Painting by Richard Phillips
I was in Bungalow 89 of the Chateau Marmont, the old hotel where the stars stay. The hotel is tucked behind a wall, off Sunset Boulevard, just west of Laurel Canyon, right in the heart of Hollywood. Bungalow 89 is in the cottage area, apart from the main building, where the pool is. It was dusk.
Bungalow 89 is not famous like Bungalow 3 (Belushi) or Bungalow 2 (Rebel Without a Cause). It is only famous in my own mind, because it’s where I first met Gus Van Sant, and because I have been living in it for the past nine months while they do repairs on my house. When I met Gus here, he sat in the comfy chair in the living room and played a little red guitar and talked to me. It was back when he was casting the supporting roles for his film about Kurt Cobain’s last days alive. The role he liked me for eventually went to Lukas Haas, the kid from Witness, with Harrison Ford. Haas was one of the original members of the Pussy Posse, the group centered on the young Leo DiCaprio, back in the 90s, post-Titanic and pre-Scorsese.
Lukas Haas had a gay sex scene in Gus’s film. It was with Scott Green, the guy who talks about having to fuck a guy with a big cock in the Chinese-café scene in My Own Private Idaho. His monologue was probably based on at least some reality; he had helped River Phoenix do research for his young-hustler role in the same film. Which reminds me of a story Gus later told me about River in Portland, during preproduction. River was pulled over by the cops for wearing jeans with a hole in the front so big that his dick hung out.
There was a Hollywood girl staying at Chateau Marmont. She had gotten a key to my room from the manager. I heard her put the key into my front door and turn it, but I had slid the dead bolt and that thing—I don’t know what you call it; it’s like a chain but made of two bars—that kept the door from opening.
She said, “James, open the door.”
Across the room was a picture of a boy dressed as a sailor with a red sailor cap, and except for his blondish hair (closer to my brother’s color) he looked like me.
She said, “Open the door, you bookworm punk blogger faggot.”
But anyway, the gay sex scene in Last Days, the one with Lukas Haas and Scott Green, was ultimately cut out.
The Pussy Posse must have been around the time Leo shot Celebrity with Woody Allen. Leo played an outrageous party-monster actor who trashes hotel rooms and flies around the world having fun with his celebrity.
Around this time Leo was spotted by the crazy producer of American Psycho (who would eventually finance Buffalo ’66 and Spring Breakers) walking around the balcony of a high-rise in New York with a white parrot. Even though Christian Bale had been cast as Patrick Bateman, this crazy producer—let’s call him Crazy Producer—made an offer to Leo for the role. That sent the movie’s development into chaos: There was a moment when the casting was up in the air, and Crazy Producer was at Cannes and could claim that he had the star of Titanic, the most beloved film of teenage girls around the world, about to play the most despicable character in American literature in decades, a torturer and murderer of women. The concept was better than the actualization would have been.
It was the high-flying New York period. Leo was one of the cameramen on Harmony Korine’s Andy Kaufman–inspired, drug-fueled experiment called Fight Harm, in which Harmony picked fights with bouncers around the city and got beat up while his friends filmed it (David Blaine was also one of the cameramen). This project ended when a bouncer put Harmony’s leg on the curb and jumped on it.
My phone rang. She let it ring until I answered.
“You’re not going to let me sleep, are you?”
“Do you think this is me? Lindsay Lohan. Say it. Say it, like you have ownership. It’s not my name anymore.”
“I just want to sleep on your couch. I’m lonely.”
“We’re not going to have sex. If you want to come in, I’ll read you a story.”
“A bedtime story?”
“It’s called ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish.’”
Do you think I’ve created this? This dragon girl, lion girl, Hollywood hellion, terror of Sunset Boulevard, minor in the clubs, Chateau Demon? Do you think this is me?
Photo by Adarsha Benjamin
And oh yeah, after doing Milk, Gus drove me around Portland, giving me the “Idaho tour,” including the street in the heart of Downtown where the real hustlers had stood, a street called “Camp” because it had been a squatter camp back in the 30s and the name was passed on to the young hustlers of the 70s and 80s without their really knowing its origins. He showed me the condemned building that Keanu and River stay in with the rest of the homeless kids, which is now a restaurant, and also a run-down motel where the production stayed during the first week of shooting, the week they shot the “This road looks like a fucked-up face” scene and Keanu was ready to quit the film because he wasn’t feeling good about his performance (it turned out to be one of his all-time best) and River came into Keanu’s little hotel room, drunk from being in the bar with Udo Kier, and jumped on Keanu’s bed and pretended to be the Incredible Hulk, to make Keanu lighten up.
