Oh man, can't you see I'm nervous, so please, pretend to be nice, so I can be mean.
The Strokes - Hard To Explain.
“I had to touch you with my hands, I had to taste you with my tongue; one can't love and do nothing.”
Graham Greene, The End of the Affair.
For the record Ryan isn’t okay with Spencer dropping out of school and he doesn’t become okay with it. But when the time comes for Spencer to head off to wherever the hell his shitty label has decided to send his band, Ryan gets Alex to drive Spencer to the airport. Dallon and Ian find out though, and demand lifts too.
“Why should we pay for taxis when Spencer gets a lift?” Ian complains. “What’s so special about him?”
“Yeah,” Dallon adds. “We deserve to be driven around by America’s twenty third and fortieth sexiest men just as much as Spence does.”
Spencer laughs at them. “Fuck off.”
But Alex ends up driving them anyway.
Ian is gloriously happy when they pick up him, Dallon and Dallon’s girl Breezy from Cash’s.
“First leg of the tour,” he announces and Cash snaps a picture for posterity.
The flash dazes Ryan. “We’re just going to the airport.”
“Yeah. The first leg of the tour, and also the most important one,” Spencer agrees from the back seat.
Dallon throws his duffle into trunk. “Can’t tour Europe from LA.”
Ryan wrinkles his nose.
At LAX, Spencer makes Ryan and Alex help with all their equipment. It’s a pain, especially when they seem to end up carrying the heaviest pieces. Ryan knows better than to complain, so he doesn’t, not even when he feels people’s eyes flick over him and Alex.
The long check in queue kills. But Ryan stays as long as he can, right up to the gates.
Amidst the bustle of people, Dallon turns to Alex with a serious expression on his face. “Look after Breezy, okay.”
Breezy snorts. “I can look after myself you douche.”
Dallon turns and grins at her. “Okay. Could you keep an eye on Alex then?”
Alex makes a face.
Breezy nods. “Can do.”
“Awesome,” Dallon nods. “I knew there was a reason I married you.”
She bites her lip to stop from laughing.
Without looking at Alex, Dallon shoves his carry on case in Alex’s general direction so he can gather Breezy up in his arms one last time. Standing next to Ryan, Spencer smiles at the scene and deep inside Ryan’s chest he feels something inside him twist out of shape and into something else and he doesn’t know what to do, not even when Spencer turns and wraps his arms around Ryan.
“This is going to be great,” Spencer says when Ryan doesn’t say anything.
Ryan doesn’t offer a reply. Just because he’s here doesn’t mean he approves of what Spencer’s doing.
Spencer sighs. “I’ll be back before you know it. You won’t even start to miss me. Promise.”
(It takes less than an hour for Spencer to be made into a liar. But that was always going to happen).
On the drive back, Alex decides that they should all go out for dinner.
“I refuse to let you stay at home and mope Breez,” he tells Breezy. “It wouldn’t be right.”
From the passenger’s seat, Breezy eyes him. “That’s so thoughtful of you Greenwald. You’re a saint.”
“We’ve all got to be something,” he grins back at her and just like they all end out going to Mr Chow’s even though last time Ryan went a paparazzi accidentally hit him on the side of the head with a camera.
When they arrive the crowd isn’t any better this time around. Outside or inside. Because Jason Schwartzman is there, and because Jason is there with Kristen Dunst, they end up inviting themselves to sit with them. The table is too small though and Ryan keeps knocking knees with Jason.
“In some circles that right there would be considered an invitation,” Jason laughs.
Kirsten laughs too. Ryan doesn’t.
As much as Ryan thinks he should like Jason, and as much as Ryan attempts to convince himself that he does, for some reason whenever they are around each other Ryan doesn’t. He doesn’t know why, he just knows that he doesn’t.
Jason’s pant cuffs are too short. Ryan can’t help but notice. Wes Anderson must be about to do another film.
Ryan bites the inside of his check and smiles blandly.
Wes Anderson doesn’t have a casting agent. He has friends. Not that Ryan cares. He has friends too. Normally, Alex is one of them. But sitting across from Kristen, he is loud and stupid. Using his hands to punctuate everything he says and eating off her plate, he flirts and brags and it’s the same routine as always. It’s so old it isn’t even all much of a distraction, but Ryan allows it to be one.
Their food, when it is served, is reasonable. The bill, Ryan assumes, isn’t so much but Alex pays for it before anyone else can. As he slips his credit card to the waiter, Ryan catches sight of Charlotte Froom entering the restaurant with her new boyfriend.
It as good a cue as any to leave.
As a general rule, no one talks to Charlotte anymore. Not even Spencer who usually doesn’t give a shit about what he should do.
Thanks to the proverbial grape vine Ryan’s heard all about Charlotte’s new boyfriend. A hockey player of all things. Canadian too. What a cliché. It’s almost as bad as Brendon and Ellen being set up by Drew Barrymore.
“They’re so photogenic,” Alex muses on the drive back to his place.
Everyone’s photogenic though. Given the right lighting.
Breezy can’t help herself. “Are you jealous, Alexis?”
Changing lanes without looking, Alex grins. “Of you? Always.”
In the passenger seat, Ryan opens the window and switches on the radio. An old Sonic Youth song comes on and he begins to sing along. Half way through he messes up the lyrics. His voice doesn’t falter though. It wouldn’t though. The show must go on. His mother taught him that. Resting his head against the window, Ryan hums along with the guitar solo before singing the next verse.
It isn’t late. It isn’t early either. Not for LA.
Charlotte was Z’s friend first.
They grew up together; both Hollywood kids with parents who owned the town. Together they did and saw and had almost everything the town had to offer before Ryan even managed to get his toe into the shallow end of the pool.
It’s ironic now, but Ryan and Z meet through Brendon and Charlotte. Funny how things go.
Halfway to Alex’s place, Ione Skye calls asking where Alex is and if he can possibly drop by with some ice.
“Ice? What the fuck am I, a busboy?” Alex exclaims, switching the call onto speaker phone.
“I don’t know,” Ione tells him. “You tell me.”
“On principle, I refuse,” Alex says. “That is what I have an assistant for.”
Ione sighs. It’s long and drawn out and makes Breezy roll her eyes.
Alex throws up his hands. “Fine. Fine. You win. I’ll bring you ice.”
“And some lemon gelato,” she adds.
Alex groans. “Come on, Io, don’t do this to me.”
“Please,” she begs. “I’ll make it up to you.”
Ione won’t of course. Everyone knows that. But that doesn’t really matter because Ione and Alex don’t work like that. They never have. They met years ago, another lifetime almost. Neither of them remembers how or when. But that isn’t really the point. Not when they’re still friends. Or friendly. Or have whatever sort of affection for each other that allows her to feel comfortable calling him demanding grocery items in the middle of the night and for him to be trusted enough to look after her kids when she and Ben Lee go out dancing.
It’s strange for someone to be friends with a 80s teen idol. At least, it is to Ryan. He forgets sometimes that Alex grew up in Hollywood. Spencer once said that Ryan forgets that other people aren’t them. They were on the set when Spencer said it. Ryan was paying Spencer twenty dollars an hour to run errands and most of the time Spencer hung out in the catering tent sharing Sean Penn stories with Emile Hirsh.
It’s been a while since Spencer was Ryan’s assistant. The thought is depressing. He tells Breezy and Alex.
“You know what’s really depressing Ross?” Breezy throws back. “This conversation.”
Alex gasps. “Breezy! His feelings!”
“No Greenwald,” Breezy chides. “Ross is all grown up now. He has to realise there comes a time in every mans life where he can not longer pay his best friend to hang out with him.”
“But does it have to be now? There was a chance we could have convinced him to pay us to hang out with him. Now you’ve ruin it.”
“Like you ruined junior prom for me and Dallon?”
Alex smirks. “I think you did that all on your own.”
Ryan makes a face. He should have known better than to talk to them.
At the second supermarket they pass, Alex buys too much ice and green tea ice cream when they cannot find any lemon gelato.
“Same thing,” Alex says as he hands the check out girl his credit card.
“Not really,” Breezy tells him, picking at her chipped nail polish.
Alex rolls his eyes. “I didn’t ask you.”
Breezy rolls her eyes at him.
It’s very childish and Ryan has to turn and look away from them.
When they’re back in Alex’s car and on the road again, Ryan thinks about calling Z.
She’s on a night shoot though, doing a film with Katie Holmes. Apparently it’s meant to be Katie’s come back vehicle. Edgy, post modern, indie, [insert buzzword of choice]. Ryan is pretty sure it’s going to be a flop, but whatever. It was Z’s choice to sign on to it. According to Leane, last week Z did press in a Holmes & Yang jumpsuit so Ryan doesn’t put much weight into Z’s “artistic integrity.”
Absently, he thinks about texting her instead, but can’t really think of anything to say other than the obvious. Besides, she’ll be back soon. Or she and Ryan will be heading off soon to do their project together.
Ryan’s looking forward to it. From everything he’s heard about Gus, it’ll be a challenge.
(When Ryan told Spencer about the role, Spencer said Ryan was being autobiographical again).
When they reach Ione and Ben’s place, it’s easy to gather that they’re throwing a soirée of some kind by the amount of cars parked haphazardly outside.
“She never invites me unless she needs something,” Alex grumbles half heartedly.
Breezy snorts. “I don’t invite you anywhere unless I can’t help it.”
Ryan reaches between them and rings the door bell. They can thank him later.
Being Ione, she comes to the door barefoot, with her face bare of make up and hair loose. Ryan’s known her for a while now, but he still isn’t used to seeing her like that or how she sits next to him and starts to talk to him while Alex and Ben go into the kitchen and try to make organic smoothies for everyone. Not that it matters, but Ryan doesn’t like Ben either. Then again, he isn’t sure he’s supposed to. He does like Ione. There is something uncomplicated about her, something wise and something familiar. He likes being the focus of her attention.
“Alex told me about Spence departing to the great unknown,” she says without preamble.
Alex says a lot of things.
Ione smiles, her eyes soft. “He did. But don’t blame him. I’ve been told that I’m very easy to talk too.”
Ryan shrugs. He can’t argue with that. “I’m looking forward to receiving postcards.”
“That’s the spirit,” Ione nods.
Breezy smiles, sly and knowing. “I’m looking forward to phone sex.”
Ione turns to her. “Language B. There are young ears about.”
“Surely Ry knows all about the birds and bees now.”
“I was talking about the sproglets,” Ione corrects. “But you know how delicate Ryan is.”
Breezy smirks. Ryan wrinkles his nose.
Nearby someone starts messing around on Ben’s piano. Ryan closes his eyes and leans back into the couch. Breezy says something about her kid and Ione says something about her two and the conversation shifts enough that Ryan’s input is no longer needed. A girl – Michelle Williams, Ryan thinks – starts to sing something sweet and old, an old show tune from a musical Ryan can’t quite remember the name of.
