"Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul." ~ Marilyn Monroe.
"I don't want to do this anymore," I said, yanking down the corset of my dress. I was just eleven-years-old and already my growing body was a thing I was trained to hate. I was getting too wide, my breasts were growing too fast. Team all of that with a period drama that required corsets everyday for eleven hours—I was sick of it.
"Sweetheart, you know it's your decision. I never wanted this life for you," my father replied with a soft smile. And he was right. He had never pushed me into acting; it had always been something I'd wanted to do. It was something I had been doing since I was five, and then, here I am not even a teenager and I wanted out. I'd seen him—he and my mother both—acting or reading scripts, having meetings, or holding parties for as long as I could remember. It was just my life. I knew nothing else.
But I wanted to know other things.
"I want to quit. After we're done here, can I just quit?" I asked my dad, the then fountain of knowledge and wisdom to a young girl. He just picked me up high in his arms and assured me that yes, I could do whatever I wanted.
So I did.
They lined us up on our set—it was a ship—an old, dirty ship. Of course, it wasn't really a ship. Mostly everything in Hollywood was make believe and this was no different. It was a prop for interior shots, one that we were all thankful for, since the alternative was the location shoot in the North Sea just off the edge of Sweden. Beautiful, but not very comfortable or warm in mid-February, in a corseted dress, and not much else.
"I'm not doing any more movies after this one," I told my co-star and friend of four weeks, Eric Northman. He was dressed in ripped clothes as the little ship hand to the captain who was played by my father, Earl Stackhouse.
"God, why? Isn't this what you wanna do?" he said munching on some candy as we waited for the lighting change.
"I don't know. I thought I did, but I don't know anymore. I wanna go to school—"
He laughed out loud.
"You really are crazy! No one wants to go to school, not when you can get to play dress up and be on a pirate ship all day long."
"But it's just not fun anymore. It should be fun, right?"
"I have to do six more movies this year; my mom says it's all signed. One of them, the director has already won three Oscars." He shared his candy with me, but I wasn't allowed to eat it. My chaperone Octavia made sure of that. Couldn't have me 'gaining any more weight' as she would put it.
Eric was a nice kid. He was new to acting at almost thirteen, and he was taller than me—though that wasn't very unique. I was a small fry and probably always would be. He on the other hand, I had a feeling would sprout up fairly fast.
"Mom says that I'll get to travel. I don't really care about that, but she does though. She's super excited about shooting in the Caribbean. We've never been…"
"It's nice. The dolphins are fun!" I said with a smile. I'd made a film there when I was eight. "Anything would beat here right?" I said shivering slightly even though we were inside.
"Hey now, you can't diss Sweden."
I should have know he'd give me a hard time for it. He was a Swede born and bred.
"It sucks; it's too cold all the time!" I complained, freezing my little boobs off in that damn lace dress. "I'm glad I'm quitting. I just want to be a normal girl, with normal friends."
"I'm normal," he said.
I looked at him, then looked at myself and somehow we both laughed.
"Okay, so we're not so normal, but Sookie normal is boring. Why would you want to be like everyone else? We get to be actors! So many people would kill for our jobs. I know I'd rather do this than sit in some stupid classroom all day learning stuff we'll never need when we grow up."
I disagreed, and by the end of the shoot I'd grown two inches, my chest had almost fully formed and I was officially sick of acting.
We packed up our things, my dad and I, and we left Sweden. We let go half of our 'team.' I was eleven-years-old and I had a team—that had to tell you how overwhelmed I was. There was a team of people depending on me for their livelihood, and the pressure was getting to be too much. I was getting too old to play the little girl roles, but I was too young to play the teenage roles. I was sick of period dramas, I was sick of corsets and fittings and makeup at five a.m. So I did it, I quit and became a normal girl.
Well, as normal as I was ever going to be. The 'Oscar nominated actress' tag followed me around like a bad smell for most of my life, as did the fame that came with having a famous family in Hollywood. But really, Oscar nominated as a kid? Overwhelming to say the least, and honestly even though most people didn't believe me, I was glad I hadn't won. If you win an Oscar that early, what else is there to aim for as an actress? Turns out for the next thirteen years I wouldn't care, because at least in my own head, I wasn't an actress anymore.