Then she made me wait for her. I was sitting in the comfy chair that Gus once sat in, strumming his little red guitar. I looked at the painting, you know what I mean, of the blond boy. A portrait of my ghost brother—I thought that he was someone Gus would have liked.
And out my window, above the red ceramic tiles of the Spanish roofs, just to the left, was the billboard owned by Gucci, so close it was essentially part of the hotel, and on it was my oversize face, for, you see, I was a model for their fragrances, clothes, and eyewear. In this particular ad I am sitting, with a goatee, in an old-fashioned blue Ferrari, looking out into the night: a concept designed by Nicolas Winding Refn, of Drive fame, of The Pusher Trilogy fame. His direction to me when we shot the Gucci commercial was always, no matter what I did, “Less is more; nothing is everything.” I think he used the same direction on Only God Forgives.
She knocked on the door. She was in her pajamas. She had bare feet.
Once upon a time a guy, a Hollywood guy, read some Salinger to a young woman who hadn’t read him before. Let’s call this girl Lindsay. She was a Hollywood girl, but a damaged one. I knew that she would like Salinger, because most young women do. I read her two of the Nine Stories, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor.” “Bananafish” was great because it has a nagging mother on the other end of the phone line, nothing like Lindsay’s real mother, but still, the mother-daughter thing was good for her to hear. And there’s the little girl in the story, Sibyl, and the pale suicide, Seymour, who kisses her foot and talks about bananafish with her, those fantastic phallic fish who stick their heads in holes and gorge themselves—it should be called “A Perfect Day for Dickfish”—and then, bam, he shoots himself.
Then I read “For Esmé,” which is basically the same story as “A Perfect Day for Dickfish.” A man goes to war. He is traumatized. Then he is saved by the innocence of a young girl. The structure of this story is very nice. Yes, stories, stories, stories, stories. S-t-o-r-i-e-s.
And what do we say about all this obsession with innocence? Salinger would be a companion to young women, real young women, for years, and then, one fateful night, he would sleep with them and the friendship would end. After that, after he fucked them, they were no longer the innocent ones running through the rye to be caught before they went over the cliff. They had gone over, and he had been the one to push them.
And I thought of that billboard and what it had been for me, thanks to Gucci; that huge sign above Sunset, the main vein of Los Angeles; the time I clambered across the tiles and pulled myself up to stand beneath it; myself a small, scruffy speck in a Rolling Rock hat, and above was the Gucci version 30 times my size in a svelte black tux. And later, when Gus and I did the show at Gagosian, where we showed a new cut of My Own Private Idaho that focused mostly on River’s character, Mike Waters (“Waters” like “River”) and called it My Own Private River, Gucci let us use the billboard, and we put a photo of the back of River’s head, because the show was called Unfinished, and River had lived a life that was unfinished. This was the same weekend as the Oscars, the ones that I hosted, and behind the scenes of that show, that wonderful show, Terry Richardson shot photos; and we had this plan to do a book together with photos (him) and poems (me) about the Oscars, and the Chateau and Lindsay Lohan, and we were going to come back to the hotel and do a shoot with Lindsay, who seemed to be doing better at that point but maybe wasn’t actually. But I was so unhappy about the Oscars because they had cut my Cher sequence—I was supposed to sing the song from Burlesque, “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” dressed as Cher—that I didn’t meet with Lindsay for the photos. Later she leaked a false story to the press that Terry was shooting a sex book with her and me.
Photo by Daily Billboard Blog
Now we were lying in bed. I wasn’t going to fuck her. She had her head on my shoulder. She started to talk. I let her.
“Before things got bad, I was in New York for the premiere of a film I did with Robert Altman and Meryl Streep. After the movie I took James Franco and Meryl’s two young daughters to the club du jour, Bungalow 8, in the Meatpacking District. It was my place. All my friends were there: school friends, my mother looking her slutty best, bodyguards, and Greeks. We had our own table in the corner, our own bottle.
“I took two Oxycontins and things got bad. The DJ was this bearded dude named Paul. I remember requesting Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’.’ I remember sitting back down, and I remember trying to speak up, to talk to that cute boy in a red gingham shirt, James.
