Listening to: Arctic Monkeys, Panic at the Disco
I had an encounter with a famous director. I was at Urth Cafe in Beverly Hills, zipping in for a coffee and about to zip out again when he materialized in front of me, a big man dressed in black. He started mumbling something and I stood there to be polite. When I’m alone, this happens to me on a quasi-regular basis: I get stopped, or approached, or whatever. As a university student I liked to go to movies by myself, read and write and think in cafes by myself, and this time alone was so precious to me that whenever some guy invaded it, no matter how nicely, I took it as a personal affront.
Then one day in late spring while I was scribbling something in a fast food place — I think it was KFC, unusual for me, since I’m all McDonald’s or Taco Bell when the urge hits — a guy appeared beside me, cleared his throat, and as he started to speak I lifted my head and looked at him. I saw the reaction in his face and he took a step back. It was that step back that surprised me, as if my look had been a physical blow, and made me realize I didn’t need or want to be like that with someone who didn’t deserve it, especially when it takes a lot of courage to approach someone — I mean, it’s not like I can do it.
So I softened and he seemed to feel a little better and went into this very sweet, flattering speech about how he knew I had a boyfriend but had seen me around campus all year and thought I was really beautiful and just wanted to share that, because why keep something like that to himself? And I thanked him and he walked away and I never saw him again. That incident, and another incident where a guy slipped me a handwritten poem — “Do whatever you want with this” — took the edge off my fear and shyness that manifested itself in a very guarded exterior that sometimes overcompensates by being cocky as hell. Since then, I generally give the guy a chance to say whatever he wants to say, because I know that even if I end up rejecting the offer of coffee (and I almost always do), it can still be a pleasant exchange, a positive moment for both of us.
Which is why I was standing there listening to this guy tell me he was a director and how he noticed me earlier when I walked across the street into the drugstore and he felt “a surge of erotic excitement” — I kid you not, he actually said that — and noticed me again when I came into the cafe and he was running that whole routine by me, star quality, mesmerizing, yadda yadda, and I thought, You have got to be fucking kidding me, until he started reeling off the titles of movies he had done, including one of my favorites. And then I not only recognized him, I remembered articles and interviews that mentioned how he does exactly this: approaches people out of nowhere, talks to them, and every now and then uses some of them in his films, so that big stars work alongside complete unknowns. I was so bemused it was happening to me — life imitating an article about art — that I knew I had to keep talking to him.
Plus, he’s brilliant.
I am a sucker for brilliant men.
This is LA, so you take it all with a huge chunk of salt. But we hit it off. Intense conversation at the cafe and later at a California Pizza Kitchen down the street. When I told him my age — people always assume me to be younger, sometimes by a decade or more — he said, “You couldn’t play it,” which I didn’t understand until he explained that I couldn’t pass for my own age in a movie. It turned out he’s based in New York and was staying at the house of another Famous Director — I’ll call him FD2 — whom I’d met a couple of times before and who had recently purchased a landmark residence in LA (used to belong to a major old-Hollywood movie star).
Which is how I ended up walking into the small dinner party being held by FD2 (“He always wants you to leave your shoes by the door,” said FD1, indicating the pile of footwear, “but I never do it”). FD2 looked at me, looked at me again and got all open-eyed and quizzical: “I know you. Don’t I know you?” I said my name and he reacted in this huge warm bear-hug fashion, as if we were closest friends instead of passing acquaintances. (I’d met him on a yacht in St Bart’s, when he’d asked me if I was single, and then backstage at a Brian Wilson concert when I was on a date with someone who turned out to be developing a movie project with him. Since I still had the long blonde hair* at the time, he not only recognized me but registered open-mouth shock to see me there. This is a small…freaking…town).
At the table were two gorgeous blonde women (I am so glad not to be blonde anymore) who were not clubgirl-bimbo types but older, sophisticated; and Anthony Robbins. You don’t need to see Anthony to recognize him; you just have to hear the hoarse boom of his voice coming from the other room. FD2 sat FD1 and me and the others in front of a television set and showed us a segment in which Anthony cures a man of his crippling stutter with five minutes of psychoanalysis and some enthusiastic affirmations (“I….am…a…WARRIOR!”).
“You know what I thought of that?” FD1 would ask later, when we left the house. “Crap,” I answered. He agreed. “Televangelist crap. Totally fake.”
Whether the segment was faked or not, there’s no denying that Robbins looks fabulous. He really does. Tall, rock-hard body, chiseled face, great olive skin. “How old are you?” I asked in sheer wonderment, not caring about the crassness of such a question. I read his books and watched his infomercials when I was in high school and here he was in the flesh and looking completely unchanged, except better.
“Forty eight,” he said.
I had to stop myself from saying, “You couldn’t play it.”
FD1 has got to be one of the most articulate people I’ve ever encountered. Several times I held up a hand to put him on pause just so I could repeat something he’d said, feel the pleasure of the sentence tripping off my tongue, the trigger of images in my head. He’s also one of the most perceptive. I could feel him spinning that wordcraft around me, probing for reactions, buttons to push. I’m used to this; it’s like a dance I’ve been caught in more than once. “You’re full of shit,” I told him at one point, but then, later, when he finally said something that hit home, it was something that no one else in my life has ever remarked upon or for all I know even observed. I was impressed and told him so. What he said — and I won’t repeat it here, not that it’s so earth-shattering or anything — is still with me, that bite of total uncomfortable truth, and it’s also fiercely motivating.
He discussed an actor I’ve always liked, whom I had met along with his wife a few years ago.
“He’s not very good,” said FD1.
I was a bit flabbergasted. “Everybody always talks about how talented he is.” That, and his history with drugs.
“He’s very bright and clever on the surface but that’s all there is to him. The only way to get anything out of him is to shake him up, make him see the void of himself, then he gets uneasy and nervous and that’s when you can get some good work out of him. But that’s the only way. He has no depth, no…” He moved his hands a little.
“There’s no ‘there’ there,” I said.
“Yes,” he said, and nodded. Then he predicted the actor’s future with such calm, utter certainty it was as if he was describing the past. The actor’s wife, he informed me, has “his dick in a vise” and is encouraging him to do “all this commercial shit” to make a lot of money, and is keeping him on the straight and narrow, and everybody thinks he’s cured. “He’s not cured. He wants to get away from her and one day he’ll do it, he’ll break away and end up in a hotel room somewhere getting high as a fucking kite. I told him this. We were having lunch and I said it to his face.”
“What did he say?”
“He said, ‘I think we’ve arranged it so that that’s not a problem.’ I told him he was deluding himself.”