By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Emboldened by fat checks, I decided maybe I'd try my hand at the screenwriter's craft after all. "If you pull this off, you won't have to go to work again," Manager was fond of saying. "You can buy a big house, sit by the pool, drink and write all day." (He'd picked the ideal carrot to dangle in front of this horse.) The resulting script was Juno, a dark comedy about a boisterous 15-year-old girl who is unintentionally impregnated by her "friend with benefits" and offers her unborn baby to a troubled married couple. Everyone asks me where the idea came from, but I'm not exactly sure. I mean, I was Juno as a teenager: aggressive, goofy, obsessed with Led Zeppelin, horror movies, and my best male friend, who played drums and smelled terrific. But I'd never gotten pregnant (we compliant pill-poppers tend to avoid such fates) and my teen years had been relatively drama-free. Juno was really a hypothetical dramatization of my worst fear as a kid. And, unpredictably, Hollywood went apeshit for it almost instantly.
One morning, a production company called Mandate made an offer that Manager and Agent told me I couldn't refuse. Manager advised me to come out to L.A. as soon as possible to meet with the appropriate parties; he'd also arranged meetings with a couple of major studio execs who'd read my script and were interested in hiring me for future projects. I assured him that I'd pack my L.A. Looks hair mousse and L.A. Gear sneakers and fly out the following week. Meanwhile, reps from every agency were calling my house at all hours, spewing hyperbolic agent-speak and using words like "brilliant" and "visionary" that made me wince. It freaked my scene. "I'm flying to Minnesota tomorrow," one agent insisted. "I'll do whatever it takes. I must have you now." The intensity of the promises--and the degree of possession they implied--felt suffocating. It also felt kind of cool; I'd never been wooed like that by someone who wasn't expecting sex in return.
I wake up in my hotel room early the following morning. Very early. It's 5:00 a.m., and I can't get back to sleep in that hard Bauhaus bed. I turn on MTV and filch some animal crackers from the minibar for breakfast. They feel like shrapnel in my tender stomach. By the time I haul my carcass out of bed two and a half hours later, I've seen the Bollywood-inspired video for the Black Eyed Peas' "Don't Phunk with My Heart" three times.
I shower and dress to convey wide-eyed naïveté in bellbottom jeans and a flowered baby-doll top from the mall. Hollywood people love idiot savants; the more humble and Midwestern I act, the more delighted they are. Sometimes I even pretend to be unfamiliar with lingo I memorized a year ago. I muss my blond hair until I resemble a baby chick; this is no accident. "Incubate my career!" the look says. "Hatch me!"
I head downstairs to find that the lobby has quieted considerably since the previous evening's school-night bacchanal. My first meeting of the day is with Paramount, which thrills me because Paramount icon Robert Evans (the subject of the doc The Kid Stays in the Picture) is my personal hero. I wait outside the main entrance and watch as the actor Kevin Dillon from Entourage retrieves his car from the valet. Finally, an executive pulls up in a black Audi at 8:30 sharp. I hop in and introduce myself and we cruise down ocean-cooled Sunset, which is flanked with tall swaying palms. Maybe I've seen L.A. Confidential too many times, but I always think palm trees look vaguely ominous, like an underworld flag. As if merely being exposed to such seductive tropicalia means I'm destined to wind up vivisected like the Black Dahlia and left for dead behind an In-N-Out Burger.
The executive and I stop briefly at a Starbucks in a strange, slow little neighborhood where elderly Angelenos shuffle about in expensive pantsuits. "This is one of the only places in L.A. where you can see actual senior citizens," the executive says, as if we're stalking leprechauns. "You probably won't see another old person for the rest of your trip." He turns out to be correct.
When we pull onto Gower, I know we're approaching the studio. The last time I was in town, as a honeymooning tourist, I snapped a blurry photo of the Paramount entrance from a speeding tour bus. This time, I'm going in. Earlier, I had expressed my anxieties about this meeting to Manager, and he had replied, "Diablo, there are a lot of scary places in this world. The Paramount lot is not one of them." Easy for a native to say.
As we pull up under the famous white arched gates, the executive notices that I've blanched. "This is a great thing. You've
arrived," he says kindly. My stomach is killing me, but even late-stage arsenic poisoning couldn't keep me from storming the bungalows at this point. Inside the lot, I'm delighted to see that "The Mountain" is as Old Hollywood as it gets in terms of architecture and ambiance. I peep at the big soundstages and wonder if anything worthy is filming at the moment. And by "worthy," I mean, "not starring Hilary Duff."