It’s amazing that Ben keeps the sort of company he does. It completely baffles Ryan.
Ryan is half a sleep when Breezy shakes him awake.
“We’ve leaving,” she tells him. “I’ve got to get home and relieve the babysitter before she starts getting any ideas.”
“Your babysitter is your mother in law.”
“I know,” Breezy says. “If I’m not careful she’ll try and take my kid home with her. She’s done it before.”
“It’s your own fault for not having an ugly kid,” Ryan tells her.
From out of nowhere Ryan hears Alex laugh. “Damn those Weekes genetics. They ruin everything. First Breezy’s virtue, and now our night on the town.”
Breezy turns and shouts at him for a while; Ryan goes to the bathroom.
The light is bright and everything is marble and expensive. Ryan could be anywhere. Only the tubes of Ione’s lipstick, and her kids’ cartoon toothbrushes remind him he isn’t in a hotel halfway across the world. With his fingers, he washes his face. There is still lipstick on his cheek from when Ione kissed him hello. It’s bright pink. He rubs at it until it’s gone.
When Z gets back from wherever the fuck she was filming, she invites Ryan to come with her when she gets her hair cut.
“Where’s the mystery then?” Ryan asks.
“What’s with you and mystery?” Z retorts.
Z is cutting her hair for the role in the film she and Ryan are doing together. Apparently playing a girl with terminal illness is the stylist code for a Mia Farrow circa Rosemary’s Baby pixie cut. Who knew? It took her agent over a month to get permission from three different producers and directors before Z could finally book an appointment.
“I don’t see why you couldn’t have worn a wig,” Ryan says the next time he sees her when she turns up to lunch missing her usual six inches of hair extensions.
“That right there is why the girls love you,” Z crones. “You say such wonderful things. It’s like honey into my ears.”
“Who says that?”
“My mom,” she tells him, flipping open her menu. “No mom jokes. Please. Don’t be that sort of guy.”
“You’re really limiting me,” he tells her.
“I don’t see how. I thought method acting freed you from such petty restraints.”
Ryan ignores her and waves down a waiter.
Spencer doesn’t believe in method acting. When they were teenagers on Sean Penn’s set, he and Brendon would drink warm cans of coke and make stupid jokes and act out scenes from Shanghai Surprise while they were meant to be doing schoolwork. Ryan remembers being so embarrassed. Even now he remembers wincing as Brendon played Gloria Tatlock to Spencer’s very awful pastiche of Glendon Wasey right in front of Sean.
“Don’t be lame,” Spencer told him when Ryan complained.
“Don’t you be lame,” Ryan retorted.
The following Monday morning Z and Ryan go to the first table read together. Although she said picking him up wasn’t a problem, she forgets the way to the Chateau Marmont. By the time she remembers, they’re late and her car needs gas. At the petrol station, Ryan fills the tank while she spends around ten minutes inside the service station deciding on what brand of cigarettes to buy. Leaning against the bonnet, Ryan checks his iPhone while he waits. There isn’t anything to check though. It’s not that late in Europe. Nothing has had enough time to happen.
He texts Alex.
Alex doesn’t reply.
But he wouldn’t.
According to Z, the night before last he attended some sort of charity dinner thing that Sofia was involved in. Of course Kristen was there.
Seeing her always fucks him up in one way or another.
“She’s his kryptonite,” Z says after she pays, using her nails to break the plastic wrapping around the packet of Marlboros.
Kristen’s always been far more than that. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s not anything new. Besides, they’re already running late.
Originally when Ryan first signed on to the new Gus Van Sant film they were shooting on location in New York. Due to a combinations of filming restrictions and funding issues (which somehow led to a script re-rewrite) they’re now shooting the bulk of the production in a small town half an hour outside Portland. Z isn’t exactly happy, but she isn’t too put out. Secretly, Ryan thinks she likes being the big fish in the small town. Jesse Eisenberg definitely does not.
“How would you know?” Spencer asks, on one of the rare occasions when he manages to answer his phone. “It’s not like he talks to you.”
Ryan makes a face. It wasn’t like he expected to find a kindred spirit in Jesse, but it wouldn’t hurt for him to exchange more than three or four words with Ryan that weren’t written somewhere in the pages of the script. Z says Jesse is shy. (They’ve been shooting for about a month and Jesse still can’t look her in the eye. It’s hilarious). But Ryan’s seen the long conversation Gus draws Jesse into and the way they debate the subtle ways inflection and emphasis can change the meaning of dialogue. Jesse isn’t shy. He just doesn’t like Ryan.
He tells Spencer this.
Spencer sighs. “Z’s there, why don’t you go talk to her instead?”
Z is there. But it’s not quite the same.
Spencer laughs when Ryan sighs.
“I know, I know, I know,” Spencer tells him, not at all sympathetically. “But buck up. At least you don’t have teeth marks on your left thigh.”
Ryan blinks – “What?”
Spencer laughs and hangs up on Ryan.
Ryan hates when he does that.
Shooting goes late into the night.
In a nameless park in a nondescript neighbourhood, they film scenes of the three of them in an empty playground. Between breaks Z bundles up and stands with the crew. Normally Ryan joins her but after sixteen hours it’s difficult to turn it on and off and it’s easier not to even bother trying. Jesse doesn’t either. Like relics, together they lose hours of themselves in their characters. By the time Gus is satisfied, Ryan’s arms and shoulders are aching from pushing Jesse and Z on the faded roundabout and his heart feels far too exposed. He knew what he was getting into with Gus, but coming up to breathe hurts, and when Gus slaps him on the back, Ryan feels terribly vulnerable.
With the production shutting down for the night, the crew break into a comfortable sort of comradely made up of jokes and weary laughter. Gus joins them without second thought. Ryan doesn’t know how he can. The cameras might all be turned off, but Ryan’s head is still filled with the murmurings and ill thought out actions of adolescent. It fills him, almost to the brim.
Z shakes it off easily. She always has.
He sees her with Gus, watching the dailies with a heavy coat thrown over her costume. The monitors wash her face with pale blue light. He could go over. He knows he could. Jesse has. Ryan hasn’t moved, but Jesse has. His mouth is pinched, but he’s there.
Ryan doesn’t understand Jesse.
When Ryan had heard Jesse had signed onto Restless, Ryan had been so excited. Everyone had said how similar they were and even Ryan expected to get on well with him. But from the very first day Jesse had been aloof and diffident – at least to Ryan.
On the drive back to their hotel Ryan pretends to be asleep when the driver tries to start a conversation.
“Well, that was rude,” Z says when they are ushered into the lobby.
Ryan shrugs. “Like you wanted to talk to him either.”
“I had to, since you decided to play sleeping beauty.”
Ryan only just manages not to snort. Z’s never had to do anything in her entire life.
Z had been the big fish in the small pond since she was a kid. It wasn’t her looks or her talent or even the shit she said in interviews, but her last name. A name shared by one of the biggest production companies in the entertainment business and the family to match. Where Jason was related to half the town, Z’s father – her whole family – owned it.
Thus for better or for worse Z was Tori Spelling 2.0.
In the morning Ryan wakes to find photographs of Emile Hirsch and Spencer muddy and grinning at some European festival. With arms slung over each others shoulders they look punch drunk happy. There are deep dark circles under Spencer’s eyes and dirt matted into his hair. But he’s smiling so bright and so unguarded. They both are.
(In another one of the images Emile is in the middle of saying something. His mouth is close to Spencer’s ear, from the angle of the shot Emile’s lips are a hairsbreadth away from touching Spencer. In the following images Spencer’s tiling his head back and laughing. (Ryan looks at the last image for longer than he probably should.))
When Spencer calls later that day, he’s excited.
After their performance at Glastonbury, he and the guys found out that they were picked up on the summer festival circuit.
“Fuck, I can’t believe it,” he laughs.
“So that makes what? An extra month?”
“Maybe two,” Spencer says. “If we’re lucky.”
In his head Ryan adds three months onto the countdown he has going. Just to be safe.
In the background Ryan hears the distant roar of the crowd. Someone shouts Spencer’s name.
“Sorry,” Spencer apologises. “I have to go.”
“No, me too,” Ryan tells him. “Talk to you later.”
“Totally,” Spencer promises, and then he’s gone.
From the other side of the world Ryan keeps track of them, watching google alerts, tracking them on tumblr and trying not to be personally offended when he finds another one of Cash’s diary entries uploaded on Camisado’s myspace page. He doesn’t really get why Cash is there, but it’s safer not to ask why – safer to lie in the overgrown grass with Jesse and Z and play out a love story, play act being a kid.
“You miss me more now than you will when I’m actually gone,” Z whispers, but she’s not Z, she’s Annabel and Ryan is Enoch and Enoch is in love with her and with Jesse’s Alfred too, or at least that’s how Ryan’s playing it. “I promise.”
“That’s a horrible thing to promise.”
“It won’t be, later.”
Gus calls cut.
Stepping out from behind the monitors, he tells them that that was good. “But try it slower. More nuanced.”
Z sits up to listen.
Ryan turns and looks at her. With her hair cut, Z’s cheek bones look so much sharper. She could be her mother, almost. She was an actress too. She only did two films before she got married, but they were good ones. Sometimes they’re on TV. This film with Gus, is Z’s third film. She acts like more of a season professional than Jesse, and he’s been acting since he was a kid. Ryan doesn’t know how she does it.
His third film was a historical piece about the Falkland war. It was a piece of shit.
Ryan is in the middle of filming a couple intense days of night shoots when that latest Harry Potter film opens.
Clémence takes Spencer and the guys to the London premiere.
Of course they don’t go together or anything like that. Even when they were dating there were never any red carpet pictures or anything overt – not that Clémence was well known enough for that then - and there aren’t any now. But clicking through some of the after party paparazzi shoots during the brief breaks in filming, Ryan catches Spencer in the background of a few frames and then again when they are leaving the official after screening party. With one of his hand protectively pressed to the small of her back, Spencer is carrying her coat and she is tucked against his side as he ushers her to the waiting car.
The flashes of the cameras drown Clémence, making her skin look translucent and her eyes look like they are such a pale blue. Against Spencer, the vibrant red of her chiffon dress is almost vulgar.
There are other people in most of the shoots – Dallon opening the car door, Cash looking completely blitzed in his finest suit, a few of Ashley clutching Ian’s hand – but Ryan knows better.
The next day Ryan is late to set.
Three days later, Clémence is named best dressed on Fashion Police.
(They only use the red carpet shots).
Before Spencer left, he came along to Ryan’s final doctor’s appointment and held Ryan’s hand when the doctor cut the cast off.
“Good timing,” Spencer had said at the time.
It was only a week or so before the tour started and Spencer had spent the last few days in Cash’s pool house rehearsing. Ryan had come to most of them. Once he’d brought Z, and she invited Juno Temple and Olivia Thirlby because apparently the three of them were best friends. Or they’d sat next to each other at Rag & Bone’s NYC fashion week show. Either way, once they’d arrived, the rehearsal had dissolved quickly into a midday pool party. At least it did for everyone else who stripped out of their clothes and jumped in.
