If there is one thing Danny Castellano can't stand, it is tardiness. And there is no stronger way for a celebrity to signal a sense of entitlement than by being ridiculously late for a planned meeting. This isn't the kind of career he'd had in mind fifteen years ago as a bright-eyed journalism major. He was more interested in writing stories about local events that connected the community or covering human interest pieces with regular, everyday human beings. But the industry had changed and those kind of stories were often relegated to the back page. They didn't pay shit.
These days what does actually pay are celebrity profile articles. Ironically enough, his total lack of interest in celebrities is what has made this side gig so successful. Editors love his direct and frank line of questioning. He doesn't fawn or gush like a fan hiding behind pen and paper. He refuses to settle for pat answers but instead uses his investigative reporting experience to dig at deeper truths.
The truth is, he has become sort of...in-demand as a writer. This has recently afforded him two significant luxuries. The first - he is actually more selective in the celebrities he agrees to write about. The second - all publicists and yes people are banned from attending his interviews. If a celebrity doesn't agree to arrive alone and have their own opinions, he won't meet with them. And since he is increasingly writing articles for the likes of Vogue and Rolling Stone, most of them are loathe to turn down that sort of exposure.
He doesn't care that this is Mindy Kaling - she is officially late.
He has agreed to write this article for a few different reasons. It is going to be a Vanity Fair cover, which is always a huge deal as a writer. Also, Mindy Kaling isn't your typical celebrity. She is a trailblazer in television and media with the kind of rise in power that Cinderella stories are made of. His article will coincide with the release of her second memoir Why Not Me? She seems funny and self-deprecating enough as an interview subject and he doesn't think it will be too challenging to capture her warmth while attempting to get her to be even more candid than usual. This is supposed to be easy money and a free trip to LA in the middle of a brutal New York City winter.
He feels a hand on his shoulder. "Are you Danny?"
He glances at his watch. 45 minutes late. Before he can say anything she is plopping down on the bench beside him and helping herself to crackers from the cheese board he ordered.
"God these are good, I'm starved. Shit, I am so sorry. I'm usually 10 minutes early for everything but we were supposed to have a dog on the set this morning. Or we thought it was a dog, but it turned out that the prop guy had accidentally ordered a parrot so then we had to rewrite the scene on the fly because we just didn't have enough time to get an actual dog. So naturally the parrot was being a total diva...I mean how do you write for a parrot who specializes in obscenities when you're writing for network television? Nothing would make me happier than to allow the parrot to let loose but I'm not allowed to say twat or pussy or cock on tv, Danny. I'm just not. If only we were on HBO!" She's shoving crackers in her mouth the entire time she's speaking until there's too much food and he can't understand a word she's saying. She crunches loudly and falls silent.
He opens his mouth to respond, but his brain is having trouble processing everything she just said. Her mini-crisis and the thing that kept her from being on time is a profanity laden bird. Is he even allowed to be mad about such a weirdly specific work crisis? For the millionth time he is struck by the strange world famous people inhabit and how it's a big challenge to articulate that world no matter how silly it is.
She's staring at him apologetically and chewing loudly in his ear.
He clears his throat. "Er...okay whatever. Yes, that's fine. I mean you could have called but it's fine. My bladder isn't nearly as forgiving as I am though - I drank four glasses of water while waiting for you."
Mindy laughs. "Yep I deserved that. Don't let me off the hook. I should have called, but in my rush to leave since I was already so late, I left my phone on my desk. Not only could I not call anyone else to alert you, I had to sit in the back of a town car on the 101 without the distraction of my Instagram feed. It was torture!"
He should be annoyed. It's a completely ridiculous statement and she's wagging her finger around indignantly and going on about the injustices of being without her iPhone while sitting in a chauffeured car. And she really means it. Strangely, it ends up having the opposite effect. After years spent pulling half truths out of actors and musicians terrified of being represented negatively, he finds himself strangely charmed by this quirky reveal. Getting her to be candid will not be an issue. One of the reasons for her success is clearly that she has no problem being herself.
He's also surprised to realize that Mindy Kaling is beautiful. He's seen pictures of her so he obviously knew she was pretty. But in person, she is petite and curvy in all the places he likes best - decidedly not the "chubby woman" she claims to be whenever she's sitting on the couch charming Jimmy Kimmel. Her dark hair is shiny, her doe-brown eyes are bright and curious. There's a glow to her, a powerful presence. Danny has interviewed some of the most gorgeous women in the entire world and none of them of them have ever made his pants feel this tight within the first 30 seconds.
I know who this Danny Castellano writer guy is and I'm a huge fan of his writing. His piece on Lindsay Lohan for Rolling Stone last year managed to make her not come across like a complete asshole. He was able to cut through the twelve levels of crazy and actually humanize her. By celebrity journalism standards he basically accomplished the impossible which means he should probably be nominated for a Pulitzer. So when I heard that he was selected to write my Vanity Fair profile I was nervous, but thrilled.
I was also pretty convinced he was 65 years old. I was so sure the older man sitting at the bar was him that I'd sat right down beside him, ordered my glass of Chardonnay from my favorite bartender Pablo and launched into an apology by way of introduction.
After realizing my mistake, I looked around and noticed only one other man who was sitting by himself in the restaurant. Now it has been well documented (mostly by me) that bookishly handsome men are basically my kryptonite. So I was not prepared for the sight of this muscular Italian man with red glasses and floppy black hair. Danny Castellano? Smoking hot. Instantly he makes me nervous and I find myself rambling about this morning's bird nightmare on set. I can hear myself talking and I want to shut the fuck up, but I also want him to stop looking at me. Or keep looking at me. I don't know.
