From There to Here: Starman Envy

Photo by Gregory Borjorquez

O Starman, Tucker, Fabulous Baker Boy: Yes, you, Jeff Bridges. There you are sitting in the departures lounge at Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, waiting to board the 6:55 p.m. flight to L.A. Most people have been sitting around the airport for hours, but you’ve just strolled in, minutes before flight time. Being very wealthy and famous, you look, needless to say, like a guy who just got out of bed with $10 to his name. Your clothes are the requisite baggy, anonymous celebrity-wear. Black-framed reading glasses perch on your nose as you scan a gleaming copy of Details. Your carry-on is an old shoulder bag with almost nothing in it. Your hair is all there but not freshly washed.

Being neither wealthy nor famous, and with a rather meager sum of money in my bank account, I feel the need to look like someone reasonably well-off. My roundtrip ticket cost $360; yours must have gone for something like $6,000. But I’m the one wearing the smart (inherited) jacket and the freshly polished shoes ($30 at the Payless ShoeSource). To me, overdressed and carrying an elaborate leather shoulder bag with a zippered section for every facet of my airplane paranoia (the medical section, the book section, the food section, the money-keys-documents section), you seem, Jeff, as enviably unencumbered as a man embarking on a 30-second walk from his car to a restaurant on a warm summer evening in downtown Malibu.

Perhaps you have been in Paris to shoot a movie — que sais-je? Probably you speak no French. I suspect the presence of a small container of very expensive sleeping pills in your bag. You will eat magnificently — on Air France, the food is good even in economy — and then slumber all the way to Los Angeles.

Behind you a group of Tahitians dressed in trashy international sportswear (Gauguin would be shocked) strum guitars and sing the beautiful songs of their island. From a little jerk of your head in the Tahitians’ direction, I see that the songs have penetrated your consciousness. People are singing — why? They’re traveling, it’s an airport, that’s what people do when they have to sit around. Sounds kinda nice. Probably you don’t even know, Jeff, that they’ll be traveling on the same flight — for them, a connecting flight to Papeete. You don’t know, because you didn’t have to stand in line behind a hundred of them waiting to check in about, oh, four hours ago. I did, and I’m really, really hoping that I’m not going to be sitting next to them. When you get on a plane armed with sleeping pills, earplugs and literature, you don’t want to sit next to someone whose carry-on luggage is a guitar.

The plane is a 747, massive and about 80 percent full. All the way from Paris to L.A., the plane registers barely a tremor. Next to me is an enormously friendly American missionary who looks like a car thief. He has just been in Romania, and the subtext of his conversation is “Isn’t it great to be flying to America rather than away from it?” The meal done, I watch Legally Blonde for a few minutes while wearing earplugs rather than headphones and wait for the sleeping pill to take effect. Faintly, I can hear a Tahitian strumming a guitar 10 rows back, and everyone on the movie screen is gorgeous.

When I wake up, we’re three-quarters of the way to L.A. I consider taking a nibble from the large dried sausage I bought with my remaining French francs in duty-free at Charles de Gaulle, but instead I fill out my customs declaration and actually declare the sausage. As I do so, an autobiographical passage by the crime novelist Patricia Highsmith goes through my head: “Criminals are dramatically interesting, because for a time at least they are active, free in spirit, and they do not knuckle down to anyone. I am so law-abiding, I can tremble before a customs inspector with nothing contraband in my suitcases.” At any rate, a large dried sausage purchased (upon presentation of passport and plane ticket) in duty-free can’t possibly be considered contraband. I write it down: value approx. $8.

I see the Fabulous Baker Boy again in baggage claim. He’s just picking up his bags: two large, smart-looking suitcases. “That was quick!” he tells the woman from Air France who is there to assist him. By this point, I’m in a very bad mood, mainly because I’m dying for a cigarette and can’t have one until I get my one suitcase and am allowed to leave the terminal. The 12-hour flight I was prepared for, but the half-hour we spend sitting on the runway after landing does me in. “Well, it would be quick for you, wouldn’t it,” I mutter at Bridges’ head as I watch him stroll toward the exit.

It takes me 40 minutes to collect my suitcase from one of the two enormous carousels. Then, after someone’s taken a look at my customs declaration, I’m sent over to a corner of the terminal and ordered to put my carry-on bag through an X-ray machine.

“We got a sausage!” I hear someone call out as the bag passes through the machine. I am instructed to open it and surrender the sausage. A customs official wearing white rubber gloves picks it up and dumps it into a large garbage can. Foot-and-mouth disease is the explanation.

“You’re going to eat it, aren’t you?” I say, furious.