I'd moved from Los Angeles to Paris. I studied there until high school, and from there, when it came time for college, I was looking at film schools. I had taken an interest in photography, and had accidentally taken to directing like a fish to water. My father simply smiled when I would geek out over my cameras or small productions I had underway. Ultimately I chose New York for film school. LA would have been the most obvious choice, but I wasn't so fond of it. I'd been back maybe once in twelve years. It wasn't my kind of town, and since I was just that 'child star' to them, I was better off in a town a little more diverse. Enrolling in and completing the NYU Arts for Film and Direction was one of the best things I'd ever done. I met some of the most amazing friends I'd ever had in my life, real friends. Not just Hollywood friends—the ones who would smile with you in front of the camera, acting like your best friend, only to be the 'source' of your next rumor in the press. No, these people were real and down to earth and so close to my heart that I wondered sometimes what I'd even do without them. It was through my roommate Amelia, her old roommate Tara and her brother Lafayette that I met my fiancé. Alcide Herveaux. Bronx born and raised, a photographer by trade and a damn good one at that. He was offered a job as principle photographer for Vogue Magazine right after graduation. I, on the other hand, was wrapping up two off Broadway productions that I had going. Somehow my name was still a draw. I believed mostly it was because of my father that such attention was paid to me, but the reviews hardly mentioned him—or my past. But they were glowing nonetheless. It was through that work that lead me to keep the creative process going and nurture a script that I had been working on since my sophomore year. I'd written and edited, then re-edited, then scrapped it altogether… but without my knowledge Alcide had found the manuscripts, and sent them out for consideration to various production companies. It wasn't until one Sunday morning when he came bursting back to bed with a smile on his face that I even knew about it.
"I have a surprise for you, and it's a good surprise, so you can't get mad," he said nudging me over so he could get back in beside me.
"Sleep. Sleep is good, surprise later."
"No, surprise now. Look."
He handed me a letter; it was from one of the most prestigious and popular cable networks on the air. With my name and a congratulations underneath it.
"Cide, what is this?"
I looked at his beaming face, and he explained. I was mad at him, for a split second. But then I realized what had happened.
"They've accepted it. They want a meeting, and they want you on board. I guess that whole Oscar nominated thing isn't so bad after all, huh?" He smirked knowing that I hated it.
"Yeah, sure… you know it means nothing, right? I mean, I didn't even win, and I was a kid. It doesn't really count."
"Have you see some of the child actors today? It totally counts. You were awesome."
I rolled my eyes. "Moving on. This says if the meeting goes well, they'll allow me creative freedom? What the hell?" I bounced on the bed slightly.
"I may have erm, pretended to be you when I sent it. And it was one of the stipulations you insisted upon. This was like your baby, Sookie. I knew you wouldn't be happy unless you were running the show, and a lot of places didn't want that. But it looks like these guys do. I'd take the meeting."
That was three years ago. It lead me back to Los Angles and back to a life I had spent so long running away from. But everything was different now. I was a grown up, I knew who I was, I knew what I wanted, and I knew that this production was going to kick everyone's ass. I just needed my lead character to find a voice. It's what had halted production for so long. I got the backing I needed, Tom Hanks was even on board for crying out loud, but I couldn't find an actor to play my leading man that ticked all my very specific boxes. It's what had me on Sunset, in midday traffic, with the top down on my rental car, heading to the Château marmot for this meeting.
Apparently Eric Northman was my leading man.
I checked in and was escorted to a poolside villa. Apparently, Mr. Northman practically lived here now, the bellboy told me in passing. Once we'd reached our destination I tipped him and thanked him and he left smiling. Mr. Northman, as he was now called, was nowhere to be seen. There was however a couple, laying on their sun-loungers, sunglasses in place.
"Eric Northman?" I asked. And he didn't look up, nor did he even really move.
"Not now, Sweetheart. If you could leave the drinks by table, that would be great."
Who the hell was this guy? He was skinny, long, by the looks of his legs hanging over the lounger, pale as hell, and his hair was almost touching his shoulders. His glasses hid his eyes, but the other half of his face was covered in a very scraggly beard and a scowl. I sighed. How the hell was I supposed to sell this guy as a Marine? He looked like a drug addicted mess if I was being honest. I just hoped it was a wrong assumption. His companion was still yapping away on her cell phone. She was obviously ignoring me—and maybe even him—as she talked loudly about how 'awesome' her new movie was going to be and just how much 'interest the media' had in her, so it was obviously going to be a 'hit.'