Sitting but the side of the pool, Ryan tried not to grimace while Spencer duct taped a plastic bag around Ryan’s arm. “I don’t see the point of this.”
“Water would fuck up my masterpiece.”
“I feel stupid.”
Spencer grinned and added another stripe of tape. “Funny. You look pretty stupid too.”
“Hey!” Ryan exclaimed but not really because Spencer’s eyes were dancing and that’s all it really took when it came to him.
In the background he could hear Juno screaming and Ian yelling something about girl cooties. Spencer leant over and used his teeth to tear the tape. His breath was so hot against Ryan’s skin and Ryan – in only his cotton boxers – slipped into the pool as if it was an after though. Floating on his back, he watched Spencer rolled up the cuffs of his jeans and dangled his feet over the edge.
“You’re not coming in?”
“Swimming is so 90s,”
“You’re making fun of me.”
Spencer nodded. “Yeah. Totally.”
Principle filming reaches a point where everyone can tell the bulk of the shooting is almost complete. They’re probably are going to be a few re-shoots, but there usually are with all of Gus’ projects. The atmosphere on set feels a little like the last week of school term. The pace of the work doesn’t abate, but the weight of the work is felt more than it was on the first day of shooting. As the lead, Ryan carries most of it. For better or worse, that’s the way it is. He knows it’s starting to show, but there isn’t much he can do about that either.
When Brendon calls, Ryan is halfway between the hotel and the latest location and on the way to fast asleep.
“Did I wake you?” Brendon asks.
Sitting up, Ryan lies. “No.”
Brendon sees right though him. “I did, didn’t I?”
“No, I’m awake,” Ryan says for no reason in particular.
“Now you are, but you weren’t when I rang.”
Ryan doesn’t know why Brendon’s pushing the point. But then again he doesn’t know why he’s pushing either. That’s the thing about Brendon. Or the thing about the two of them. When they were kids Ryan couldn’t take his eyes of Brendon – Brendon who was only fifteen but was already a consummate professional full of charm and overflowing with talent. In comparison to Ryan, everything Brendon did seem so effortless. Back then Ryan spent hours hanging out in Brendon’s trailer running lines and trying to emulate him. Now they can’t talk for five minutes without picking stupid fights that aren’t really fights but are really stupid.
This time isn’t any different.
A week or so ago, Ryan’s agent received an offer for him to star in the latest instalment of some Marvel/DC reboot/remake whatever over indulgent ‘verse the Way Brothers were signed on to write, direct, and product. Ryan couldn’t even make himself get through the treatment Tara sent him to read through. Over the phone, Brendon sounds excited. Apparently he was offered a part as well.
“Just like old times,” Brendon says.
“I haven’t accepted it,” Ryan tells him, because he hasn’t and thus technically it isn’t. It comes out wrong.
“Oh,” Brendon replies stiffly.
He doesn’t say anything for a beat. Ryan wonders if he should.
Brendon coughs awkwardly though. “I did. I mean. I accepted the role. I thought it’d be fun.”
Ryan thinks it’ll be months upon months of being asked if he read the comics. Graphic novels. Whatever. Months of it. Literally, months. He isn’t Andrew Garfield or Chris Evens. Ryan doesn’t need the work. He can’t smile non-stop without flinching either.
If Spencer was in LA rather than the backwaters of Europe, he’d probably call B.S on Ryan. But whatever.
Outside the car he hears someone call his name as they pull into the underground parking lot. A PA, Ryan notes, probably hoping Z is in the car with him since she’s always running late no matter what anyone does.
“I’ve got to go,” Ryan says.
It’s the truth, but it’s close enough to a lie to make it feel like one. Fuck Brendon.
Thirty seven days in, Jesse Eisenberg still isn’t speaking to Ryan.
It isn’t news, but what does that matter?
Sixteen hours into the day and with no end in sight, Ryan doesn’t care in the slightest. Jesse can do what he likes. If that’s ignoring Ryan, Ryan can deal with that. He can deal with a lot of things. Only he doesn’t.
“What’s you’re problem?” he finds himself asking when they’re in-between scenes, waiting for the lighting to be adjusted.
Jesse’s eyes are unfocused. He looks tired. The heavily starched collar of his WW2 uniform cuts into his jugular, leaving angry red marks on his skin. “I hate this place.”
Ryan feels indifferent. Indifferent enough to be blunt. “So?”
Everyone hates being on location. It’s like camp. Just like school camp. Ryan really hated camp.
Jesse mouth pinches. “When I signed on, we were filming New York.”
“Things change,” Ryan tells him, because they do. He would have thought Jesse would be used to that. Ryan is. When he signed on Jesse’s character was a Japanese Kamikaze pilot, not an American GI.
“Things change,” Jesse repeats, the words sounding odd when he says then.
“Yeah,” Ryan says. “Scripts, locations, schedules.”
“Funding,” Jesse adds.
There is something pointed in his tone. Something Ryan might have missed if didn’t have an ear for it.
“Funding too,” he nods.
“They changed after your DUI.”
Jesse turns away. “Not that it fucking matters that I could have stayed in my own apartment, with my girlfriend and rode my bike to set. No. Things change.”
But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Ryan’s DUI is a joke, but not a very funny one. At least it isn’t to him. TMZ finds it hilarious. So does Perez Hilton. (And Alex).
Technically, Ryan wasn’t actually driving when he got his DUI. He was in his car and the ignition was turned on, but the car was parked. The hand break was on. He wasn’t going anywhere. He was outside a friend of a friends place. The party was still going strong. Someone was mixing James Murphy bootlegs and Ryan had the windows wound down so he could listen to the bridge. It was so late it was early and for some reason a cop happened to be in the area and for some reason he decided to go check why Ryan had his high beam headlights on.
Ryan doesn’t remember everything, but he remembers the cop leaning over to speak to him.
He can’t remember all of the questions, only that he’d gotten most of the answers wrong and then there was a breath test. According to it, one of them had been drinking too much malt whiskey. (It wasn’t the cop). Ryan was asked to step out of the vehicle, sir.
He had laughed. No one called Ryan sir, not ever.
He wasn’t paying attention. He just wanted a cigarette. He lost his lighter at Juno’s place. Or Eric’s. Or someone’s place. The one in his car only worked when the ignition was on.
And then there were handcuffs and bail and Tara issuing a statement and then, because bad luck comes in threes, Ryan accidentally slammed a taxi door shut on his arm when the taxi picked him up at after he’d been issued bail.
If that wasn’t enough, when he got to the hospital, someone had already called Ginger.
She’d been his emergency contact for years – more. It had been years since he was a kid skipping school to write crappy lyrics, but she still checked up on him sometimes when she finds out all his friends who haven't known him his entire life forget he sometimes doesn't eat. Or pay his bills, or call the cleaning service to make his place inhabitable before he returns from shooting on location. But when she turns up at the hospital, he wished more than anything he had someone else’s name listed just to avoid the acute feeling of shame and guilt that he feels when she looks at him.
Funny, right. Hilarious.
Shooting ends a week early. It’s first for everyone. At the cast party Ryan drinks too much and ends up being sick outside the restaurant while Z sits on the steps and smokes her way through what’s left of his cigarettes.
By the time Ryan feels well enough to go back inside all he wants to do is go home.
“That’s so lame,” Z comments.
She’s right. She always is.
In the morning Ryan flies business class back to LA.
Not a moment too soon, he thinks. Not a moment too soon.
Ryan has been in LA for just over a week when his agent calls again about the superhero thing. Apparently people are talking and things are happening. When the script was first doing the rounds people were talking about Twilight. He’s name wasn’t a topic of conversation then. According to Tara it is now.
“Darren Aronofsky wants you.”
For a moment Ryan is confused. “I thought the Way Brothers were directing it.”
“Thanks to The Hunger Games making post-apocalyptic tween romance sci-fic’s cool, their epic post-apocalyptic sci-fic genre piece set in the dessert to a soundtrack of remixed Bowie songs finally got the green light and is out of developmental hell.”
“Good for them.”
“Good for you,” Tara corrects, which actually translates to good for them. Maybe just her. Sometimes there isn’t a difference. “With Frank Iero out of the picture, you’re in. Aronofsky loved you in Shame.”
“I was on screen for maybe ten minutes.”
Less than ten minutes, if Ryan’s accurate. Little more than a walk on role as Michael’s college and Carey’s one night stand.
“He said you were the best part of the film.”
Ryan thinks Tara is a better liar than that. “I don’t want to spend the better part of a year in spandex.”
“It’s Russian,” Tara tells him over the phone. “You like Russian films.”
“It’s a remake of a Russian trilogy that hasn’t even been finished made.”
“Other than Urie, you’re the only person Darren has personally reached out too,” she tells him, as if that’s the most important thing. “They really want you.”
Ryan really wants a pony, but that isn’t happening either.
Tara sighs. “At least think about it. Can you do that for me?”
“You know how I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep.”
When Ryan was twenty two, he bought a house that Ava Gardiner and James Dean had lived in. At least according to the vendor. For the last two and a half years he’s been renovating it. On a free day, he and Ione go to check on its progress. It’s been about four months since he last visited and in that time not too much has changed. There have been delays, according to the site manager. But there always seems to be some excuse.
“We’ll throw you a party when it’s finished,” Ione comments, running her finger over the marble counter top that has yet to be installed.
It was meant to be a party house. That was what Ryan wanted at twenty four. Just off his fourth picture, and just about to sign onto Lars von Treir’s remake of Jean Luc Goddard’s Breathless, Ryan spent half of his time following Alex around and the other half high as a fucking kite on a combination of coke and black coffee. Now the expanse of exposed floorboards and wall of windows feels a little bit like a cliché; 1940s minimalism with wifi. Better than new.
When he bought the place, Jon and Cassie were living four houses down. Now they’re in Chicago. Ryan still doesn’t understand why anyone would move back to Chicago. Jon was just making it. He’s doing okay now, Ryan knows that. He and Cass just wrote and directed their first short film. But it is one thing to go to a premiere, it’s another standing in his half-finished house; the reality now so different to what Ryan pictured when he first bought it.
Ione seems to pick up on that.
“Hey, buck up Ross,” she tells him. “Your barbie dream home is almost finished. Your days of ordering room service and running into Charlotte Gainsbourg in lifts are almost over.”
He knows what she’s doing, but, “That only happened once.”
“And you still talk about it.”
“We had a moment.”
“You were probably recovering from a three day bender.”
He probably was.
Ione grins and links their arms together.
Outside her daughter is picking flowers from the overgrown garden. She’s a lovely kid; sweet as anything.
It’s ironic really, he’s building his dream home he envisioned as a twenty four year old.
He had shitty taste as a twenty four year old.
