This is Chapter 73 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "A Little Less Conversation", the previous chapter.
The narrator is Sir Kenneth Fielding, featuring Brian Kinney, Dorian Folco, Gerry Milton, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Sir Ken observes Brian. London, July 2002.
Author's Note: Great comments, great ideas, Susan!
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
I think the shoot is going fabulously well.
It's Friday and I'm looking forward to a bit of location work this evening at a bar in Soho and then a nice weekend off. At home. No house parties this weekend, thank you!
Filming had been underway for about three weeks when Brian arrives. Most of my prior scenes were with co-stars Lillian Marsden and good old George Barton as my secretary and business partner in the theatrical agency and take place on the office and home sets. Those are all the exposition and major dialogue scenes. And they go well. Dorian is very good with minutia. It comes of starting in the theater, doing sets, and then moving into directing. That detailed eye is Dorian's forte.
And the look of everything is beautiful. Dorian has exquisite taste. I actually covet a number of the pieces he's used in the home set, but I know he's borrowed most of them from antique dealer friends of his, so I don't dare try to talk my way off with any of them!
My character, Jonathan Ash, a theatrical agent whose livelihood of handling old vaudeville-type variety acts has faded in the reality of pop music and rock and roll, is a man of the old school. He has classic tastes. And that makes the contrast of Ash's elegant office and his restrained home with the seedy, dirty, and sexy milieu of the clubs and dressing rooms for the Hammersmith portions ever so marvelous. When I read this script I just knew it was a bloody brilliant concept. 'Death in Venice' translated to the punk rock world. The possibilities for drama and visual effects is infinite. And Dorian has carried everything out so well. So far.
And now we get to my own little -- not so little! -- contribution to the production. Outside of my own performance, of course! Which will be wonderful -- I've ordained it! Yes, a healthy ego in this business has never hurt me. I'm trying to instill that in Brian. I know he must have a strong ego and self-image, but his belief in his acting ability is almost non-existent. I fear that is the Ron Rosenblum influence.
Ron seems to have raised poor Brian up with one hand by giving him the part in 'The Olympian,' and slapped him down with the other by bleeding him of all confidence in anything but his ability to look stunning in a minimum of clothes! This is deadly for an actor, who must depend on not only on his body, but his talent, his emotions, especially his instincts to proceed with developing a character. You would think that Ron, as a talented director himself, would understand that.
But I fear his desire to control Brian has over-ridden his desire to see Brian succeed in this profession. Ron, from the few times I've met him socially, from working briefly with him on 'The Olympian,' and hearing the usual party gossip -- from both straight and gay sides of the business! -- seems an unusually brilliant man. Brilliant, but driven. He needs not only to succeed, but to succeed on HIS terms and his terms alone. Perhaps that is the result of enduring so many humiliations over the years, mainly due to his openness about his sexuality. And I can certainly relate to that. But I've also been able to enjoy a number of relationships over the years -- something Ron doesn't seem to have been able to do. Until Brian. Or, as well as Brian, since that one relationship seems to have utterly broken down.
It's a mystery to me why Ron has opted to undermine Brian's confidence so thoroughly. The outtakes and dailies that I saw of 'The Olympian' were quite wonderful -- and I told Brian so. But he didn't seem to believe me. Perhaps he GOT the role due to his connection with Ron and his superlative good looks, but then many of our greatest stars have gotten their starts in the same way. There are different kinds of talent and different kinds of acting, and Brian's is of the instinctive, charismatic type. His image jumps right out at you.
And yet, Ron has convinced Brian that this is valueless. It seems an issue of control between them. Dorian told me that, even though they have never met, Ron has called him quite a few times, alternately berating him for daring to hire Brian in the first place or threatening him if Brian doesn't come off looking beautiful in the finished film! Dorian is convinced that Ron either has some mental problem or is on drugs! I try to imagine what he's said to Brian! Maybe it's no wonder the dear boy is drinking! And that drinking, obviously, is deadly to his talent and his life, as I have warned him.
