A film actor is as worried about his career as he is about his new co-star: a dog. 2,421 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Garibaldi Fox’s name was not at the gate. The guard recognized him even before the veteran actor handed over his driver’s license and said, “Nice to see you again, Mr. Fox.” But when the guard checked his computer screen, Garry’s name wasn’t listed. And even though he knew who Garry was and why he was at the studio, the guard couldn’t let him onto the lot until the production company vouched for him and called in a drive-on pass.
Garry could have been an asshole about it but he knew screw-ups like not leaving a drive-on could get an assistant fired. And producer Andrew Steele of Steele Standing Productions was not known as a patient man when it came to his assistant or others.
Garry didn’t stress. There were times he played the “star” card but, in truth, he wasn’t in any real hurry to get on set today. The movie was more of a Lassie knock-off than a remake of the much-rebooted Warner franchise Rin Tin Tin. Even though his canine co-star was a German shepherd, everyone in fact took pains to distance the new project Garry was starring in from those long ago iconic dog movies. Garry had heard a story somewhere that whenever Jack Warner was pissed off at a studio writer, he made him write a Rin Tin Tin movie. And hadn’t there also been a TV series in the 1950s?
Garry wondered who else had been offered the part he’d accepted. His new agent wouldn’t tell him and had tried to spin the gig in a positive light. (“This movie could launch a franchise. Hey, even Tom Hanks made a dog movie.”) So the way Garry would probably find out was by reading the movie’s “Trivia” section on IMDB one day: The part was offered to Greg Kinnear, Dylan McDermott and Rob Lowe who all wanted way more money than Garry Fox was willing to be paid.
“Sorry for the delay Mr. Fox,” the guard reappeared and handed Garry the pass as he raised the gate. “Have a good day.”
Garry threaded his way past the office bungalows and headed toward the collection of sound stages that loomed over the one-story buildings. He was glad as he snagged a power bar to see the producers hadn’t cheaped out on craft services. He’d worked on productions where the snacks consisted of a box of bananas and a flat of bottled water. This spread had more variety than a buffet in Vegas. Plus a jar of organic dog treats for his canine co-star. That was a nice touch. He saw the tiny red-headed caterer loading her folding tables into a van with the Hungry Hart logo on the side. He was sorry he had an afternoon call and had missed lunch. Sarai Hart could do things with a pork roast.
Sarai saw him and waved. Garry waved back. She looked like a good time. Well, really, she looked a lot like his ex-wife Lyla. Garry sighed. He still missed Lyla.
“Can I get you anything, Mr. Fox?” a young female production assistant asked, falling into step beside him.
She can’t be much older than my daughter, Garry thought. “I’m good,” he said and saluted her with the power bar. He expected the kid to step off but she kept pace. Must be my designated PA, Gary thought. She’s cute. Like a teenage Jada Pinkett Smith.
“What’s your name?” he asked her.
“Riley,” she replied.
“I’m Garry.” She smiled at him, the kind of smile he got from twentysomethings who were indulging him because he’d once been the star of the hottest police procedural on CBS. Not the kind of smile that meant, “Let’s get naked.”
He and Riley passed a woman pouring Fiji bottled water into two dog bowls while a big German Shepherd sat next to her with quiet dignity and a silly little pooch danced around in tight circles.
“So this is my co-star?” Garry asked, stopping to observe.
Surprised, the trainer looked up a little flustered for a second. She blinked when she recognized the actor, then turned to the German Shepherd. “Bruce, say hello to Mr. Fox.”
The big dog stood up and held out his paw for a shake.
Garry gravely shook the paw, then looked down at the little dog who had stopped dancing around and was now practically vibrating with energy as she awaited for his attention.
“That’s Chica,” the trainer said.
Garry bent down to give Chica a good scruff.
“And who’s Chica? Bruce’s fluffer?”
The PA didn’t get the porn reference but the trainer did. Her eyes narrowed, and she gave him a look that said, “You’re an asshole” as clearly as if she’d spoken the remark. Which she didn’t.