Fuck. When Ryan was twenty four, Ione wouldn’t have let him anywhere near her kids. Probably smart.
Despite everything, Charlotte hasn’t gone anywhere. They still see her sound. Can’t help it. Not really. Sure, no one talks to her. Or about her (Well, they don’t. Everyone else does). But she’s still there. Ryan supposes they all forget that. Z says it’s to be expected given everything.
At the opening of the new – Ryan can’t remember what – he runs into her. A full week back from shooting, Ryan is surprised that he feels surprised to see her. With her hair pulled back with jeweled combs and dressed in a long 40s evening gown, Ryan finds himself thinking her stylist deserves a raise when she smiles at him.
The thing about LA is it’s a small town and every year it gets smaller. Or it is for people like them. And for people like her too. Not that there’s really much of a distinction.
“Do you remember when you were young and wanted to set the world on fire?” she asks, because although they all forget, for just a little while at the very beginning, she did know him when he was young.
“No,” Ryan tells her.
He remembers making Sean give Spencer a part in his film so Ryan wouldn’t have to do it alone.
Charlotte makes a face. “You need to stop lying.”
Funny, Ryan thinks. Out of the two of them, Charlotte was always the dishonest one.
Brendon first met Charlotte Froom at a party her father was holding after the Golden Globes. At the time, she was seventeen and he was just shy of eighteen. That year he was there as a nominee (he didn’t win that year or the following time he was nominated – but no one expected he would after taking home an Academy Award at sixteen). By the time they were introduced to each other she perhaps had drunk a little too much champagne but his stupid jokes made her smile and the combination of her easy smile and flushed cheeks made him feel bold enough to ask for her number.
Shortly afterwards, they not so quietly started dating.
By the end of the following month they were engaged and on New Years Eve they eloped in a small provincial town in France. She wore a vintage satin cocktail dress that was mint coloured and he pinned a dandelion to his jacket. In the photographs Shane took, they looked like they were going out to dinner.
For the eighteen months they managed to stay married, they featured in every magazine. All dark eyes and good hair; holding hands and in love. It was beautiful (the pictures) while it lasted.
It didn’t last too long though.
The last film Ryan did, the one before the Von Sant one, is about to be released. It was filmed over a year ago. He hasn’t thought about it in months.
His PR rep, Gloria, calls him in the morning to talk about interviews and impressions and how the studio has decided to promote the project. The emphasis Gloria puts on how important his role in it is somewhat unexpected given he was the third lead to Michael Fassbender. Even if it was someone in the lead, no one cares about St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre. Nevertheless a contract is a contract and Ryan is nothing if not a professional so Ryan agrees to meets up for lunch later in the week to go over the details in person.
“This is good,” she says. “It means they believe in you.”
Ryan thinks that’s the most polite way anyone could ever refer to Michael’s current legal issues.
Afterward she calls him up twice. Once to arrange a time for him to see a stylist, the second time to tell him he’d been booked to do Leno and The Daily Show.
“Talk about the film,” she reminded him but when he arrives at the press junket, people only seem to want to talk about the Night Watch trilogy.
“I don’t know anything,” he offers, when asked.
It’s funny how the truth is often a lie in LA. And vice versa.
According to Tara, Night Watch isn’t really a superhero movie. But it’s being marketed as both; a superhero film for the numbers, a character driving piece all about “human” nature for the critics.
The basic plot really isn’t so basic, but it goes like this. Brendon is Anton. Anton is the protagonist. When his girlfriend dumps him for another guy, he goes to a witch to try and get her back. The witch says it will cost him. In the book and the original Russian films, the price is spelled out. In Darren’s film, it’s implied. Apparently there were many arguments and rewrites regarding this plot point. Abortion isn’t really mainstream.
Either way the scene is presented, the point of it is that Anton changes the future. He fucks it up. The rest of the film is about him trying to fix his mistake. Or, to be more specific, the rest of the trilogy is about that – and the burden of guilt.
The girlfriend – yet to be cast – is Anna. Svetlana actually, but Anna is easier for American audiences. She isn’t the ex girlfriend but she is Anton’s chance for redemption. She has powers and is cursed.
Ryan’s character is Zavulon, name still subject to change (currently they’re workshopping alternatives). In the books and Russian films, there are other characters that are more important – ones that mentor Anton, work along side him and are his friends. But Darren doesn’t really care about Light or Dark Others (the titles of the respective good and bad characters). He has rewritten most of them, combining two into one, editing out others. Some, if they’re lucky, do survive but only as cameo’s with one or two lines. But Ryan’s character, Darren likes him. Zavolon is ancient and uses violence like a card trick. From the outside, he looks harmless. But from the outside Anton looked harmless too, and he went and changed the world because a girl broke his heart.
Brendon and Ryan are the centre of the trilogy. Two sides of the same coin. Ryan’s character sees that, Brendon’s doesn’t.
They’re the ones who will carry the franchise, if Ryan chooses to sign on the dotted line.
They’re the ones who will have to breathe new life into the story Darren wants to tell.
According to Tara people are already talking – a reunion some are calling it. Her cut, if Ryan chooses to do the film, is not insubstantial. Ryan reminds himself of this when she tells him people are saying Night Watch is Ryan and Brendon’s chance to come full circle; two of the brightest young things in Hollywood together on the silver screen again.
Ryan – Ryan has been in the business for a long time. A very long time.
People talk. That’s what they do. It doesn’t mean anything. It never means anything. He knows better than to listen, especially when people are saying what he wants to hear.
Then Darren Aronofsky takes Ryan out to lunch.
Ryan is a little late, but Darren doesn’t seem to care. He already ordered for both of them, he says. He leans across the table when he says it. Ryan nods. He doesn’t typically order steak, but it’s not like he’s paying for it. Hell, it’s not like Darren’s paying for it either.
Ryan has been around for a while now. He recognises a play date when he is set up on one. But Darren, who has been around even longer, doesn’t seem too.
“It’s not about superheros,” he says right off the bat, his eye contact far too intense for a one o’clock lunch. “It’s about human nature.”
That’s a tag line Sam Raimi used. But no one cares about his Spiderman films anymore. Not that Ryan would say that. He has done this before. Not often, but enough to nod and to let Darren talk. A few months ago he went out to dinner with Mia Hansen-Løve. He acted the same with her, even when she had reached across the table and taken his hand in hers.
Now, here, Darren talks and maybe it’s more of the same. But against Ryan’s will, he starts to listen.
“You and Brendon play off each other. Brendon’s the hero, sure, except he’s not. He’s this selfish fuck of a guy who wants his ex more than anything and is willing to screw the world over to get her back. It’s your presence in the film that stops the audience from being complacent. You speak to Brendon like a confidant, and treat him like an equal because that’s what he is to you.”
“In the books Anton and Zabulon–”
“Don’t read the books. Don’t watch the other films either,” Darren interrupts. “This isn’t going to be a faithful fucking translation of either.”
Ryan looks away. Right, then that’s another thing he’ll be asked to talk about a hundred times.
Darren makes an exasperated sound as if Ryan completely missed his point. “Do what you want. Read the books in untranslated Russian if you want authenticity. Fuck if I care. If you want to make something of value, you can’t be afraid of stepping on some toes.”
“Rewriting source material is different,” Ryan says.
At this, at Ryan finally engaging in the conversation, Darren finishes his beer and waves at the bar staff to bring him a fresh one. There is something electric about his manner now that Ryan’s spoken.
“Source material is a suggestion.”
“Don’t let J.K Rowling hear you.”
“She can’t hear anything over the sound of royalties rolling into her bank account. I’d be more worried about Alan Moore.”
Like he’d lower himself to speak to Darren, Ryan thinks.
Darren grins, and it’s clear that he’s still that punk from Brookline begging and borrowing and doing what he needs in order to get to do what he wants. Ryan can see it. He doesn’t know how Darren managed to fool all those studio suits. There is something electric about him; he truly is passionate about the project. This isn’t something a random producer sent his direction after the Way brothers bailed on it. But it still doesn’t quite make sense. Ryan can’t understand why the hell someone like Darren, someone fresh off winning every award on offer with The Wrestler and then again with Black Swan, is using all his hard won credibility and power to make a superhero tent pole project for Paramount. Not just a film, but a franchise. Because that’s what this will probably turn out to be. One film is one year, plus another for post production and promotion. A trilogy or more could mean seven or more years.
“That’s called job security,” Tara tells Ryan, when she sees him next the next day. “Talk to one of your friends who isn’t Alex or Z. They’ll explain why it’s a good thing.”
Hustling him out of his room and into her car, she gives him a stick of gum, buttons up the top button of his shirt and makes him take off his sunglasses when they pull into the Paramount studio lot. There is a look in her eyes that tells him she thinks he was out drinking the night before. He wasn’t. He fell asleep in the previous afternoon while listening to Juno’s old Cat Power records and didn’t wake until the morning curtesy call.
“This is a waste of time,” he tells her feeling belligerent.
She ignores him. “When you get inside, be polite. I don’t ask for much, but try to be polite.”
Ryan is over this and the meeting hasn’t even started.
The meeting is held in a modern conference room. It’s clean, light filled and feels expensive. He is met by the vice-president for production, and two producers. Darren isn’t present. In his head, Ryan translates. Darren did the pitch, now it’s their turn to do the sell. He prepares himself to listen to a conversation about numbers and figures and incentives and –
“We hear good things about you from Walter Salles,” the vice-president says. “Everyone here at Paramount is talking about the audition you did for him.”
Ryan blinks. Walter Salles? It takes Ryan a moment to connect the dots. Ryan read for Salles’ casting agent before he left to do Restless. He hadn’t heard anything. Even at the time he went for the audition he knew better than to get his hopes too high. Everyone under male and thirty five has auditioned for On the Road. Everyone and their dog. Even Alex made the effort to memorise a page of dialogue and turn up on time to give it his best shot.
Turning, he looks at Tara. If people were talking, she’d know. She always knows. But she is looking at them, and they are looking at him.
One of the produces nods. “Apparently you really channelled that disparate feel Walter is trying to capture.”
The other producer agrees, noting how well Ryan had picked up on the inherent rhythm of the script.
Ryan knows what they’re doing okay. He does. He knows this is about the Night Watch trilogy. This – whatever this is – is just a veil. But just as suddenly as the subject is brought up, it forgotten when they bring up his film with Gus.
“I heard it will be in competition at Cannes,”
Ryan didn’t know that. Why didn’t he know that? He turns to Tara, but she’s nodding and adding something about how she’s heard it might even close the competition. Ryan didn’t know that either. He blinks, but the conversation has moved on.
“The reviews for Shame have been amazing,”
“I was only in it for ten minutes,” he repeats on autopilot. That’s really the only thing he remembers saying.
Upon exiting the office, Tara grips his wrist tightly and leads him outside. It isn’t until they’re in his car and smiles.
“Now, was that so hard?” she asks.
