Viorel walked down the steps, expertly holding up a hand at the exact right angle not to block any of the waiting photographers, while pretending that he didn’t want his picture taken. The paparazzi, who knew the game as well as he did, just kept clicking away. Viorel grinned, slipped on his dark sunglasses, and pirouetted one so they could all get him from his best angle.
The car was waiting, of course. “Studio,” Viorel told the chauffeur. He didn’t need to specify which studio – the driver knew that well enough.
Sitting back in the car, Viorel sighed, slipping off his sunglasses and rubbing his eyes. However many times it happened, he never managed quite to get used to it. At one time, he remembered, he’d have given his left leg to be where he was now – and now he’d not be unhappy to be back there again.
Viorel wasn’t his real name, of course; his agent had chosen it for him as exotic enough to suit his “image”. Image, the agent had said, was everything.
Today’s up and coming stars, he’d noticed, never seemed to have to change their names. Their image never seemed to suffer either way.
His cell phone tinkled, an irritating tune which he kept as the ringtone since he could immediately recognise it as his own phone that was ringing, even in a room full of people. He looked at the screen and sighed.
“Shoot’s cancelled for today,” his publicist said. “There’s a publicity meeting though, with members of the public.” He named the hotel. “You have to attend.”
“You do. That is, if you want to continue finding roles. You have to stay in the public eye, Viorel.”
Viorel mumbled agreement. His mood plummeted like an express lift. The last thing he wanted was to talk to more people. But, as he’d learned over the years, meeting people was part of the job, one he couldn’t get out of.
Giving the driver the new instructions, he closed his eyes and rubbed his face, trying to smooth the lines. They’d developed quickly over the last couple of years, faster and faster it seemed to him. He kept telling himself that he wasn’t a neurotic about his looks like some of the others, but often, these days, he would look in the mirror and wonder who that man was who looked vaguely like him.
He wished he could have a drink, but that was one rule he stuck by – no drinking before the day’s work was all done. And just about everything he did now was work.
The publicity party was just as he expected. There were people whom he’d never met before, never would again, and never ever wanted to meet again. They told him how great he was and how they looked forward to his next film, and how far he’d come since Amor Fati. Viorel smiled and nodded. He hardly even noticed what he was doing. It was all on autopilot by now.
Only a few of the questions were about Amor Fati, though it was the height of his career and the best thing Viorel knew he’d ever done. He’d never had a role like that again; nobody had ever had a role like that again. But almost everyone had forgotten it now, and asked about films he hardly remembered acting in, though they were probably still running in theatres somewhere.
Probably there were a hundred other films like that, waiting to be made, based on unknown novels by nonentities which nobody read. He wished he had had the time to go and look for some books like those. But then he’d long since forgotten how to read anything more elaborate than a script or a contract.
And almost everyone asked about the current film. He hated the current film. He knew it would be successful and he hated it for that more than anything else. But he couldn’t say it.
Viorel began to have a headache. More and more he felt a disconnect between his fans and himself, not just in the fact that he was the object of their adulation and he didn’t give a damn about them, but even in the part of himself that they liked. It seemed to him that they worshipped a statue of him, and more and more he was being forced to play the statue.
It was when the meet was over and he was about to leave that he finally noticed the man. He’d seen him before, earlier, but he was holding back, just watching; a thin man, not well dressed, past middle age, with greying hair and spectacles, nobody he’d have looked at twice. For a moment he was alone, and the man approached, smiling diffidently.
“Mr Viorel? It’s an honour to meet you, sir.”
Viorel smiled back, though his cheeks were beginning to hurt with all the smiling by now. “I’m always glad to meet my fans,” he said.
“I love your work. I always have, from the beginning.” The man actually blushed. Viorel watched the colour climb in his cheeks. “If I could have an autograph,” he said. Viorel saw that he was carrying a small notebook and a pen. Amazing, that people still collected autographs. Mostly they just wanted photographs next to him, grinning like loons.
“Why, of course,” Viorel said. He fumbled at the notebook and dropped it. Instinctively, both he and the man bent to retrieve it, and bumped foreheads. The man began to apologise profusely.
Viorel felt like laughing. “No need to say sorry,” he said. “I have a hard head.” He flipped open the notebook. “Who should I make it out to?”
“Doesn’t matter,” the man said. “Just write that it’s in celebration of Amor Fati.”
“Amor Fati?” Viorel raised his eyebrows. “You liked it?”
“I loved your part in it,” the other man said. “You brought the story alive.” His eyes glinted behind his spectacles. “That scene by the bridge, when you stood looking at the keys in your hand, trying to make up your mind whether to throw them in...or, later, when you were at the hospital...you were the story, Viorel. It would have been nothing without you.”
Viorel smiled. “It’s nice to think someone still remembers that old stuff,” he said, writing. “These days, unfortunately, the kind of movies I get to make have changed. And the younger actors get all the good roles.”
“You’ll always be my favourite,” the man clutched his precious notebook to his chest. “There’s not a day I don’t think about you and how you brought that film alive. Thank you so much for this. If I’d known you were going to be here I’d have brought a copy of the DVD for you to sign, but you see I was just passing by from work when I heard.”
“Yes, well,” Viorel said, seeing his publicist approaching. “It was nice talking to you. All the best.”
“The pleasure was all mine, Mr Viorel.” With a slight bow, the man walked away, his eyes on his notebook page. Dismissing him with a shrug, Viorel turned to look at the publicist. “Well, how did it go?”
The publicist’s face was always rubbery with contrived geniality, so it was impossible to judge what he really thought. “It was all right. You need to get out and talk to your fans like this, more often. It’s when people want to see your movies that you get the roles.” He peered past Viorel at the autograph man, who was just exiting through the hotel’s main entrance. “Oh, I see you’ve met him.”
“Met whom? Oh, him. I don’t know who he is. He wanted my autograph. Can you imagine anybody wanting an autograph in this day and age?”
“You don’t know who he is? Well, I suppose you wouldn’t. He’s the guy who wrote the novel, my boy.”
“Amor Fati, of course, the one your film was based on.” The publicist laughed. “I don’t think he was given a penny for the rights, though. These small time nobody writers hardly ever are.”
Viorel massaged his forehead. The headache had returned. “Let’s go,” he said. “I could use a drink.”
A few days later, Viorel talked with his agent about making a film about an elderly writer whose ignored novel was turned into a famous movie, and who met the star of the movie years later. He talked in detail about what he thought the author’s feelings might be.
“Nobody’s going to want to make a film like that,” the agent said, chuckling. “Put it right out of your mind.”
So Viorel did.
The new movie was taking up all his time anyway, and there were discussions about more to come.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2014