Oh, my contribution to 'Hammersmith' is, of course, Brian himself. A master-stroke, if I may take the credit. Dorian had never heard of him -- how could he have? -- when I put his name forward for the role. Dorian wanted Robert Druett. A fine young actor, certainly. I saw him do quite a nice Proteus in 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' at Stratford a few seasons back. And he did a BBC Dickens adaptation of 'Dombey And Son.' Dreadful book, middling production, but Druett was good. He would also have been completely wrong as Hammersmith! My dear, it would have been calamitous! He's too short, too plain, and -- how do I put it? -- completely unfuckworthy. That may be blunt, but it's true.
And since MY character, Jonathan Ash, is the one who has to believe that the object of his desire, Mr. James Hammersmith, American rock idol, IS fuckworthy -- well, I thought of Brian for this part the minute I saw him on the set of 'The Olympian.' That long body. Those arms. Those lips. That perfect arse! Everything! But, you see, I'm an old poufter and am allowed such blatant ruminations!
Jimmy Hardy and Ron had ambushed me at that big party after the Academy Awards. Jimmy stroked my ego -- even though I LOST the Best Supporting Actor award that night -- while Ron seemingly dangled this feral creature before my eyes. Brian didn't say a word to me that night -- I wasn't even certain he could talk at all! -- but I WAS interested. Was anxious to get closer to him -- who would not be? But the part they were offering was one I would gladly have taken anyway. I needed no incentive to be in this groundbreaking film, Hollywood's first major gay love story. And starring an Oscar winner, too. And this fascinating newcomer. I get the sense that Brian thinks he was 'sold' to me in exchange for my part in the film. Whether that's an impression Ron gave him directly or his own paranoia -- or my lack of discretion in soliciting him sexually on the set -- I don't know. But I am sorry for it. It was never my intention to 'use' him as, apparently, others have. If I had known, I never would have done it. So, I feel obliged to make him see the truth of his own talent. And to make others see it.
And now even Dorian is a believer. When Brian walked on to the set looking like what I can only describe as every filthy wet dream one can imagine -- well, Dorian's eyes lit up, surely! Those leather pants! Not to be a pervert, but they look like his own skin washed over with a black sheen. I'm a tall man myself, but he was wearing heeled boots that made him tower over me and everyone else like a perfect Dionysos -- and I DO mean Greek God! Yes, Dionysos rather than Apollo -- the Darkness, rather than the Light. He even SMELLED like sex -- and he'd just come straight from wardrobe! Unless he had someone hidden in there. But I don't think so -- not with that delicious boy he has squirreled away at the Chatterton. Perhaps HE was lurking somewhere between the dressing room and the set, offering a bit of incentive?
No, I think it is just Brian himself that gives off that odor. That aura. And Brian looks so at home -- IS so at home in this persona. I've met the musicians playing the band -- all professionals of many years standing -- and none of THEM looks as much the rock star as Brian does after one day!
That Charley Weston, the lead guitar player, is quite a horror, in fact. A drug addict of many years standing. He may even be a registered heroin user. Or has been in the past, getting his supply at government clinics. A nasty business. I don't ask Dorian such questions as how they got insurance on the fellow or whether he'll make it though the shoot. And Weston is involved so much with the music, too, writing original songs and arranging the covers to be done. Dreadful music, but I imagine that it matches the period and will do for what is required -- giving the right ambiance to the film.
The other band members are non-entities. You wouldn't look twice at them on the street and certainly not at a bar or a party. I can't even judge if they are good musicians! Cleo Laine, Shirley Bassey, and Rosemary Clooney are more my speed. Rock music is total noise to my ears -- but then it is for Ash, as well. Both he AND I must overcome an obvious aversion to it in order to demonstrate the depth of our obsession for Hammersmith/Brian.
But you could be positively tone deaf and still understand what Brian is conveying in his scenes! His charisma is completely overwhelming. I called Brian to join me in looking at the dailies and he was wincing watching himself! It was painful to him. I must teach him what to look for when he's watching himself on screen. How to see his own performance and look beyond his own lack of belief in himself.