Ryan isn’t quite sure what happened.
Tara gives him a look. “They just offered you On the Road, you fuckwit.”
And, oh. Ryan takes in a sharp breath and exhales it just as quickly. It whistles through his teeth and he can’t stop himself from doing it again.
“You’ll probably have to test for it again, but it’s pretty much yours,” she tells him, tapping away on her blackberry. “Act happy. You’re going to be a bona fide movie star.”
The contracts for both films are in Tara’s office within the hour.
Darren calls just after Ryan gets out of the meeting with the studio heads and invites himself over to Ryan’s suite.
“Fuck, kid,” he swears when arrives an hour or so later. “Why the fuck are you making me work for this?”
Ryan exhales slowly. He – “I think they offered me On the Road.”
Darren laughs. It’s comes out of nowhere and Ryan winces at the volume.
“Oh, man,” he says. “Urie’s people got an extra sixteen mil per picture out of Fox, and all they offer you is your hipster wet dream on a silver platter.”
Ryan bristles. “It’s not about money.”
“Kid,” Darren says, sounding like he knows what he’s talking about. “Take it from someone who knows first hand. It’s always about money. Art is just a by-product.”
Ryan doesn’t believe that. Maybe Darren does, however Ryan doesn’t.
But the thing is, they nearly have him. Darren clearly know its, it must be obvious but how quickly he got himself over to the Chateau Marmont in peek hour. Except the next thing out of his mouth isn’t something clever about redefining genres or examining the duality of human nature or even hollow praise, it’s Darren telling Ryan he’s played the same role in his last five films.
“No offence,” he says, then he backtracks. “Fuck, I take that back. Take offence, whatever. But apart from Shame, you’ve been playing the same intellectual non-threatening hipster character for years. You’re good at it. But that doesn’t mean any of your work is memorable.”
Ryan opens his mouth, but Darren hasn’t stops speaking.
“I know what you’re thinking. I know that you think this is just another superhero franchise piece of crap. Don’t think that I don’t know that,” Darren levels, brutally honest way that takes Ryan aback after afternoon of buzzwords and sweet talk. “But you’re wrong. Okay, it’s probably not going to get you a fucking Oscar nomination, but it’s going to be memorable. It’s a risk, but if you trust me and do what I say, this film is going to transform your career.
Ryan hasn’t said yes. He hasn’t said anything. But – he finds himself nodding and it is only then Darren sit back in his seat.
Things do change. Jesse is right about that.
After Darren disappears, Dan Schrecker calls. From what Ryan knows, he vaguely recognises Dan as the person who has done graphics, effects, title design, or post-production work on all of Darren's films to date. According to what Z says, where Scorsese has Leo, Darren has Dan. On the phone he sounds weary, like he’d rather be doing something more interesting than acting as a middle man.
“Darren watched that scene from your first film, the one where you watch Urie button his shirt up just after your family had moved. He had it on a loop for a month while we were throwing ideas around.”
Ryan doesn’t know what that supposed to mean. He pulls out the script Darren sent him ages ago and rereads it.
It could be worse, he thinks and then he thinks of Jack Kerouac.
Ryan knows want. He can play it. Now, with the pages of Darren’s script in his hand, Ryan feels something inside him twist violently with it. He wants to play Dean Moriarty. He wants the part more than he thinks he’s wanted anything and now with the opportunity there –
A super villain. Ryan thinks about it. It could be far worse.
(A week after signing on, he finds out Vanessa Hudgens as been cast as the female lead.
Spencer laughs when he finds out. So does Z and Ione. Eric sends Ryan a (girls) lycra leotard. Breezy sends him a High School Musical box set. It isn’t funny).
The studio sends Ryan a trainer almost immediately after he signs on. He’s name is Hans and he’s ex-military.
Their first day together Hans and Ryan’s new nutritionist work out a diet plan and finalise Ryan’s work out plan. It’s complete bullshit and Ryan says as much when Breezy and Ione take him out to dinner this new vegetarian place they heard about. Together they share two bottles of wine on mostly empty stomachs, while he smokes his way through half a pack of cigarettes for good measure. Fuck his nutrition plan, Ryan thinks as he picks at a plate of lentils and roasted carrots, it’s not like Darren isn’t going to want the costume department dress him in Italian styled suits. Ryan’s read his notes. There is a reason directors use green screens and stunt doubles.
The next day Hans makes him do three hours of cardio training in the morning to help build up his endurance.
Ryan manages to last half an hour before he’s throwing up his breakfast on the sidewalk.
When his stomach in empty, Hans makes him keep going.
Ryan decides he hates him.
He hates that Hans wasn’t the only one to witness the reappearance of Ryan’s eggs benedick breakfast too, since he, Brendon, and Vanessa are all training together. Apparently it’s to help create a sense of comradely before going on set. Filming is due to beginning in four months. Maybe five. They’re still trying to iron out some scheduling issues. (And the script, if the rumours are true). For the time being the only thing settled is their training schedule.
Ryan doesn’t know how he is expected to do it. He’s never been bulky. Unlike Spencer who grew tall and strong, Ryan’s body never filled out. When he was a kid, Ginger uses to try to feed him up. Now his nutritionist tries to do the same, interrupting his six hour training sessions with meals. Food is important, protein especially. If he doesn’t eat frequently, all the training he is doing is undone. Ryan doesn’t really understand how, but he sits down with Brendon and Vanessa and eats when they are told too.
Following lunch they have martial arts and fight choreography. It’s just as Ryan imagined it.
After being thrown to the ground for the hundredth time, Ryan stares up at Brendon’s grinning face. He holds out his hand. Ryan ignores it and pushes himself up to stand his feet.
“Again,” one of the trainers shouts.
In the corner of his eye, he catches Vanessa doing sit ups, her face barely flushed. It’s only been about six months since Vanessa finished filming Sucker Punch. It’s embarrassing working out with her. She’s miles ahead of both Ryan and Brendon. She makes both of them look pathetic. Thank god none of Ryan’s friends know. He’d never hear the end of it.
At the moment, at least, his friends have lost interest in Ryan’s latest career turn. Even Z, who is apparently bff’s with Katie Homes, hasn’t made a joke about action figures. It makes sense that Alex is morous when Ryan catches up with him.
“Is Kristen dating another one of your co-star again?” Ryan asks, bumming a cigarette off him.
“Fuck you, Ross.”
An hour later, Alex is drunk off bad cocktails. “Have I ever told you how I introduced Kristen to the two great loves of her life?”
Ryan wrinkles his nose. “No. But you have told me about how you introduced her to her last two ex-boyfriend’s.”
Ryan checks his mobile. It’s not even ten pm yet.
There are five messages in his voicemail, all from his agency. They can wait.
The next morning Ryan is hung over and almost arrives late to training. He isn’t late though. Not that it matters. Hans treats him as if he is. So do Brendon and Vanessa which is rich, especially considering the rumours about Vanessa. And by rumours, Ryan means how her hair smells of weed and how she’s wearing day old clothes. But whatever. Like that counts when she can did a one hour cardio work out and then a hike without batting an eye.
Ryan manages a whole week and a half of passive aggressive behaviour before Darren calls him out on it.
He turns up at training and waits until Ryan has finished getting changed to hassle him.
Sitting down next to him in the change rooms, Darren doesn’t break eye contact, not even for a moment. And if he hasn’t already laid it on the line for Ryan, he does now when he says. “I want you for this film, you know that, but these are the rules – this is how it’s going to be. You’ve got to respect me. You’ve got to respect the film and everyone else who is working on it. That means there’s no going out clubbing, turning up late or running your mouth. You’re going to fucking work for this and you’re going to give me everything.”
Ryan doesn’t cuss him out, but he wants to. He wants to say he is giving Darren everything. But that would be a lie. Ryan’s turning up on time and jogging with a backpack filled with weights or whatever Hans decides he wants Ryan to do, but that’s just abiding by his contract. Darren knows this.
“Understand?” Darren asks, but not really.
What he’s really doing is reading Ryan the riot act and fuck it if Ryan will let that stand.
He nods. “I understand.”
And that, is that as far as Ryan is concerned.
So okay, Ryan can earn gold stars. Brendon and Vanessa might be naturals, but Ryan knows how to work hard. Fuck anyone for believing otherwise.
Like clockwork Ryan turns up for training on time and actually does it. Hans throws the fucking book at him, but Ryan gives it his all. He stops smoking and starts eating right and works like he’s never worked before. Although he’s never really been unfit or anything akin to that, he’s never been fit to the standard Darren requires.
Despite Ryan’s effort, his body never quite responds with the ease that Hans promised it would, He will never have the ability of Vanessa (who picks up sword fighting and fight choreograph like it’s another High School Musical dance number). But by the time production is due to begin, he can hold his own. Admittedly, Darren will still have to use a stunt double for the more difficult stunts, but with insurance and the studio heads playing close attention to the project, he was always going to have to.
Spencer, when Ryan’s able to get through to him, sounds proud.
“I knew you could do it,” he says, and Ryan is worn thinner than he probably has ever been before.
The sound of Spencer’s voice makes Ryan close his eyes and –
“Hey,” Spencer says. “You’re going to kick ass.”
“I can kick your ass now,” Ryan threatens.
Spencer laughs. “Yeah, yeah.”
Ryan bites his lip to stop himself from smiling. But that isn’t new when it comes to Spencer.
It isn’t long now until Spencer and the guys finish their tour. Only a few more dates. Ryan remembers this when he hangs up. Not long now. Not long now.
“I told you I’d be back before you knew it,” Spencer says the next time they talk.
It doesn't quite work out like that, and they both know it. But it was never going too.
“I wish I could be there to welcome you home,” Ryan tells him, because Ryan does wish he could be there.
“Yeah,” Spencer agrees. “Me too.”
Filming is set to commence within the fortnight. Ryan’s flight is less than a week away. Vanessa and Brendon are flying out a few days later. Ryan can’t believe how quickly time has flown. It feels like yesterday Darren was ordering his rare steaks and talking shit about Ryan’s filmography.
“But hey,” Spencer says. “When you get back to LA, I will be here to pick you up from LAX. You won’t even have to pay me minimum wage to be there.”
It’s a stupid joke, but it makes Ryan laugh. “I never paid you minimum wage.”
“No,” Spencer admits. “But you never paid me nearly what I was worth.”
Well, yeah. Ryan knows that. But that was a given. Spencer was Spencer.
Ryan knows – has always known what Spencer is to him, how lucky he is to have Spencer. Spencer’s always been there for him, always believed in him even when Ryan didn’t believe in anything let along himself.
“Ry?” Spencer asks after a moment.
Ryan exhales slowly. “I’m going to hold you to your promise. You better be there to carry my bags. You better be on time too.”
Spencer snorts. “Sure. You got it.”