"Um, no, Eric? It's Sookie Stackhouse? Your manager said—"
"Sookie?" He got up then, and yes he was very, very tall. I had to look up as he stood to see his face, and once he took his glasses off, I'd wished he hadn't. He looked like he was on the bad end of a two-day bender. Turns out I wasn't far off.
"Jesus Christ, Sookie Stackhouse."
I noticed his … girlfriend had stopped talking on her phone to listen in.
"Hi," I said.
"You grew up nice," he said, obviously fixating on my breasts.
"Um, thanks? Listen, can we take this meeting?"
"Sure… Sure. Um, come inside. It's too hot out here … unless you want to change into something more … less clothing?" he said, and it was obvious to him that he didn't get how inappropriate it sounded. Especially when the woman in question was offering you a job. One by the looks of him, he needed, big time.
"You in a hurry or something?"
"No, but I had agreed to this meeting at noon. It's now almost twelve thirty, I'd like to get things done if that's okay?"
"Sheesh okay, chill out."
Seems he was chilled enough for both of us.
"I talked to your manager. She said you liked the script?"
"Oh yeah, really it was amazing. The best thing I've read in months, maybe years. I just… have to ask, I mean, I don't get it."
"Well, it's set—"
"No, um, not the story," he said, running his hands through his hair and pushing it off his face. "Why you want me to play Ryan. I just don't get it."
"Well, what's not to get?"
"In case you haven't noticed, Sookie, my career is basically done… I haven't had a decent role in, maybe three years. None of the studios will hire me. I'm done," he said swigging a drink of whatever was in his glass. It wasn't water that's for sure, and probably wasn't the best idea for someone who looked like he was nursing one hell of a hangover.
While it was true, I had kept abreast of Eric's career over the years, not in a hugely invasive way, but It was a little hard to ignore. For a long time he was a child star on the rise, then a teen heartthrob. But it was a mold I saw him struggling to break out of. One that, judging by the choices in his personal life, he was deeply unhappy about too. So the roles dried up, and he got older. There were new child stars to exploit, new teen heartthrobs to market, and here he was not even twenty-seven yet and apparently his career was over.
I went to continue talking but I was distracted by his girlfriend outside.
"Um, Eric, what's she doing?"
We both looked out the patio doors to see her talking on her phone again, hand gestures here there and everywhere, as well as … what looked like poses.
She was posing. One arm, then the other, smiling then frowning. It honestly looked like she was maybe having some kind of fit.
"Oh shit, not again," he said rolling his eyes, walking to the doors.
"Sandy? What the hell? We talked about this!"
She came over to him, still smiling as she hung up her phone. Apparently, she wasn't even talking to anyone… Was this girl all there? It certainly didn't look like it. I recognized her, only from getting a better look at her, and her poses. Famous for who she shared her body with rather than her body of work—an LA darling, social scene stealer and all round paparazzi sweetheart, with a not so sweet off camera reputation.
She was taller than me, again, not a shocker since it wasn't hard being just over five foot five. But she sure as hell was thinner than me. Her bikini was barely covering her—and I use the term loosely—breasts, and her legs were just down right terrifyingly tiny. I assumed this girl made most toddlers feel fat.
"Smile. Just come out here and try to look… I don't know, interested in … something."
"We've talked about that, too. I'm not doing that shit anymore. How did they end up here?" he said nodding to the side wall. That's when I noticed two guys with cameras.
I let them argue it out as she talked through closed lips, and he looked like someone shanked his grandmother, while I looked over the various scripts sitting on their kitchen table. Most had his name on them, and even by title alone I knew they weren't of the highest quality. It made me a little sad because what I had seen of Eric's work, when he was allowed to go there—to break out of the mold—he did it so well. That's the hope I saw; that's why I wanted him for my Ryan. I needed that shocking intensity to come out, but I also needed the kind of subtle acting that so far I could only see Eric pulling off.
"You say your career is over, that you don't know why I'm doing this, what does it matter why? Do you like the script? Do you get what Ryan is about? That's what I need to know. This thing is my baby, Eric and I won't have some alcoholic on an ego trip screwing it up for me. You have the potential in you still, I see it and with a straight razor and tanning bed, the executives will see it too. The question is, do you see it in yourself? Can you be my leading man?"