Alright, enough with the initials, monikers and obtuse insider references. It was E. N. who saved my life. Yes, that E.N. The two-time Oscar nominee, the actor’s actor, the thinking woman’s matinee idol. After a decade of spectacular failure, Universal Pictures—yes, that Universal Pictures—hired me to develop a big budget motion picture for him to produce and maybe even star in. Believing that I’d finally managed to “break in” through the heroic intervention of an A-list movie star, friends began inquiring what the real E. was like. “E. is just awesome,” I’d reply, bravely bypassing first name basis to entertain something even cheekier, such as “E-Man,” “Norto” or “Eddy From The Block.” I gushed about how supportive the big guy had been, how close and dedicated a collaborator.
I probably wasn’t the best person to ask about any of this, since E. and I had never met. Apparently this isn’t done when one of you is something of a household name and the other a no-name recent film school graduate. Only after surviving my epic struggle to ink that first big deal did I discover that “uncredited screenwriter” ranks somewhere down near “celebrity stalker” on the slippery Tinseltown totem pole.
Because he’d previously been positioned as a character actor rather than a romantic lead, I didn’t initially comprehend just how big a star he was. Though I was vaguely aware that he’d played a pornographer’s lawyer, a Neo-Nazi skinhead, an underground poker player and a guy who beats up his buddies for sport, I had never caught any of the testosterone-driven flicks in which he did so. No, this was hardly the brand of overheated chick fare I’d have rushed out to the theaters to see three times on opening weekend alone like, oh say, Titanic. If E. were Leo, or even Brad—if he’d been Keanu Reeves, Russell Crowe, or anybody else I’d seen bare ass naked—I’d have lowered my expectations in the way of face time.
It was only by coincidence that E. and I were scheduled to cross paths at a Writer’s Guild screening he was hosting to generate support for a little art house film he produced. Since his partner B. was headed for New York that weekend, I said I’d go ahead and introduce myself. “Oh, I really can’t recommend that,” B. waffled uneasily. My first thought was that B. had secretly been arranging a poolside lunch introduction at E.'s remote, solar-powered canyon home, and here I’d gone and spoiled the surprise. My second thought was that E. had no idea whatsoever that I even existed! Had I never seen an episode of Entourage? When B. admitted to fending off people like me at these events, my big deal “producer” may as well have been Eric, Turtle or the ineffectual Johnny Drama. I stressed that this was an industry gathering, not some P.R. stunt at the Hoboken Galleria. “I am a writer,” I insisted. “I’m his writer.”
“We work with a lot of writers on a lot of projects,” B. responded in that bemused voice grown-ups use to correct adorable toddlers. He assured me that E. would slip out the back door and into a waiting Town Car before the lights came up. “Don’t take it personally,” he added. “Don’t you know celebrities are the new royalty?”
It wouldn’t have mattered a whit to me if E. were the old royalty, with a furry crown on his head and a bejeweled orb protruding from his person! He was also my champion, my white knight, my devoted benefactor, if only by silent proxy. The least I could offer him was a nod of gratitude with a meaningful squeeze of his hand. Part of me knew that B. only meant to shield me from the receiving end of some awkward movie star snub that makes Defamer the next morning beside a horribly unflattering photo. The other part didn’t care.
Determined to assume my hard-won place in E.’s spotlight, I marched into the screening to size him up for myself—albeit from a safe distance, third row, far left. After the film, a remarkably relaxed E. materialized at last, taking center stage to answer audience questions. He seemed jovial, open and warm—genuinely humbled by the writing community’s support of his passion project. Deeply moved by this exhibition of mutual respect, we all quietly pledged our bloc of Academy votes to him throughout the upcoming awards season.
As things wound down, I defied B. altogether to make a beeline for this clearly receptive, ordinary Joe—until a terrible thought stopped me cold. E.N. can make you believe whatever he wants you to believe. That's his thing. Hadn’t he first waltzed onto the big screen a total unknown and waltzed off with with Richard Gere’s career? He’d literally blown away the whole cast ten minutes into the movie with the boat races through Venice and the Mini Cooper races through wherever that was. You might call this man the original illusionist for God’s sake, and I couldn’t let him shatter the last of mine just when I’d finally arrived.
No, I hadn’t come this far to force myself on him like some sort of giddy fan. Anyway, he and I would become inseparable once our film got up and running, working as one to hone the nuances of another powerfully E. N.-esque vehicle. Oh, how the two of us would laugh about the night we almost met while campaigning together for our own round of awards.
Or maybe I’d somehow allowed him to stand as a metaphor for my entire Hollywood experience. Here I’d spent so much time looking for E. I didn’t know how to stop—even when he was standing right in front of me. I watched him disappear into the thinning crowd before I slinked off alone, making a quick visit to the ladies’ room. Exiting moments later, however, I nearly plowed into him. “Hi E.,” I considered sharing with a sly smile. “I’m Julie.”
“Oh yeah?” I imagined him firing back, looking me up and down. “Julie who?”
Instead, our eyes meeting for the briefest moment, I chose to look through Mr. Edward Norton and keep right on walking. Yeah, he might be the king. But we all know who the queen is.