Logically, Ryan knows he signed onto the film five months ago. But it isn’t until after he’s flown out to Moscow and arrived on the first day of filming he realises exactly what he’s gotten into when he is shoe horned into a spandex suit and having his dick arranged and rearranged into place by three women from the costume department.
God, Ryan thinks feeling rather too flustered. God.
The rest of the day isn’t much better. In fact Ryan would go as far as to say the first day of shooting is a disaster. Ryan had prepared. Night Watch might just be a pit stop before On the Road, but he is a professional. He turns in early the night before, turns up to set early, and is his character the moment he steps on set.
“No, no. Fuck, not like that,” Darren says, shaking his head after the first take.
He tries again. And again. And again.
Darren walks off set.
“Fuck method acting,” Darren says finally. “Fuck it. I don’t want formulas and, fuck, method. I want you to react.”
React. Right. Ryan can do that.
The next day isn’t any better.
Ryan doesn’t know what he’s doing wrong.
After four days of bad weather the shooting schedule has fallen behind. As a result they’re working extra hours to make up for the shortfall.
“Hey, it happens,” Brendon tells him after Darren’s gone off to have another smoke break.
Ryan – “Maybe to you.”
The week isn’t even out yet and even Vanessa has managed to make a better impression than him.
Ryan knows he’s taking his frustration out on Brendon, but that doesn’t stop him. Fuck him. Fuck Darren.
Superhero films. God.
The thing is, despite what people say, everyone’s a method actor in Hollywood. If you stay long enough, you can’t help it. Ryan’s just more honest about it than most.
Night Watch in primarily shooting Eastern Europe. Apparently it’s the new Southern Europe. The underground railway in Moscow is the first stop. In retrospect Ryan really shouldn’t have complained about all the night shoots. They might be filming at three and four in the morning during the time the railways shut down for repairs, but at least Moscow is a capital city. The rest of the shoot is currently taking place in half a dozen small Eastern European countries that Ryan had never heard of before.
In contrast, Jon and Tom are shooting a low budget indie flick in NYU. It’s summer there. As Ryan tries and fails to think of something to do on his one day off that month, he feels sharp tendrils of envy.
Early on in the shoot, Ellen visits.
In-between projects, she flies out to hang out with Brendon. Brendon, of course, is delighted to see her. Like they are still attending high school or something, he introduces her to everyone and during the lunch break they sit next to each other and hold hands.
“Pretty cheesy, huh?” Vanessa comments, siding up to him with an overfilled plate of clumpy macaroni in hand.
Ryan twitches. She smells like day old weed and beer. But she always does.
He has no idea how she gets hired, let alone how she managed to bag a lead in Night Watch. Her last significant role was Beastly. Beastly. From across the table, Ellen winks as if she knows. Dressed in one of Brendon’s old shirts and a pair of jeans with the knees torn out, Ryan kind of hates her.
Perhaps it’s the language barrier, perhaps Spencer’s right, but the four of then end up hanging out together more than they don’t. In the evenings they crowd into Brendon’s room. Stupid and bored, Ryan and Vanessa join forces and drink his mini fridge dry while Ellen and Brendon pluck out the occasional song on the battered acoustic guitar Ellen brought with her.
If they were in LA, Ryan would probably get himself into trouble with the moods he’s in.
But if they were in LA, he wouldn’t be getting into those moods.
Maybe Darren had more reasons than aesthetics when he chose his locations. Knowing him, he probably did.
Ellen smiles when Ryan brings it up. “There is a reason to every rhyme, Ross.”
“That’s not how the saying goes,” he tells her because it isn’t. It’s a small thing, he knows, but it doesn’t feel like it.
Isolation makes mild irritations into something that prickles him.
She shrugs easily. “So?”
Ellen’s been acting for a long time too, long enough that people forgot and somehow decided to label her an over night success. He wonders if they’re going to do that to him too.
Spencer doesn’t really care. Back in LA, he sounds soft and perhaps kinder than Ryan deserves when he tells him, “People will do what they want. You can’t control that.”
He sounds tired too, Ryan realises later. Ryan could hear that in his voice too.
He and the guys got off tour less than a week ago. Since then their label have been talking about producers and about not losing momentum. A few years ago they were fucking around with cords and harmonies in Cash’s pool house, Ryan remembers that and he thinks of that when he hears their song on a promo add for the next season of Gossip Girl while watching TV in his hotel room.
It’s amazing really, how quickly things change.
The set is like a pressure cooker. The longer the shoot goes on, the more pressure builds. He’s headlined pictures before - not major ones, like this – but it shouldn’t be new. Except it does feel new. Every day there are script revisions to revise, stunts to learn, people to work with and Darren demanding his best.
“Again,” Darren says.
‘Again’ is all Darren seems to say to Ryan.
Ryan’s body can’t keep up. Where in training it was a joke that he couldn’t do what Brendon and Vanessa could do, now it infuriates him. Acting has always been Ryan’s passion. It was always what he was best at – what he was better than other people at. But now he is struggling.
Take after take and he can’t get things right. Take after take and he becomes more and more exhausted.
Struggling by on less and less sleep, Ryan tries, but for the first time in his life it isn’t enough.
On the few occasions he gets time to himself, Tara is calling him, wanting to get his opinion on action figures and approve pre-release photographs. If it isn’t her, it’s Gloria. Gloria calling to talk about press and on-set interviews and how there are rumours that he’s fighting with Brendon and Darren and hooking up with Vanessa and god. It makes Ryan laugh. Because really. Vanessa?
His friends would never let him hear the end of it.
But for all that Alex and Juno and Eric have all promised to visit, none of them have. Something is always coming up. Ryan isn’t disappointed, not really. He knows that they think it’s so silly – that he’s silly for doing this film. But it’s exhausting and they’re drinking cocktails while he’s struggling to find things to say to Brendon and struggling to hold his tongue around Vanessa and -
They're not even a half way into filming and there are months and months to go and – he knows he's having a sort of breakdown. He can feel it building.
“It’s okay,” Spencer says when Ryan calls him.
But it isn’t.
In the end, there isn’t a straw that breaks his back, or a moment that pushes Ryan too far. But he runs never the less. Politely of course, on the weekend, to an awards ceremony in LA where his stylist sends him suits and ties and his agent organises a detailed schedule full of pre-release press for the film he doesn’t want to think about.
“Hey,” Spencer says, when he sees Ryan.
His hair is getting too long again and he’s wearing one of Dallon’s shirts. It’s one of the ones from their last tour with The Drums. The print is already cracked, and the edges are peeling off.
Standing barefoot just inside the same set of Chateau Marmont rooms Ryan always books, Spencer reaches to help Ryan with his bags but Ryan drops them and clings to Spencer. The months of exhaustion catch up to him. Months of tasteless energy drinks and memorising scripts that keep getting rewritten and trying to develop a character when Darren keeps telling him to be instinctual and to just react and to be in the moment and – it’s Spencer. It’s Spencer, and Ryan can’t help it. He can’t. It’s not his fault.
“Hey now,” Spencer says, wrapping his arms around Ryan. “Hey, Ry.”
Ryan knows what Spencer’s doing, knows he’s trying to talk him down, calm him down. But there is static in his ears and his breath is short and it’s Spencer. Ryan wants him with his heart and his fingertips and with the dryness of his mouth, but exhaustion renders him useless.
Spencer takes him into a darkened room and undresses him. The only sound is click of his belt buckle and the rasp of his belt being pulled from his jeans. Spencer touch is efficient and does not linger. He undresses Ryan like Ginger would, like she did when after she brought him home from the hospital with a cast on his arm. And oh, what a thought that is. Ryan sniffs and leaning forward he presses his temple into the curve of Spencer’s neck. Closes his eyes and inhales shakily.
“Shhh,” Spencer mutters, putting Ryan to bed.
“No,” Ryan tells him. “No, don’t.”
Spencer kisses his temple. “You need to sleep, okay.”
Pulling the sheets up, Spencer tucks him in.
The next day, Ryan wakes slowly to the feel of the mattress shifting under Spencer weight as he sits.
For a moment, it feels as though not a day has passed. It could be an entire year ago. His arm could still be broken and Spencer could still be fresh off tour, smelling of asphalt and sweat, instead of just about to head into the studio to record his bands sophomore effort. Ryan wants to tell Spencer to stay still, to not move, to let them go back in time and stay there.
Life doesn’t work like that though.
Looking down at him, Spencer smiles softly. “Hey.”
Blinking, Ryan rolls over a little.
“What time is it?” he mumbles, sleep thick.
The sun is casting long shadows. Through the open window Ryan can’t hear the sound of kids splashing around in the pool. Ryan doesn’t care what time it is. He closes his eyes. When he opens then again, Spencer’s sitting by the window reading the paper. For a little while Ryan watches him.
Ryan can’t remember not knowing Spencer – can’t remember a life without Spencer in it. Spencer is Ryan’s best friend, his truest friend.
He must have slept for hours, but Ryan still feels exhausted. Closing his eyes, he falls back asleep.
For the sake of appearances Ryan is meant to do some press for Shame. That was part of the deal. He might have only had a small part, but it’s up for some serious awards this year. The studio has high hopes. But when Ryan finally gets up, he does not reach for any of the suits his stylists sent him.
Out on the balcony he hears Spencer talking on his mobile. His voice is hushed and quiet.
Back, when Ryan first ‘arrived’ in Hollywood, he, Spencer and Brendon used to go out together. They’d go to clubs and they’d drink in VIP sections. It was fun. Ryan remembers that. He remembers girls. Women. Actresses and models – interchangeable. He remembers the thrill of talking to the prettiest ones he could find and how they would all talk to him, look at him, and want him. He remembers how awkward Spencer was, too. How he never really looked at anyone twice until Clémence came along. (He never really looked at anyone apart from her).
Ryan listens to Spencer talk and thinks about those photographs of them at the Harry Potter premiere, and then of how she’d turned up to his last LA gig and sat backstage like that was something ex’s did. Spencer isn’t the only one to do what he wants. Maybe that’s why he liked Clémence so much. The thought feels like counting backwards from a hundred, or reading his own press, almost.
Spencer loved Clémence, Ryan knows that. Probably still loves her. But he knows Spencer loves him too. Ryan’s known for a long time.
When Spencer comes back inside, Ryan is back in bed, waiting.
“I talked to Tara,” Spencer tells him. “She’s cancelled your interviews.”
“Good,” Ryan tells him, and he means it.
Spencer’s always been it for Ryan. Ryan’s always known that. He’s pretty sure Spencer knows it too.
At lunchtime, Spencer runs Ryan a bath and tells him about this song Ian is writing about his Twilight girlfriend while Ryan is washing his hair.
“Dallon and I both think it’s really about Cash,”
Ryan makes a face.
Spencer nods. “I know. But you have to admit it’s pretty fucking funny.”
“I hope you don’t talk like this about me behind my back.”
“I do,” Spencer grins. “You’d be shocked by the things I tell people.”
