It’s hot as blazes outside and I’m stuck in a soundstage in Culver City with three other journalists and Brad Pitt. There’s also about a hundred and fifty other crew members scuttling back and forth around the set, which is built to look like the inside of a mouldering home, presumably owned by one of the characters in the film.
They won’t tell us anything really. Every time I ask a question about what it is that we’re actually seeing, our chipper Fox Studios guide Amber bleats out the same answer she’s said, with a few different variations. This is a house that one of the characters in the movie lives at, and another character is staying there, and another is visiting. I’m guessing the house belongs to Ed Norton’s character. We saw Norton earlier, he shuffled by in kind of a daze, one hack with our group called out to him with false, over-familiar friendliness, and when Norton couldn’t place him, the journo had to awkwardly remind him that they’d met at the press junket for two other films. Norton feigns remembering and shakes the guy’s hand, which necessitates shaking hands with everyone else in the group, which just makes me feel worse than I already did. We watch some burly men adjust some lights and David Fincher walks through with about five people surrounding him. He’s issuing orders in a voice barely above a whisper. One of his aides points in our direction, he raises his head, waves vaguely, asks us how we’re all doing. We all reply in nondescript answers, a dull cacophony of boring people uttering pointless words, and he lowers his head back down, already in another world.
As much as we’ve been advised to stay with the group, I can’t take this preening bunch of dicks anymore and I sneak off to craft services, the food table heaped with all kinds of crap that sends my diet packing instantly. I’m helping myself to some powdery donuts when a friendly, British, feminine voice asks me to move over. She says it nicely, at least. I sigh and scoot over a millimeter and look up to see Helena Bonham Carter reaching over me for one of those tiny, delicious donuts.
“Do you like crack, y’know?” She says. I look up, confused.
She takes a big bite, and mouth full, she says, “These are like crack, y’know?”
Relieved I’m not being quizzed about my drug dependencies, I rattle off some small nothingness about Entenmann’s donuts and she nods, crossing her arms and chewing with her mouth open. The donut swirls around, and I think I might be a little sick. I take the chance to sneak in a few questions about the set and working with Fincher, but she blows me off, fixing herself a cup of coffee as she shoves the rest of the donut in her mouth. Her hair is wild, she’s dressed like a homeless person, I make a joke about her jacket being ripped off the body of a sleeping transvestite on Hollywood Boulevard, but it doesn’t land. Her eyes narrow.
“Which department are you with?”
I stutter. “I’m on the press set visit. I’m a writer.”
She sips the coffee tentatively.
“Oh. You’re built like a transpo guy.” She takes another sip and looks at my stomach. “Big… arms.”
She wanders off as I sulk, stuffing another donut into my bag. And another. One more, and it’s time to rejoin the group. Amber, our guide, is thrilled to show us to a secure location where we can observe the filming in progress. There’s too many people on set, fixing the set dressing, adjusting tables and chairs, idly fussing with Ed and Helena’s costumes. (We’re old friends now, you see, I can call them that. Oh how quickly we acclimate.) They’re filming a scene where Helena hits on Ed’s character, walking up behind him, smoking, and acting seductive. They shoot it a couple different ways, small adjustments here and there. The other journalists are furiously taking notes, on what I’m not sure as we can’t quite hear the dialogue and the same things are happening over and over. I reach in my bag and break off a bit of donut, sneaking it into my mouth, chewing slowly.
The air changes, people perk up. Brad Pitt must be nearby. Indeed he is, and he sails through, readying himself for filming. Amber is beside herself. “Well, this is a treat!” She preens, and follows his movements as a flower follows the sun across the daytime sky. In fact, Pitt is having this kind of effect on everyone in our group, I note. Dour, bearded journalist after dour, bearded journalist is grinning like a Freshman at prom, thrilled simply to be in the presence of the Homecoming King. He speaks to Fincher curtly, efficiently, communicating what he must, as simply as possible. He has a powerful presence about him, to be sure. I’m not immune, but I like to think I mask my affection more thoroughly than the others. I recuse myself to the bathrooms after a few takes. Pitt is in his own world, lost in the moment, but he’s lost none of that animal magnetism. I should have read the book this movie is based on, but my sister told me not to ruin the movie for myself. As a result I don’t even know what’s going on, but it’s enough just to watch these three work together. It’s probably going to be a flop as it is, I hear that there’s budget problems and too many locations. Regency Entertainment is planning on pulling the plug any day now.
What I’m really after is a cigarette and I take myself outside Soundstage 7, looking for a quiet smoking area. I light up and stare blankly down the busy walkways between studios. Here I am, on a movie set, doing a job I never could have imagined as a child, ripping donuts out of movie stars hands. I look up at the sky, the sun just tucked away behind a building. For a moment it’s quiet.
“This lighter’s busted.”
I turn, and he’s there. Asking me for my lighter, hand out, impatient.
I fumble in my pocket and hand Brad Pitt my cigarette. He shakes his head and I apologize, finally handing him the lighter. He wanders off a little, but still within ear shot. I think about what I could say, what I could tell this gorgeous millionaire, married to the funniest woman in showbiz, Jennifer Aniston. (That’s magazine talk, but she really is kind of funny.) This man who has it all, even as I am having trouble affording the rent on my studio apartment in Koreatown. I am struck by how struck I am. I want to tell him which of his movie roles I like best, something dumb like that. I talk myself out of it and into it several times as we lazily watch a catering truck zip by on the way to another set. I want to tell him how I’m not like the others, how I don’t care about his fame, only his work. I remind myself that he and I are both at work, and though we are distantly connected, we are still co-workers of a sort. I write about them, he makes them. I sneak another look at him, lounging in a tank top that shows off his expensively sculpted body. I know I only have a few more seconds before fate rips us apart, before an assistant wanders out to fetch this rogue movie star, before they come to save him from this awkward interaction with a normal person.
But, I say nothing. It’s quiet and the afternoon shadows are starting to streak across the pavement.
After another moment, he finishes his cigarette, thanks me and heads back inside.
Amanda Mae Meyncke is a writer living in Los Angeles. She works for a fashion designer and writes about her feelings.