“I’m a vegetarian,” he replies smugly.

Au revoir, Paris. Bonjour, L.A.

—Brendan Bernhard

The Acting Life: He’s a Super Freak

When actor Emmy Collins decided to move to Hollywood, everybody in the business gave him the same advice: Cut your hair, shave your beard, hit the gym and invest in an expensive wardrobe. You’ll never be leading-man material — that’s for prom kings and football heroes — but you might just scrabble out a living. Collins thanked them politely, then threw on an old T-shirt and started showing up at auditions. Now, five years later, in a town where ex–prom kings wrap twice around the block at cattle calls or clog the margins of Back Stage, Collins works constantly. His Charles Manson countenance and Dilaudid-lidded, thousand-inch stare have landed him countless television and film roles, mostly as hippies, junkies, muggers, burnouts and psychotics.

You may remember him as the recording engineer in the Jack in the Box “Meaty Cheesy Boys” spot, the Halloween Hippie on Freaks and Geeks or the Hippie Vegetarian in John Waters’ Pecker. Or not. Recently, he was the ne’er-do-well on General Hospital who relieved the amnesia-addled Luke of his wallet as he lay in an alley somewhere. Along the way, Collins has scored recognizable walk-ons in The People vs. Larry â Flynt (a flasher), Homegrown (a pot grower), Ready To Rumble (a carny), Almost Famous (a rocker at the Riot Hyatt), Rock Star (a roadie), Zoolander (a coal miner) and Fox TV’s Undeclared (an art teacher in ascot and clogs) — not to mention endless perp du jour roles on Homicide and America’s Most Wanted.

“Look how many cop shows there are out there,” he says. “There are a lot of guys who need to be arrested.”

Not long ago, Collins made it into the “Hot Property” column in the Real Estate section of the Sunday Los Angeles Times — the one Harry Shearer ridicules verbatim on his NPR radio show: “Actor Emmy Collins . . . has purchased a three-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot home on five acres in Pearblossom, just east of Lancaster, for about $300,000 . . . The cabin-style home, built in the ’70s, has solar panels and drinking water from a nearby well. Collins is an advocate for renewable energy. The home also has a koi pond and a moat.”

On closer inspection — after an hour-and-a-half drive into the high desert, the last 20 minutes over a rutted trail that seems designed more with security in mind than simple access — the “cabin-style home” is closer to a clapboard shack, the koi pond and moat have roughly the same relationship to reality as the term “Beverly Hills–adjacent” and both the size and the price appear inflated by at least a zero. Still, what is reality but a dearth of imagination? “My manifesto’s getting really good,” Collins says by way of greeting, dogs barking at his feet, and in fact it’s not hard to picture this scene on CNN, intercut with comments from his few neighbors like “He mostly kept to himself.”

Collins recently faced off against his own kind, a virtual round-robin elimination of working misfits, when he auditioned for “The Freaky Family,” a 30-second commercial spot for Choice Hotels featuring mismatched family members on a cross-country road trip. Walking into the strip-mall casting space on Olympic and Sepulveda boulevards, past the callbacks for Red Lobster and Marriott, the starlet/pretty-boy interlopers are immediately distinguishable from the genuine mutants.

“Freaky or foreign?” shouts Jeff, the casting assistant entrusted with herding the cattle into their appropriate chutes. “I need foreign front and center.” Almost immediately, everyone’s odds are doubled as aspirants for “The Foreign Family” are separated from “The Freaky Family” and led off in a welter of Mittel-European rumblings to audition elsewhere.

Collins is chosen to audition in a field of five with an albino biker guy, a steroid bodybuilder woman, a Nam vet with a noticeable hump and a guy with Bozo hair in a Zippy the Pinhead T-shirt — parade watchers at the corner of Walker Evans and Diane Arbus. “If you think about it,” volunteers the guy with Bozo hair, noticing my reporter’s notebook, “the majority of society is freaky-looking people. So we work all the time.” Jeff gives them the setup, videotapes the run-through, and then offers a bit of direction — something about urgency and conforming to reality and the transfer of energy. The second take goes better than the first, and then they’re off. The whole thing takes less than five minutes. On the way out, patiently awaiting his turn, is Michael Berryman, the huge, dome-pated, inbred-looking atavist from Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, still recognizable two decades later. In this crowd, at least, he passes for freak royalty.

“I just want to be under the radar,” says Collins. “The guys I like are like Lance Henriksen — tons of character, always really cool, but maybe you know his name and maybe you don’t.”

Five days later, Collins gets word back from his agent. The spot’s been canceled. They don’t give a reason.

—Paul Cullum


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