In bed with eight legends at the witching hour, when even the wildest dreams come true.
—A summer evening in 1987, inside his apartment on Great Jones Street, New York is engulfed in heat. He’s been painting, stark naked as always. He’s flopped onto a mattress on the floor, the room bathed in flickering light from the TV screen, which at four in the morning stopped transmitting hours ago. This is how he likes it best anyway, blank and silvery: the perfect lamp, casting ghosts onto the walls. Yet just one ghost haunts him: Andy Warhol, his friend, died a few months ago. He swore to himself that he wouldn’t join him in the kingdom of shadows, so he’s given up heroin and only smokes weed. He’s lost count of how many joints he’s smoked that night. Andy, his angel, is dead. And he can’t get over it.
He doesn’t have a bed, or pyjamas, he’s dreaming with eyes open that he never grows old, that his talent is to be the hippest man ever to walk the Earth, something future generations won’t even need to remember because nobody gives a shit, and so much the better. He drinks an ice–cold glass of almond milk after lazy laps in the pool, listening to Brian Eno’s new album. The light is beautiful tonight, as though some invisible hand had cleaned every nook and cranny to make everything sharper, more contrasted. Each piece of furniture, every object appears to leap out from its surroundings. Tony smiles, as though the memory of a euphorising drug had come alive under his tongue. But no, he just feels good, life is sweet, like his name, like his skin. Without a word, he sends up a prayer to the good fairies and tiny gods who are watching over him.
Three weeks on the road, criss–crossing the States from one venue to the next, from one club to another, performing night after night. Now he’s home at last. It’s well past dark, he flings off his clothes, grabs the one clean shirt he can find and collapses onto his bed, where he’ll sleep a straight twelve hours.
He lights up a cigarette. Alone at last. The girl or the guy, a body to be taken indiscriminately, has tiptoed out, thinking him asleep when really he was just pretending, one more semblance, nothing to be proud of, so that he or she would leave and he could finally be by himself. Away from them, away from the stage and a public who demand he take on endless new personas, who condemn him to always shed one skin for another. Who is he? Bowie — he clutches at the name, another invention, an umpteenth mask for the man who is really David Jones. In bed, staring ahead, he sees the future that will only happen if he can escape this roleplay, this duplicity in which he’s entangled himself since Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy, the glam rock alien who became a superstar, and almost consumed him from within. So he decided to kill him off, one July night in 1973, on stage at the Hammersmith Odeon in London while his group, unaware, looked on astounded. The death of his alter–ego was nobody’s business but his own. He wore a black see–through top, black sequined trousers and spiked orange hair as he launched into his prophetic Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide. But tonight, with dawn about to break, a cigarette smouldering in his hand, who is he? Is he already The Thin White Duke, that decadent, black–suited aristocrat who lives on red peppers, cocaine and milk? Which skin will he cloak himself in tomorrow, and the day after that? He gazes into the distance and, eyes wide open, dreams of a new incarnation in which he can finally be himself. Happy ever after.
Could he just have one minute’s peace? Shia LaBeouf is not happy. The more he tries to be something other than a pretty face, mere blockbuster fodder, the more the media are out to trip him up and poke fun. He just jumped into bed, not bothering to take off his hat or shoes, but removing his belt, all the better to whip the backside of a young fan or a paparazzo, given half the chance. Granted, things have been a bit chaotic of late: accused of plagiarism for a short film he made with nothing but good intentions, humble–pie apologies via Twitter then, convinced this wasn’t enough, skywriting another apology over Los Angeles. People thought it was dumb, he thought it was classy, the kind of thing a modern–day knight would do. Nobody understands him. OK, so he drinks too much, gets into brawls in bars, in theatres, outside night clubs. Given how bankable and how famous"/"notorious he is, turning up for the premiere of Nymphomaniac in Berlin with a brown paper bag over his head, emblazoned with “I am not famous anymore”, was bound to go down like a lead balloon. At least he thought it was funny. But he gets the message, he’ll check into rehab like everybody else, and journalists, every last one of whom is sober, of course, will gleefully fill column inches with the news. One minute’s peace, just one.
Even his dog’s had enough. Hemingway has got into bed, fuming, and is pretending to read The New York Times. The bed next to his is empty. She won’t come now. In fact she won’t ever come. The irony of it all makes him want to cry: none of the women who are a match for the heroines of his novels ever fall in love with him. They prefer younger, slimmer men, toreadors, like that Ava Gardner he’s dreamed of screwing ever since they got to Madrid, but she’s leading him down the garden path. They just had a slanging match, throwing back whiskies in an overheated bar. She empties glass after glass, bursting out laughing every time he makes a pass. A heroine from his books come to life, one she will portray on screen without ever wanting to lie naked in his arms. She takes him for a fool and here he is, all alone like an idiot in an empty bedroom, pretending to read the paper. Suddenly he bursts out laughing. Ava, she’s no different from him: same panache, same courage, same gauntlet thrown down at life. And she can hold her drink too. At last the penny drops, and he laughs louder still. She’ll never be his mistress, but she will be his friend for life.
27th October 2008: night has fallen on Los Angeles. It’s strangely hot for the season. Nothing unusual in Hollywood, where everything gets rolled into one, summer and winter, truth and lies, reality and illusion. Joaquin Phoenix unbuttons his shirt, but can’t muster the strength to take it off, and throws himself onto his bed. Too many films. Too many lies. Too many identities to take on — even if he loved playing Johnny Cash, because music is what he enjoys most. In four days’ time he’ll commemorate the death of River, his actor brother who took too much dope and died of cardiac arrest. That was fifteen years ago. He was 23. Too many roles, unable to distinguish himself from the images reflected by too many films, heroin as an escape route, amphetamines to keep going during long hours on the set. He pictures again his long, blond hair, his turned–up nose, the look of a young grunge idol. He’s dead, paying for the illusion of life that cinema creates. Joaquin feels drained, as though the characters he has played have emptied him of all vital substance. And he’s afraid. Afraid to end up like River. So he turns his head, stares at the shadows creeping over him, and takes a decision. Next day, as a guest on a TV show, he’ll announce that he’s giving up acting.
BENICIO DEL TORO
He curls into a ball, feverish, between the sheets. He doesn’t realise he’s even more handsome that way, that now it’s our temperature that’s rising. Instead he feels lonely, weak and helpless, incapable of relieving his aching body. He remembers his childhood, how he loved to be sick, to stay home from school, in bed, because that’s when his mother took care of him, and only him. He misses her so much. He was nine years old when she died. He’s spent his life searching for her in all the women he’s met. And he would become an actor so that they would all fall in love with him. So that a sea of women would open its arms and gently rock him. Tonight, ill in bed, he wraps the sheets around himself and nestles into their arms, a cocoon of tenderness and security, things he lost far too long ago.