Tales From the Bottom of the Film Business

Friday, September 29, 2006

Sex With Celebrities

Why does everyone want to have sex with the famous? It’s gotten to the point that people want to sleep with celebrity look-alikes, stars of Top Chef or people like Nicole Richie and Johnny Knoxville, who just shouldn’t even be celebrities. And yet, there it is. Even if they’re stupid, talent-free and unattractive, they’re in a pilot and a couple of Gap commercials and suddenly, they’re sex symbols. And don’t get me wrong, I think Nick Lachey is hot enough - or I would if I saw him on the street instead of on the cover of Us Magazine. I would just like to understand why he is on the cover of Us Magazine.

As someone who has spent a large amount of time working with this particular species – those touched by the angel of fame – I generally find them to be just like you and me, only more fucked up. Fame is a potent drug that goes straight from the bloodstream to the part of the head that is inclined to swelling, and once you've started to listen to your own press, it's hard to stop – even when it turns voracious and uglier than a face with so much Botox it looks like a single bed sheet stretched across a king-sized mattress. We've all observed this, how famous folks become dependent upon outside opinion for their self-image, something infinitely dangerous in a world where image is everything. But in addition, those actors who genuinely act are often required to probe deeply into their most complicated emotions, which can be something like ripping your guts open and splattering them on the wall to display to the general population, sometimes in 70 mm. You can see why it could make a person feel kind of vulnerable. Combine all that and you've got yourself a little cocktail of disaster in every celebrity, ready to shake and serve.

And yet, there's something about them - the real ones. I don't know if star quality is instinct or talent or skill but when you meet it, you know; it's like the mother of all bounce boards, catching every available light source and redirecting it toward the little bundle of beauty at its center. And sometimes, being around a person you once perceived as a fantasy shows you that they're nothing like what you expected and that turns you off, especially when you find that they feel their position entitles them to either ignore you or demand a latte, which is too often the case. But sometimes, if you find out that they're the opposite of the impossibly heroic or idiotic or psychotic characters they usually play, that can make them more attractive. It can even be the simple fact that they're human, that they're mischievous and fun (Johnny Depp) or do crossword puzzles (David Strathairn) or actually talk in that slow, friendly, sexy drawl they had in Thelma & Louise (guess) - and then they smile at you and it's all over. So even as the most jaded of the jaded
, I can honestly say that, with certain stars, it can be hard not to want to fly into the glow and singe your wings a little bit. And lots of crew people do.

But let me describe the environment we’re talking about here. Film shoots are ideal for hooking up. 1) You know you will be working on them for a limited period of time – generally you know exactly how long, give or take the few days/weeks you will go over schedule, which you can also frequently calculate early on when you see the levels potential of disaster written on the wall: did you get behind on day one because the actor/rockstar showed up three hours late?; do you have to reshoot 50% of day four because the lighting didn't do enough to hide the effect on the actress' face from the removal of all of her wisdom teeth the week before? 2) You see the person with whom you are infatuated for just the right amount of time each day to have some sort of superficial contact that encourages your crush but provides nothing substantial enough to get rid of it – ie enough time to have brief, clever conversations and exchange potentially meaningful glances, working yourself into a frenzy of intense and delicious lust. 3) You have long days of twelve to eighteen hours and very little to occupy your mind because most film jobs are BO-RING, with a capital BO. Unless you are a director, actor, DP, production or costume designer, your job is probably pretty uncreative and, aside from the moments when things go tragically wrong (which happen, hopefully, only once every few days), stress-free. 4) You have no outside life, sexual, social, or otherwise, while you are working on a film, to break the spell and make you realize that your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/ friends/corner druggist are way more interesting than the person with whom you are infatuated. In fact, you really have no sense of the outside world even existing beyond the schedules, hierarchies, petty squabbles and gossip of your little claustrophobic series of sets and trucks. The only time you spend off set you are pretty much sleeping, eating, or vegetating and trying not to think about going back to work – yet obsessing about it, because you can’t wait to get back and pick up where the squabbling and gossiping and flirtatious glances and conversations have left off. Or you are out drinking excessively with the very same people you’ve been working with, the only people you can relate to at this point, trying to relax at the end of those long days and increasing, exponentially, the chances of your hooking up with one of them. Although not necessarily the one you hoped it would be. And film shoots out of town are even worse – or better, depending upon your point of view - because they make you and your cast and crew even more isolated in the bubble of collective consciousness that you have created. And, at least in theory, it decreases your chances of getting caught cheating. If you don’t hook up on a film shoot out of town, you are really just a total loser.

