It’s the fall of 1988 in Hollywood and I’ve been asked to wait in a room just outside a casting office where I’ve auditioned for my very first film, a movie called “Smash, Crash and Burn.”
It’s about a real-life heavy metal band named Brunette, and their tough-as-nails, with-a-heart-of-gold and ass-you-could-drink-tea-off-of band manager, who will hopefully be played by me.
Roman Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s son, is producing and I feel pretty good about my audition until I overhear the Brunette lead guitarist, Joey, say to the casting agent, “I think you should hire the hot one with the tits.”
“OK Joey, so Shannon’s tits are A-cups, but she can act,” she says, “We need someone who can act.”
Can it be that I’m only one or possibly three bra-cup sizes away from working for the son of the man who directed “The Godfather”?
I glance down at my slandered breasts. They tremble in outrage. All right, they’re not really large enough to tremble, but they certainly quiver. Then I glance at the actress sitting next to me, Lana, the hot one with the tits, as she reapplies her Cherry Lipsmacker.
Roman emerges from the casting office and looks at me like an ob-gyn who has just diagnosed genital warts.
“Shannon, you were great and we really appreciate you auditioning. We’ll be in touch with our decision soon,” he says and then, motioning to Lana: “Could we see you do the pole dance scene again?”
“Of course!” Lana mews, then takes a moment to stand and stretch her chest.
Two weeks later, I return home from waiting tables looking like Sissy Spacek as “Carrie”—covered-in-pig’s-blood after my collision with a busboy bearing a tray of filet mignons and one wildly expensive bottle of Opus One merlot to a party of 10. As I rip off my wine-and-meat-drenched apron, the phone rings.
“Is this Shannon?”
Play it cool. Don’t seem desperate.
“Yeah, well, so you’ve been cast as Robin in ‘Smash, Crash and Burn.’”
“I thought they’d hire the hot one with the tits?”
“They did. But Lana booked a national commercial that conflicts with the movie so she took the commercial because it pays four times as much.”
“Oh,” I say. “Thanks?”
I lie in bed awake that night. What if this movie launches my career and my whole life changes and I lose my anonymity and become really rich and have to take uppers and downers to deal with the pressure, ultimately having a nervous breakdown and being shipped off to the Betty Ford clinic in Palm Springs?
Or what if I quit my temporary waitressing job and this movie isn’t legit and the checks bounce and I end up unemployed living under an overpass in MacArthur Park?
Why did I audition for this fucking film?
“Shannon, please try to hit your mark or the whole shot is out of focus,” growls the cinematographer, Billy O.
It’s my first week on set and I can’t seem to hit my marks. How am I expected to concentrate when I’ve just discovered that I’m going to have to kiss Brunette’s bass guitarist, Jay.
He’s my love interest in the movie. It’s a sacrifice. Jay is 6’3” and weighs 130 pounds in platform heels. Vampires have more melanin in their skin than Jay does. And he’s drowning in fawning, ample groupies boasting tattoos of black hearts pierced by arrows reading “Cherry Pie” or “Taffy Puller.”
Conversely, Jay can’t wait to kiss me. It’s obvious by the way he pretends to not find me attractive, asking our director, David, if we really need a love scene since my character is kind of cerebral and his character wouldn’t be into someone like that. I inform David that Jay’s character is probably used to women who talk about mescaline and blow jobs. He tells David my character is probably used to guys who read The Economist and have erectile dysfunction. David tells us we’re doing the love scene because there’s no time for rewrites.
To make matters worse, that scenery-chewer Nicolas Cage keeps hanging around the set with his insipid cousin, Sofia Coppola, who only speaks Valley. I’d lay odds neither of them will make much of themselves.
The moment has come. Billy O. aims a camera at Jay and me through the sunroof of the limo. David prepares to call action.
“Tongue or no tongue?” asks Jay.
“Open mouth with no tongue or closed mouth like two grannies kissing?”
“Open mouth with no tongue,” I specify.
“Did you brush your teeth?”
“Of course I brushed my teeth!”
“I’m suffering from gingivitis,” he admits.
“I have necrosis,” I rejoin.
“And action!” says David.
Jay’s lips meet mine. His lips are soft. He smells good. He keeps his tongue to himself. I guess I don’t mind. It’s nice. I realize after the last take that in a funny way Jay’s my first kiss.
I’m getting dressed in my pleather for our last night of shooting when I overhear the costume designer and the props girl in the next room.
“Shannon’s really great in this film. I think once it’s released her career is going to take off.”
It seems fitting that my last night of shooting “Smash, Crash and Burn” bookends the night I had my last audition for it. Once again I’m hearing a conversation not meant for my ears, only this time they’ve got it right—this movie is going to make me a star.
I try to take in the moment while I’m still anonymous, because that will end soon.
After all, my next scene is with Joe Estevez, Martin Sheen’s brother. I’m one degree of separation from “Apocalypse Now,” which fittingly brings it all back around to the Coppolas. I love the smell of Napalm in the morning.
Six weeks later, I arrive home from slinging hash to discover a huge box addressed to me sitting on my front stoop. The return address says “Zoetrope Studios.” I tear the package open, wondering if maybe I’ll find the final cut of “Smash, Crash and Burn” inside along with my character’s rhinestone studded g-string. Instead I discover a case of Coppola Pinot Noir with a note:
“Dear Ms. Bradley, we are sorry to inform you that we’ve hired a troupe of comedians to redub all the voices—including yours—in 'Smash, Crash and Burn.' We just needed it to be funnier. I hope you will accept this gift of my finest vintage pinot as an apology. Sincerely, Francis Ford Coppola.”
I finish imbibing that entire case of Coppola’s finest vintage pinot circa 1988, a full year before I find out “Smash, Crash and Burn” will never be released.