Gossip Is Content, Too

Angelina Jolie

A couple of things happen to me when the Cannes Film Festival rolls around and I’m not attending that year. The first is I feel myself flushing pink with the sense memory of too much cheap rosé consumed, both in wine and champagne form. I get a flash hangover, too, and become groggy for the two-week duration of the Festival whenever I read the relentless updates streaming from industry press.

I’ve chronicled some of my adventures there before, and the upshot is I’m really more of a Berlinale type than a Cannes fan. As one producer lamented to me once, “I hate Cannes. It reminds me of an enormous souk.” Indeed, it does feel like a bazaar in North Africa, albeit one buoyed by rivers of booze and caverns of drugs and groves of scantily clad gorgeous women, not exactly mainstays you’d find running amok in the Muslim world.

I also start to feel the gossip rising within me, and I normally don’t care unless that gossip affects me and my work directly.

Forget the tabloids: film folk are the gossipiest bunch of all, but only amongst themselves. That legendary Hollywood omertà, particularly with the press, is very much a reality—it’s not done to relay scuttlebutt from the set to outsiders. But crew in particular love to outdo each other with salacious stories about directors, producers and actors; it’s a form of one-upmanship and social climbing by association and special knowledge.

Since becoming a blogger a couple of years ago, I’ve straddles the two worlds. These days I’m often issued this caveat before someone relates an anecdote: “You won’t blog about this, will you?”

It’s always surprised me just how pervasive this intra-industry love of gossip is, the biggest surprise being Gus van Sant. I’d always assumed he was this ephemeral intellectual with no interest in the more mundane interests of regular film pros. But when I was hanging out with him and his entourage at the Cannes Festival a few years ago I was struck by how much he loved the tittle-tattle, so much so he reminded me of an exiled Russian princess playing cards in Monte Carlo after the Revolution, whose boredom was alleviated by living vicariously through the exaggerated and imaginary exploits of others.

There are those celebrities who deflate gossip either by deftly managing their privacy, not having anything scandalous to gossip about, or being upfront with what’s going on in their lives. Angelina Jolie strikes me as all three. I’ve always admired Jolie, from the moment she thundered from the starting gate like a stupendous thoroughbred horse in Gia; how fortunate the filmmakers were to find an actress with so much natural talent who was also physically credible enough to play a junkie lesbian model. Then came her Oscar-winning turn in Girl, Interrupted, which proved Gia wasn’t a fluke, despite the awful, obvious witch’s hairdo they made her sport.

It was during her Oscar acceptance speech that Angelina firmly seized control of her own gossip and never let go. “I am just so in love with my brother right now,” she said, throwing a barrel of gasoline on incest rumors that both she and her brother, James Haven, had cheekily been fostering for months.

Angie shows her brother gratitude

Angie shows her brother gratitude

What celebrity had ever done incest before? That and Jolie’s Morticia Addams-black hair were the first indication that this nascent star was not only fearless but downright fierce. Then came the tattoos, the BDSM bloodletting sex with Billy Bob Thornton, the husband stealing. For a while it seemed she might be a train wreck waiting to happen on the level of Lindsay Lohan, but the reality is Jolie was always firmly in control of herself and her image, whether by craft or by pure instinct.

Yesterday we were exposed to her bravest, most radical move yet: a prophylactic double mastectomy. This isn’t just any celebrity dealing with probable breast cancer, this is Lara Croft removing what lured teen bums onto theater seats the world over. She didn’t need to admit it: the operation happened months ago; it was handled brilliantly and discretely; Hollywood’s omertà held firm. The revelation was so stunning—I know I stared at the screen, blinking away sleep for a few minutes thinking it might be an Onion-esque fake news hoax—and so heroic that for the most part the world gave her a standing ovation, with the notable exception of that smelly, cowardly nest of online trolls who snickered about her covering up a boob job, and other cockroach-like suppositions of the kind that make me was to grab a rocket-sized can of Raid and hose down the Internet.