There is a twinkle in Spencer’s eyes and Ryan thinks he doesn’t care. Not if Spencer looks at him like that.
It isn’t until Spencer is handing Ryan a dry towel, Spencer brings up the elephant in the room. “So hey, is this something we need to worry about?”
Ryan doesn’t really know. He shrugs.
The corner of Spencer’s eyes crinkle a little. He’s kind – people sometimes forget that. Spencer might do what he wants, when he wants, but he’s never cruel.
“Okay. We’ll play it by ear.”
Ryan nods. They can do that, he just doesn’t want too.
Sometime in the middle of the night, Ryan gives up pretending to sleep and switches on the television instead. The colours are too bright for his eyes. Squinting, he flicks through the channels. There isn’t much on. A few late night shows are on, and twenty four hour news channels recycle the same old bulletins. Ryan has the sound on one of the lowest settings, but Spencer’s appears after a few minutes.
“Scoot over,” he tells Ryan and Ryan does, making space for him on the bed.
There is something comforting about Spencer’s presence. After a while he leans over and plucks the control from Ryan’s hand, switching away from the history channel and onto animal planet.
“Jesse Eisenberg doesn’t watch TV,” Ryan says during the first commercial break.
Spencer glances at him. “People that say they don’t watch TV are such douchebags.”
Spencer snorts. “But you are.”
“Yeah,” Ryan allows, the corner of his mouth twitching. “And I don’t even own a TV.”
“No. You rent them.”
“Got to fill suites with something other than slacker friends.”
“True,” Spencer nods.
The conversation is so stupid. The whole thing is so stupid. Ryan can’t help but laugh. It feels good – like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders.
Later they order room service and get crumbs everywhere. Ryan gets a hamburger because his trainer is always on at Ryan to eat more protein and Spencer gets ice cream and fresh fruit. They manage to catch the end of an episode of Boardwalk Empire. Ryan likes the colours and the sets but jumps at the violence. He isn’t sure what sort of tell that is, but he knows it is one. Spencer merely changes channels over to a Mad Men marathon. They saw enough of Ashlee’s new boyfriend during the last award season; neither of them need to watch him on TV.
Somewhere between Betty leaving Don and the episode where Kara Urie does a guest spot, Spencer places the empty room service plates on the carpet beside the bed.
“That’s better,” he says, smiling as Ryan stretches out besides him.
Ryan likes his smiles and it’s easy to mirror it. Lying next to each other, Ryan feels every point of shared contact. Elbows knocking into elbows, thighs aligned and the heat of Spencer’s body against Ryan’s own.
“Is this okay?” Spencer asks.
Ryan nods. It is. His heart pounds inside his chest. But it’s okay. It’s Spencer.
When the infomercials start running, Spencer presses mute and they kiss slow and unhurried. They haven’t done this before. But the night feels soft and like it was a long time in the making. Inside his chest, Ryan’s heart pounds like a muted drum. The only thing that keeps him whole is Spencer hands tangled in Ryan’s hair, holding him close.
There isn’t a world outside the curtains.
There isn’t anything else but them.
In the morning Spencer kisses Ryan awake and it’s hard to remember why it took them so long to get here when in retrospect being anywhere else seems like a complete waste of time.
“We wasted twenty seven years,” Ryan mutters against Spencer’s lips.
“You did,” Spencer corrects. “I only wasted twenty six.”
It’s easy to stay an extra day, and then push and try steal more.
Why just take an inch?
Tara calls and leaves seventeen messages. Spencer listens to them for Ryan and then deletes them.
“She’s pissed,” Spencer comments.
Ryan’s flight is in an hour.
Spencer packs for him.
“Three months,” he says.
Ryan’s spent the last four months on set, and the previous three months preparing for the film.
Spencer leans over and kisses him chastely. “Just three more months.”
Ryan can barely stand the thought of the two hour flight back to the location.
“You’ve known me for over two decades,” Spencer reminds him. “Twelve weeks is nothing compared to that.”
“Okay,” Ryan tells him.
Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. But Ryan trusts Spencer.
Technically Ryan can drive now. The suspension on his driver’s licence was lifted a while ago and he’s almost certain his car is still parked underground in the Chateau Marmont parking lot. But Spencer rings the font desk and orders a town car to take them to the airport.
In the backseat Spencer laces his fingers through Ryan’s and when they get to the airport he comes to the gate and hugs Ryan goodbye.
“Come and visit me,” Ryan says. (He can’t ask, still can’t, even after two decades).
It isn’t quite a promise but when has that ever counted for anything with them?
Back on set Ryan feels fragile. Tissue paper thin, if that. The expression on his face feel like it is pasted on, the light touch in his tone is a fall back – something he pulls out at interviews and auditions. He figures that’s the best one to go for. It’s the one that git him hired, the one that Darren experienced initially. So he uses it in between takes. He can’t be his character, but he can be a version of himself. Darren’s never said anything about that.
Brendon claps him on the back in the make up trailer and Ryan wonders if he can tell. If he can guess that Ryan was recently put back together and the glue is still drying.
They do an action scene. It’s big and bold and about fifty people are involved. Real blockbuster stuff. Ryan’s head is in the game as much as it can be.
When they break for lunch Ryan tries to put himself together.
There is a sunny warmth deep inside his chest when Ryan thinks of Spencer. He holds it close, holds it tight. Darren still isn’t any more or less pleased with Ryan’s work, but Ryan keeps trying. He wants this film to be good. It’s never going to be great. At least not in the way Ryan would consider great. It’s simply not that sort of film. However Ryan knows his taste runs toward the art house side of the business.
At night he calls Spencer.
Night Watch is the sort of film Spencer likes. The sort he watches with Ian and Dallon while they are on tour.
Spencer’s seen all of Ryan’s work. Even the short films he made with his friends – the awful and very embarrassing ones which they all thought were brilliant at the time.
Ryan thinks – Ryan wants Night Watch to be good. He wants it to be something Spencer will like.
He starts to stay back and watch the dailies with Darren.
“Finally got you hooked, kid?” Darren smirks.
Ryan shrugs. He wouldn’t say that.
Darren eyes him like he knows, like he approves.
“Fuck off,” Ryan tells him. Because really. He can live without Darren patting him on the back for a job well done.
Darren snorts. “Pathetic. There wasn’t an ounce of feeling behind that ‘fuck you’.”
It – Darren’s flippant tone – startles a laugh out of Ryan. “Yeah. I know.”
Back when Ryan was a kid being driven to LA every week for auditions, he and his mom used to play games in the car. She’d tell him to be something, act something out, to be someone else. Together they’d do accents and make faces to pass the time. Basic theatre games, really. Not that he knew the difference. Back then it was just something they’d do together. Sometimes it would be fun, at least when he was very young. As he grew up it sometimes be boring and he’d whine about having to do it, having to give up his weekend, not being able to hang out with Spencer whenever he wanted. Typical kid stuff.
She’s living somewhere in Washington D.C now.
Sometimes they’ll catch up when various promotional tours take him through the city. They have dinner at nice restaurants with her new husband and he talks to his step siblings about school and it’s all very nice. They’re his only family left. Ryan always reminds himself of that whenever he sits down with them.
Afterwards, when they leave, the paparazzi is always present. Sometimes it feels intrusive. Most of the time he finds it predictable.
None of his step siblings have shown any interest in acting – Ryan brought that up once and his mother had shaken her head.
“They’re all about sport.”
Brendon’s nursed something for Spencer for as long as Ryan’s known him. But that is just one of many things Ryan knows about Brendon. Maybe Brendon knows about how Ryan feels for Spencer too, maybe he can tell that Ryan’s heart is full.
But neither of them ask, and neither of them tell.
Neither of them are very brave. At least not when it counts.
That’s always been Spencer. He was the one who took chances, who shook his head when Ryan’s agent tried to sign him, who did exactly what he wanted because what did applause and mass approval mean to him? He never wanted or cared for it. All he ever needed was music and place to sleep at night. And Ryan – Spencer wanted Ryan too.
Ryan knows that now – knows what that means.
Ryan might not be very brave, but he’s brave enough, brave enough to not only know a good thing when he sees it but hold onto it.
When Spencer comes to visit, the three of them end up hanging out together like old times. During breaks in filming, they hang out in Brendon’s trailer like they did all those years ago when Ryan was star struck and Brendon was a child star taking on his first adult role. Vanessa often joins them. It doesn’t surprise Ryan at all that she and Spencer quickly become friends – doesn’t surprise him either when Vanessa idly comments that having Spencer around makes Ryan more fun.
“He does that,” Ryan agrees, because Spencer does.
Brendon winks. “Spencer’s the best.”
Vanessa rolls her eyes. “I’m the best. Spencer cool though, when he isn’t around you two losers.”
She’s probably right. It’s lucky Spencer’s never given a shit about being cool.
When Ryan broke his arm, the hospital called Ginger.
It wasn’t until she showed up looking worried he realised that he hadn’t changed his in case of emergency list since he was seventeen. At the time, Spencer was on tour. He and the guys were somewhere on the opposite coast playing to half filled rooms and doing interviews on community radio stations.
“Spencer called,” Ginger told him. Holding his good hand, she waited with him for the doctor to return.
Ryan didn’t want to know what Spencer could have said.
Ginger smiled, like she knew. “He didn’t laugh too much.”
Ginger smiled. She looked tired.
Later Ryan found out that when the hospital called, she dropped everything and flew up from Las Vegas on the first available flight she could catch. It made Ryan feels guilty and embarrassed – it still makes him feel that way. Even now, he can’t believe what happened actually happened.
Filming takes a little over six months. When the sequel is filmed, if it is filmed, Ryan assumes it will take much longer as his character plays a greater role in the source material. As it is, Darren run over by three weeks over the time he and the studio’s scheduled, which doesn’t surprise anyone. However it does mean Ryan only has one and a half months break before heading off to film On the Road, instead of three months.
When he gets back to LA, Spencer and Cash pick him up from the airport.
“You look like shit,” Cash comments, hugging Ryan hello.
Cash doesn’t. He does look like a trust fund douchebag. He always does. Ryan’s never really gotten why he and Spencer get on so well, but Spencer always has his reasons. He might not be very LA, but Ryan’s always trusted Spencer’s judgment.
On the Road is going to be a completely different environment. Ryan feels it in his bones but that is all. Spencer’s heading back on tour soon. He and the guys have almost finished recording their sophmore album. Their label is pushing for an early release to capitalise on their momentum, maybe even a solo tour. But nothing has been decided yet. Over breakfast, Spencer boots up Ryan’s laptop and plays some of the rough tracks he and the guys are currently working on. Ryan doesn’t really have the best ear for music, but the base line is pulsing and Spencer’s drumming is erratic and driving.
“We wanted to do something less contrived.”
“Probably a good idea. If you guys spend any more time hanging out with the guys from The Drums and Passion Pit I think Dallon and Ian would have probably replaced you with a drum loop.”
