The Golden Touch: ‘Casting Couch’ Sounds a Bit Classier in French

Jasmine Lobe. (Photo by Emily Anne Epstein)

Jasmine Lobe. (Photo by Emily Anne Epstein)

Jack was one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood. I had met him at Upstairs at Cipriani when I was 24. The following week, I was having lunch with him at Bar 89 in Soho to discuss my acting career. He brought his assistant and associate producer to make the meeting legit, but they stayed only for a quick introduction. They had just cast the new Scarlett Johansson movie but assured me there would be plenty of parts in the future.

We were alone now, and the waiters showered us with attention.

“I like you, Julia.”

“I like you, too,” I said as if we were talking about the color of our shirts.

“I want to get to know you.” He reached for my hand.

I pulled it back and blurted, “I’d like to have a professional relationship.”

“We can have more than one kind of relationship.”

“I have a boyfriend,” I lied.

“And I have girlfriend. But you can’t deny there is something between us.”

If I played this right, he could make my career. After two years of auditioning, I knew how tough it was landing a guest role on TV, let alone breaking into the business. I had to proceed carefully, making him feel desired without giving in to his desire.

“I really love Nathaniel, my boyfriend. Things have been a bit strained lately, but we’re working it out.” And as if it made “Nathaniel” more legit, “He works on Wall Street.”

“I want to see you again.” Jack grinned, framing fame and power on his face.

“As friends.” I reiterated.

“We’ll see.”

He was charming, larger than life, almost three times my size and more than twice my age. He was a visionary, and every film he touched turned to gold. When I was in his presence, I felt like everything was possible. With Jack, my opinions counted. He sent me scripts so I could give him detailed notes. He praised the short stories I had written in college and encouraged me to keep at it. He found books for me to adapt into screenplays, even though I had never written one before.

He would leave sweet messages on my phone, “Julia, I’m standing in front of Magnolia Bakery, and a chocolate cupcake is calling my name. It’s just dying for me to eat it, torturing me. Should I keep walking?”

I tried to think what it would be like to date him but couldn’t visualize the sex. For more than two months, we danced a precarious tango. All the while, I hoped I could convince him to be my mentor. He’d be able to look past his lust, because he’d value my soul. I just had to make sure we met in public places.

Enough was enough. He got tired of all of “the platonic crap” and told me never to call him again unless I wanted to be romantic.

But like the child who keeps burning her hand on the stove and comes back one more time, I wasn’t ready to let him go. Not just yet.

Pullquote3It happened in Cannes. I flew there on my girlfriend’s father’s private jet. He was in the gold business and hosted us at his mansion in Cap d’Antibes. I knew Jack would be there for the film festival, and, after several days of desperate deliberation, I broke down and called him. I hadn’t changed my mind about being romantic, but I was hoping he would remember I was worth being friends with. We agreed to meet at his hotel room, where he was conducting back-to-back business meetings. I brought my two girlfriends with me for protection.

“What are they doing here?” Jack said as he emerged from his bedroom.

“They’re my dear friends and ride home. This is Kate and Anastasia.”

“Come over here for a second.”

I followed him to the other room.

“They have to leave.”

I could only think to repeat myself, “But they’re my ride.”

“Tell them to go downstairs or go with them. I said I wanted to see you alone.” Jack moved a blond wisp behind my ear with his thick fingers.

My head stooped forward.

“Come here,” he caught me off-guard and plunged his tongue into my mouth. It swirled around like a slug, sliding on my teeth. I accepted it, because I didn’t know what else to do. My brain wasn’t firing the way it normally did, and time slowed.

This wasn’t starting off the way I had imagined. I definitely wouldn’t let him kiss me again, but I had no plan. I just needed to win, to remind him I existed and that he couldn’t just forget me.

He softened, “My assistant will take them to lunch.”

I walked out of his second office, the bedroom, with purpose.

“Jack and I are going to meet alone. I’ll see you downstairs in 20 minutes.”

Kate said, “I don’t know, Julia. I think you should come with us.”

She was causing trouble, the voice of my conscience.

“I’m fine. I promise.” There was a slight threat in my tone.

They acquiesced and left me to my own demise.

It was good we would be by ourselves. I had already forgotten how special I felt in his presence, my sense of self-worth and hope elevated to a whole new level.

“You look very pretty in your violet dress.”

Pullquote2“Thank you. My friend Charles Simone made it.” I stepped back and twirled. It spooned out, like an overturned champagne glass. “I feel like I should be in The Sound of Music, skipping through the green hills of Switzerland.”

He salivated, “You have a very talented friend. Let’s get you fed.”

We sat on his terrace overlooking the harbor. I drank coffee and ate grapes from a large fruit plate. Jack saved his appetite and sipped on a glass of Cristal.

