No. 20: 💔📸🥂
Your costar invites you to a party in the Hills as a friend. You later find out it was with the motive of making his ex jealous. She’s stunning, an Italian Rosario Dawson with Angelina’s jawline. You go out for the same roles—in fact, you booked the role you both auditioned for to play your costar’s love interest. He confesses bashfully that, at first, he was bummed his then-real-life-girlfriend didn’t get the part. Now that she’s broken up with him— “I sobbed, like, snot dripping down my face sobbed, the whole 10 freeway home,” he tells you—he’s so relieved it’s you he’s working with.
She’s over there under the fake candlelight of a 1930s chandelier, chatting with a dude while clearly ignoring the ex who clearly showed up with you for no other reason than so she’d see you both. She does, gives you a kind but dismissive once-over, and turns back to her conversation with unruffled confidence. Your friend’s heartbreak is palpable. “Let’s leave,” he says with all the ache of Romeo in Act Five, Scene Three. Mission failed.
He takes you in his BMW convertible to the FOX 2004 Fall Lineup party. You didn’t know there would be a red carpet and you certainly weren’t planning on walking one if there was—you’ve never done so before—but there is and all of your costars are urging you to walk it with them. “You’re part of the show now,” they coax, as warm and inclusive as any recurring guest star should want them to be. Before you can protest further, you find yourself giving the PR lady the spelling of your name as she ushers you—oh goodness—to a real red carpet. You have no more time to think.
Loudness crashes your ears like waves. Brightness pierces your eyes like floodlights. You’re stunned, shocked, flinching. It’s louder than a stadium and they’re all shouting your name, fighting for you to look at their camera.
“Over your shoulder!” they yell.
“To your left!” they cry.
“Right into my lens, doll, look right this way!”
You have the urge to throw out your hands and yell, “One at a time, you’ll all get your turn!” in your firmest older sister voice, imagining the rowdy photographers quieting down in an orderly fashion like Sunday school. Somehow you know, that’s not how this works.
As the camera flashes give way to retina-stunned squares of purple, you steady your breath and decide to craft your own sense of order amid the mayhem. You walk three feet, stop. Smile left to right. Walk another three feet, stop. Smile left to right. You throw an over-the-shoulder on the fourth measure and the FTH-FTH-FTH of shutter clicks escalates. They love this angle for some reason.
The gauntlet ends just in time for the arrival of a FOX star far bigger than you. Lenses whirl to catch the final tug of a mini dress before this professional beams widely, hand on hip, a total pro. You take notes as you watch her, grateful her walk-pause-smile routine isn’t so different from yours. Maybe one day you won’t totally suck at this part of the job.
On the cold, dark walk from the carpet to the party, self-consciousness seeps in. What were you thinking agreeing to be photographed? Was there anything in your teeth? Has the fog layer turned your hair into a shag carpet? And what are you even wearing? You don’t know, you found this cozy woolen fishnet of a wrap at Wasteland on Melrose and couldn’t resist its blankety comfort. You now realize you look like Little Mermaid’s witchy sister.
Inside the party, you glimpse stars from The O.C., the older gentleman from Arrested Development, and that girl named Olivia Wilde whose name you’ve seen on sign-in sheets. She’s brighter than all the flashes put together. Imposter syndrome takes hold. You know you don’t belong here, a pimpled teenager with a terrible sense of fashion and overgrown hair because you can’t afford a haircut. The stylists in LA want over $100 for just a layered trim. People think your hair is part of your “look,” a deliberate choice to set you apart from shoulder-flipped blondes. You’re just poor.
Your costar friend compliments you on your first red carpet. “A natural,” he says, offering you a plastic glass of champagne. You’re eighteen but you drink it like Welch’s and when you get home, you practice poses in the mirror. You learn never to attend a party without assuming photographers will be present. You never quite learn how to dress yourself.