I Knew Roman Coppola Before Oscar Did
I woke up yesterday and did what I usually do this time of year, which is check to see who got nominated for an Oscar. I’m always a bit surprised to discover that none of the nominees is me? I’m like the Susan Lucci of the Oscars, except for the fact I’m not in any films, or TV shows, or behind-the-camera jobs. But should I be consistently snubbed because of that?
Despite my bitter disappointment I was thrilled to see that my former producer, Roman Coppola, has been nominated along with Wes Anderson for Best Original Screenplay for Moonrise Kingdom, an idiosyncratic, charming film that should’ve made the Best Picture of the Year list.
But enough of acknowledging the genius of other people. As always this is all about me. I’d like to share the story of what it was like being cast in one of Roman’s early endeavors.
Roman, if you’re reading this, email me. I’d be happy to collaborate on your next project if I can squeeze it in between blog posts.
MY STORY. The year is 1989 and heavy metal is about to peak before it begins its precipitous fall:
“I think you should hire the hot one with the tits.”
“Okay Joey, so Shannon doesn’t have any tits, but she can act. We need someone who can act.”
I’m not supposed to be hearing any of this because I’m sitting in the waiting room just outside the casting office, but they left the door open and I can hear everything.
I glance down at my slandered breasts. They tremble in outrage. Actually they’re not large enough to tremble, the best they can do is quiver. I console them with a promise to buy them a padded bra for our next audition.
I’m sitting next to my competition, Lana, “the hot one with the tits.” Is it my imagination or did her double D’s just inflate two inches? Is she hiding a pneumatic device under those chihuahuas?
We’re both vying for the female lead in a movie called Smash, Crash and Burn about a real-life heavy metal band named Brunette. This is my first audition for a film and Roman Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s son, is producing it.
Could it be that I am only one … or possibly three cup sizes away from meeting the man who directed the scene where Michael Corleone grabs the head of his duplicitous older brother Fredo and delivers the immortal lines, “I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!”?
Roman emerges from the casting office and looks at me. He wears the face of a doctor who’s about to tell me I have genital warts. “Ladies, you were both incredible and we really appreciate you auditioning. We’ll be in touch with our decision soon.”
Lana takes this moment to stand and stretch her chest. Lead Brunette guitarist Joey steps out of the room just in time to catch sight of her straining mammaries and groans like the Titanic going down.
Two weeks later I return from work looking like Sissy Spacek in Carrie after the mean kids dump pig’s blood all over her at the prom. I was expediting food for a fellow waiter during the theater rush, two plates per arm, when the plates on my left arm, one bearing spinach tortellini, the other an exquisite 8 oz. center-cut filet mignon, began to wobble.
It’s true I’d quaffed half a glass of Rutherford pinot a Japanese tourist left in his glass in the busboy’s station, but my blood alcohol level was well beneath the food-expediting limit.
I tried to correct the plate wobble by stepping back away from my delivery entry trajectory only to step directly into our wine steward who had just corked a 100$ Opus One cab right behind me.
This collision set the plates on my arm wobbling and ultimately catapulting in the opposite direction, which would be over the lip of the wall separating the upper deck of the restaurant from the lower deck. I watched with catatonic wonder as of all those circular, green tortellinis exploded like so much doughy shrapnel across tables 22, 14 and 12, landing in water glasses, onto prescription reading lenses, into the sequined laps of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion symphony patrons.
But that was nothing compared to the singular devastation of the rare filet which dropped straight down from its plate onto the silver-haired head of a Junior League philanthropist, then left its buttery, bloody trail down her Chanel powdered face and into the front of her mint-green, I’m sorry to say, age-inappropriately low-cut silk jacquard blouse.
It was her operatic shriek that caused the wine steward to convulsively jump and pour the entire contents of the Opus One over my left shoulder and down the front of my white, starched shirt, some of it slipping down the front of my pants and pooling in my underwear.
I used the commotion from the lower deck to duck into a bus station, retrieve my purse and high tail it out of the emergency exit, which unfortunately set off a screaming alarm. I scampered quickly to the parking garage elevator, muttering, “Come on, come onnnnnn,” while waiting for it to arrive.
Had I been a senator running from an assassin I’d be six feet under right now. I managed to get to my car in P3 unseen, but am certain I left what appears to be blood from a gunshot wound in my wake. A true detective would take a taste and determine the Opus One was a 1979 vintage.