Yes, Dorian thanked me again today for suggesting him for the role of Hammersmith. I wonder if anything is happening there? Dorian is certainly not as direct in his approach as someone like Gerry Milton, but he CAN put the pressure on. I've seen him do it. And under his 'cover' of being a devoted married man! That is a joke! Perhaps Brian will make collecting directors his modus operandi for each film. Well, there are worse hobbies a fellow can have. I believe a number of our greatest female stars -- including many of my old favorite like Ingrid Bergman and Joan Crawford, and newer ones like Diane Keaton -- had the same hobby, as well. That made for some classic pictures that featured them both lovingly AND hauntingly.
Dorian could well throw all of the scenes he's in right into Brian's lap, to the detriment of my own screen-time. It COULD become truly 'Life in Hammersmith' if I'm not very careful with Ash as merely an observer to that show. I could become quite jealous of this development. But it doesn't really affect my own acting in the least. In fact, I think it will enhance it, because it will underline my character's obsession and make it even more explicit to the viewer. In other words, they will ALL want to have it off with Brian!
So, things have been going swimmingly up 'til now. If Brian will only stay away from the hard drink, things should proceed directly and swiftly. I'm planning to spend the month of August with Hughie in a villa on Corfu, so I don't want anything to delay the filming.
The only other fly in the ointment comes strolling into my dressing room during the tea break.
"Gerry, whatever are you doing here?"
"Just off from rehearsal and I thought I'd come out and visit. I swear that little Adele Phillips-Smythe is becoming a complete hypochondriac. The other day it was a headache, today it was cramps! She always has some female complaint. I vow that I'll get rid of her and replace her in the play with her brother, Billy. He'd look just as good in her outfits as she does. Better, most likely."
Since Gerry is already sleeping with her brother, Billy, while 'dating' Adele in public, this seems a redundant development to me.
"Give the poor girl a chance, Gerry. She really is a good little actress."
"Perhaps. But I have no patience with her. I was sorry I invited her down to the house last weekend. There were far too many hangers-on there for my taste."
I offer Gerry some tea, but he waves it away.
"Then I'm sorry I invited Brian and his friend to tag along with me and Hughie," I say. "Especially considering what happened with Fiona and her 'psychic powers'!"
Gerry flops down on my dressing room sofa and lights a cigarette. I hate Gerry smoking in my rooms -- it's impossible to clear the air after he leaves!
"That damned woman!" he bitches. "I've told Sybil NOT to drag her places, but she will do it anyway! Besides, Kenny, I never meant Brian, surely, when I was enumerating the unwanted. Far from it. In fact, I'm wondering if there is a way to get him to come down next weekend. Harry will be in Paris for a dinner party and perhaps it will give us a chance to become better acquainted. You might be a help in that regard, Ken.
So, Gerry wants to enlist me in his campaign to conquer Brian. Believe me, it will take more than MY poor self -- it will take an elephant gun and about a gallon of animal tranquilizer!
"Gerry," I say, gently. "In case you hadn't noticed, Brian is traveling with his boyfriend. Do you imagine that he will drop the boy just like that to fly down to some dirty weekend that exists only in YOUR mind?"
"Oh, well, that kid... I thought Hughie might invite Jason...."
"Whatever. I thought Hughie might invite Justin off on some sort of jaunt at the weekend. Perhaps to Amsterdam or some other place where horrid little boys go to get drugged or laid these days. Little Rent-Boy would have a fine time -- and Brian would have a little freedom to come down to the house." Gerry is waving his hand around, depositing his cigarette ash all over my good sofa.
"Now, Gerry, perhaps I may have made some flippant remarks about Justin to you at my drinks party the other week, but don't take them too seriously. He's a lovely young fellow and quite a talented artist. Brian showed me some sketches he's made wandering around London. And he's practicing some photography, as well. So, if you think he's a non-entity that Brian picked up on some street corner, you are sorely mistaken!"
"He's a little pissant!"
"And Justin isn't going to Amsterdam or anywhere else without Brian, and Brian isn't going anywhere without that lad! That is simply a fact. Besides, Gerry, I haven't seen one iota of evidence that Brian is the least bit interested in you in any way -- even as a friend. I hate to see you chasing someone who will only have to be rude when he rebuffs you."
