Who in Hollywood can control this hugely talented film actor hell bent on causing trouble? 3,754 words. Illustrations by Mark Fearing.
It was only after he achieved superstar status that Rick Myer’s life issues began to surface. He was twenty –seven and totally unprepared for the adulation he was receiving.
He had grown up in South Orange, New Jersey, the son of an alcoholic father and an adoring mother who devoted her life to serving his every need.
At age seventeen, having previously shown no interest in pretty much anything, he announced his intention to become an actor. His mother took it in stride and arranged for him to take private lessons with a Manhattan based acting coach.
Each Saturday Rick would take a Lackawanna local to Hoboken, catch the subway to Grand Central Station, then hike uptown to Fifty Seventh Street where he studied acting in the living room of Dora Weissman’s one bedroom apartment. Weissman, a veteran performer and long time acting teacher, did all she could to guide and inform him, but soon found him to be a difficult and headstrong student. Plus, he frightened her.
One night, at a dinner party held in honor of the Yiddish Theatre luminary, Shmuel Alter, she bumped into the estimable acting guru, Frederic Augsburger, and recommended Rick to him as a possible candidate for his Actor’s Salon.
Augsburger expressed interest and the following week, having watched Rick perform a pair of scenes that he and Weissman had prepared, he invited him to join the Salon.
After barely a month of intensive scene study, and against Augsburger’s wishes, Rick hustled an audition for the upcoming Broadway play, Caged.
"You’re not ready," Augsburger told him.
"That’s one opinion," Myer replied.
"You’re a beginner. You have no technique. You haven’t even scratched the surface."
Myer glared at Augsburger and moved dangerously close to him. "You’ll help me prepare for the audition, though, right?"
"You heard me."
"You’re saying you won’t coach me."
Myer then shoved Frederic Augsburger, nearly knocking him down. "You’re a fraud. You and your cockamamie Actor’s Salon. There’s nobody like me. Just you wait."
Myer gathered his things and with a sideways glance at Augsburger, and stormed off.
Surprisingly he won the role of the abused child who had been forced to live most of his life inside of a cage. The play, steeped in metaphor, was mainly dismissed by the critics and closed soon after its opening. But during its brief run, Rick Myer’s ferociously seething performance was the talk of the acting community.
Caged was quickly followed by his film debut in Rage Against Conformity, the motion picture phenomenon that garnered him an Oscar nomination and turned him into an icon.
The character he played in Rage Against Conformity was basically himself… troubled, insecure, temperamental, angry. Director Albie Bennett worked diligently to help hone his performance. Before every take they would agonize over the screenplay and if it contained anything that seemed forced or unnatural, those lines would be eliminated.
Bennett shot very few takes, but would roll his cameras even before calling "Action," striving for an improvisational feel, a style influenced by the French cinema vérité. The naturalism he achieved in Rage Against Conformity would be hailed by critics as "ground breaking."
Myer’s unselfconscious performance, with all its emotional ticks and nuances, spoke to a new generation of filmgoer and impacted them deeply.
His Oscar nomination assured his place in contemporary cinema. His agent, Billy Greenfield, provided him with riches beyond his imagination.
Despite his disagreeable nature and his penchant for alienating people and causing trouble, Rick Myer was very much in demand.
It was when Director Joel Sherwood cast him in Goodbye L.A. that the trouble began. As Sherwood tells it, Myer showed up determined to play the role using a Slavic accent.
"Unintelligible," Sherwood lamented. "At first I thought he was kidding. The role is that of a recently orphaned young man who, alone in the world, decides to leave his Los Angeles home and roam the country on foot.”
It was at the table read where Myer introduced the accent.
"We were all kind of stunned and I even went so far as to chide him for kidding around. That was when he walked out of the reading and the unpleasantness with his agents began."
Rick Myer was the antithesis of an all-American boy.