“Sorry,” Garry said with his best smile. “I haven’t had any caffeine today. Makes me stupid.”
The dog trainer obviously agreed. “We’ll see you on the set,” she said, in a tone that suggested she was not looking forward to it. “C’mon, guys,” she said to her dogs and they followed her.
Embarrassed, Garry turned to the young PA and hugged himself pretending to shiver. “Brrr.” The twentysomething laughed.
Actors, dog handler Naomi Branson thought, they just cannot help themselves. She was embarrassed to admit that she’d been a little nervous about meeting Garibaldi Fox in person. His show Cold As Ice had run for ten years and spawned two spin-offs. Her girlfriends watched the show because they thought the guy who played his ex-convict brother was hot, but she’d only had eyes for him. He’d been in his late 30s then, as broodingly handsome as a 50s matinee idol but with a more masculine edge. Even at 53 he was still a good-looking ma, even up close. Naomi’s mother thought so, too. When Naomi had told her that Bruce was going to co-star with Garibaldi Fox, her mother had hinted strongly that she’d like to drop by the set sometime, which was something her mother never did. She was a nurse at Valley Presbyterian Hospital and liked to say real life left her no room for reel life. But apparently she was willing to make an exception for Garibaldi Fox.
Naomi was somewhat bemused by her mother’s enthusiasm. The only other showbiz person whom her mom had ever wanted to meet was Patrick Stewart. Naomi had “made it so” and the actor had been absolutely lovely to her mom. And to Naomi. And to Bruce, too. Patrick Stewart was made of awesome.
The male was the alpha of his pack, Bruce could tell. And despite Naomi’s “I’m not happy” tone of voice, Bruce could tell alphaMom was attracted to the man. She had the special female scent he usually only caught when she was watching the magic window. There was one male she liked to watch best of all and she kept his windows in little square plastic cases on her bookshelf where she could watch them any time she wanted.
Bruce wondered if the male had a mate.
Garry had been a little worried about working with a dog. He’d heard horror stories about filming with animals, but this dog was a pro. Clearly the green-eyed trainer Garry had pissed off was really good at her job. The dog was better at hitting his marks than some human actors he had worked with.
Garry’s often rude best friend had joked that the role as a slightly befuddled single dad caught up in animal antics was better than playing a TV dad. But his BFF could afford to joke. He’d quit the business twenty years ago to become a lawyer and now he had a house on the good side of Ventura Boulevard, a condo in Big Bear and retirement plans in Costa Rica where he could unplug from anything remotely resembling social media.
“You’ll be bored in a week,” Garry had told him but secretly wished his own future didn’t involve playing second fiddle to a dog. Garry instead wondered why no one had cast him in The Expendables. He wasn’t quite old enough to kick it with Sly and Arnold but he wasn’t that much older than Jason Statham.
Garry’s former agent had dropped him shortly after the actor’s 50th birthday, saying it was just too hard to sell him as an action star anymore. Garry had protested, pointing out that Kurt Russell had shown up in the last Fast & Furious movie and how old was he? And what about Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan playing action heroes? Weren’t they geriatric enough to collect Social Security? “Why can’t Pierce just go back to Ireland and take Liam with him? Neeson is older than I am,” Garry had said to his ex-agent in one last undignified effort to hang onto her.
“You’re no Liam Neeson, Garry,” his agent had said. And, in his head, Garry heard her add, he has a particular set of skills.
So he’d gone with a new rep working for an agency somewhat lower on the food chain than an alphabet tenpercentery. They’d had a candid chat about what was and what wasn’t doable. “I can still get you work,” the new agent promised, “if you’re not too picky about the parts and don’t mind shooting on location.”
Garry was not in a position to be picky. “Go for it,” he’d urged.
Hell of it was Garry would have been fine if he hadn’t trusted his business manager so completely. She was no Bernie Madoff but she’d embezzled almost everything he’d earned for the last 25 years and now he was back in the Hollywood Thunderdome fighting to the death for parts with more than one scene.