"Mindy?" Pablo appears with the long forgotten glass of wine I left at the bar. I gratefully take a gulp. I will be leaving him a larger than normal tip for his excellent timing.
"Thanks Pablo. Danny, would you like a drink? It's on me - my deepest apologies for being so late."
"Thanks but I don't usually drink when I'm on the job."
"Oh c`mon! Make an exception just this once. You're stuck with me for awhile, let's break the ice over a drink together."
Danny peers at me thoughtfully. I picture a devil and an angel on his shoulder as he weighs whether or not to give in. "You're not really supposed to buy me a drink you know. It's standard protocol for the magazine to cover this kind of expense."
"Well standard protocol indicates that I'm not supposed to even be here considering I don't have a dick nor am I skinny blonde woman. If I lived my life by the rules you wouldn't be interviewing me today now would you?" And with that, I know I've got him.
"What the hell? If it's on you then I'll have a Macallan 17 neat."
Pablo nods approvingly. "I'll be right back with that sir."
When he's gone, I take another sip of my wine and turn my attention to him. "So, I just want to say, I'm a huge fan of yours. I'd already heard of you and read your celebrity pieces, but when I found out you'd be interviewing me I went back and read through a ton of your other stuff. That investigative piece you wrote for The New Yorker a few years ago about rape in the military was phenomenal."
Danny raises an eyebrow. "You really read that?"
"Yes! It was incredible. You brought a new dimension to the entire discussion by profiling women during different stages of their survival. To read about the Navy lieutenant who was still grieving and coming to terms with what happened to her twenty years later was devastating. It was a really intelligent way to illustrate that this has been a problem in the military for far too long."
"Thanks. I'm super critical about everything I write, but I worked with one of my favorite editors for that. I'm really proud of the way it turned out." Danny flushes with pride. His neck is turning red and that he's embarrassed suddenly makes him seem even more attractive, if at all possible. My own comedy writers are a loud bunch, a group of show-offs who think most everything they write is spun gold. Hell, I'm just as guilty of it - success can do that.
Pablo arrives with his drink and the smell from the strong amber liquid makes my stomach churn. He swirls it around in the glass, sniffs it and takes a careful sip. "Ahh, that's good. Thanks."
"No problem. So will you give me a little more insight into how you're planning to write this article?"
"Well, I know your calendar is insane but I'm working with your assistant to schedule a series of interview sessions with you over the next few weeks. I'd like to observe you on set and I'd like to interview you at home. Beyond that, I can be flexible and will work around you."
"Great. Sierra is like the calendar whisperer. I don't know how she manages my time, but she does it way better than I can. She's my secret weapon and unsung hero."
Danny nods. "She's been a breeze to work with. Now, I want you to be as comfortable as possible during all of this, but I'll be honest - I'm probably going to ask you some tough questions. You might find yourself a little uneasy during our conversations. It's not because I want to bait or trick you, and if you truly want anything to be off the record you can tell me. But I'm interested in going deeper than any article ever has before."
Shit, the turn this has taken makes me nervous. "Can you explain that a little more?"
Danny shifts closer on the bench to me. "Sure. There's usually a standard narrative that a celebrity's people have established for them. I'm not interested in abandoning that narrative, but my goal is always to add depth, flesh it out and give that established narrative a more nuanced perspective. For instance, how did you really and truly feel about the Elle cover controversy? Don't answer me today, but I want your real thoughts on it. Because personally, I suspect your feelings on it are much more complex than the glib response you gave to Letterman."
I'm quiet as I think about the Elle magazine hoopla from last year. I'm glad that he's not making me open up about it today, but I now realize the weight of what I might reveal to this man could have some consequences. I want to be open and honest, but I need to be careful.
Danny senses my apprehension and he doesn't say anything else, just sits there and nurses his scotch. When he finishes the drink he finally speaks. "I love that stuff. I have a feeling that making an exception for you was a dangerous precedent that shouldn't have been set." He sets the glass on the table with a dull thud. He glances down and I realize that our knees are almost touching. When he looks back up at me, there's a flash of something. The intensity in his dark eyes feels like a spark being lit inside of me.
I slide away to create some distance, confused and slightly off-balance. I tilt my head back and the remaining wine slides down my throat. It's really warm in here and I feel I've lost control over a situation I thought was going to be very easy. I've gotten used to managing and juggling everything in my crazy life but there's no real way to compartmentalize desire. I've never been any good at that. I'm thankful that I have a legitimate reason to leave. "Well, Danny, I'm not gonna lie - I'm a little scared about these next few weeks, but it was great to meet you and thanks for waiting. I've got a meeting with my writers so I have to get going. Again, I am deeply sorry about being late, it won't happen again." I stand up and catch Pablo's eye to indicate I'm ready for the check.
Danny stands up. "I'm actually used to waiting on people for these kinds of things and they never apologize. I appreciate that you respect my time. Don't worry about it."
"Do you need a ride somewhere? I can have the driver drop you off wherever you need to be."
"No, I'm gonna walk. I'm staying at a hotel right around the corner and it's so nice out. 70 degrees in February? That's insane." Danny shakes his head and extends his hand. "Nice to meet you. I'll see you in a few days." He grins. His smile is crooked and there's a dimple in his cheek. It transforms his entire way too stupidly gorgeous face in the sexiest way.
I accept his handshake. It's firm and decisive, just like a handshake should be but rarely ever is here in LA. He holds my hand a little longer than necessary, and I let him. I force myself to look away as I withdraw my hand and try to ignore the tingle in my fingers. Suddenly, that spark feels like a flame.
Fuck. I'm in big trouble.