He possessed a dark and brooding charisma. Thick blond hair, unshorn and unkempt, framed his angular careworn face. But it was his fiery brown eyes, at once guarded yet at the same time vulnerable, that captivated audiences.
The New York Times movie critic, Henry Plansky, wrote, "It’s his eyes that set him apart from every other actor of his generation. No one else has those eyes. They haunt me even now. Like the young Brando’s did. This kid’s a star. I can hardly wait to see what comes next."
What came next was a showdown between Joel Sherwood and Billy Greenfield, one of Hollywood’s most powerful agents.
"It’s a daring choice," Greenfield said of Myer’s decision to go with the accent. "Like Meryl’s was in Sophie’s Choice."
"Are you crazy," Joel Sherwood erupted. "She was Polish in that movie. Myer’s character is from Los Angeles."
"There’s nothing to suggest he was actually born in Los Angeles."
"Jesus, Billy. You’re not telling me he won’t give up the accent, are you?"
"Look, Joel. Rick Myer is a phenomenon. You’re already an unqualified success just because you have him in your movie. If he wants to play it with an accent, for God’s sakes let him."
Sherwood summoned Ernie Rodgers, the head of the studio. "Can you believe this shit?"
Rodgers offered his most sympathetic smile.
Insincere, of course, but sympathetic. "Of course the kid should play it with the accent. Why would you defy him? He’s a head case. He’ll be out the door in a New York minute."
"I’m telling you the accent will ruin the picture."
"You don’t know that."
"Of course I know that. I wrote the screenplay and I also happen to be directing it."
"Get over it, Joel. You might want to take into consideration what’s really at stake here. As I read things, it’s you versus him. I’d hate to take odds on who’s going to win that one."
Sherwood’s mouth hung open in amazement. "Et tu, Brute?"
And so it was that Goodbye L.A. went into production with Rick Myer playing the leading role with a Slavic accent.
"There wasn’t a person on the set who didn’t know how ridiculous Myer’s performance was," commented Andy Glass, the First Assistant Director. "Half the time you couldn’t understand a word he was saying, and the other half was so ludicrous that people could hardly contain their laughter."
It was in the middle of week two that Myer quit using the accent. "I don’t like it," he said to Joel Sherwood.
"What don’t you like?"
"They’re laughing at me."
"Who’s laughing at you?"
"I’m not stupid, Joel. I’m done with it."
"You’re done with what?"
"The accent. I’m done with it."
"But you’ve already shot eight days using it."
"I’ll loop it."
"You’ll loop eight days’ worth of dialogue?"
"What are you, nuts?"
Myer stood and glared at the Director. Then he turned to the nearest P.A. and yelled, "Get me Billy Greenfield."
He bolted off to his trailer and refused to come out until Greenfield showed up.
Following a lengthy conference call, during which the set was at a complete standstill, Greenfield emerged from Myer’s trailer with the actor in tow.
"It’s agreed," he said to Joel Sherwood.
"What’s agreed," asked Sherwood, alarm bells going off in his head.
"He’ll loop it."
"Oh, Christ. The movie will sound like shit."
Greenfield put his arm around Sherwood’s shoulder and ushered him to the edge of the set.
"Listen to me, Joel. It’s gonna turn out great. I promise you. The kid’s an amazing looper."
"He’s never looped anything in his life."
"Trust me," Greenfield said.
"They’ll blame me," Sherwood said.
"I’ll protect you."
Sherwood glared at him and threw up his arms. "I’m doomed."
The movie finished over budget and over schedule.
Sherwood was right. No matter how diligently the sound department worked with him, Myer’s looped dialogue was un-natural. Non-organic. He could never get it right.
The studio had no choice but to re-shoot the eight days.
But to everyone’s amazement, Myer’s performance touched a universal nerve. Audiences flocked to see it.
He was hailed as the poster child for a new generation of movie star.