The corner of Spencer’s mouth twitches. “Or a model who could play some really amazing tambourine.”
“Or that,” Ryan nods. “I mean, enough of them attended your last LA show. It wouldn’t be hard to find one looking for a part time gig in between photo shoots and auditioning for the next tween movie franchise.”
“They could be your co-star too. Then you wouldn’t have to be seen with Vanessa Hudgens. That would really kill two birds with one stone.”
“There’s some potential in that,” Ryan muses. “If they were any good I could get them to replace you too.”
“Everyone’s a triple threat in LA.”
“Better not let anymore models into your shows then.”
“Yeah. I’ll tell Brian to print it on all the tickets.”
Spencer smiles. His hair is getting too long again and Ryan thinks one and a half months isn’t nearly enough. And it isn’t.
When the time comes for Ryan to head off, he offers to keep his room at the Chateau Marmont, but Spencer shakes his head when Ryan brings it up.
“No, I’ll be okay.”
Ryan knows that. But that isn’t the point. He lets it go though.
“Where are you going to stay?” he asks instead.
Spencer shrugs. “Cash’s pool house, or Brendon’s. Maybe Dallon’s place if Breezy’s cool with it. I don’t want to impose.”
Ryan nods. In his head he thinks about Spencer being somewhere else, about distance and other people.
His house is almost finished. They’re currently plastering and painting it. He and Spencer visited a few times when Ryan first got back to LA. It felt even more alien to Ryan than the last time he was there with Ione. Ryan doesn’t think he wants to keep it. He doesn’t need the luxuries he thought were essential as a twenty four year old. He really doesn’t need much. It’s funny. Since Ryan got back to LA, he’s been talking to Darren a lot and it’s Darren who tells him its okay.
“You’ve been working non-stop since you were seventeen. You should take a break.”
And Ryan thinks he might. Other than the Night Watch trilogy, Ryan doesn’t have anything else lined up after On the Road.
It might be nice to do something other than acting. Maybe tag along with Spencer when he goes back on tour. Ryan doesn’t know. But he thinks he likes the idea of finding out. The idea of stepping back doesn’t scare him anymore.
When he was a kid, there was desperation about how he approached acting. Even when Sean cast him in his first meaningful role, Ryan was anxious about what came next. So much so, after it was released, Ryan signed onto four projects. All one after another; no wonder he ended up playing the same role over and over again.
When it comes time for Ryan to leave, Spencer sees him off. Together they pack up their belongings. Ryan doesn’t think they’ll be back to the Chateau Marmont. At least not for a while.
“Want me to come to the airport with you?” Spencer asks the night before they check out.
Ryan thinks about it. “Yes. But I think I should drop you off at Cash’s.”
He doesn’t like the idea of Spencer being left alone at LAX.
“You know I don’t mind,” Spencer says.
“I know,” Ryan tells him, because he does. But he still likes the idea of leaving Spencer with friends better than the idea of leaving him standing along at the departure lounge.
Ryan’s never been good with people, not even with Spencer. But Ryan wants to be good for Spencer. So Ryan insists.
In the end Ryan’s glad that he does.
Cash might be a trust fund kid/former socialite, but he’s a good guy. He won’t look after Spencer – Cash can hardly look after himself – but he’s Spencer’s friend and there are worse things than seeing his arm looped around Spencer’s shoulders when Ryan glances into the rear vision mirror.
Ryan feels older in Dean Moriarty’s skin. He keeps catching Walter Salles staring at him thoughtfully.
“You’re not what I expected,” Kristen Stewart says.
She isn’t what he expected either. He doesn’t say that though. He isn’t as young as her. Sometimes, at least, he knows better.
The hair and make up people dyed her hair straw blonde. It makes her complexion look patchy. It’s almost as bad as the cut she got when she played Joan Jett. But everyone’s playing her now. Even Ashlee Simpson has read for one of the projects Flower Films has in pre-production.
Ashlee would make a shitty Joan Jett.
Ryan doesn’t really care for Pete anymore, but some things reach too deep under his skin. It’s funny, Ryan never really saw himself as loyal. But maybe he is. (Spencer is still good friends with Ashlee. Once or twice, Ryan thinks Spencer has even played go-between for her and Pete. Ryan doesn’t understand how Spencer can do it, how he can be so fucking adult about it).
During the break between films, Ryan was told to let his hair grow. On arrival, they cut and styled it to match the era; parting his hair and cutting it tight and tapered on the sides, while leaving it long and full on top. Each morning they comb Pomade through it, slicking it back. After months playing a villain made to look harmless, Ryan hasn’t quite gotten used to it. His body slowly is starting to feel like his own again. But he knows that will change. He already has Dean Moriarty under his skin, humming away, restless and impatient. It’s only a matter of time.
In the evenings he calls Spencer. Usually he’s still at the studios but once or twice he’s at home and lets Ryan listen when he touches himself. The sound of his ravaged groans and skin and fabric rustling leave Ryan breathless. He presses his face against the cool sheets of his hotel bed and rolls his hips against the cover while he says Spencer’s name over and over. It’s new, so very new. The shear intensity of it all overwhelms Ryan.
Only after coming, will Spencer then coach Ryan though it; his voice rough and deep.
Ryan knows Spencer. Knows that before him, there was Clémence, and that was it. Perhaps one or two people kissed at parties or in the darken corners of random clubs, but no one who mattered. Ryan has two hands and they are not enough to count the names of people he would have to count if asked to make a list of people he fucked or wanted or approached with intent. Somehow that does not matter, not when it’s Spencer on the other end of the line telling him to wait, to make it good – better, because Spencer wants to hear it.
It should be terrifying – it is, at times – to be risking so much to have Spencer like this. To have him groaning and breathless, dirty and shameless, to get that part of him when having it makes losing all of Spencer such a greater possibility. For the most part though, Ryan does not feel that. He knows Spencer. Knows himself, now. Neither of them are going anywhere.
Afterwards, after Ryan has finished shaking and trembling, Spencer is still on the other end of the line. His breaking even and steady now. Reassuring, in its own way.
Occasionally Spencer sends a tracks or short sound bite – his drumming, Ian and Dallon singing harmonies.
When Kristen shows an interest, he finds himself letting her listen to some.
Disney stars, he thinks to himself. First Brendon, then Vanessa, and now Kristen – it’s something that should be ironic.
He and Kristen never really connect like he and Vanessa eventually did. Where Vanessa would show up on set in fringed suede short shorts, stoned and having forgotten that it was her day off; hilarious and completely unselfconscious. In comparison Kristen is awkward and self contained. Sometimes they sit together and watch dailies with Sam Riley, but that’s as far as it goes. Ryan doesn’t mind so much.
“You were like that once,” Brendon comments when they get together at Comic Con to do a press panel for Night Watch. (It should be too early for things like that but there is already a lot of buzz – the reality of how long awaited and anticipated the English adaptation is, still takes Ryan aback).
Ryan looks at him and Brendon grins knowingly, which makes sense because he wasn’t always just Spencer’s friend, once he was Ryan’s too.
He’s Ryan’s friend now.
Sitting next to him and Vanessa, there is something easy about how the three of them deal with the press. Together they take turns at answering questions and embellishing anecdotes. While Darren is talking about concepts and themes, Brendon takes his phone out to show them pictures of the dog he and Ellen adopted from the pound the week before last and when they take a break for lunch, Vanessa gets the two of them to lean in close so she can take a picture of them for her millions of twitter followers.
“You really need to get one of these,” she tells Darren, who takes the picture for them.
“No, he can’t,” Brendon tells her, making a face. “He’d lose all of his mystic.”
“He can’t make films without it,” Ryan nods solemnly.
“Fuck all of you,” Darren says, shaking his head. “I’m going to go talk to people who don’t get carded at bars.”
Once back on set, Ryan sheds his press ready smile and the PR posture. Back in shirts with starched collars and brylcreem, he doesn’t feel more like himself but he does feel like his character. That’s what counts with Walter.
Kirsten Dunst only spends a short amount of time on set, but it’s strangely pleasant to see her. There is something familiar about her that makes it easy to greet her like an old friend.
“Alex’s friend, right?” she asks when she sees him, and he nods.
“How is he?”
She shrugs. All golden hair and fragile nonchalance. “Same old same old.”
Still hung up on her then, Ryan surmises.
He thinks maybe she doesn’t see it, that she’s so used to Alex being infatuated with her, she doesn’t recognise it for what it is.
They shoot hours at a time. She is playing Camille and although she doesn’t have a large role, her part is emotional and bitting. When she acts, she acts with everything, with all of her, and when Walter calls cut for lunch, Ryan is surprised when Walter draws comparisons between the two of them, calling them two sides of the same coin.
Kirsten laughs. “Well, I’m going to take that as a compliment.”
She laughs in a really pretty way, so pretty that Ryan nods. “Me too.”
They sit together in the catering tent and talk. It’s funny, but despite being so close to Alex, Ryan doesn’t really know her. He knows she fucks Alex up, but Ryan never really understood why. Up close and away from distractions and flashing lights, there is just something about her that Ryan responds to easily and without artifice. She is lovely, Ryan sees that now. There is something clever about her, something full of charm and grace. But Kirsten frays at the edges, everyone knows that. Ryan doesn’t want to be like her. It is an awful thing to say, but it is true. He isn’t strong enough to be like her.
She’s on location with them for a little over a week. They eat lunch together most days. Sometimes Walter comes over and joins them, occasionally Jim joins them too.
“It’s strange we don’t know each other better,” he says right before she leaves.
“I think we know each other reasonably well,” she counters, but her eyes are covered with cateyed sunglasses. Ryan can’t properly judge her expression.
He shrugs. “I would like to know you better.”
He would. He hopes she feels the same.
Ryan doesn’t have many friends. But he thinks he would like it if she were one of them. He has Spencer, then he has Alex and sometimes he has Z. Recently, Ryan has been able to honestly call Brendon a friend again. Sometimes there are other people too. But not many. It would be nice to call Kirsten one of them.
Towards the end of the shoot, Ryan’s house is finally finished. Over skype, Spencer talks about throwing a party to welcome Ryan home.
Ryan doesn’t need a party. That house isn’t home to him.
“Home is someone, not someplace,” Sean had told Ryan a very long time ago.
Ryan doesn’t know if he’d ever had either, until Spencer.
Spencer smiles when Ryan says as much.
When Ryan was a kid, he never had a plan. Not when his mother was still around. Not even afterwards. Back then he had so few of the things he needed that he always wanted more than most, but never what he needed, because he stopped expecting to get that. Growing up was something he did fists-first. In retrospect it was no wonder Sean Penn picked him; an unknown nobody of a kid with a hard mouth and so vulnerable even though he pretended he wasn't. At the time Spencer was the only kind part of Ryan, the only part that wasn’t run lean and the wrong size.
He isn’t that kid anymore.
He stopped being that kid a long time ago. And he is glad of it.