I enter my apartment to the phone ringing. I don’t answer in case someone ratted me out to Lukas, the humorless, German bistro manager. He’s likely calling me to come back and clean the red wine off the restaurant carpet using only lye and my own tongue and then subsequently to fire me.
I let my answering machine pick up.
“This is Shannon, please leave a message with your name, phone number, time and purpose of your call, if you could also send a blood sample and a lock of your hair I can expedite the return call all the more efficiently.” I don’t know why my roommate doesn’t think that’s funny. BEEEEPPPPPP.
“Um … okay … I hope this is the answering machine of Shannon Bradley.” Another voice chimes in. “We can always call the third girl on the list if you don’t have the right number.” “Yeah, maybe we should. Who knows if this is her number and shooting starts Friday …”
“Hello?” I shriek, favoring the hernia I’ve given myself lunging for the phone.
“Is this Shannon?” Careful now. Caaarrreeeffuulll.
“Yeah, well, so you’ve been cast as the female lead in Smash, Crash and Burn.” “Wha..?” “You got the role of Robin.” “I thought they’d hire the one with the tits?” “They did. But Lana booked a national commercial that conflicts with the movie so she took the commercial because it pays four times as much.” “Oh. Thanks?”
I lie in bed awake that night. What if this movie launches my career and my whole life changes and I lose my anonymity and become really rich and have to take uppers and downers to deal with the pressure ultimately having a nervous breakdown and being shipped off to the Betty Ford Clinic in Palm Springs?
Or what if this isn’t a legitimate movie and I’ve quit my waitressing job and the checks bounce and I end up unemployed living under an overpass in MacArthur Park?
Why did I audition for this fucking film!
Two nights later I find myself in dire circumstances. Murder’s afoot. It’s midnight in the Rainbow Room on Sunset Boulevard. I’m supposed to meet the director of Smash, Crash and Burn here, but it’s a meeting that may never take place because cutthroats, also known as hair bands, surround me.
I don’t go to music concerts and clubs because I learned in a seventh grade filmstrip that if you try PCP you might jump off of a building because you think you can fly. Or people on drugs might try to inject you with drugs and you could end up like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby in a group orgy with the Devil.
At this very moment, a never-shorn bat-head-biting beast is glued to my back amidst the clamoring crowd at the bar.
I risk a look over my shoulder. All I can see is a Death’s Head tattoo on a bare, nipple-pierced chest and what appears to be a nose ring emerging from a bush of hip length hair.
My bladder lets go.
“David!” yells the killer directly into the external auditory canal of my right ear. Deafened though I am, I see a notably tall, kind-faced man wending his way through the crowd. He has long hair too; only straight and silky like a peaceful Native American Indian who is at one with the land and maybe on peyote, which is a gentle drug. He fits the description of my director.
I wave frantically. But, David looks past me to my likely assassin. “Kruger, hey Kruger, man, good to see you!” He reaches over the top of my head to clasp hands with the terrifying miscreant behind me. They execute an intricate, brothers-from-another-mother handshake as I’m sandwiched between them.
Someone’s long hair falls into my mouth tickling my uvula.
“How’s you mom, man?” “Thanks for asking,” sighs Kruger in an unforseen falsetto. “She’s in remission now.” “Thank God for that. You still going to be in the movie?” This assassin has a role in Smash, Crash and Burn? Perhaps things are worse than I imagined. Maybe I’ve been cast in a snuff film? Zoetrope Studio’s deep in the red, you just never know in Hollywood?
“Are you Shannon?” David is looking down at me. I’ve been recognized. There’s no escape now without making a scene.
“Yes,” I reply with the preternatural calm of someone that’s a lot more dangerous than she looks, “that’s me.”
“Bold choice wearing pink to the Rainbow Room,” notes David. “Please tell me that’s not a twinset,” Kruger condescends.
“I just graduated from USC. But I wasn’t in a sorority or anything.”
Strangely, Kruger and David exchange a dubious look.
“Don’t worry, David, I’m a chameleon, I can blend into any role because I’m a serious actress. I channel the voice of Divinity through my body as an instrument.”
Kruger flags the bartender. “Cuervo Gold tequila shooters,” he nods toward me, “She’s gonna need ‘em.”
How did it get to be three in the morning? Kruger’s such a sweet, little, furry, little man … and all the metal men tease him cuz his hair’s not real, he has to wear extensions made out of yak hair …
I yanked on them and one came out …
But he’ll show them all cuz he’s gonna be so good in Smash, Crash and whatsit. I just hope his mother lives to see it!
