The celebrated actor starts driving the filmmakes crazy. Can they control him? 2,191 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
The first phone call started as an innocent inquiry.
“Does he have to drive an SUV?” Brendan Forsyth’s agent asked.
“Why not?” Charlie Greene, one of the two producers on the film Operation Death starring Forsyth, asked back.
“Brendan feels that the character would drive something sporty. Say, a Porsche.”
Don Masaroff was an old-time ten-percenter who brought his client list with him when he’d hopped agencies the year before. He was known as a gentleman, had repped Forsyth since forever and was used to nudging producers rather than playing brinksmanship.
“The man’s a middle-aged surgeon,” Greene said. “Plus, we’ve lined up a promotional tie-in with GM for free vehicles in exchange for an onscreen credit. A Porsche wouldn’t be in character or in the budget.”
“Brendan thinks the character should be more daring,” Masaroff said, ignoring Greene. “That raises the stakes for his encounters. Besides, a lot of middle-aged guys buy a sports car. It’s a rite of passage, you know? I did.”
“I didn’t,” said Greene firmly. “But I’ll ask. I suppose your client wants it to be red.”
“Only for one of them,” Masaroff said.
“The one for him should be red. You can use the black one for the picture.”
“Red and black makes two.”
“You don’t expect him to keep the picture car after principle photography ends, do you?”
“I wasn’t planning on him keeping anything,” Greene said. “He’s already got a limousine at his service for ten weeks. Where’s he gonna put the Porsche: in the trunk?”
“Okay then, we agree on two Porsches,” Masaroff plowed forward. “Three if you want one too, and four if the other producer does. I don’t, so you’re safe there.”
“And what about the budget?” Greene asked weakly.
“Easy,” Masaroff trailed off. “You producers fly coach.”
The film’s other producer, Adam Hoffman, returned to the office just as Greene was hanging up. He was scowling. “I was hiring a first A.D. who’d worked with Forsyth on that picture about the detective with Alzheimer’s. I can never remember the title.”
“Very Funny. Alibi Ike.”
“That’s the one. He says making a picture with Brendan Forsyth is like being nibbled to death by ducks.” Hoffman started going through the drawers of their partners’ desk until he found his inhaler. “He says Day One, he complains about craft services, Day Two, you lay out the snacks he wanted on Day One, and on Day Three, he shows up with a shopping bag and puts in it everything on the table. He keeps this up on Day Four and Day Five until you have to go to his dressing room if you want a bag of chips.”
“So we’ll buy him his own supply. Is that it?”
“Week Two, the A.D. says, Forsyth starts making off with the props from a hot set. This A.D. had the job of visiting Forsyth’s dressing room and ‘borrowing’ them back. Anything the guy touches, he thinks is his.”
“He’s a star getting twenty million against five percent of the gross and he steals chips and props?”
“So big and yet so petty.”
“Not just petty,” Greene said. “I just spoke to Masaroff. Let me cut to the chase: do you want a Porsche? We’re already buying two.”
Hoffman didn’t flinch. “I’m not surprised. This is Forsyth’s world and we’re just living in it. I’ll bet he’s one of those actors who, when he says, ‘I want to make the script my own,’ ends up thinking he actually wrote it.”
“Who’s gonna to tell the director?,” Greene said. “You or me?”
Hoffman took a long asthma-reducing snarf on his inhaler. “Why spoil his weekend? Let him have his own Brendan Forsyth phone call. I’m sure it’s on the way.”
The director, who was also the picture’s screenwriter, answered his cell at eight a.m. sharp “My old friend,” Forsyth awakened Allan Spanner, “I hear you’re writing me an award-winning performance.”
“I was until four in the morning when I finally fell asleep.”
“I like your humor. I hope you put some of it in our script.”
“Can I call you back?” Spanner said, ignoring the “our script” nonsense. “If I don’t get five hours, I’ll be a basket case.”
“I just wanted to see how we were doing,” Forsyth continued, ignoring his old friend’s request. “I don’t want to overstep, but we found when we were doing Capture The Citadel, that if we wrote a couple of lines that we could use in the trailer, it helped sell the picture. I want us to do that with Operation Death.”
“You mean write some smartass line that gets quoted like ‘I’ll be back’?”
“Not smartass. Memorable.”
“Memorable as in: I go to a close-up of you and your blue eyes saying it forcefully before cutting to the next scene?”
“I’m just trying to help us make the best possible picture. Remember the play we did together at the Springfield Melody Tent? A few memorable lines, and it could have been a hit.”
“Brendan, the play was Hamlet.”
“All I want is for you to be open to my ideas. After all, I’m the guy who has to say this shit.”
“I’ll protect you, Brendan. No forgettable lines like ‘To be or not to be’ or that awful Hecuba speech, I promise.”
“You know what I mean, Allan.”
The call ended after a few minutes but it took the director another hour to get back to sleep. The sound of grinding teeth always kept him up.
Especially when they were his own.
Hoffman wasn’t surprised when he got the next call. They’re too smart to play us producers against each other; they probably just want to keep us on our toes. He answered without saying hello. “Why are you and your client sticking your noses into everything before there’s anything there to stick them into.”
“This isn’t about Brendan,” the actor’s agent responded. “It’s about the hair and makeup guys. Have you hired them yet?”
“We haven’t hired anybody below the line. We don’t have a script yet.”
“Well, when you do, there are a couple of people we’ve worked with who make Brendan feel comfortable, and we’d like them on board.”
“He has that in his star contract, along with the dressing room and the chef.”
“I know, but I’m talking about hair and makeup for the supporting players. Brendan wants everyone to look good.”
