My girlfriend, Anaïs, is an actress. Recently, I had a
chance to see her on the big screen for the first time, in the French-made
short film No, Not Now , which
premiered at the Avignon–New York film festival here in New York.
Now don’t get the wrong idea. The Avignon–New York film
festival is a lot less pretentious and glittery than the big film
festivals-it’s a nuts-and-bolts affair, with few agents and publicists milling
around. Cannes or Sundance, it ain’t. The paparazzi are nonexistent. Mostly,
it’s just a lot of filmmakers meeting other filmmakers over wine in plastic
cups in the bowels of the Alliance Française on 60th Street.
But for me, it was a big deal. Anaïs, who is from France,
was making her movie debut-I, the ugly American, was going to stroll up the red
carpet that night as the boyfriend of the star. Immediately, I felt a special
kinship with other actress arm candy: Benjamin Bratt, a.k.a. Mr. Julia Roberts,
or Chris Robinson, a.k.a. Mr. Kate Hudson, or James Haven, a.k.a. Angelina
Jolie’s brother. I knew my job that night: look good, smile and bat away any
paramours trying to make a play for my lady. (Unless, of course, they worked
for William Morris or Mike Ovitz.)
When the big moment arrived, I knew exactly what to do. I
walked into the theater all handsome, dressed like a dream in my newly
dry-cleaned suit. I shook the appropriate hands, whispered the wittiest bons
mots. It could have been Oscar night at
the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the way I was working the carpet. I took my seat
just as the lights dimmed. Oh: Did I mention that Anaïs looked great, too?
Finally, No, Not Now
began rolling. The opening scene of the film featured Anaïs in a café, reading.
Everyone at some point imagines what it would be like to sit in a theater and
see themselves in a movie. I haven’t had that experience, either, but I’m going
to guess that it’s quite different from what it’s like to see the object of
your personal affection up on the screen. There’s no way to prepare for it.
Anaïs looked like Anaïs-zilla. Movies, of course, morph
regular-sized people into gigantic Michelin Men, several stories high, and if
it’s someone you know up there, it’s truly unnerving. Whether they’re talking
or not, your eyes are immediately riveted to that familiar face, the one you’ve
spoken to a thousand times. Any attempt
to follow the rest of the action is futile. Plot? Plot’s the last thing you’re
There’s something strangely personal and invasive about
it-watching Anaïs in that coffee shop, all I could think about was the nasty
fight we’d had the very day of the shoot. Could people in the audience tell?
Seeing her up there, it felt like the public airing of private dirty laundry.
Could people tell she’d been mad at me earlier that day?
A psychotherapist would call these feelings narcissistic.
I’d call it … well, you go see your loved one in a movie sometime, and then get
back to me.
It went on like this for a while: Anaïs up there on the
screen, me sitting there, worrying in the darkness. Then, later in the film,
something occurred that I really wasn’t prepared for.
The lesbian scene.
Anaïs and a strange female character-who had been hounding
her all though the film-back into a couch, kissing each other passionately.
Real kissing, too-tongue-down-the-throat stuff. I sank into my chair while the
two kept slurping. What seemed like 20 minutes lasted probably 20 seconds. I
began to pout and sweat. I thought to myself, “Hey, nobody told me …. “
Only then did I remember: A while ago, Anaïs told me how the
director of No, Not Now had
originally intended the story to be a love triangle involving two men and a
woman, but because of time and money, and the lack of any good male actors,
Anaïs was given the role intended for the man.
Freaking low-budget independent cinema. Something always has
A short while later, the credits rolled and the audience
clapped, and the next thing I knew, Anaïs was onstage with microphone in hand,
entertaining questions from the audience-the majority of which, sure enough,
centered on The Kiss: how it felt, how many takes were needed, etc. I wanted to
stand up and scream that there were boyfriends in the house and for everyone in
the audience to just keep it in their pants.
After the Q. and A., I found my way near the stage to
congratulate Anaïs amidst her now-growing “throng” of hangers-on. I offered my
flowers, then stood on the side with my hands in my pockets, gauging the
reactions of the audience. French audiences, in particular, usually keep a good
poker face at plays and movies, so it was difficult to tell if they were
laughing at the film or laughing at themselves … or laughing at me.
Dinner was at Kaplan’s, the deli next door. It wasn’t Toots
Shor or Carmine’s, and the guests at the table were hardly the Rat Pack, but it
still felt showbiz-like. Anaïs was the center of attention. I wolfed down my
stuffed cabbage and Dr. Brown’s and quipped to those just joining us that I was
going to be Anaïs’ “road ho.” This time, nobody laughed.
When our group enlarged from a throng to a full-fledged
entourage, we moved on to the Roger Smith Hotel for the film festival’s after-party.
People congratulated Anaïs, even congratulated me, but by then I wasn’t taking
compliments well; all I could do was wonder what Sapphic or lustful thoughts
each of these people had brewing in their minds. I no longer wanted to be in
this crowd. I wanted it to be like before we were famous, before all the
parties. I wanted it to be like the old days, when we snuck into parties and
stole champagne, and I was just the boyfriend and she was not yet a Star.
And then, without warning, it was over. By midnight, we were
back on our East Harlem block, with no doorman to welcome us, no camped-out
photographers, no early edition of The
Times with a review of the film
resting on the stoop. Trudging up three flights, we crammed into the small
apartment and stuck Anaïs’ flowers in the Pottery Barn wastebasket.
As we lay in bed, Anaïs
asked me how I thought the night went. I wanted to tell her what it was like to
sit there in the darkness and freak out, to look around a theater and wonder
what dirty little thoughts every member of the audience was having about this
woman in my life. But it was her night, not mine. She was the arm, I was the
arm candy. I told her it went great.
But yeah, I dreamed about that lesbian scene that night. Not