I broke the silence, “Tomorrow is my 25th birthday.”

“Wow, you’re so old,” he joked, moving his chair closer and putting his hand on my thigh.

He guided me to a white couch and sat next to me. His hands found their way to my neck, and, with each squeeze, my muscles got tighter.

“Your skin is so soft.”

“I don’t need a massage, but thank you.” I gently removed his hands.

His thick fingers went back, finding their way to my right breast, landing on my nipple. He pressed it hard.

“Stop it,” I pushed him away with a laugh, because if I had been firm I thought it might upset him. He could get rough with me, and he was so big.

“Now it’s your turn to massage me.”

“I should go.”

“It’s only fair for you to give me one. I gave you one.” He was stern.

“O.K., but real quick, because my friends will get worried.”

It was just a back rub, and it would be over soon. I put my clammy palms on his shoulders.

“Let’s go into the other room so I can lie down.”

He was so assertive, and I was nowhere to be found.

I didn’t use my full hands, only my fingertips, the same fingers that once effortlessly played Debussy’s effervescent “Claire de Lune.”

“Hold on.” He took off his shirt, revealing ballooning skin that draped over his belt buckle; it hung lifeless like a carcass at a butcher shop.

Jack’s back was white and pock-marked with faded freckles. He started to move his pelvis on the crisp, cream-colored bed, covered with unborn scripts. Several potential Oscar contenders crashed to the floor. I didn’t know where to go, so I found myself on the ceiling.

There was a girl sitting beneath me, moving her fingers like brown worms. She squinted her eyes, and, from my seat upon the slowly turning ceiling fan, she was unrecognizable. Once she was a competitive figure skater who glided on white glass. Now she sat at the bottom of a bed with a moaning old man, moving her zombie hands on his flesh. She used to pretend to be Oksana Baiul, and, when she spiraled across the ice, she’d hear her father’s voice echo, “Bravo.”

The girl in violet was tired and wanted to go to sleep, but her hands kept wringing. Why didn’t she stop?

Pullquote1When the girl was 10 years old, she watched her father get jumped by two guys on speed on the corner of Broome Street and West Broadway. Her father’s arms reached upward as he was thrown under an idling car, and she stood there paralyzed. As the men kicked him, she couldn’t even scream. After a silent battle, her voice burst through. But she never got a punch in. She just let it happen.

The girl now scraped greasy skin particles off Jack’s bare back. A bright gold Vassar College ring shimmered like a buried jewel on the bottom of a riverbed, imbedded in the past. Her arms were small and long. Her fingernails were not manicured. She had children’s hands. She wanted her mother.

“O.K. You’re done.” The words were there after all.

“No, don’t stop.” He turned over and secured her into him.

She broke through his barring arms for breath. The girl’s eyes were closed shut to hide her tears. “I have to go.”

The door to the hallway was closed. Would someone hear her if she called out for help? She stood. Her feet felt like overcooked spaghetti, and she was surprised she didn’t fall.

“Then let me at least look at you,” he whispered.

She followed him into the adjacent, dark, marble bathroom covered in mirrors.

“I need to get back to my friends.”

“Let me just see your legs.”

He pulled up her prairie dress, and they both stared at her body in the mirror. Her underwear was pink from Victoria’s Secret. Her mother had bought her five pairs for $25. There was a hole in the upper right corner.

He looked. She looked. They looked together. They were in a painting in the South of France, but her mother had not painted it. She had never seen that girl before.

“You have strong legs.”

They felt like buckling. She had a friendly circular birthmark on the inside of her right knee. They eyed each other.

“Julia,” it said. “You’re the girl in the mirror. Wake up!”

“Oh.” I snapped out of my spell. My brown spot, the size of a small dot, lit the way out of the haze like a full moon. I skated down the mirror and saw myself. I was standing in front of an old, fat man who held up my dress, looking for something he would never find.

“I have to go!” I pushed my dress down.

“Let me just jack off in front of you. I’ll be real quick.” He unzipped his pants.

“No!”

I found my feet and pushed through the door to the hallway. A couple walked by, and I loved them for it.

He met me in the packed elevator with his shirt perfectly buttoned and tucked into his belt. He was ready to tackle the day. A rotund woman in her 40s recognized him and smiled, trying to catch his eye. I gripped the railing for support.

As we stepped out of the elevator, Jack whispered, “I’m proud of myself for behaving.”

I wondered what misbehaving would have entailed.

I saw my friends at a far-off table, and they stood with relief. He called out to them, “Order whatever you want. It’s on me.”

But before I could escape, he pulled me close.

“Promise me you will never write about me.”

The restaurant was crowded, and I could hear the dishes clacking, the low hum of voices and distant laughter. I wanted to disappear.

“I promise.”