OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: A Red Carpet meet compels this couple to keep going. 2,312 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Backstory: My name is Nat, I work in the mailroom at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and I went to the Academy Awards. Instead of sitting up in the lousy seats with the rest of the AMPAS staff, I met Erin Teller, the Erin Teller, and she sort of made me her date. I sat with her and she won the Best Actress Oscar for When The Mountain Sings.
And now we’re going to the Governors Ball.
I am not making this shit up.
So Erin and I are walking out of the Dolby when Erin grabs my hand and asks me where I’m going because, duh, don’t I know the Governors Ball is upstairs and she’s starving to death. She says some of the cast from Hamilton is performing and isn’t it the best musical ever. I tell her I haven’t seen it and she says, boy, I’m in for a surprise.
This whole night is a surprise. Having my date get a migraine so I go to the Awards solo, then running into Erin Teller – literally, when her limo door knocks me down. Now I can’t figure out why she hooked on to me. But I’m not complaining.
We’re riding up the escalator to the Governors Ball and Erin has her Oscar clutched in her fist. Occasionally, she waves it in the air and says, “Woo hoo,” and people shout, “Woo hoo” back at her. This is the most amazing night of her life. And, fuck me, I never want it to end.
“What happened to the Van Cleef & Arpels security guy?” I ask since she’s told me her necklace is worth a fortune.
“He’s around. I wonder what would happen if I tell them I want to keep it.” She taps the diamonds against her throat and laughs. “Would they give me a discount? Because of the PR?” And she laughs again. “But when would I wear it? Like I get up in the morning and put on my sweats and Puscifer t-shirt and a bazillion dollar necklace and go to Peet’s Coffee. Yeah, right.”
When she laughs it sounds slightly nervous, an honest laugh. Guileless, and completely charming. She leans into me and I can smell the shampoo in her hair. Something with mint.
At first the photographers make me nervous, but somehow I pick up Erin’s rhythm. When she moves, I move. When she smiles, I smile. Sometimes, I’m not supposed to be part of the shot and that’s fine. And every time I step away, I’m expecting Erin to disappear. But there she is, reaching for my hand.
“Don’t get lost, Nat,” she says. “This is too overwhelming.”
Hilarious. Erin Teller thinks it’s overwhelming. Erin Teller, who goes to movie premieres and appears on Jimmy Kimmel. Me, I live in a shithole apartment in Palms with two guys, and work in a mailroom where my big talent is picking up a package and guessing correctly how much it weighs. Big fucking deal.
No, a big fucking deal is the Governors Ball. Everything shiny and Technicolor-ed and sparkling. Total pinch-me-is-this-real time. At first, Erin is talking to Bradley Cooper and what should I say: “Hey, Bradley, how tall are you?” But when Erin introduces me, he shakes my hand and says he likes my tux. I tell him I got it on eBay and he laughs like I’m making a joke. (I’m not.) Charlize Theron is insanely beautiful and says her fig and pepper honey appetizer is out of this world. And I forget to snag one so she pops the rest of hers into my mouth. Charlize Theron’s long slender perfect fingers on my lips. Boom.
Erin is pulled away for photos and interviews. I go with her and meet the director who’s as nice as everybody else. Aren’t there any assholes here? I know Hollywood is full of them. Erin tells me there are plenty. And points out a few.
“Prick, major prick, tiny prick, prick-wanna-be, prick-in-training. And that one,” Erin says. “She’s a studio exec. Queen of Prickdom.” She’s nodding at an absurdly tiny woman with dark hair and an off-the-shoulder dress that shows off skeletal collarbones. The exec is looking over at us and gives Erin a thin smile. Erin’s middle finger slides up her champagne glass. She whispers under her breath, “Fuck you, PQ.” And as if I don’t get it, she explains, “Prickdom Queen.”
While Erin is waiting to get her Oscar engraved, she bumps into Tom Hardy who asks when they’ll work together.
“Nat’s got a fantastic project we could do,” Erin says.
When he’s gone, I tell Erin she can’t say things like that. I don’t have a project for her and Tom Hardy.
“But you might,” she insists. “You went to film school. You want to be a director. You finished several scripts. Do you like writing?”
“Like it or love it?” She looks serious.
“Love it,” I answer.
“And making movies is what you want to do with the rest of your life?”
“Are your scripts good?”
“I think so. I hope so.”
She’s distracted by someone nearby. “It’s Grady Reich, the head of the indieprod Complexity. You need to meet him, Nat. He’s always looking for new talent.”
Before I can protest, Erin has grabbed his arm.
“Nat’s meeting everywhere and he’s just about to hit so I thought you should grab him before anybody else does.”
Grady looks at me. His tux probably costs more than my car. “Have I seen any of your work?” he asks.
“His last film just missed the cut at Sundance,” Erin says. “But it’s going to be where, Nat? Montreal? Nat’s so modest. I keep telling him to own his talent. Isn’t that right, Grady?”
“Absolutely, Nat. Tell your agent to give me a call. I’ll be at Montreal and look for your film.”
Good luck fucking finding it.
I’m spared from more make-believe because the Hamilton performance begins. When it’s over, Erin puts her fingers in her mouth and gives a loud and very unladylike whistle. Later she introduces me to the Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda and he promises me tickets. “Erin’s seen it four times,” he says. “You can’t miss that whistle.”
“Five,” she corrects him. “And I still cry. Lin’s going to write a movie for me.”
“As long as I get to be in it with you, Erin.”
She kisses him on the cheek. “You and Nat should get together in New York and kick some ideas around.”
“Sure,” Lin-Manuel says to me. “Looking forward to it.”
More photos. More interviews, I’m surprised that Erin doesn’t look wilted. I’m watching her from a distance so I don’t notice when PQ approaches me.
