Not long ago, Stephan Paternot, former C.E.O. of the tremendous dot-com failure known as theglobe.com, decided he’d make a pretty great movie star and relocated to Los Angeles for a couple of months. Early one afternoon, on his way from his Beverly Hills sublet to the Warner Brothers studios, he took a deep breath and surveyed the mess of cars clogging Laurel Canyon. The odometer in his black BMW 325 read 226, and the interior still had that glorious new-car smell; he was sure he was going places.
At the WB gate, a guard found Mr. Paternot’s name on a printout, shoved a studio drive-on pass onto his dash and pointed him toward a vast parking lot. At 27, Mr. Paternot had never been on a studio lot before, nor had he had any role, small or large, in any TV show or movie. Yet because of his infamy, his agent was able to book him this meeting, for a sitcom about a Tarzan character in New York.
At the meeting, a casting director inspected his face and said, “I think you’d be perfect for Tarzan’s cousin.” Mr. Paternot envisaged a Joe Millionaire type dressed in leotards, swinging between skyscrapers. “O.K., that sounds interesting,” he told her.
But back in his car, Mr. Paternot dialed his agent and declared that he would never take the part-no matter how much they might want him. “This is the stupidest thing,” he muttered to himself after hanging up. “This kind of crap is what everybody is hoping I’ll do.” A few weeks later, he decided that none of these damn parts were right for him and that he’d be better off back in New York, becoming a movie star his own way.
Three years earlier, at 24, Stephan Paternot was worth about $75 million-not cash, but merely an ethereal value assigned to the stock he owned. He’d co-founded theglobe.com in his Cornell University dorm room and, two years later, took the company public. Standard & Poor’s somewhat murky description listed the company as “an online property … which allowed its users to personalize their online experience by publishing their own content and interacting with others having similar interests.” But it was the late 90′s, and the company claimed an impressive 17 million monthly users worldwide; little else mattered to investors. In fact, theglobe.com’s initial public offering on Nov. 13, 1998, was the biggest first-day stock gain in Wall Street history at the time. After one day of trading on Nasdaq, the company was worth close to $1 billion, and Mr. Paternot and his theglobe.com partner, Todd Krizelman, experienced immediate celebrity.
The media labeled them “geniuses,” “gods” and “legends,” and compared them to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. And the baby-faced pair embraced the attention (especially Mr. Paternot), becoming regular fixtures on the talk-show circuit-Charlie Rose, CNBC, CNN, even Montel Williams. Women approached them in bars and on subways, thrusting business cards into their hands, whispering that they should have drinks some time. Mr. Paternot said he even changed his number because strange men were dialing his apartment at 4 a.m., professing man-love.
Mr. Paternot was the Corey Feldman of the Internet, a leather-pants-wearing prodigy whom a CNN camera crew once captured dancing atop a nightclub table as he declared, “Got the girl. Got the money. Now I’m ready to live a disgusting, frivolous life.”
Mr. Krizelman conceded that the media paid more attention to Mr. Paternot. “There was more press on him and his personal life. He was out dancing at clubs; he enjoyed it,” Mr. Krizelman said. But celebrity is fleeting. Theglobe.com’s stock flailed and languished, and today what’s left of the company trades at around 13 cents a share (down from an opening-day high of around $97). During his tenure, Mr. Paternot managed to cash out only around $1.5 million of his company stock (which he reinvested entirely in the soon-to-tank urbanfetch.com).
Mr. Paternot resigned as chief executive in January of 2000, seemingly close to broke. But poverty was never a concern: His great-grandfather and grandfather were C.E.O.’s of Nestlé, and there was enough chocolate money to go around.
Mr. Paternot would miss the girls sidling up to him with their business cards, and the fan mail from teenagers wanting to meet him or be him. Then there was the attention from the press. Whether it was positive or negative, he didn’t care; he just liked seeing his name in print or listening to it bounce around the airwaves. He was addicted to it, and he wanted a career that would make him feel like a C.E.O. again, and so he signed up for private acting lessons at the New York Film Academy. Now all he needed was the right agent, he reasoned, and he’d be on his way to Affleck-scale stardom.
