The call came in just before noon my time, which in Hollywood is pretty much the crack of dawn unless you’re on the set, which I was. I didn’t even have to look at the caller ID.
“What’s up, doc?” I asked. In b.g. — that’s big-time-screenwriter lingo for “background” — the set dressers were applying the final touches, making sure we had the verisimilitude exactly right.
“You talkin’ to me?” he said.
“So how’d it go?”
“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
“That good, huh?”
“At least I didn’t get snippy or anything.”
“Sure you didn’t call anybody a jackass? Didn’t bash Dana?”
“Best behavior, I swear. I apologized to the planet. I even apologized to Huma, just like you told me to.”
“Glad we didn’t have a failure to communicate. Was she there?”
“Are you kidding?”
“Must have been tough,” I mused. “But always look on the bright side of life. Like I said the last time, I’m going to make you a bright, shining star.”
“I think I want to be alone,” he said.
This was bad: I couldn’t lose my star in a green-lit project. “Listen, Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Or even Kew Gardens. What’s the matter?”
“Somebody shouted, ‘Bye-bye, pervert.’”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
“Somebody asked if I was more than seven inches.”
I had to calm him down. “I know you. You used to be big.”
“I am big,” he retorted. “It’s the pictures that got small.” He was still fuming. “Listen, Dave, I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.”
“Relax. I took care of all that in the script. You won’t believe what we can do with CGI these days.”
“Somebody asked if I’m going to maintain my hot physique.”
“You damn well better. Buff, waxed, toned — it’s all right there in the character description. That’s why I’m making you an offer you can’t refuse.”
“Then show me the money.”
“What do think I am, a suit? If you like the deal, whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you?”
He put his lips together and blew. “Read it to me again, Dave.”
I motioned to the script girl and she came hustling over. I turned to page one. “‘And in walks our main character, ANTHONY WEINER. Tanned, toned, super-fit, about 35 — ’”
“Isn’t that a little old for the male lead these days?” he asked. “I thought we were going for the teen market.”
“So we make it 25 and let hair and makeup take care of the rest. Happy now?”
“Go ahead, make my day.”
I continued reading: “ — he’s a cross between Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. If Bond, James Bond, had a love child with Miss Moneypenny who somehow grew up in Queens and worked out daily in the House gym, he would look and act very much like Tony.”
“I like it. And what’s the girl say when I walk in? I love that line.”
“‘Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?’ I stole that from Mae West — ”
“Will she sue?”
“Not if she knows what’s good for her.”
There was a moment of silence at the other end of the wire. “Listen, Dave,” he said, “I’m not so sure I can get up for this . . . ”
“This is no time to go soft, Weiner.” I must have barked because the D-girl jumped and nearly knocked over the life-size statue of Michelangelo’s David we’re using as one of the props. “You gotta get on the stick, get a grip on yourself.”
I could swear I could hear the sound of whimpering, or at least simpering. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do . . . ”
“You can act like a man!” I shouted. Sometimes you just have to talk to a guy in a tone he understands. “So when are you getting out here? My main character is a guy just like you — you wouldn’t even have to act.”
I could just barely make out some voices over the wallawalla at the other end. They were all saying the same thing: distraction, distraction, distraction.
“Dave,” he whined, “they cheered when I announced I was resigning.”
“That’s because they love you, Tony. You’re a man of the people, a regular guy who’s got his finger on the . . . ”
He started sobbing. “You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am. Let’s face it.”
“Kid, this ain’t your night. But it’s either my way or a one-way ticket to palookaville.”
“Tell me about it.”
“You want answers?
“I think I’m entitled to them.”
“You want answers — ”
“I want the truth.”
“You can’t handle the truth.”
That got to him. “I want to phone home.”
“Too late for that now. It’s my way or the highway.”
“Okay,” he said, flashing the stiff upper lip we all admire him for.
“It’s right here, waiting for you. The stuff that dreams are made of.”
I could hear the admiration in his voice now. “Jeez, Dave,” he said, “you can really write dialogue.”
“I’m the best there is,” I admitted modestly. “So that’s why you gotta listen to me. When the media finds out about your new career, you’ll have them eating out of your hand. Forget rehab — everybody in this crazy town loves a redemption story. Look what I did for Eliot Spitzer.”
“You know, Dave,” said Tony, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
I had him now. “You’re ready for your closeup. We start shooting tomorrow.”
“Made it, ma — top of the world!” he exclaimed. It was great to see the old Weiner fighting spirit coming back. “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
“And you are. Just think, your name in lights: The Full Monty II: This Time, It’s Personal.”
He was practically jumping for joy. “How do you think this stuff up?
I decided to let him in on our little secret. “We’ve got a saying out here in Tinseltown,” I said. “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.”
He paused for a moment, then dropped his voice. “Dave,” he said in a guttural growl, “I’ll be back.”
And he will, too. After all, tomorrow is another day.
— David Kahane will be making his directorial debut at a theater near you. For tickets, write to him at [email protected], or just show up in the Valley with a copy of Rules for Radical Conservatives and tell them Tony sent you. Action!