Monday, 4 July 2011

Chapter Eight

Chris showed me that, before the next entry, Constance had written a series of times and dates with cryptic words beside them  ‘9:00 – episode one – gets dumped’ ‘1:30 –episode one part two, auditions’. It was as though she was making notes on a favourite television series. ‘5:00 – episode two, left bereft’.

We discussed the similarity of these words with what Constance herself had written in this diary and argued at length over what they could mean. We thumbed the pages and put yellow-post-its next to life events that could correspond to this list. We scanned the Radio Times for that week in 2010, looking for clues on line, on television. Nothing was conclusive. We were about to give up when Chris suggested we read on. Maybe Constance would tell us herself.

(I think the word you are looking for at this point in the narrative is ‘Doh’.)

15 June 2010

I’m making a movie.

We’re making a movie. I’m making a movie with Jennifer McIntyre, the fan with the video camera who nearly landed me in hospital when I tripped over her in the high street.

[Chris said ‘It’s Chapter six!’ – we flipped back to see:]

She’s not really a fan. But I’ve only recently found that out.

I don’t know what it will say about me if she actually becomes a friend. Because I think it’s suspect to enlarge your social circle with strangers who get you to do yoga in the street. Which she did.

And filmed it.

She’s an odd woman, I think. She’s American, no no – Canadian  - with a strange accent because she’s been here a long time. She is very vague about where she lives – ‘somewhere near King’s Cross’ – and insists that all she wants in her life at the moment is a job in an office so that her mother will stop worrying about her.

You would think this an easy goal to achieve but there’s more to Jennifer McIntyre than meets the eye. Not least because the most important thing about this job for her is that she wants to film it. She wants to film herself, having this job. And film herself living in a nice neighbourhood and film herself knowing (once) famous movie stars.

She’ll send this home to Mummy. So Mummy will die happy.

Or, even better, live happy. Knowing Jennifer is FINE.

I was tempted to send her away with the number of a good therapist but I felt a bit sorry for her and she’s actually quite nice. And she has a camera. And she knows how to use it. Suddenly, as in one of those cartoons when the great light bulb goes on over the head of the rabbit, I had an idea.

If she could fictionalise her life, why not fictionalise mine?

That’s all writers do anyway, isn’t it?  They’re making up SOMEBODY’s life, even if it’s Anna Karenina’s or Jane Eyre’s. We could film our own lives – or versions of our own lives -  and cut out the middleperson. Stop hoping someone will create a role where I’m more than the eccentric auntie who wears funny spectacles and lives in the attic. Or a headmistress.  Or a police officer.

I invited Jennifer McIntyre back for tea. We found we could be of mutual service. We film a fake life for her to send home to her mother - that is actually a real movie for me. A movie  - or a 12-part telly series, I’m not picky - about an actress. It’s based on me without being me, and of course we would cast me to play me.

Jennifer McIntyre will be in the series, as herself. Except better.

Her mother will think it’s a documentary.

As I consider the faces of all the casting agents who haven’t rung me in almost two years watching me collect my BAFTA for this brave and hilarious piece of screen history, I have decided I am making a ‘Fuck-U-mentary’. But I won’t mention that to the press. We will comfort her mother and re-establish my career with one bit of celluloid.

Or whatever they use these days.

I don’t like to say that it’s desperation that binds me to Jennifer McIntyre, although in my quiet moments, lying in bed, making room for Malcolm that he no longer takes, this project seems like one of the more insane choices I’ve made in my life that looks increasingly insane (I have been rehearsing in my Ninja Nora costume and, as the only ‘as cast’ who can see in the dark, am the only one who hasn’t been given bed rest for shin injuries). But there is some fuel, like vengeance, powering me. You can’t keep a woman over 40 off the screens any longer.

She can get to the screens ALL ON HER OWN.

But I had to get Jennifer McIntyre a job.

(I’m not convinced her name is Jennifer McIntyre but I’ve signed up for fiction so – I’m going with it.)