Gerry blows a puff of smoke in my direction. "He just hasn't had the opportunity to know me. Besides, he liked me well enough when I was at the Royal Academy."
"Gerry, that was years ago. Besides, RADA romances don't count -- everyone knows that! I'm telling you plainly, Brian is NOT interested in you, romantically, sexually, OR professionally!"
"Yes, but then I was no one, just a student. Now I'm Gerard Milton of the Royal Shakespeare Company."
"And Brian doesn't seem impressed by that in the least."
"Bollocks, Ken! Of course he's impressed!"
"You are fooling yourself, Gerry -- and making a fool OF yourself."
"Listen," Gerry says, standing up and strutting around the dressing room like he's playing Henry the Fifth. "When I first met Brian, he was a badly-dressed and very gauche American -- but I overlooked that fact and concentrated on his finer attributes."
"And by that do you mean his gorgeous face and quite lovely cock? Are those the finer attributes you so nobly concentrated on?"
"I see you, too, are quite familiar with some of those yourself, Kenny." I'm surprised by the fierceness with which Gerry says this. I had thought this was a passing fancy of Gerry's, but now I think he's got it bad for Brian.
"I won't deny it," I say, coolly. "But I also don't deceive myself that Brian would ever in a dog's age be interested in a piece of elderly baggage such as myself. He happened to be very kind-hearted once in regards to an old man. Just once. And I'm quite grateful for the brief experience. But I did not think that it was a license to claim his attentions, especially since he was in a relationship with the director of that film at the time."
"Yes, I know. Ron Rosenblum. Then you missed your golden opportunity, Kenny. That thing with Rosenblum was a total marriage of convenience. I heard all about it from Max Hartman, Harry's agent. I called him the other day and asked him for the dish on Brian. He just came back from L.A. two weeks ago and he knows ALL."
"I say, Gerry, Maxie doesn't even KNOW either Ron or Brian. How can he possibly judge their relationship or the reasons for their estrangement?"
"Everyone was talking about it, Kenny. It was Topic #1 all over West Hollywood and Palm Springs, according to Maxie."
"What was, Gerry?"
"That this great 'relationship' conveniently ended when the film ended. I say, Brian wouldn't be the first to use his, um, appeal to get a part in a big picture. And more power to him -- I say, use what you can to get what you want. There's even some dirt that he and Jimmy Hardy may have been 'rehearsing' their scenes rather more 'realistically' than was called for by the script. But the big buzz is that Brian was a 'professional' long before he was an actor. So, I assume he's honed his particular skills in that area since I knew him as a student. Whether it's true or not is beside the point. That is the scoop. Straight -- or not so straight -- from Maxie."
I am appalled that Gerry would repeat such garbage in my presence -- and about a man that he is so openly interested in. Perhaps he thinks I am some kind of competition and is trying to scare me off?
"I think what you're saying is vicious and the product of pure envy. And you, Gerry, are simply being a pain in the arse if you base things on the gossip of a pack of Hollywood queens! Please leave Brian alone while he's making my picture! I don't want him hearing such rubbish about himself -- especially from a gossip like YOU! And I don't want him feeling any pressure from you in the romantic realm that might cause him to run off the rails!"
"He's a big boy, Ken," says Gerry. "Quite a big boy. I think he can make his own decisions about this. If you don't want to help me, all right, but don't think you can hinder me, either!"
Adding to the farcical nature of our conversation, Dorian selects that very moment to step into my dressing room. Gerry and Dorian have -- how shall I say? -- issues with each other. They detest one another, frankly. They were rivals as directors in the theater and now Gerry is savagely jealous that Dorian has moved into film, where, Gerry believes, the "big bucks" lie.
Gerry would also be livid if he knew that Dorian and Brian met for drinks last night. I still haven't heard about the aftermath of THAT encounter, but I'm avid to know. Because I'm just as much a gossip queen in my way as Maxie Hartman -- and Gerry.
"Good Lord, Gerry," says Dorian. "Didn't I tell you I wouldn't be needing any bit players in this film? But if we need some extras, I'll be sure to give you a call."
"You're so droll, Dorry. So droll." Gerry glowers at us both.
