We're sat in Antonio's, Lips and Stephen's favourite 'mexican dive', with Karina a puerto rican actress whom Stephen knows from one of his many classes.
We're about three margaritas in. They are strong and served in buckets.
They're talking about some actress but I'm hazy on the details because I'm staring at the walls which are covered with literally hundreds of photo's of Antonio with different celebrities spanning about fifty years. There's him with Sinatra, and there with Johnny Depp. Antonia young and dashing with a pencil moustache...Antonio older, still handsome, still with the 'tache. He found his look in 1930 and he stuck with it. I stagger out for a smoke and pass an elderly man sat just inside the door greeting guests. It's Antonio! He's about 142. And he still has a pencil moustache.
When I get back Karina is still talking about the actress.
'If I could swap bodies I'd take hers in a heartbeat.'
'She has legs up to her earlobes,' Lips informs me, though I still have no idea who they're talking about. Stephen chips in;
'If I could change anything I'd be a little taller. And I'd change - '
I slug back my drink and slam it down.
'I wouldn't change anything about myself,' I declare.
This gives them pause.
'Really?' Karina says. I think she means it kindly
'Absolutely' I say warming to my theme. 'I look in the mirror and I see that I'm big and yeah sure I have psoriasis and okay I've got these laughter lines now around my eyes and my hair is going silver at the sides...' I'm losing focus.
'You don't have any lines around your eyes at all actually,' Stephen says. 'And there isn't a white hair on your head.' He adds accusingly.
'There is...are...trust me. And I see the lines that weren't there a year ago but...BUT...they are MINE. I spent forty years laughing and crying for these lines and I'm not giving them up. I may not be beautiful but I've never wanted to be anyone else but me.' I smile like a self satisfied cat.
'Seriously, there are no laughter lines around your eyes,' Stephen says.
'No, Lips adds. 'The laughter lines are around her vagina.'
Stephen looks outraged. Lips and I fall about laughing like drains because EVERYTHING is funny after three buckets of margarita.
Karina goes on to tell us about her obsession with Les Miserables.
I have vague memories of demanding to know why anyone would want to go and see a show called The Miserable.
Fade to grey.
I wake up and immediately regret the forth margarita.
I stand under the shower and try to wash the tequila from my pores.
I eat two Advil for breakfast and head downstairs.
The Cooper brothers are so over excited to see me (as is the inexplicable way of dogs) that they both run at me full pelt realising too late that they are on slate flooring and cannot stop in time. They slam in to me with the force of a wall made entirely of fluff and I stagger backwards and slide to the ground.
Stephen is waiting for me, looking sinisterly perfect.
'Ready for your acting lesson, dear?'
He has this southern drawl that's addictive to listen to. And he is the most polite man I have ever met but I'm beginning to detect some dry humour there. A touch of sarcasm.
He drops me off outside a door somewhere in Venice.
'Just sit there till he comes to fetch you. Have fun.'
The flat apartment buildings and their balcony's remind me of the setting for Dirty Dancing.
I'm sat there muttering: 'I carried a watermelon' when Craig appears with perfect white hair and luminous teeth.
'You must be Thea,' he says extending a hand and giving me the once over. He pauses at the tattoos on my arms. 'Come on in.'
The room is cosy and there's a camera set up at one end which makes me shudder.
There are posters on the wall with him smiling and a banner telling me he's an award winning acting coach. He has a 'method' apparently. He used to be a an agent and also worked as a casting executive for one of the big big agencies.
'Stephen tells me you trained as an actress some years ago?'
'Twenty years ago.'
'And what happened? Why didn't you pursue it?'
I start talking and realise I'm in a therapy session. Oh he's good.
'...so basically...I think I'm a bit of a late bloomer. In everything.'
He nods sagely and smiles.
'In my experience the best performers, writers, artists in general are all late bloomers.'
'Good to know.'
We chit chat for ten minutes and then he asks me if I prepared my scene.
I nod and produce the script that I have glanced at once since Stephen left it for me.
We go through it once with him playing the other character and when I'm finished he nods and smiles again.
'What do you think of LA?'
'I think it's mad in a brilliant sort of way. Everyone here wants to be someone. Everyone is willing a suspension of disbelief. They work as waiters for twenty years but they never give up hope that they might be the next big thing.'
'It's true,' he says. 'It's completely insane here, a bubble. And I forget that sometimes because I'm in it. I'm enabling. When I get a new student and ask them why they're doing this they too often say “Because acting is my passion”. That always worries me. It's such a stock phrase and behind it there's usually another reason, and that reason is that something is missing from their life, or something has been neglected. They just want someone to listen to them.'
We do the scene again after a brief discussion about 'intent' and 'purpose'.
It feels different and I'm starting to get in to it.
When we finish he nods enthusiastically.
'You leaked a couple of times. I love it when that happens.'
I check the floor for tequila.
