My landlady lives next door to a movie star. I won’t say which one, only that he is big. Major big. He’s exceedingly famous, and has been for years. Decades. Ever since he was a teenager. He has managed to keep his career on track through the tough transitions from one age group to another. Through changing times and changing tastes. He has shown great skill at transforming himself from pretty boy ingenue to full blown leading man, and eventually into super action hero.
He has survived scandalous rumors about his personal life, bad reviews, and more than a few law suits from extortionists and paparazzi.
For over a decade, I’ve driven up into the Hollywood Hills to the house next to his. To pay the rent, or to speak with the handyman about whatever needs fixing. Each time I park my car on the steep private winding street, I look out at the view of Los Angeles, and I wonder what it must be like to be him.
He’s not much older than I am. We are from the same part of the country. We share the same basic physical description. White guy. Average height. Dark hair. Light eyes. The staggering difference between us is that he skyrocketed into fame almost from the start, while I am still struggling along from one acting job to the next.
What must it be like to have succeeded so soon? To have already checked off most of the items on your list of things you’d like to accomplish in life? To live in a mansion way up in the Hollywood Hills, with a view of the city stretched out below. Knowing that you have created that reality yourself. To be able to pick and choose which project you would like to do next, or to produce that project yourself.
What a far distance to have come from the place where I still stand. Having to audition for anything I can get. Stretching each paycheck as far as possible until the next gig comes along. If it comes along.
A friend of mine graduated from an acting school this past year. At the graduation ceremony, held in a fancy hotel by the beach, there was to be a special surprise guest speaker. After much build up from the staff, the door to the ballroom opened and in walked my landlady’s neighbor.
I’ve made a u-turn at his house many times, since the road is narrow and ends at his front gates. Yet I had never been in the same room with him before that moment.
I was curious to hear what he had to say. Hoping he might give some insight into how he did it. How he excelled so spectacularly. When he stepped up to the podium and began his speech, a few things became clear within minutes. First off, he was immensely likable. Not a trace of the brash ego or full-of -himself-ness that one might expect. He spoke in a manner that was self effacing. Perhaps a bit embarrassed to be addressing a room full of aspiring actors, looking to him for wisdom.
Secondly, it was obvious that he had not prepared a speech. He was winging it. This was not such a good idea, which he appeared to realize himself. He was not a natural teller of amusing anecdotes. He stumbled and lost his train of thought, and kind of rambled from topic to topic with no clear message.
“…And then I was cast in my first film.”
Wait, what? That’s it? You were cast in a major motion picture with no experience or training? How, exactly, did that happen?
He skipped over the most important part. There was not a person in that room who was not burning to know how an actor goes from being unknown to getting cast in a major Hollywood motion picture. There must have been certain steps that were taken. How did he get an agent? How did the audition process unfold? What exactly did he to do to prepare?
It’s true that in this business there are no blueprints to follow. What worked for one person will not necessary work for anyone else. Still, it would have been nice to hear the details.
No luck, he had already moved on to a different chapter of his career, and it didn’t seem likely that the floor would be opened up for questions from the audience. After speaking for a while, he stopped speaking. There was no conclusion. Moral. Summation. His speech ended when his allotted time was up. It was a bit clumsy, but his smile let us know that he was aware of it. No one was going to fault him for not being a dazzling orator. We were happy to have spent a few minutes in the room with this movie star, and were grateful for the unexpected pleasure.
On the next trip up to my landlady’s house, I was imagining that it might be fun to meet him, by accident. Maybe outside his mailbox? I could tell him that I was in the audience for his speech that day. Since I had a connection to his neighbor, it wouldn’t be as if I were some paparazzi stalking him. I would just be a friendly person saying hello.
After paying the rent, I walked over to my fifteen year old car, which I love, and noticed the pressure was low again on that one tire with a slow leak. I made a mental note to cover the scratches on the bumper with the black permanent marker I keep in the glove compartment for that purpose. Then opened the door and got in, being careful to close the door gently, so the broken electric locks don’t start buzzing and grinding.
When I made my u-turn in front of his estate, the gate slowly opened and out pulled one of those black SUVs that all celebrities own. I looked in my rear view mirror to see if it was being driven by him, or by an employee. Some member of his staff being sent on an errand. Perhaps he was in the back seat and it was his driver behind the wheel? Couldn’t tell.
The road is twisty and steep, and I took my time driving it, as I always do. No need to put extra strain on my brakes by going downhill fast, only to come to a sudden stop at the entrance to the main road. The SUV stayed right on my tail, but not in an impatient way. More out of ease and familiarity with the road. If the movie star was driving, he was in no hurry.
We reached the stop sign at Mulholland Drive. I turned on my left turn signal. He turned on his right. He was heading into Hollywood, perhaps for a big glamorous event, or an important dinner meeting, and I was heading home for the night.