“So you’re with Erin,” she says.
I nod and smile. Up close, the studio exec looks even smaller, as if she has baby bird bones.
“I don’t know who you are,” she says.
The studio exec laughs and touches my hand. The ends of her nails are filed sharp, like talons.
“Erin’s crazy, you know,” the woman says. “Batshit crazy. Trust me. Batshit.” And then PQ walks away.
Erin appears and announces it’s time to go. She seems completely un-crazy. At the bottom of the escalator, we run into Grady Reich again and he reminds me to have my agent call him and asks, “Who are you with?”
Before I can open my mouth, Erin says, “CAA.”
The Vanity Fair party isn’t far away, but Erin asks the limo driver if we can head up to Mulholland first.
“You can take me home if you want,” I tell her. “It’s been great, but I don’t want to take up any more of your time.”
“I thought we were having fun. Aren’t you having fun?” she says, suddenly concerned. “Wait. Did I see you talking to PQ?”
“She just told me to tell you congratulations.”
I can tell Erin is not convinced. She doesn’t say anything until we get near the top of Mulholland, then she instructs the driver up a series of small streets until we reach a patch of dirt. The driver pulls over and Erin gets out.
“Are you coming?” she asks me.
I join her and notice she’s still holding the Oscar. She places it on the hood of the car and looks at the city view.
“In L.A., there’s so much light pollution you don’t look up, you look out,” she says.
“Louis B. Mayer said MGM had more stars than there are in the heavens,” I tell her.
She thinks that over. Takes a deep breath. “The story of Erin Teller. I was an English major at Skidmore when someone with showbiz connections saw me in a Christopher Durang play. I was asked to audition for a TV pilot so I came out to L.A.. I liked acting, it was fun and you could be somebody else. But I didn’t need to be somebody else. A lot of people in this business, that’s why they do it. Because they aren’t happy being who they are. The pilot was terrible and didn’t go anywhere. But I stayed in L.A. and worked crap jobs and kept auditioning and taking classes. And the more I auditioned, the more I wasn’t happy with who I was.”
She looks at me. I say, “Movies and TV, everything seems perfect. There’s a reason they call it the dream factory.”
Erin nods. “Yeah. But then sometimes the dream comes true, like tonight.” She’s smiling but I see her face crumble, as if all the Erin Teller energy is sucked away and erased.
Her voice sounds ragged now. “Everything I just told you is bullshit, Nat. I didn’t go to Skidmore. Do I look like somebody who went to college? I dropped out of high school and moved to L.A. and did shitty low-budget movies. Practically porn. That’s how I started. I had to sell my soul. For this.”
She motions to the city lights and starts to cry. That’s when I realize Erin is now standing on the edge of a hillside. There’s a hundred foot drop, straight down. She notices me looking at her with oh-no-she-can’t concern on my face.
“I only tried to commit suicide once, but I didn’t try very hard,” Erin says in a soft voice. “I could try harder this time. Think how dramatic it would be. Academy Award winner Erin Teller and her date, up and coming writer/director Nat Stafford, fall to their death. They find our bodies and we’re still holding hands.”
Batshit crazy. Batshit crazy. “Erin,” I say, and try to pull her away from the edge. She isn’t moving. Her grip is strong, much stronger than I expect.
“But we can do it together. Isn’t that what you want, Nat?”
I’m a moron, thinking this is the best night of her life when it’s about to be over and not realizing there was a catch…
Suddenly, she’s laughing, the biggest Erin Teller laugh ever and she drops my hand and backs away from the hillside and sits on the ground in her gown trying to catch her breath.
“Oh my God, you didn’t think I was serious, did you? Nat, sweet Nat, I’m a good actress but that was hammy over the top shit pie. Did you hear the dialogue?” She’s starting to snort.
I can’t make words. An instant ago, I’m in a death fall with Erin Teller, and now she’s telling me it’s a joke.
“I knew PQ would say something nasty about me to you,” Erin continues. “She told you I’m batshit crazy, right? She says that to everybody. And you believed her.”
”No, I didn’t,” I retort. “Okay, sort of but not really. Why would she do that?”
“She’s related to somebody who’s married to somebody and that’s how she became a studio exec. Google “PQ and whack job” and something about her, Liam Neeson, and a trip to the moon comes up. Although that sounds like fun.”
Erin reaches for my hand and I think she wants me to pull her up, but instead she pulls me to the ground beside her. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have freaked you out like that.”
“You didn’t try to commit suicide?” I ask.
“Hell, no. And I did go to Skidmore and my SAT scores were awesome and I’m super smart. One day, I should go back and finish my degree. You forgive me? I’m nuts but I’m not crazy. I swear to God.” She crosses her heart.
“I believe you.”
“I wanted to come up here because I did that the first night I moved to L.A. And now…”
Erin gets up and walks over to the limo and picks up the Oscar. “I wish I could freeze this moment in time. Yuck, does that sound like a cliché?”
“I could take a picture,” I say. When she nods, I stand up and focus my cell. Erin sits on the hood of the car, her legs spread wide in her designer gown, the Oscar beside her. She’s every inch a movie star.
“Come sit beside me,” she says.
“No. It’s your moment.”
The look on her face is a mixture of contentment and resolution. Even for a cell phone, I know it’s a great photo. I could sell it for a lot of money. But it’s too personal. I’ll send a copy to Erin and keep one for myself. No one else.
We’re back inside the car and she leans over and kisses me. It lingers and tastes like champagne and roast beef and chocolate. “We still have the Vanity Fair party,” Erin says. “And then what do you want to do?”
“Don’t you ever turn into a pumpkin?” I ask.
She closes her eyes for a second. “Maybe you’ll find out.”
Oscar®, Academy Award®, and AMPAS® are registered trademarks of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, ©AMPAS.