“I was slurring. My words rolled around and got sticky and didn’t come out.
“My friend from school kept talking to him, trying to be cute, but she was only there because of me. I told Barry, my bodyguard, to take her away from our table. And he banished her.
“I took James back to the bathroom. ‘You know why Amy put mirrors all around in here?’ I said.
“‘So that you can watch yourself fuck.’
“He didn’t fuck me, that shit. And what was he doing there anyway? On my night. My night with Meryl, my night when everything was right, when I got everything I wanted. Almost.
“I fucked one of the Greeks instead: a big-schnozzed, big-dicked, drunk motherfucker. We did it in the bath. That was the best night of my life.”
Then she fell asleep.
The picture of the sailor was still there, implacable, eternal, as the first rays of the sun lit up my face on the Gucci billboard outside. The billboard me was the vampire me: He sucked something from all the people in all the cars that passed below.
And he was immortal. Immortally young; immortally sex.
I ran my fingers through her hair and thought about this girl sleeping on my chest, our fictional Hollywood girl, Lindsay. What will she do? I hope she gets better. You see, she is famous. She was famous because she was a talented child actress, and now she’s famous because she gets into trouble. She is damaged. For a while, after her high hellion days, she couldn’t get work because she couldn’t get insured. They thought she would run off the sets to party. Her career suffered, and she started getting arrested (stealing, DUIs, car accidents, other things). But the arrests, even as they added up, were never going to be an emotional bottom for her, because she got just as much attention for them as she used to get for her film performances. She would get money offers for her jailhouse memoirs, crazy offers. So how would she ever stop the craziness when the response to her work and the response to her life had converged into one? Two kinds of performance, in film and in life, had melted into one.
But I suppose a tabloid-performance run is limited for anyone. After a while it’s just an out-of-control vehicle running on fumes.
The masks are just as important as the reality. The masks are our reality. Everyone’s reality. Life is a performance. When an actor gives a good performance, often people say, “What good choices.” So if life is your grand performance, have you made good choices?
I dreamed about vampires, and a voice came to me. It was a demon. The demon said, “I live on the power of celebrity, and I am celebrity. I am the power bestowed on people like you by all the myriad reflectors of your celebrity: the tabloids, the blogs, the fan pages, the way we sit in fans’ minds, the way people read us through your roles in films, etc. This is our public persona, partly created by you and your actions, and partly by these reflectors that act in concert and become me.” It was a voice of permission, a voice of castigation, a voice of supreme supreme.
“Do all. You are immortal and live on forever, on the screens and in the minds of the peoples. Your physical self lives above their heads, in the dream hotels, in the chateaus of rarefied space, and your spirit inhabits their minds, while your teeth and cock feed on their bodies.”
I saw them all, in different positions, and the same positions, and I, like a sculptor, would position them and mold them. Or like a choreographer, I would put them through the same paces, again and again.
There is an area off the main hotel building where the bungalows are. At the center of the arrangement of chalk bungalows there is an oval pool like a blue pill, huddled by ferns, palms, and banana trees. Tended to be wild, webbed by a nexus of stone walkways. In the day, in summer, mermaids and hairy mermen drape the brickwork. At night the underwater lights electrify the pool zinc-blue, and the surface cradles the oven-red reflection of the neon Chateau sign above Sunset, above the paparazzi and miniskirts.
For nine months, while they fixed my house, I was staying in the bungalows. First in 82, next to the little Buddha in the long, trickling fountain. Lindsay Lohan was there too. The Chateau was her home, and the staff were her servants. She got my room key. One night she came in at 3 AM. I woke up on the couch, trying not to look surprised. Instead of fucking her, I read her a short story about a neglected daughter.
Every night Lindsay looked for me. My Russian friend, Drew, was always around like a wraith. He, like the blond painting, was my doppelgänger, writing scripts about rape and murder. A Hollywood Dostoyevsky, he had gambled his money away. We played a ton of ping-pong. My room was on the second level, the exterior walls hugged by vines. Every night Lindsay looked for me, and I hid. Out the window was Hollywood.
This story will be included in James Franco's forthcoming book, Hollywood Dreaming (Insight Editions), to be published on September 23. James is also the author of the short-story collections Palo Alto and Actors Anonymous.