Friday, October 9, 2015

The Ingénue Schedule

You have to want it.
High school plays.  Local theater.  The Disney Network.  Voiceovers for Comedy Central.  You have to want it so bad you'll wade through all the shit and prove yourself again and again.
You have to really want it to be a famous movie star.  And the only woman you could trust to get you that, was Rosa Silber.
She oozed money, from her jet-black hair ("Styled by Nathan LaTour, of course!") to the tips of her glittery, red pumps ("I have a designer in Italy; I'll set you up.").  It was her job to be rich, to be confident, to be abrasive to just the wrong people.  It was her job to use that rich, confident abrasiveness to make me famous, keep me famous, for as long as possible.
Getting Rosa Silber ("The Rosa Silber," as everyone in SAG called her), to represent me had been one of my lifelong goals.  I'd sent her letters and had always received polite rejection letters ("Thank you so much for your inquiry, but...).  I kept every rejection taped to my front door so their gold letterheads sparkled at me when I left for an auditions, warning me against failure.  One day I didn't fail.
A small part, but I nailed it.
After Time mentioned me (a full paragraph!) I sent another letter, received another response on the sparkling letterhead.  It wasn't until Judy (who shares the rent) noticed ("Hey, this one is different!"), I realized she'd accepted me.  I called three seconds later, in a cab ten minutes later, riding up an elevator thirty minutes later, and escorted into her office (by a deliciously handsome secretary with a thick, German accent) an hour later.
I sat trembling in her sharp, wooden chair while she sparkled at me.  After a few hours (probably seconds, but how could I tell?) the silence became unbearable.
"You don't have a computer!" I said, shocked how organized she could be using piles of paper to do her work.  My room was best described as a mound of clothing and old food wrappers I periodically burrowed into to sleep.
"Of course!" she said.  "Nothing's safe on a computer.  Paper is the ultimate security, because everyone's too lazy to break into an office.  They'd much rather pay an eastern European teenager to do the dirty work.
"Speaking of which," she said, and pressed a button on her desk.  "Rowan, sweetie, could you bring in a copy of the ingénue schedule.  Please and thank you."  She released the button and turned back to me.  "By the way I loved your turn on Never Autumn Again.  You looked fabulous."
"Oh," I said.  "I didn't think anyone even knew about that part.  I mean, I had one line before they killed me.  Killed my character."
She leaned forward, smiling.  "Honey dear, it's my job to know everything about you].  Your roommate also wants to act.  Your mother taught at Julliard, but did local theater after she moved to Kentucky to be with your father.  Blah blah blah.  So forth and so on."
Her secretary came in with a manila folder.  Rosa looked at her watch and sighed.
"Thank you," she said, taking the folder.  She cocked her head sideways as he left.  "Rowan's frightfully bad at his job," she said to me in a conspiratorial undertone, "but he keeps the clients so distracted they don't mind waiting for me."  I got the sense she'd told that story to everyone.
She slid a confidentiality agreement in front of me and then a thick, black pen.  "You need to sign this before we go any further.  I'm about to pull out The Big Guns, and I need to know you won't give away my secret.  I'm afraid the agreement is quite strict.  Take your time to read it."
I looked down at the contract.  I knew I was "Pe--- Dr---, hereafter known as CLIENT," but the rest of the three pages swam through my head and disappeared.  What did I care?  This was the agent to end all agents.  I signed and passed it back.
She opened the folder and spread out two pages, each with long, two column tables on each.  The right column (Events) was already filled in.  The left column (Dates) was empty.
"This is your future," she said.  "All we have to do is pin it to the heavens."  She took a pink highlighter from a drawer and uncapped it with her teeth.  "So, here's the big plan."  She drew a pink line across a row near the middle of the first sheet.  "Movie one."  Another pink line at the bottom.  "Movie two."  Two pink lines in the middle.  "Movie three and four."  A final pink line one row above the bottom.  "Movie Five."
"And then what?"
She waved her hand dismissively.
"And then, you're no longer leading lady material.  You play the other woman, the quirky mother, the too-young grandmother.  You direct.  Do television."  She glanced up and noticed the look on my face.  "Don't worry, dearie.  Everyone who's anyone uses the plan.  From J------- Lo--- to J------- La------."
She dropped the highlighter and took out another thick, black pen.  "Let's concentrate on the goals, first.  Who's your favorite director?"
I thought about it.  There were so many.  "Well, I love J--- Wh----."
"Who doesn't?  But he's big fan of the casting couch.  Are you up for that?"
"What?" I practically screamed.  "But he's...  I mean, everything he does is..."
"He makes a good show of the feminism angle, but he's out to nail pretty young things as much as everyone else.  Not into that?  How do you feel about J--- Tr---?"