'And by that I mean that I could see you react emotionally. You, really you, to the situation. You looked at me for a second like you wanted to stab me in the throat. It's those moments that get you the job.'
I stare at him blankly.
'When someone leaves an audition and the casting panel say 'Hey didn't she read well' you know they didn't get the role. It's not about the words, it's about what happens between them. I could see in the pauses that Jenny (my character I beg your fucking pardon) had dignity masking her fear and anger hidden by aloofness.'
I enjoy the class far more than I anticipated and we spend an extra half an hour talking about Stanislavsky, bad acting and his great friendship with Julia Roberts (who can access every part of her psyche apparently).
By the by, everyone, and I do mean everyone here has a Julia Roberts story. It seems everyone has met and had a moment with her. If this is true then I have no idea how she ever has the time to do any work and I can only assume she is one of about six prototypes stalking the streets of LA.
Stephen is waiting outside for me and Craig thanks him for bringing me along.
'Oh my lord she's a joy! I just wish all my students were like her.'
I puff up like a peacock and glide down the stairs. I'm going to be a star!
Stephen and I spend the rest of the day on Venice beach together. Lips is still in jury service and we get the odd text in which he prays for his imminent death. He is not having fun.
Stephen wants to pop in to the Converse store to get some more...converse.
I look down at our feet. We're wearing matching black and white ones but mine are hanging together by a thread and his are shiny and clean.
'You want some in a different colour?' I ask.
'No I need to replace these, they're getting grubby.'
He then clocks mine.
'You want some?'
'No I'm good.'
'What are you saying?'
He smiles in that southern polite way.
'Don't get me wrong, I like them, I do. They're very...you. But if y'all want a new pair...that would be fine too. On me.'
We go to a rooftop bar and drink prosecco and the heavens open. The rain is warm and lovely and it all feels very pleasant though Stephen isn't convinced.
'I'm GONNA enjoy this because I'm with you but no Thea, it is not lovely to get wet. It is not lovely at all.'
We take a walk along the Venice strip where some men wearing green scrubs offer me 'medicinal marijuana.'
There are shops entirely devoted to bongs and t-shirts that say things like 'Mike's Bitch.' So this is the seedy side of LA.
'I could see you living in Venice,' Stephen says.
'Yeah, me too.'
He grabs us some coffees and returns with a t-shirt for me that says:
VENICE – Where Crime Meets Art.
When we get back it's dark and Lips is waiting for us with an imaginary gun pushed in to the underside of his chin.
'Jury Duty going well?' I ask.
'I need a fucking drink.'
He has booked us a table at Musso and Frank, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood (1919) and it is fabulous. All red leather booths and waiters with a minimum age of 45 in porter suits with sharp collars.
'I bet the martinis here are brilliant,' Lips says.
They arrive in tiny cocktail glasses with an additional little glass beaker of more martini each sat in a tiny ice bucket. We order three more.
The maitre de, who looks like a film star, leans over and whispers to me;
'You're sat in Marilyn's booth.'
I almost jump up thinking I'm sat ON her.
'She loved to sit here because she could see everyone coming in. But also, so they could see her.'
He winks at me. I'm in FUCKING HEAVEN.
Lips and I agree we should order old school and both have the shrimp salad followed by a steak.
The huge prawns come hooked over a bowl of glass. It's all so....Hollywood.
After dinner a man approaches me. He looks like Cary Grant would today.
'You visiting ma'am?'
'From the UK?'
'Know the Cooper family?'
'Um, sorry, no.'
He disappears and comes back with a calendar.
'For you. Pictures I took myself.'
'That's so kind.'
And he's off again.
'I think he liked you,' Lips says flicking through the images. 'Oh that's a nice one of the Griffin Observatory.'
We go to The Piano Bar (Live music seven nights a week!) A huge bouncer at the door tells us we'll have to wait a short time because they're at capacity. I look through the door, it's half full at best, no queue at the bar.
'I know,' he says. 'But we don't like it to get too crowded.
We wait twenty minutes and the bouncer lights every one of my cigarettes. I love this kind of thing. I'm a sucker for it. Lips is really classic in that way. If I stand up to go for a cigarette or use the restroom, he stands too. I haven't opened a car door since I arrived and he always has his hand on the small of my back guiding me gently toward a table or a door. It makes you feel...precious. I wish I was in 1952.
As we enter the bouncer leans over;
'There's a courtyard out back where you can drink AND smoke at the same time.'
He squeezes my arm.
We get seats right by the band and sit for an hour watching them play the most complicated jazz. There's a man on a trumpet who is mesmerising.
Lips nods to the drummer who seems to be completely lost in the music.
'Someone's watched Whiplash.'
Another dream like day has passed.
'By the way,' Lips says as I head up to bed. 'I got us tickets for Dame Edna's Farewell tour on wednesday. It'll be a scream.'
I dance the last three feet to bed.