So this seems a good point at which to mention that I have never hooked up with anyone on a job. I’ve had several almosts and have hooked up with one or two guys after the fact, and they were mostly PAs, otherwise known as the lowest person on the film food chain, not that that's something I could care less about, not least of all because virtually everyone in the business was a PA at one time or another. One of my former PA conquests has since become a producer and a savvier woman might make use of this as some sort of retroactive accomplishment for her sexual resumé but for me, it is just a greater source of embarrassment: someone with whom I had embarrassingly bad sex is now in a position of power. Granted, in my eyes, the fact that the sex was bad was his fault but there are always two sides to this sort of thing, and I don’t want to know his. The main thing is that I do not want my sexual reputation to precede me, period. Which is particularly difficult in the fishbowl of the New York film community where you are pretty much guaranteed to encounter everyone you've ever worked with again, at some juncture. It could take months or years, but one day, when you least expect it, that person will appear, like magic, hauling garbage or loading film or screaming into a walkie-talkie, and then, just as magically, your exact memories of what, exactly, they looked like having an orgasm will also come flooding back. As a nice side-benefit, everyone else also knows who you’ve slept with, so that when you encounter that person on set, there is guaranteed to be an audience of people who will then turn that encounter into future gossip, and that gossip will spread outward exponentially so that whenever you walk on to a set within the next six to twelve months, you’ll know that everyone else knows what happened too. Which is probably the main reason why I don't hook up on jobs. The other reason is that casual sex just never seems to work out for me. I really have tried, but I've always had trouble getting it up for someone unless there is something mental/emotional involved. And once I get to know my set crushes, I frequently find that I am not interested any more, because any illusions that I had about them when I admired them from afar are blown. Or else it just takes too darn long for me to decide I like them and men on film jobs don’t really want to wait around. Time is short. Most low-budget film shoots only last four to six weeks. That's prime shtupping time a-wasting.

The closest I've ever come to celebrity sex was almost hooking up with a very handsome actor who seemed like he was on the verge of becoming famous. We were working on a gay sex comedy in Provincetown, and out of the New York cast and crew, we were the only two straight and single people there (the Boston crew were all straight, but they all knew each other already and had pre-determined who they wanted to hook up with). Bruce was the type of guy who I would never bother to consider a possibility because I assumed that he was far too good-looking to consider me.

“He’s so hot,” I'd hear the producer commenting to one of the other actors. “Are you sure he’s not gay?” As if nobody straight could be that hot – something that I had somewhat come to believe myself.

But little did I, 24 and barely out of a three-year relationship, know that when the pickings are slim, men will settle for what’s available, especially when there is an imperative to prove their sexual preference. So it took me a while to catch on to the fact that the amount of attention he was paying me might indicate that he was interested in more than just the quality of the sound. Once I did, he and I were just starting to get cozy when the new boom operator we’d had hired from Boston showed up, a redhead who liked to work in short, gingham skirts on top of an 8-foot ladder. Needless to say, she was uninhibited in a way that I would never be, and while I was trying to have meaningful conversations with Bruce, she would sit on his lap and rub her body all over his. When I finally decided to “just drop by” to visit him at his hotel, I found a gingham skirt and a used condom on the bed and heard two voices in the shower. I couldn’t even fire her. She was the best boom operator I'd ever had and, to be honest, I really did care about the sound. On the other hand, Bruce never did become famous. He took off all his clothes on Broadway and was in one other movie that didn’t do very well and that was it. Maybe I was the curse. Even the possibility of sleeping with me was enough to guarantee that he would never become a household name.