I shrugged.  "I haven't seen any of his work?"
"His last film was a disaster, but the muses have smiled upon him.  He'll be back.  Also, he's gay, so you won't have to take one for the team."
She scribbled his name down with a date.  I'd be working with him in five months.
"Let's dial it back to the present.  There are red-carpet galas on the third," she scribbled in a date, "the fifteenth," scribble, "and on June twentieth.  I'll set you up with makeup and hair.  And, dear, your nails are a disaster."
My hands fidgeted on my lap.  "I bite them when I'm nervous."
"I will not have you wearing press-ons.  Drink a lot.  It works for me.  Plus, it helps with the image.  'Oh, poor thing has a drinking problem!'  Now, I have a service that connects fashion designers with starlets.  They'll show up the night before with the gown, accessories, and a card with what you need to say when the reporters ask.  Boyfriend?"
"What?"  I felt the blood rush from my face, but managed to keep my smile in place.
"Who's your boyfriend?"
"I don't-"
"No, no, no!" she said, sounding just like my Nana.  "You have to show up to premieres with a man on your arm.  If you're a lesbian-"
"I'm not!"
"If you're a lesbian," she said, ignoring me, "we can't reveal that until after the second film.  Let me see."  She pulled open another drawer and took out two dark green, hanging folders.
"Athletes," she said, throwing one folder across the desk at me.  "Musicians."  She threw the other.
The folders were full of photographs of shirtless men.
"You can't date other actors.  They always get mad when you're successful.  Musicians are good for longer-term agreements.  Athletes don't get fat or take drugs.  Pick one.  They're all available.  No, wait."  She took a picture of a blonde man with hooded eyes out and dropped it into a wastebasket.  "Killed in a car accident.  Drugs.  And he," she grabbed a musician with perfect abs, tore the picture in half, and tossed it, "joined William Morris.  Little cunt."
They were all beautiful.  Tan.  Pale.  Exotic.  Classic.  Muscled.  Slender.  Tattooed.  Pristine.  Long hair.  Short hair.  Every color.  Every shape.  Every height.  I was supposed to hook up with one of them?
"While you're choosing," she looked down at her pages again.  "I'll get on with this.  Oh!" She looked up again.  "And make sure you look at the names.  They're on the back.  You don't want to be seen with someone who's name sounds bad with yours.  I paired a Mary with a Barry and you could hear the laughter from coast to coast."
I shuffled the pictures randomly and finally grabbed a man with blue eyes and red stubble.  Well, if I had to have someone...
She looked up from her scribbling.  "Now get two more.  And put them in order."
"The order you want to be with them.  You start with..." she turned the photo I had picked over.  "Z--- L---.  Nine months later, you break up with him (seen with another woman at a gala).  The news hits the tabloids for a few months, until you sign for movie two.  The producers will want you to calm things down until the publicity tour starts.  Maybe a photo and side bar in People about how great it feels to be moving on.  Then you'll pick boyfriend number two.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat."
"But..."  I remembered the firm scowl my parents gave me when I talked about boys.  "But when do I..."  She stared at me blankly.  "You know.  Love.  Kids.  Marriage."
Her eyes went back to the schedule as she made the dismissing gesture again.  "Movie five.  Always after movie five."
I sorted through the flat, shiny faces of a dozen empty men as she muttered and scratched my life into her schedule.  "Drunk driving arrest," she said to no one.  "Maybe possession.  No more than five months.  Movie three.  Have to go for a vacation after that.  Jamaica.  Topless in a boat with boyfriend number two.  Need a charity.  Mm!  Haven't done education in a while.  Movie three.  Going to have to give it up for the director on that one.  Maybe S----- S--------.  He's gentle.  Get someone to hack nude pictures off her cell-"
"Stop!" said, practically shouting.  She jumped so high she dropped her pen.  The room was still except for the rattling of the pen on the stone floor.  "I'm sorry.  I can't do this.  Can't I just be me?  I like me."
Her surprised look faded, to be replaced with one of amused condescension.  "It doesn't work that way, sweetie.  You can't be perfect in Hollywood.  Fans want someone tortured, stupid, exciting.  Nobody's interested in the perfect princess who never screws up.  Those girls get ignored until they're down to dinner theater in Florida.
"The world wants gossip.  It can't stand that you're pretty, rich, and happy.  It wants to feel superior.  'Yeah, she's pretty, but she's a mess.'  People want to watch you fall in the mud so they can feel clean.  So they can ignore their own weaknesses."
"But that's not me," I said; I sounded like a scared little girl.
She opened another drawer and slid a box of tissues over to me.  "This is just a part.  Do you want to be a star?  Then this is who you have to become."
I stood up.

I guess I didn't want it enough.

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