Indeed, stars of a certain radiance can manipulate their gossip and flip-flop with even greater dexterity than politicians. For instance, I was struck the other day when Robert Downey, Jr., whom I find to be a major talent but an even more major mendacious hypocrite at times (well, he is a former junkie), announced that he was keen to return to more experimental indie films after all of these back-to-back career-resuscitating blockbusters. He fondly remembered his childhood surrounded by family and friends of family singing around the piano, people who held authentic creative expression over crass commercialism.

But it was only in 2009, at a roundtable held by Newsweek featuring Brad Pitt and other movie actors, that the unrestrained RDJ had this to say about indie projects:

I’m not very popular for saying this, and the missus tells me to keep it on the QT, but lately for me, the biggest, most commercial projects that I’ve done are the most creatively satisfying, the most collaborative and the ones that the audiences respond to. And I jump off and do an indie, and they can’t hit their ass with both hands, it’s 50 monkeys fucking a football and then you have to go and pump your kidneys dry in Sundance. What’s next, fucking Shakespeare in the Park for the pagans for three months?

First of all I don’t know any married men who so constantly refer to “the missus”—he seems to use it in every public statement— much less use that term. As far as I’m concerned, RDJ is overcompensating, not to mention being willfully disingenuous. As I’ve chronicled before, back in 2003 I had to yank an offer to RDJ for a lead role in a film of mine after the insurance company told me that covering him would cost a quarter of my $5 million budget, and the bonding company, which steps in if the film goes over budget and pays the difference, could barely contain their mirth. “You want him to play a hyper-sexual junkie who is high through the entire film? Hahaha!” Click.

Robert Downey Jr.In other words, because studios finance their own product and don’t need bonding companies, they could cover him if he went on a bender and disappeared for a week, as he was wont to do pre-renaissance. So he had no choice but to make crass commercial fare. Now that he’s married to The Missus and on the “straight” and narrow, and the biggest box-office draw in the world—to the extent he’s facing down Marvel on behalf of the entire cast for salary negotiations on The Avengers 2—he can once again consider doing more challenging dramatic films that don’t require him to dangle in front of a green screen for seventeen weeks.

As for trashing indie film crews who “can’t hit their ass with their own two hands,” there is no way even a low budget feature starring RDJ would have an incompetent crew. He makes it seem like we require NASA’s help to execute a feature, when the reality is the same grip who is on the indie feature will be on the Disney lot next week working on the kind of live-action cartoon that saved your tweaker ass, Robert.

More celebrity spin emerged today from Will Smith, whose son Jaden is seeking to become emancipated from his parents when he turns fifteen next year. According to an article in The Sun (I know, I didn’t just write “according to an article in The Sun, but I did), both Smith and his wife are self-described as completely accepting parents who let their children decide things like whether or not it’s a good thing “to tidy their rooms or to get ready for school.”

Jaden’s emancipation proclamation—deliver by his father, not him—comes conveniently at the release of M Knight Shyamalan’s After Earth, which stars both father and son. While I don’t doubt that Will Smith is a good parent, this whole extra-cool dad façade doesn’t square with the rumors about him, much less the action of a child wanting to be legally free of his parents three years early. That doth seem a bit excessive—I smelleth rat shit.


At the opening of ‘After Earth’ in Seoul.

Will Smith has long been plagued with gay rumors, just as his ‘missus’ is widely believed to be a lesbian. From a gay Hollywood perspective, these have never been ordinary rumors; they are incredibly detailed. Smith is allegedly violent, and even had to settled with an ex-boyfriend after Smith broke into his house and raped him, all part of their sexual roleplaying, apparently. But according to the African-American and Latino quarters of local Homolandia of a certain age, with whom it is an accepted fact Smith is a “rough dom top,” the damage was severe enough for the lover to be hospitalized, and for a generous settlement to be laid upon him.

All of this wanton scandal mongering about Will Smith is unworthy of me, I know. When I started writing this piece, I’d just meant to praise Angelina Jolie and take RDJ to task over something that irked me in 2009 when I read it. But while scribbling this suddenly I felt like I was drunk in the middle of a sunny afternoon on the terrace of the Grand Hotel in Cannes for the fourth day in a row trying to one-up my peers about what I knew about our betters. And that’s all gossip is at the end of the day, n’est-ce pas?



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