Slouched in an orange booth on a recent afternoon at the Coffee Shop in downtown Manhattan, Mr. Paternot exuded movie-star coolness. He has long, thick, girly eyelashes and gelled-back brown hair. He has a flippant European way and is quick to correct improper French pronunciations or misinformed opinions. He grew up in Switzerland and the U.K., and may have picked up this habit in one of those Swiss private schools where he spent his youth. While others talked, his flame-blue eyes drifted to coffee cups or waitresses’ asses. He was wearing denim; he often looks as if he’d dressed in a Diesel store. He waves his hands loosely when he speaks, a gesticulation that hovers daintily between Euro-hipster and male flight attendant. He’s not gay but admits, as a high-profile C.E.O., he received as many love letters from admiring men as he did from women. He’s dated mostly model types since his days at theglobe.com, but currently doesn’t have a girlfriend. Despite several heartbreaks in the past, he said, he’s out there looking for the right woman, albeit cautiously.
“I think being an actor is a lot like being a C.E.O.,” Mr. Paternot said as his eyes wandered around the restaurant. He said that he always wanted to be an actor, that he’s a creative sort of guy and that his creativity was not adequately channeled at theglobe.com. After resigning, he arranged meetings with a handful of Hollywood agents, ultimately signing with Nick Stevens, a macher who represents big shots like Jim Carrey, Harrison Ford and Ben Stiller. At their first meeting in Mr. Stevens’ L.A. office, Mr. Paternot said, “Nick thought I was there to talk about writing a book [about theglobe.com], but I told him I wanted to act, and he’s like, ‘All you guys want to be fucking actors. What are you fucking thinking? Go build yourself another billion-dollar company and get fucking rich tomorrow. Why do you want to be an actor?’ I said, ‘That’s what I want to do, Nick.’ He said, ‘O.K., if that’s the case, Steph, then I’m signing you on to represent you in all areas.’” Mr. Paternot fixed his gaze on the taut stretch pants of one particular blond waitress and smiled. “Nick’s such a gutsy guy, and so ballsy.”
“Not the most tactful person” is how his former business partner, Mr. Krizelman (who’s currently pursuing an M.B.A.), described Mr. Paternot. “He’s European …. He tells it like it is, no matter what people think.” That description might seem mild compared to what some others had to say. A Cornell acquaintance said, “That guy was a prick and didn’t even seem that smart.” Some of theglobe.com’s investors apparently felt the same way. While the company’s stock was crashing, Mr. Paternot said, investors threatened his life: One female investor called repeatedly as the stock went down and said, “I will kill you, I will kill you.” He remains guarded when strangers recognize him on the street.
“At one point, I was going to hire security guards,” he said. But he doesn’t care too much about the disparagement. “I know I’m not an asshole,” he said. “In the eyes of someone who just sees a fragment of my life, they may see me as a dictator, they may see me as a slave driver. But I believe in karma, and I always believe in ethics. If you put out good, good comes back to you.”
On another recent afternoon, inside a screening room at Technicolor on West 44th Street, Mr. Paternot and Todd Heyman, film director–slash–personal trainer, were waiting to approve the final version of Wholey Moses , a short film that Mr. Heyman directed and in which Mr. Paternot stars. A smiley, bed-headed hipster, Mr. Heyman (formerly a trainer at the Peninsula Spa) kept his tortoise-shell sunglasses on throughout the screening. The lights dimmed and the flickering sound of rolling film emanated from the projection booth. The Strokes’ “Someday” filled the room, though the screen remained black. This sound-but-no-picture screw-up continued for about 30 seconds, then the music melted and stopped- mwurrrrrr . “Sounds like my career,” said Mr. Heyman.
Mr. Paternot dropped $60,000 of his own cash to produce Wholey Moses . Since his time auditioning in L.A. hadn’t yielded the high-profile parts he wanted, he’s hoping this short film will make him a more viable leading man.