"Ken, if you'd go over that other scene with Brian before you leave? We're doing the location shoot at the bar tonight and I want to be certain you both have the dialogue clear."
"Yes, surely, Dorian."
"Is Brian anywhere about right now?" Gerry is a complete failure at subtlety.
Dorian glares at Gerry. "He's busy on the set. Perhaps YOU should be busy with rehearsing your latest flop, Gerry. Or doing something other than hanging out here where people are attempting to work."
"As I've said, you're so droll."
"Perhaps. Anyway, as I was saying to Brian last night over drinks," Dorian glances pointedly at Gerry, who is standing there, absolutely steaming. "Things are going so well that we are definitely adding those scenes you suggested, Ken. Brian was delighted with them."
"I'm so glad. I'll tell Hughie that the scene is a go."
"Yes, Brian had so many wonderful suggestions. He's such an instinctive talent. His lack of over-training is a breath of fresh air -- so unlike these fellows who think they are God's gift to acting because they had a middling success doing Shakespeare in drama school and in regional repertory companies." Once again, Dorian glances at Gerry.
"I'd hardly call the Royal Shakespeare Company a regional repertory theater!"
"Oh, Gerry -- are you STILL here?"
"I'm waiting to see Brian."
"Then wait elsewhere. Unlike YOU, HE'S working!"
The two them are like a pair of bantam cocks, bristling in a barnyard over a large and very juicy worm. Which they are.
And, of course, this is where Brian makes his entrance. The dear boy has perfect timing!
He looks back and forth between Gerry and Dorian, at this whole absurd comedy and at those ridiculous expressions on their faces, and utters one simple word.
And he turns and exits my dressing room as swiftly as he can.
If only I were allowed such a dignified exit from the premises! But I have to sit for another quarter hour as Gerry and Dorian shout at each other.
Meanwhile, I find out later, that back in his own dressing room Brian was starting on his first drink of the day. By the time we get to the bar in Soho for this Friday night location shoot, he isn't just acting the role of the out-of-control and larger-than-life James Hammersmith -- he's living it.
Actually, the scenes are quite good. Brian handles the dialogue surprisingly well for someone who is smashed. The effect is probably even enhanced. There's a big confrontation between Hammersmith and another man over a groupie, played by a particularly seedy-looking woman who is a friend of Charley Weston's. She's the real thing, I'm told, an authentic groupie. My character, Ash, attempts to defuse the situation, unsuccessfully. Dorian is quite happy with the result, but I'm sick at heart over it. Because I, too have failed to defuse this volatile situation. As a man of the Arts, I'm used to working with people who have difficulties with drugs and drink, but I do not rejoice to see it happening to this boy so early on in his promising career.
And the members of the band, who are vital to this scene, are also chemically altered in various ways. Brian is spending great amounts of time with them, practicing and 'hanging out.' And so, too, are many of the extras high, including a number of trashy young women, led by the head groupie, who are all over Brian like ants on a dropped lollypop.
I had been hoping that Justin would be in evidence tonight, but he is not. Brian told me specifically that he was NOT taking Justin to rehearsals because he didn't want him exposed to the members of the band. That he wanted to protect the boy from their influence. But who is protecting Brian that same influence? Justin is a mature and steady young chap and definitely a moderating force on Brian's excesses. And Brian obviously adores him beyond his ability to articulate it. Justin seems also to have the knack for stopping Brian's self-destructive behavior with a simple word or even a reproachful look.
But by the end of the night's shooting I'm glad that he did not come here. Very glad. Because it isn't pretty to watch someone so beautiful begin that long slide into ugliness and despair. Especially someone you love. I know -- I lived through it in my younger days and it was devastating to me -- and tragic for my lover. But that's another story for my memoirs.
I have no idea if or when Brian gets back to the Chatterton when we are finally finished at the bar. But Dorian gets his scene 'in the can,' as they say in Hollywood. He also hustles Brian away from Charley Weston and his gang, including the groupies, and into a car at the end of the long, long evening. And that's the last I see of either of them until we all return to the set on Monday morning.
Continue on to "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?", the next chapter.
©Gaedhal, August 2002
Updated August 22, 2002