That situation sums up kind of a key thing, though: as one make-up artist once said to me, "You don't flirt a lot on set and you're serious about your job." It was sort of a flattering comment - although she made it in the context of explaining why she thought I was gay. But the truth behind the statement is that I do worry, perhaps too much, about people respecting me and taking me seriously when the job is over. And women just aren't respected for their work when they do what guys do, aka, sleep around. Moreover, getting back to celebrities, does a person respect someone they're using just for sex, particularly if they're the kind of person – like someone who wrecks hotel rooms or hits concierges in the head with telephones – who doesn't respect anyone, with the possible exception of their personal stylist, even if it's really because they're too insecure to do so? Then again, do you respect them if you're using them for sex and good future stories to tell your friends? Or Us Magazine? I guess I just don't want to get anywhere near relationships like that.

But some people do. The 23-year-old PA I knew who was sleeping with one of the lead actors on Ben and Rachel described the experience to me like this. Every night, when she had to take him home, he'd take her out to dinner.

"He was very charming and fun," she said, "and he knows how to treat a woman. [Does a woman of 23 really know how a woman should be treated? Can I stop myself from editorializing?] Then we'd leave the restaurant and he'd say, 'You decide what you want to do, Tracy. You can go this way –' meaning back to his hotel, '- or you can go that way.'"

Meaning home. And she never decided to go home. But the understanding was clearly that that was the extent of their relationship, and she seemed fine with that. Perhaps more than fine, because then it left her free to start sleeping with the good-looking 2nd AC. I think she stuck to crew for a while after that, dating a gaffer, then a first AD – see, this is what I mean, I know this woman's entire sexual history and I have no idea when the last time I saw her was. Oh wait, I do: it was on a job I visited where I noticed she was having a serious on-set flirtation with Michael Vartan. You do the math.

Then there was the make-up woman I know who seemed to have gotten involved with a celebrity by accident. She and I were on a film together with an actor who came up in New York indies who I have no great love for since after doing three films together, he was still giving me advice on how to mic him. He does a lot of Shakespeare in the Park so I'll call him Will. Anyway, one night I spied Will and Becky at a restaurant together and I asked her about it. She said they were friends and she didn't plan on anything else happening between them; she'd had a friend who had once slept with him and she'd told Becky that in the morning, he'd rolled over and looked at her and said, "Oh, what are you doing here?" However, when Becky and Will and I did another film a few years later, she revealed that one drunken night recently, they had ended up sleeping together – and sure enough, in the morning, he had rolled over and looked at her and said, "Oh, what are you doing here?" She said, "You're right, what the hell am I doing here?" and got the hell out of there – even while he tried to claim he was joking. Ha ha.

On the other end of the spectrum, the first AD on that same job was sleeping with the lead actress – according to the 2nd AD, just because he had never slept with talent and it had long been one of his goals. That's what I call blatant celebrity fucking: the kind where you're really just doing it because you're keeping score. Then there was the grip I know who was sleeping with a lead actress because they bonded over mutual, major substance abuse problems – also not a great basis for forming a lasting connection. And the list goes on and on. But there are always a couple of stories that you hear of things that worked out, like with Julia Roberts and Danny Moder, or the make-up artist Noah Wyle met on Myth of Fingerprints and married. I heard that she announced while she was watching him on ER with a group of crew members before production started, "He is so mine!" But I suppose it's nice to see people achieve their goals.

Which I guess brings us back to the question, do I think I'll ever have celebrity sex? At this point, I'm kind of just hoping that I have sex again period. No, but in all seriousness, I think, like fame itself, if you truly want it, fame-fucking has to be a priority, something you will make happen even at the risk of your other goals, relationships, or self-respect. Those things are pretty important to me and celebrity, or getting that close to it, just isn't.

Though it would make for great blog-fodder…