“I have an idea. Why don’t you have Brendan release your hair and makeup people to work on them?”
“Very funny. You know that his people need to be free for touch-ups, especially in the last third of the story.”
“The last third of the story takes place in an operating room. His hair and mouth will be covered, and one of his eyes will have a microscopic monitor.”
“That’s another thing. Does he have to be so covered up? The public wants to see Brendan Forsyth’s face.”
“It wouldn’t be realistic.”
“Sure it would. Have Spanner add a line about a new technology that prevents infection and it’s being used for the first time on the President’s shrapnel wound so the Doc doesn’t have to wear a mask.”
“You’re a good agent.”
When Hoffman related the call to Spanner and Greene, all three of them wanted to laugh. But none of them could.
“The one thing we have to keep in mind,” Greene sighed, “is that a Forsyth picture always delivers. He’s a juggernaut. And he puts a thousand people to work.”
“Including his own people,” Hoffman groaned.
“Including us, too,” Spanner added. “I’ll be finished with the script in another few days. Do we want to bet on who gets the next call?”
Had they gambled, all of them would have lost. The day after the screenplay was sent around, Hoffman heard from the production designer.
“Where in Mr. Spanner’s script does it say that Dr. Doherty’s home has dark brown shag carpeting?” the designer asked in a cautious tone.
“If it does, I must have missed it,” replied Hoffman.
“Mr. Forsyth himself called me and gave me the name of a carpet company.”
“Hold off on ordering anything. The script hasn’t been approved yet. I guess he’s just trying to be helpful.”
“Let me tell you something. That kind of helpful I don’t need. If Forsyth’s movie apartment doesn’t need dark brown shag carpeting, no doubt one of his homes does.”
Hoffman didn’t want to play detective, so he told the art director, “Call the carpet company Forsyth gave you, say it’s too early to place an order but make nice and ask them for prices. Then forget everything they say.”
“In other words, bullshit them.”
“You got it.”
Allan Spanner’s first draft for Operation Death was okayed by the studio with only minor notes which were easily ignored. This was a testament to the power of Brendan Forsyth starring in it. “These are smart people,” the VP of Production told his committee as he sent the script to budgeting and breakdown. “If there are any problems, they’ll fix them along the way.”
So Spanner and Forsyth sat down alone in the actor’s Topanga Canyon hideaway to go over Operation Death page by page.
“Excuse the mess,” the star said. “I’m renovating the place and the carpet guys left samples everywhere.”
“We’ve known each other too long to play games,” Spanner said. “At some point we might have to fight the producers or the studio for the good of the picture, and we need to be united.”
“Right you are,” Forsyth agreed. “I need your writing and directing to make my performance a success, and you need my clout to make the picture in the first place.”
Spanner let the comment hang in the air, hoping Forsyth would follow it with an ironic laugh. But none came.
“Let’s go over the beats,” Spanner went on. “Your entrance is on page three. That gives us the first two pages to set up you character with everybody saying what a brilliant surgeon you are. Then, bang, you come in and prove it.”
“Yeah, but I come in drunk,” Forsyth interjected.
“We don’t know that until page ten, which gives you the next seven pages to establish your medical skill set, and then win over the audience by helping the nervous intern.”
The actor remarked, “It’s terrific. She’ll make a good impression.”
“He,” Spanner said. “It’s a male intern.”
“Why not female?”
“He can’t be female because we shouldn’t have any hint of sexuality at this point. Dr. Doherty has to be almost intimate with him to pull him through, and this is the wrong place for the audience to wonder if he has another agenda.”
“If it’s a male, won’t they think Dr. Doherty’s gay?”
“Why should they?”
“I don’t mean to make a point of this, but I was People magazine’s “Sexiest Man In The World” twice. Why not exploit that?”
“That’s my point.”
“Brendan Forsyth can play sexy without sex,” Forsyth said.
“Can we at least agree that you’ll play it fatherly?”
“Brendan Forsyth will.”
“And I bet you already have someone in mind to play her, right?”
“How did you guess?”
Spanner rolled his eyes. “That’s why they pay me the medium bucks.”
The rest of the read-through went well. As the two men parted, Forsyth said, “I want to say again what a great job you’ve done on the screenplay. It was a tough book to adapt. I had my assistant read it all the way through. Thanks for helping me with this next stage of my career.”
With that, Forsyth grabbed Spanner and gave him a big hug.
“Thanks,” the director said from within the squeeze. “As long as you don’t end the intern scene like that, we’re gold.”
Spanner Immediately drove to the studio where Greene and Hoffman were waiting to hear what happened.
“We’re screwed,” he reported matter-of-factly. “He’s nervous about his image. He’s at stage four of the five in Hollywood: 1) Who is Brendan Forsyth? 2) Get me Brendan Forsyth. 3) We need a Brendan Forsyth type. 4) Get me a young Brendan Forsyth. 5) Who is Brendan Forsyth?”
“I knew it was too easy to get a greenlight,” Hoffman rued.
“Do you think you can handle Forsyth?” Greene asked. “He’s worth a lot of tickets if you can grit your teeth and do it for England.”
“I can handle him if you can handle him,” Spanner said. “We may have a couple of constructive disagreements during shooting, I expect that, even plan on it. But it’s in post-production where the real damage can be done. He may see a first cut and want to meddle with it. He may see what a skillful, deep, vulnerable performance I intend to drag out of him, and it may scare the crap out of him.”
“Let’s not panic yet,” Greene said unconvincingly. “We have a Brendan Forsyth picture on the fast track from a major studio. Nobody else in the world can say that. How much more can he want before it affects the picture?”
Spanner shrugged. “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.”