In fact, Agent JohnWood (reinstated), has given Jennifer McIntyre a job. I hadn’t realised his office was in such a bad way, they’ve lost two senior agents who have gone back to property development and law school, respectively.

You would have thought if they could have been in either profession at any point in their lives they’d have jumped the agent ship long ago. But I think some agents must love their jobs.

I think John Wood does.  Well, John Wood loves his job when he’s working for me. Because we are a very good team with a fine, working relationship.  We are happy colleagues.

He is doing me a huge favour by giving Jennifer a job, so she can earn money while she helps me make this film – or this series - because god knows I can’t pay her -  and I respect him for that.

Yes, there is some admiration, perhaps, but that is to be expected in people who have known each other for fifteen years.

Nothing else is going on.

I don’t even know why I’m talking about this. I think – I think it’s because I’m grateful.

That’s it.  I brought Jennifer to see him, to take the job he was offering.  And seeing the state of his business – well. I don’t love him, obviously, but I do feel - grateful.

He was waiting on the landing when we arrived. He leapt up and ushered us into the front room of the Regency town house, the main office with huge ceilings that looks out over the square. It used to be deafening with calls and pagers and faxes and the sound of actors laughing. I’ve sat on many a desk and commiserated with Judi about foundation garments (costume drama acquaints you with the finer points of painful lingerie). Now every desk looked like an empty life boat on a quiet sea, survivors gone. My absence was brief, but damaging. I told myself.

‘See? Serves you right for letting me go!’ I wanted to shout, but in my heart I knew I’d been part of the problem. I felt new resolve to re-create myself as an ‘A’ list attraction. I want John Wood to be proud. And solvent.

He led us to a door that opened onto what looked like an unlit cupboard with a desk squished into it. He said Jennifer could take calls here. It evoked a cell in a Victorian prison. John was embarrassed. He fumbled with a non-existent piece of fluff on his chinos.

John:                It’s temporary.

To her credit, Jennifer said ‘It’s perfect.’

I wasn’t having it.

Con:                It’s perfect for interrogating. (to John) Why can’t she be out front?
John:                Wendell wants someone – slightly  -
Jennifer:          Taller?
John:                No.
Con:                Blonder?
John:                No.
Jennifer:          Thinner?
John:                Younger.        

We were all embarrassed now.

John:                (quietly) He’s a dick.
Con:                But your name is on that door.  You tell him.

He was very uncomfortable now. His ears started to blush.

John:                Everyone knows the name, so they’re keeping the name. But it’s just – my name.

He looked up, full of consciousness, trying to smile.

John:                I’m – freelance now. Like you.

I stared at him and all the pennies dropped. His own company had fired him. Things were that bad.

And from this place of not having, he was giving to us. I felt a lump rise in my throat, the way it does at Andrex ads when the puppy plays with the toilet roll. I had to look away.

John:                But – they let me use the phones.

Jennifer nodded in a ‘That’s good’ way. And we all stared at the lump of wood squeezed between walls in an airless room, sans light, sans art, sans heat – sans everything. I heard Jennifer inhale deeply.

Jennnifer:                    Well. Hitler survived a bunker. I’ve got to have more moral fibre than Hitler.

We left the closet and headed back across the vast and empty expanse of headquarters for the once mighty Wood, Graves and Smart, the ghosts of agents past - wheeling, dealing, seducing, lying - vibrant around us.  But heading where? Did John still get to sit in his corner office? He glanced at Jennifer over his shoulder.

John:                            Remember Hitler shot himself.

She shrugged.

Jennifer:                      Well, okay but – probably not because of the bunker.

I wanted to tell her to get out her camera and film the reunion of the formerly-famous actress with the formerly-potent agent.  To record me grabbing his hands and saying we would overcome, we would feel this rock bottom beneath our feet and launch ourselves back up into the stratosphere, better, deeper, wiser people.

I did spend almost ten formative years in California but I’m not an American.

I had a Kit-Kat in my bag. So I split it in three and we ate it.

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