It’s my first night of shooting. Large breasts, which seem to be a leitmotif at this juncture in my life, surround me.
“Here you got the first twins to be Playmates, Mary and Maddy Collinson … October 1970. Here you got the first Playmate to get a boob job, Sue Williams … April 1965. Personally I like a natural breast, but who asked me?”
Bill Gazzarri, wearing his trademark white fedora, chomping his iconic cigar, is showing me the framed photographs of every Playboy Playmate in the history of time that line the walls near the restrooms in his eponymous rock-and-roll nightclub Gazzarri’s on Doheny and Sunset.
I’m shooting my first scene in the movie where the boys of Brunette have just rocked a packed house, but the bar Gazzarri’s bar manager insists they still have to Pay-to-Play. That’s where I come in. I’m the Gazzarri’s band booker who has a nose for talent. I stand up for the band and we all get thrown out and Brunette hires me to be their kick-ass manager.
I really need to psychologically prepare for my scene, you know, what’s my motivation? Can I use the outrage from that time I was unfairly charged with tackling and kissing boys during recess in the second grade somehow?
But Mr. Gazzarri won’t leave me alone and I find the jugs on these women distracting. Then it hits me. I can use these objectified women as my inspiration! Barbie Benton smiles beatifically down at me from between the twin aureoles of her breasts. I will fight for her and Shannon Tweed and Susie Scott Krabacher and all the other playmates, because by standing up for Brunette I’m demonstrating women are more than just sex objects. We’re leaders and role models!
“And action!” calls David.
I storm the stage in five-inch spiked stilettos, skin-tight pleather pants, prosthetic breasts and mid-riff baring bustier and strike a blow for Feminism.
There doesn’t seem to be any way to get around it. I’m going to have to kiss Brunette’s lead guitarist Jay. He’s my love interest in the movie. It’s a sacrifice. He’s six-foot three and weighs one hundred thirty pounds in platform heels. Vampires have more melanin in their skin than Jay does. The amount of hair spray his coif entails is a catalyst for erosion of the atmosphere. Yes he has a sweet dimple and perfectly straight, white teeth, but he’s always surrounded by these fawning, ample groupies boasting tattoos of black hearts pierced by arrows reading “Cherry Pie” or “Whisker Biscuit” or “Trout Basket” or “Taffy Puller” that have probably given them hepatitis B.
Conversely Jay can’t wait to kiss me. It’s obvious by the way he pretends not to find me attractive, asking David if we really need a love scene since my character is kind of cerebral and his character wouldn’t be into someone like that.
I inform David that Jay’s character is probably used to women who talk about drugs and blow-jobs. He tells David my character is probably used to guys who read The Economist and have erectile dysfunction. David tells us we’re doing the love scene because there’s no time for re-writes.
“Shannon, please try to hit your mark or the whole shot is out of focus,” growls cinematographer, Billy O.
I’m having trouble hitting my mark, but all these technical things get in the way of a riveting performance, do I really have to be in focus the whole time?
“And, action!” shouts David.
I enter the band’s rec-room as my character, Robin and catch Jay’s character, Slayer, making out with a groupie. I emote, scowling unappreciatively, mentally lumping him in with all the other sex-crazed show men, my heart breaking just a little.
“Shannon, you missed your mark again!” yells Billy O.
Suddenly Jay shrieks, “In Bay City when you cross the line your nuts are mine!” To which I rejoin, “We gotta man with a broken hip and some asshole wants a new top for his Caddy?”
Perhaps I’ve underestimated Jay. Anyone who can spontaneously quote Starsky and Hutch probably doesn’t have syphilis eating his brain.
Jay and I are five minutes away from the Kiss Countdown. Jay and I wait in an alley with a crowd of half-naked female extras in thigh-high zipper boots with handgun heels. I’m wearing thigh-high zipper boots with handgun heels too, but my GATE program education shines through.
When David calls action the screaming extras are supposed to chase Jay and I to our limousine. Once we’re closeted safely inside our characters will share a soulful kiss.
“You guys are gonna tongue wrestle!” yells bassist Joey, dry humping me from behind.“You’re gonna box tonsils, suck face, slurp syrup!”
Suddenly Jay yells, “Bay City P.D. Freeze, asshole!” and throws Joey into a stack of empty cardboard boxes. “Huggyyyyy Beeearrrr!” I cry gratefully and jump on Jay’s back. His brittle knees give under my weight and we both go down.
The moment has come. Billy O aims a camera at me and Jay through the sunroof of the limo. David prepares to call action.