The stress, however, took its toll. During post production, Joel Sherwood suffered a severe case of shingles and despite the success of the ironically titled Goodbye L.A., he swore off the movie business and hurried back to Broadway which he cited in a New York Times interview as a “hotbed of sanity.”
"Vicodin," Lisa Jacobs said.
"I’m sorry," Director John Lifland responded.
"He’s on Vicodin. I saw it in his trailer."
"What were you doing in his trailer?"
"He asked me to fetch his script. The Vicodin pharmacy bottle was on his dressing table."
"Jesus," Lifland said.
"It’s probably why you can’t get the scene," she said.
Lisa Jacobs was the Second A.D. on Mars In Retrograde, the movie adaptation of the Broadway success of the same name. She was twenty six and had a list of credits a yard long. Starting as a Production Assistant, she quickly rose through the ranks and was now a much sought-after set presence. Even tempered and gracious, she was politically astute and fair-minded. She was also strikingly attractive, hit on by both men and women alike.
When Rick Myer noticed her, he was instantly smitten.
But try as he might, she steadfastly refused his advances.
She was already spoken for, or so she maintained.
The scene that Director Lifland couldn’t complete, the one that was now setting up for Take Eighteen, was, at first glance, a simple one. He needed a cutting point — a shot of Rick’s character placing a cup from which he had been drinking onto the table in front of him – to move the action forward onto the next scene.
But the shot was proving difficult. For some unknown reason, Rick was uncomfortable with the concept of him wordlessly sipping from the cup and then placing it down.
Try as he might, Lifland couldn’t get the shot. Rick never got it right, and he looked doubtful and forlorn with each successive take.
Finally, Lifland had seen enough.
Frazzled, he yelled "Cut," then approached Myer, lifted him forcefully out of his chair and frog-marched him off the set into a darkened corner of the sound stage.
There, beside an industrial sized garbage bin overflowing with debris and food remnants, he confronted the actor. "What’s the matter with you?"
"I can’t find my motivation for this scene is the matter."
"You can’t find your motivation for sipping from a cup and then putting it down?"
"That’s right. I can’t imagine why my character would do such a thing."
"Would you like me to tell you why your character would do such a thing?"
"I’d like that, yes."
Lifland moved closer to him. "Do you see that garbage bin over there?"
Myer eyed it. "The stinky one?"
"That’s right. The stinky one. Do you see it?"
"Yeah, I see it. But what does that have to do with anything?"
"You see it, yes?"
Lifland began poking him in the chest. "If you don’t get the action right on the next take, I’m going to lift you up and throw you head first into it. Now do you understand your motivation?"
"Well, yeah. Now I do. Why didn’t you say something before?"
They got the shot on the next take.
"I can handle him," Lisa Jacobs said.
She was sitting in Billy Greenfield’s office at Artists, Inc. With her were the members of Greenfield’s team, two agents and three assistants. They were discussing whether or not to engage Lisa to shepherd Rick Myer through Shooting Star, the new Damon Reynolds-directed movie that Rick was set to headline.
Already known as a ‘problem talent,’ Myer had been cast with the proviso that he be accompanied by a “handler,” someone who would be at his side during his every moment on set, someone who would ensure his presence and his sobriety.
Having learned the conditions of employment, Lisa Jacobs saw an opportunity for herself, a potential stepping stone to the next plateau of the executive hierarchy. If she could corral someone as troublesome and unpredictable as Rick Myer and keep him under wraps, her future would be a whole lot brighter.
When Myer’s team of agents recommended Lisa, he instantly agreed. He confided to Billy Greenfield that although it wasn’t the deciding factor, he was still hot for her and her proximity to him in this new context might serve to elevate his chances. After all, who was as charming and as irresistible as he was? Didn’t the studio have to furnish bodyguards to keep the hordes of women who stormed the gates away from him?
Lisa directed her comment to Billy Greenfield. "He’ll listen to me."
"He’s crazy nuts to get into your pants," Greenfield said.