“I want to make my mark my own way, and that’ll help me get the parts I need,” he said. In the film, he plays a bohemian baker whose canvas is doughnuts and whose paint is icing. Customers become fanatical about the way his doughnuts taste, ignoring the art-except for one sugar-addicted beauty played by Shannyn Sossamon, who also starred in 40 Days & 40 Nights and The Rules of Attraction . Linda Hamilton also appears as a German (or French, or Russian-it’s unclear from her accent) bakery proprietress who inadvertently plays matchmaker.
“We’re pleased to say that several of the top-tier short-film distributors have shown interest in helping us distribute the film,” Mr. Paternot wrote in his weekly e-mail newsletter, which he says he sends to 1,500 fans. Mr. Paternot and Mr. Heyman are submitting the short film to various festivals and are considering adapting it into a full-length feature. According to Mr. Paternot, executives at Miramax, HBO and First Look have seen Wholey Moses and are discussing future roles and projects. In the meantime, he just did a two-page spread for Vogue and played a bit part (“Man in Restaurant”) in Emmett’s Mark , an indie film starring Tim Roth.
A few days after the screening, Mr. Paternot and Mr. Heyman clinked glasses of Merlot in an East Village Indian joint. Mr. Paternot described one of his early auditions, when his agent had asked if he’d be interested in auditioning for a three-year contract part on Guiding Light . He agreed, but was immediately disappointed when he received the script. “I got upset with my agent,” he said. “It was this horrific writing.” But he showed up at CBS with an odd sort of déjà vu : He had rolled through the same revolving doors three years earlier, on his way to meet with the then C.E.O. of CBS.
“Mel Karmazin and I were negotiating a billion-dollar deal,” he said, “and now I’m some nobody, sitting next to some model/actor/singer/whatever, meeting with a casting director who doesn’t know me from shit.”
Mr. Paternot described the casting director’s office: “Dropped ceilings, Styrofoam. I walk into this little generic square office with a little table-you could tell, with this office, that they probably poured in all of $200 in terms of furniture. This is like me walking into a cubicle now and I have no power. This is the guy making the decisions.”
He apparently did something right: The casting director contacted his agent to arrange a callback. Mr. Paternot declined. “I told my agents, ‘I don’t care how that audition went-don’t bother, don’t bother me,’” he said. “I have to be conscious of how everyone who’s known me before perceives it. And coming off the bubble burst, I felt it would be a bad move for me.” He said he feared becoming “a daytime nobody.”
“I needed to develop my craft, and to throw me into daytime soaps is not the best way to really penetrate the soul-searching craft of acting,” he said. “Film is where it’s at, and I want to work on a project-by-project basis.”
One and a half years ago, Mr. Paternot published a book about the rise and fall of theglobe.com, A Very Public Offering: A Rebel’s Story of Business Excess, Success, and Reckoning . The reviews were not kind. The Industry Standard said the author “brings about as much skill to writing … as he did to running theglobe.com.”
Mr. Paternot and Mr. Heyman have begun adapting the book into a screenplay. Mr. Paternot wants to play himself in the movie, “the same way Eminem did in 8 Mile ,” he said.
Mr. Heyman pulled out a sheet of paper from his backpack and listed the qualities of Mr. Paternot’s character in the script: “He is a vessel for greatness, has a vision of a better world, a better place, a time when no one ever has to feel alone or isolated. He’s a man who will sacrifice himself to show the world his vision.”
Mr. Paternot nodded approvingly. “I will be the last person to make this movie a vanity piece,” he said. “Forget that. I don’t want to do that.”
A few tables away, a lovely woman with bright eyes was staring at Mr. Paternot. He seemed aware of her gaze, but didn’t bother looking. The woman leaned toward her female companion, whispered something and smiled. She looked up again at Mr. Paternot. Maybe she recognized him from his days at theglobe.com, or from one of his appearances on Charlie Rose or Montel. It might have been the Vogue spread. Or maybe she just thought he looked like a movie star.