The Actor (Part 1)

    Sitting on the stool, before an audience of television studio cameras and lights, he closed his eyes and prepared himself for the charade. He had done two hundred of them, but this was his first in a while. The crew was at their best and trying to show it. The makeup artist hovered longer than necessary, touching up his cheeks. She didn’t have the confidence to flirt—not with him, anyway—but she was determined to stay until she got something to tell her friends about. He told her she was doing a great job, and then he sealed the compliment with a wink. That satisfied her. The lights were brighter than he remembered. Maybe they were always that bright and he never noticed it before. The hosts made a joke and then gave him a brief outline for the upcoming segment, asking for his input. He said it was their show, and that he was happy for them to do their thing. He didn’t really mean it. He didn’t really not mean it. That was just how he always responded in that situation. Helen said it made him appear down-to-earth, and that people liked that. Helen was right. She was one in a million. Got him in the magazines and all over the television when he needed it. But any publicist could do that. Helen was worth her fee because she got him out of the limelight. Complete silence. Not a headline, not a word, not even a rumour. In the last six weeks, all anyone got to see was a photograph of him holidaying on a tropical beach. The picture had been taken three years ago, but the moviegoing public did not need to know that. As far as the moviegoing public was concerned, he had been holidaying. It was best that the moviegoing public did not know where he had really been.

    He stretched his shoulders back, straightened his jacket, put on the trademark smile. Camera two. Five, four, three… “Welcome back, we have a real treat for you this morning. With us in the studio now is one of Hollywood’s biggest stars…” Cue pandering intro, list of blockbuster films, mention of Oscar nomination. “…not to mention, recently voted in the top ten world’s sexiest men of all time…” Joke about the female host being attracted to him—and she was. They always mentioned his looks. “He’s here in Australia, promoting his new movie…” Obligatory spiel, contracts fulfilled. “Jake Rosethorn, thank you for joining us.”

 “It’s a pleasure to be here.”

 Morning shows were generally a drag, but these national ones were all right. Bit of banter, nice profile boost right before a movie release, ticket sales, happy movie studio executives, and a big asking price for his next role. Worth putting in an effort. But this time he was flying on autopilot.

 “How are you enjoying your stay in Australia so far?”

 The network hosts always asked these questions. A ten-year-old could have written them. As a young man, Jake had chased his dream, studied his craft, gone on five hundred auditions, worked mornings as a model, worked nights as a waiter, lived in a tiny apartment with three other people, sold his possessions, spent all his money and refused to give up. But forget that, tell us about how you got to hold a koala at the zoo. It must be what people want to hear, because advertisers laid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to sidle up alongside it.

    Small talk, amusing anecdote, and next they’ll ask about the upcoming movie.  

    The upcoming movie.

    Sh**.

    Sixteen months ago, Jake Rosethorn, the biggest name in Hollywood, began dating Violet Connor, a twenty-eight-year-old marketing consultant. No one heard about it. Helen’s work again. Jake Rosethorn dating a nobody—that would not sell magazines. If he was not going to provide the drama of being romantically involved with a world-famous actress, then better his public image should remain a single (i.e., available) one. Twelve months ago, Jake and Violet moved in together. Again, Helen kept it quiet. Three months ago, Violet told Jake she was seeing someone else and ended her relationship with Jake. Three months ago, Jake Rosethorn, whose growing reliance on alcohol even Helen could not entirely conceal, began a five-day bourbon-drinking marathon, culminating in an emergency visit from paramedics. Six weeks ago, Jake Rosethorn, the biggest name in Hollywood, drunk and numb and weary, checked into rehab and out of the public eye.

    When Jake first made it as an actor, he had light in his soul, which he attributed to the thrill of performing. He performed more and more over the years, yet the light faded. During his thirty days in rehab, Jake thought less and less about acting and fame and movies, until he gave them not a thought at all. The Hollywood part of him shut down. And the light returned.

    In his mind, Jake Rosethorn, the biggest name in Hollywood, had abandoned the movie business. Practically, however, he still had obligations, and those closest to him (whose incomes, coincidentally, were largely dependent on Jake’s success), persuaded him to continue. So here he sat, on a nationally televised program, to promote the movie he shot last year, and for the life of him he could not remember what the movie was about.

© 2021 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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