The gods of Hollywood are often cunning and occasionally clever, but they are rarely wise. And the gods will love as long as you make them money.
Geneva Sancere and Cable Stetson had been in the gods’ favor for almost a decade. Cable could play a hardened cowboy, a suave spy, or a powerful businessman with equal ease. Geneva Sancere was equally adept, and God had favored her with some sort of geometric magic that gave her the shape of the most alluring woman in the world without being overtly sexy. Both screen stars commanded $50 million paydays for each film, which the gods readily paid. Their movies guaranteed a return five times that, at least.
Conrad Heller considered himself a clever producer. Why not have Geneva and Cable co-star in a remake of “Anthony and Cleopatra”? It would make a billion dollars worldwide, with streaming rights and merchandising included, he thought. And Conrad, being Conrad, contacted the most successful director he knew: Trinidad Lykaios.
Lykaios had had a string of monster movies, but he had never worked with either Geneva or Cable. I had worked with him in a couple of movies. He was moody, reclusive, and prone to yelling in Greek. He threw stuff and smoked incessantly. Nothing was ever good enough until the movie had been edited. And then, then he turned into the sweetest of men, praising everyone from the stars to the custodians. I hated the man but I loved working for him.
I accepted the part of Julius Caesar, for a mind-boggling (to me) $1.3 million. Yes, I am a moderately successful actor, and I am a millionaire – barely – but that means nothing in southern California. I had to constantly work to afford southern California prices and to keep my preferred lifestyle going. After more than a decade in the business, I was weary, jaded, and predisposed to taking the easy route. Like 99-plus percent of the actors out here, I would sleep with Satan himself to get a payday like the ones Cable and Geneva got.
A wise producer would have never put these two mega-stars in the same film. Oh, they were easy enough to work with in their other films, for they knew they were the only star worth mentioning. Geneva would snort a little coke before hitting the set, which stabilized her somewhat and made her artificially gracious to everyone. Cable had an aversion to coke, but he did love his weed. He would come out of his star trailer, smoke wafting behind him like so many ethereal groupies. He would be so stoned that he called everyone “bud,” thinking it was clever because…well…you know.
The problems started immediately. Geneva and Cable were like two dogs who had encountered each other on the street. They sniffed warily at each other. They snapped at each other. I am the alpha here. Back down.
The tension on set was thick and rancorous. Geneva snapped at Cable to “do some real acting, not that hooligan stuff that Americans love so much.” Cable would reply with “clean your nose and try to remember your lines, slut.” A shouting match would then ensue, and the people behind the scenes would have to pull them away from each other and get them to cool down. Lykaios would smoke furiously and give the stars dark looks before stalking off to his trailer and trashing it.
The movie business will strip you down, eat you up, and spit out your bones to dry and bleach in a desert of anonymity – if you let it. I chose not to let that happen to me. I kissed ass. I befriended. I commiserated. Geneva liked me because I would bring her some coke and listen to her drone on and on about “that reprehensible cad” Cable. I would twist up a joint and smoke it with Cable as he moaned about the “stuck up bitch” Geneva. I would buy Lykaios a carton of Marlboros and listen to him rant about “petty children” as he smoked himself into calmness and a coughing fit.
We kept at it, but at the pace of a sedated snail. A week’s worth of work, fighting, drama, and ugly slanging matches would result in 15 minutes’ worth of usable film. Sometimes even less. The budget, generous by any standard in the industry, was being eaten up quickly.
Like I said, the business can consume you. I chose to get a little meat off of this particular bone by way of the tabloids. I had a contact, one Jenny Smithfield, who paid top dollar for any juicy tidbits of gossip or dirt. Well, I had plenty. Considering the stars in the movie, I asked for, and received, lots and lots of cash for the inside scoop on what was happening on set. Lykaios went ballistic.
Of course, he had no idea who was leaking information to “Not the Daily News.” He threatened everyone with emasculation, flaying, death by choking, and other assorted grim endings. Flecks of froth formed at the corners of his mouth and eventually flew from his lips, which we all tried to avoid but, unfortunately, we couldn’t always do so. I was the unlucky recipient of his oral fluids a couple of times, but I said nothing to him. I probably deserved it for what I was doing.
By May, we were already over budget and a summer release was looking tenuous. Conrad was coming to the set every day now, and I certainly understood why. A large chunk of his money was being swallowed up by this production, and he was getting heat from the minor investors. Conrad did his best to get the movie back on track, but it just didn’t happen. He would yell or cajole or plead with the two stars, but success was very limited. He toyed with the idea of replacing Geneva and Cable, but they were guaranteed $50 each, so he really couldn’t afford to let them go.
By the end of July, Conrad was a beaten man. He wandered around the set like a ghost, watching his money disappear in a sea of bitterness and recrimination. Geneva and Cable were like hurricanes over open water, gaining strength as the days passed. The crew were stunned at their ferocity, dreading each day and thanking God when it ended and they were still standing. A couple of the key grips told me they would hear Conrad crying in the bathroom during the innumerable breaks. I actually started feeling sorry for the man.