“Tongue or no tongue?” asks Jay. “No tongue.” “Open mouth with no tongue or closed mouth like two grannies kissing.” “Open mouth with no tongue.” “Did you brush your teeth?” “Of course I brushed my teeth!” “I’m suffering from gingivitis.” “I have necrosis.” “God you’re sexy.”
Jay’s lips meet mine. His lips are soft. He smells good. He keeps his tongue to himself. We have to do it again. And again. And again. I guess I don’t mind. It’s nice. I realize after the last take that in a funny way Jay’s my first kiss.
Two nights later I wake up in bed with Nicolas Cage …
Well okay. We weren’t in bed together, but I fell asleep on a couch during our night shoot and awoke to see him standing right next to me.
I want to run my fingers through that wild forest of electrified hair. It looks exactly like it did in Moonstruck. Those thick brows over puppy dog eyes that are hooded (with desire for me?) He’s ugly sexy.
I’m not sure whether I’ll succumb to the obvious electricity between us.
“Oh my God, Nic! I’m, like, so glad you came!” Roman’s sister, Sofia Coppola thrusts herself between Nic and me. Nic and I were perhaps seconds away from locking eyes, but that damned Sofia ruins our moment the way she’ll ruin the Godfather Part III!
“Roman’s been wondering, like, when you’d come!” she trills.
“I was just about to ask this extra here if she knew where he was,” says Nic, oddly pointing at me.
Speaking of Roman he’s taking a very long time to fall in love with me. We could be the Robert Evans and Ali McGraw of our generation, but he’s distracted by the make-up artist, Celeste. I’ll admit she’s exotic, a leggy Dutch-Eurasian with almond-shaped, green eyes and surfer-blond hair. She’s also damaged. Men can’t resist a tragic beauty.
Celeste has a long scar in her abdomen where doctors opened her up to curtail internal bleeding after a near-death car accident. She showed me when we were closeted in a bathroom stall not doing cocaine at a club.
I didn’t bat an eyelash. I was an unflinching medic in a warzone, an expressionless KGB spy infiltrating the Pentagon during the Cold War. I have no gambler’s tell.
Celeste is fond of Roman, but it’s me she spends her time with. Me she turns to when she needs a friend. Currently Celeste is in an unstable love affair and sometimes she needs me in the middle of the night to drive to her apartment and console her.
One night in particular she runs a fever and I lay down in bed with her and hold a cool washcloth to her brow. When we’re not on set we’re driving to the beach in the cherry-red Mercedes she bought at a Cop Auction with her medical winnings.
Or she tags along to my auditions. After one particularly good audition the casting agent calls me at home. They want Celeste for the callback.
Still, I can’t quit her. What can I say? I’ve fallen prey to The On-Set Love Affair. And as these things often end, she throws me over for the hair stylist on her next film.
“Shannon’s really great in this film. I think once it’s released her career is going to take off.”
I’m sitting in the make-up trailer accidentally hearing a conversation happening in the next room between the costume designer and the props girl. It’s fitting that my last night of shooting Smash, Crash and Burn bookends the night I had my last audition for it.
Once again I’m hearing a conversation not meant for me, only this time they’ve got it right. This movie is going to make me a star. I try to take in the moment while I’m still anonymous, because that will end soon. After all, my next scene is with Joe Estevez, Martin Sheen’s brother. I’m one-degree of separation from Apocalypse Now, which fittingly brings it all back around to the Coppolas.
I love the smell of Napalm in the morning.
We wrap that night and say our fond farewells. I hope I’ll work with some of the grips, lighting technicians and actors I’ve worked with on this film, but there’s no way to know whether their careers will explode like mine.
Six weeks later I arrive home from serving sixty-five chocolate bread puddings to the drunken Mark Taper Forum cast of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune to discover a huge box addressed to me sitting on my front porch. The return address says, “Zoetrope Studios.”
I tear the package open, wondering if I’ll find the final cut of Smash, Crash and Burn for my own private viewing. Instead I’m surprised to discover a crate of Coppola Pinot Noir with a note:
“Dear Ms. Bradley, we are sorry to inform you that we’ve hired a troupe of comedians to redub all the voices – including yours – in the movie Smash, Crash and Burn. We just needed it to be funnier. I hope you will accept this gift of my finest vintage pinot as an apology. Sincerely, Francis Ford Coppola.”
I finish imbibing that entire crate of Coppola’s finest vintage pinot circa 1988 a full year before I find out Smash, Crash and Burn will never be released.
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