Yes, he knew all about Judi Dench winning an Oscar for her blink-and-you-missed it role in Shakespeare In Love. But he couldn’t think of a single man who’d won an Academy Award for what amounted to a cameo role. Nor did he want to be the first. Maybe he should think harder about TV. He’d done the occasional guest spot but he’d shied away from doing another series. He wasn’t eager to play another cop/lawyer/doctor. Where was his Breaking Bad? Hadn’t Cranston been his age when he landed the part of Walter White? And look where he was now. Not playing second fiddle to a dog, that was for damn sure. Garry was momentarily diverted by the phrase “second fiddle”? Wouldn’t it be funnier to say “second piccolo”?
When the dinner break came, Garry asked the trainer if he could spend the time with Bruce to bond. She’d said okay but instructed Garry not to feed the dog people food. He’d agreed, but when he saw what was on the menu, he couldn’t resist slipping the dog a mouthful of roast chicken. Sarai’s craft services did the best roast chicken he’d ever eaten. After they finished their dinners, the dog followed him into the bathroom and stood by the door patiently as if standing guard. Garry had never been pee-shy but it was still a little disconcerting having a dog watch him at the urinal. He wondered about the protocol.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Plenty of males had made water in alphaMom’s house so Bruce knew what man-pee smelled like. And there was something wrong with this one’s scent. Bruce went over to the man to show him where the bad smell was coming from but the male misunderstood what Bruce was doing and panicked, scrambling away like he thought Bruce was trying to hurt him.
Naomi heard the actor scream.
Bruce was barking, and that set Chica off.
“What’s going on?” Naomi asked the nearest PA as they both headed toward the star’s trailer.
“Your dog bit his junk,” the PA said, breaking into a run.
Naomi didn’t have to ask who “he” was. By the time she pushed through the scrum of people gathering at the entrance to the trailer, all she could see was Garibaldi Fox holding onto his bloody crotch and Bruce quivering on the floor.
“Your fucking dog attacked me,” Garry yelled when he saw her.
“He wouldn’t do that,” Naomi said as she knelt next to her dog. Bruce whimpered and tried to crawl into her lap like a puppy.
“What did you do to him?” Naomi demanded of Garry.
The actor, who was still clutching his privates, looked at her like she was crazy. “Your dog bit me,” he said. “He should be put down.”
Naomi pulled Bruce closer to her. Please, no, she thought.
By the time the paramedics arrived, things were starting to escalate. Animal control arrived. Someone from the studio’s legal department was walking around the set looking intense. A PA had taken a picture of Garibaldi’s bloodied crotch and sent it to TMZ. The movie’s publicist was already lying.
Naomi sat with her dogs, feeling miserable, waiting to be released for the day, wondering if she’d be back tomorrow. The director had disappeared, and his assistant didn’t seem to know anything but assured her information was coming.
Meanwhile, Garry had been taken to St. Joseph’s where the doctor examining him saw something he didn’t like. He ordered some tests and told the lab to expedite them. He gave Garry a Lidocaine shot and intravenous morphine that left him floating.
Then the doctor went down to the hospital lab to check on one particular test for himself. When he saw the results of the PHI, he sat down with his patient, whose happy narcotic haze was starting to wear off. The doctor didn’t have much of a bedside manner and it was his policy not to sugarcoat bad news.
“Mr. Fox,” the doctor said, “you have prostate cancer.”
Garry looked at the doctor, trying to process what had just been said. This guy is fucking with me, the actor thought. Where’s Lyla? he wondered. Lyla always handled the doctor stuff.
“Cancer?” Garry finally said. He shook his head in denial.
“The dog smelled it,” the doctor said. “There are studies. Dogs can smell prostate cancer in a man’s urine.”
Gary just nodded to himself as if some cosmic question had just been answered.
“The dog wasn’t trying to hurt you. He was saving your life.”
“I fucking hate dogs,” Garry responded. He first wondered how to keep the diagnosis a secret. Then it occurred to him that this was the first day of shooting, so replacing him would be no problem.