t know what happened in my life to make me this way, but it’s definitely true. 

Sometimes I’ll go to the store and say, “Where are your shitty pillows? Where are your worst pillows? Where are the pillows that are on sale three for ten?”

Are you on the same sleep pattern as your partner?
We’ve never really been on the same sleep schedule because she’s a doctor, and so, she was in residency while I was an insomniac writer. Oftentimes we’d greet each other as I was going to bed and she was waking up very early to go to the hospital. That trend has sort of continued where we just have very opposite schedules. 

Do you still experience insomnia?
Yes, but I realize now that it’s not really insomnia, it’s more like deep focus on something that isn’t sleep. I’m just like, “Oh, I should alphabetize my comic books. Oh, I should learn the history of what happened in the Manson killing.” Suddenly, it’s five in the morning, and I’m like, “I shouldn’t have done that.”

What do you think about right before you fall asleep?
Just what bullshit is confronting me tomorrow.