I kept on selling dirt to “Not the Daily News.” By now, I had amassed over $50 thousand in ill-gotten gains. Filthy lucre, some might call it. I didn’t care; better to rent out one’s soul than to have it devoured by the Hollywood machine. Sure, call me a piece of shit, but don’t act all high and mighty unless you have survived in this business for any length of time. Only mercenary hearts prevail.
Lykaios finally caved in and did what he didn’t want to do: shoot the stars separately and edit brutally. The film still crawled along, but it crawled along at an even pace. When Geneva was too high to do her job, Cable was on set, and vice versa. Yes, there were plenty of days when both were too wasted to work, so other scenes were shot. I feel like I did a masterful job as Caesar. Even Lykaios would nod in approval, although he never admitted that to me when I asked him. “Passable. Barely. Now leave me.”
We finished shooting in October, but there was so much editing to do that the studio now planned for a Christmas release. I went to work on another movie. The lack of drama was so tangible that I actually got bored. The director was positive and praised everyone’s work. I was singled out as doing an excellent job. It all went smoothly; the shooting wrapped up early. Weird. Very weird.
When “Anthony and Cleopatra” hit the movie screens, a collective yawn filled the world over it. Critics panned it for being what it was; an oddly disjointed saga devoid of the magic that any Shakespeare play possessed. The “Rolling Stone” critic stated on Twitter that “I got to see the movie for free. It was wildly overpriced.” That was the kindest review the movie received.
Some good came out of it, though. I won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in that dog of a film, and my star was on the ascendant. I was gifted with seven starring roles the next five years, all of them blockbusters. I actually made more money than The Rock did during this period. Imagine that.
Like any self-respecting star, I drank too much and snorted too much coke. I smoked massive amounts of weed every day and screwed my way through scores of starlets and hangers-on. I was 33 years old when I overdosed. The Hollywood machine was not done picking my bones.
Which is why I am writing this from my room in rehab.
I am fabulously rich now, so I can afford the five-thousand-a-week price tag for hanging out in Topanga Canyon and listening to addiction gurus tell me what I already know. I like it here because I can be me, whoever that turns out to be. I’m still trying to figure it out, you see, but whoever I am can’t be as bad as who I have been.
I get to chat with the wives or husbands of wealthy people. Listening to their problems makes a nice change from thinking about mine. It’s a nice way to spend an obscene amount of money, and the passage of time has softened the trauma of nearly choking to death on my own vomit.
Geneva and Cable haven’t starred in a major film these past five years, and I doubt that they ever will again. Geneva is now doing television in Great Britain. A detective show, where she is one of a duo. She’s the hard-bitten, tough, ambitious woman and she is paired with a mild-mannered man who happens to be brilliant at detecting culprits. I hear it’s doing well, but the pay is a pittance compared to what she had been earning.
Cable is working with the likes of Bruce Willis and Dolph Lundgren in straight-to-streaming movies. I hear he has kicked all of his bad habits except narcissism. Stories abound. Bruce Willis wanted to punch him out on set. Dolph Lundgren did, calling him a piece of “big mouth American trash.”
Conrad lost $124 million on “Anthony and Cleopatra,” almost bankrupting him. He has since retired to Escondido where he spends his days reading the trade sheets and chomping on unlit cigars. His wife spends her time avoiding him and trying like hell to spend the remainder of his fortune.
I was a god for five years, and I almost regret the way I used my considerable powers during that time. I was a whore for whatever came my way, and I feasted on the meat of the less fortunate. I’m not terribly sorry, though. The Hollywood machine tried to finish me off, but I came out of it relatively unscathed and now possessed (ha!) of a reasonably sane psyche.
I don’t know how I feel about God, but I’m pretty sure He let me know that He’s watching me. The overdose was more a slap in the face than anything else. Wake up, idiot. God is not all that subtle about delivering a message, I feel. I guess I should be thankful. The gurus tell me I should, and maybe they are right. Maybe there’s some accidental wisdom in their words.
I think I’ll buy myself an avocado farm when I get out. I hear Monterrey is good for that. Maybe get married to a woman named Concha or Sasha or something like that, have some kids, hang out with the workers at the end of the day. Or maybe I’ll buy part of a vineyard and drink wine all day out on a terraced patio, munching on grapes and cheese. I’ll stay pretentiously aloof, thereby lending credence to my expertise in wines.
The thing is, I’m barely 34 and I don’t know what to do with my life. Even after rehab, I’ll still be at loose ends, searching for whatever strikes my fancy. Nothing really appeals to me, not even a return to acting. I feel drained and spent and devoid of those things that imbue life with color and substance, even though I am somewhat at peace. Suddenly and forcefully, I am jealous of everyone around me.
I guess the machine still hasn’t finished with me.