"That’s the reason. But the fact that he knows he can’t is what will spur him on."
Greenfield turned to his associates. "Any questions?"
No one had any.
Again, there were none.
He turned back to Lisa. "Job’s yours."
"There’s the matter of compensation," she said.
"Name your price."
She did. Two members of Greenfield’s team gasped.
"Done," Greenfield said, standing. "You start on Monday."
"Who tells him?"
"Who tells who?"
"Who tells Rick?"
"He already knows we were interviewing you."
"But he doesn’t know I accepted. So, who tells him?"
"Because I’d like it to be me."
"You want to tell him?"
"So I can delineate the ground rules. If he knows in advance what his parameters are, he’ll operate within them."
"A regular psychoanalyst," Greenfield chortled.
"You got that right," Lisa said.
Shooting Star was about the search for and subsequent rescue of a team of astronauts that was adrift in space.
Myer was cast as the head of the Silicon Valley start-up that provided the funding for the mission. It was to be his first shot at playing an establishment-type figure, one who was under a great deal of stress, torn between his obligations to the firm he headed and his feelings for one of the astronauts.
Due to the tax advantages, filming was set for Halifax, Nova Scotia, on a picturesque peninsula overlooking the Atlantic, which would serve to replicate Orlando, the home base of the now troubled mission.
The first day of filming was a coastal exterior scene, where Rick’s character, unsettled by the imminent danger threatening both his venture and more importantly, his love, urgently paces the shoreline, praying for the mission to make it back safely.
The shot was to take place at magic hour, the time of day when the sun is rapidly setting and the sky is a panoply of rapidly shifting cloud formations and colors.
Preparation was critical because of the time constraints, so in advance of the appointed hour, the crew had already set the shot, and Director Damon Reynolds had rehearsed it with Rick Meyer.
The trouble began when Lisa Jacobs knocked on Rick’s trailer door and was taken aback when her knock went unanswered.
Earlier, after the scene had been blocked, she had run Myer through make up and hair, and had stood by when the wardrobe supervisor dressed him. With nearly an hour’s wait before he would be called to the set, Rick told Lisa he wanted to take a brief nap and would be ready to go when she came to escort him there.
She stepped outside the trailer, sank into one of the camp chairs located in front of it, and took a deep breath.
"So far, so good," she thought. "The son of a bitch is actually behaving like a grown up."
Behavior that turned out to be short-lived.
She was notified by one of the P.A.s that it was time to bring Rick to the set. When he didn’t respond to her knock and her cell phone calls went unanswered, she grabbed a master key, unlocked the trailer door and stepped inside.
He was seated in an armchairs, his script in his lap, seemingly comatose. She shook him repeatedly. He finally opened one of his eyes and peered at her. He seemed not to recognize her.
"Rick," she said, trying to conceal her growing sense of alarm. "It’s me, Lisa."
He reached out and placed his hand on her left breast.
She slapped it away. "You’re wanted on set."
He stared at her, blank-eyed.
"Stand up," she implored and took both of his hands in hers and yanked him to his feet. He was unsteady at best, so she put her arm around him and guided him to the door where he grabbed hold of her crotch.
Again she slapped his hand away. It was a two-step descent and together, with her arm around him for ballast, they climbed down. Then she released him and stepped away.
He gazed at her questioningly for a moment, then promptly fell down.
A nearby P.A. gasped in horror. Lisa signaled for the P.A. to help her get him to his feet. Then the three of them, with Rick in the middle, his arms around both women and his hand splayed out on Lisa’s left breast, headed for the set.
"What’s wrong with him," the First A.D., Adam Normand, asked as he rushed toward them.
"I’m guessing Vicodin," Lisa said.
"Do I look like I’m kidding?"
It was at that moment that Damon Reynolds came loping in their direction. Before he could sense anything having gone awry, he stepped up to Rick. "We’re good to go," he said. "Sun’s perfect."
"Grabbin hudset for lexicon," Rick said.
Reynolds stared at him. "Excuse me?"
"Fish fly skoonj birds."
The Director turned to Lisa Jacobs. "What’s the matter with him?"
Lisa shrank backwards. "I’d say he was loaded."
"Jesus, Lisa. We’ve got less than an hour to get this shot and you’re telling me he’s loaded?"
Reynolds stared in horror at Adam Normand, who stepped over to the actor. "We’re going to shoot now, Rick. Are you ready?"
"Glopping," he said.
Normand took hold of his arm and led him to the set.
By this time, most of the crew was aware that something was seriously wrong. They watched as Normand maneuvered Rick onto his mark.
Normand whispered in Rick’s ear. "Please God. Bring her back to me. I can’t go on without her."
Rick stared at him.
"That’s your line. Say it."
Rick continued to stare at him.
"Say the line."
Normand repeated it.
"Stupid line," Myer said.
Damon Reynolds had joined them. "Rick, you have to snap out of this. I’m going to roll the cameras now and I need you to speak your line."
Rick glanced at him, uncomprehendingly.
Adam Normand had ordered the line to be printed on an oversized cue card which one of the P.A.s was now holding as he stood beside the camera. "In case you have trouble remembering the line."
Damon Reynolds glared at him, shrugged his shoulders as if to suggest “It’s hopeless,” then headed for the camera position.
Lisa Jacobs stepped up to Rick Myer, turned her back to the crew, and smacked his face. Startled, he stared at her.
"What the fuck," he said.
She held up the adjustable four inch monkey wrench she had snatched from the prop table, grabbed his right thumb and jammed it into the wrench head. Then she tightened its jaws. Rick stifled a scream.
"If you screw this up," she threatened, "I will personally render such devastating damage to your thumb that you’ll never be able to use it again. Do I make myself clear?"
He stared at her, a crooked grin beginning to appear on his face. "Pretty clear. So, are you going to sleep with me?"
She stared at him in horror. "You’re deranged. All this time, you’ve been fucking with me, haven’t you?"
He yanked the wrench from her hands. "Are you going to do it with me or not?"
She hesitated for only a moment. "I will if you finish the movie without further incident."
She could sense the wheels turning in his head. "How do I know you’re telling the truth?"
"And I should trust you because?"
"Because I’m the best fuck you’ll ever have. You have no idea what you’d be missing."
"Done deal," he said.
Lisa caught Damon Reynolds’ eye and gave him the thumbs up. He nodded to her, glanced at the Director of Photography, then stepped to his place behind the camera.
He checked the framing of the shot on his TV monitor.
"We’re rolling," the camera assistant announced quietly.
"Sound speed," the recordist added.
"Action," Damon Reynolds called out.
Rick Myer gazed heavenward. As the camera began to inch into a close-up, the fire returned to his eyes. A tear trickled down his cheek.
"Please God," he said in a voice choked with emotion. "Bring her back to me."
He dropped to his knees and like a seriously wounded animal, he bellowed into the darkening skies, "I can’t go on without her."
When Damon Reynolds called, "Cut," Lisa led the applause.
Shooting Star finished on time and on budget.
Executives who saw the dailies commented on how convincing Rick Myer was playing an establishment figure, how moving his performance was as a conflicted modern-day executive, torn between love and career.
The picture went on to achieve record grosses and garnered the promise of Awards consideration.
Lisa never slept with him, but oddly, the experience they shared on Shooting Star bonded them. She had stood up to him. Not having slept with him elevated her in his estimation. He admired her audacity, but more importantly, he had come to trust her.
He made her his Manager. He was her only client and she was devoted to him. She helped him overcome his behavioral issues. He saw the light and changed his ways.
He was still unpredictable, and as Lisa often said of him, he was a pain in the ass. "But, hey, what the hell. It’s Hollywood, after all. Who isn’t a pain in the ass?"
This short story first posted here on March 2, 2017.