Out-of-work actress Sloane Ford is in desperate need of something to do after losing her steady TV gig. When her famous family ropes her into working as a producer on their World War II-era romance, they neglect to mention that the film will be headlined by Joseph Donovan, her least favorite former co-star of all time. The roguish actor made her life a living hell the last time they worked together, using his movie star good looks and Irish charm to cover for his erratic professional behavior. On their new film set, he promises he's different now, but Sloane is far from convinced. As filming gets underway, it becomes clear that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. When the lead actress is abruptly fired, Sloane agrees to step in and take over the role, and she starts to remember why she fell in love with acting in the first place. On camera, she and Joseph share an electric chemistry. Off camera, they've been honing their characters and, much to Sloane's surprise, growing closer. But playing the role of a woman in love with Joseph Donovan is a dangerous business, and the more time they spend together, the less Sloane can tell what's real between them, and what's just for show.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Week One of Production
Slumped into my sectional with cold pasta in my lap and a glass of water balanced against a pillow, I type my name into the Netflix search bar.
The first four seasons of my crime scene procedural The Seeker come up first. There I am with a dark brunette bob, wearing a lab coat and hustling around, giving everyone coy looks while cracking guarded jokes, making sure my harmless crush on Detective Colfax is only a touch better disguised than my chest, which is always slightly revealed in a V-neck.
The Seeker has filmed almost one hundred episodes. Ninety-two feature me as a clever-but-soft blood spatter analyst named Tess, best known for her ability to coldly analyze a dead body, then turn all fluttery and fumbling around her crush. Not a single one features anything I need to see right now. Getting surprisingly killed off in the third episode of the fifth season of a critically ignored drama? One my own family doesn't even bother to tune in for anymore?
That's punishment enough.
A strange crackle coming from the direction of my kitchen startles me. At 3:43 in the morning, the television is my only source of light, softly glowing onto my tear-swollen face. Otherwise my house is pitch-dark.
For an agonizing stretch I sit frozen, ticking down my options.
1. It's an intruder coming to murder me, and my only weapons are an Apple TV remote, a lethal dose of self-pity, and a fork.
2. It's my younger sister Tyler ending our unspoken standoff and surprising me with a visit, ready to crash in her old bedroom before our first day of shooting tomorrow.
3. It's one of the constant murmurs of this strange old place in the hills of Laurel Canyon, full of crooked nooks and squeaking floorboards. Sloped ceilings and a small stained glass window in the bathroom of all places.
It's obviously number three, I decide with a tentative exhale.
This home was meant for shared gasps at unexplained sounds. For laughter to cover the bristle of shrubbery in the backyard. But Tyler's got her own condo now. A girlfriend to live with and a rescue pup.
I've got leftover bucatini on my lap and a deep-seated fear that I'm not talented enough to ever work in this town again.
Below The Seeker, there's one other Sloane Ford property available to stream. And of course it's A Little Luck, because even Netflix is mocking me. The last thing I want to watch is Joseph Donovan's smug grin while I self-soothe with cold pasta and light crying.
A Little Luck was by far the worst filming experience I've ever had. Thinking of that production sends a shiver down my spine, especially considering what I'm facing tomorrow.
Which is exactly why I press play.
The film opens on the lush Irish countryside, cast against searing gray skies. In spite of myself, the sight still makes me suck back a longing breath, gulping like the Killarney breezes are once again lashing my cheeks.
The opener is an overhead tracking shot, following me on a bicycle as I wheel through town. My stunt double shot most of it. It's a seamless transition from her to me. By the time I park my bike next to the market and take off my helmet, only a trained eye would notice that my shoulders aren't quite as defined as hers. My skin a shade paler. The dyed red of my hair a touch more yellow.
The first twenty minutes are pretty stale. My work is fine-I was still doing too much with my face back then, a theater tic I've put a lot of conscious effort toward calming. Mom told me not to start with stage training. She said to do on-camera work and scene study classes outside of college and get a degree in something else. Dad told me he cut his teeth in the theater when he went to California State back in the day, and that all great actors need that kind of foundation.
As usual, I listened to the wrong parent.
A Little Luck drags on until-it pains me to even think it-Joseph Donovan appears. He's the stock boy at the costume store where my character is working. She's an American who has taken a year off school to find herself in Ireland. He's staying in town to save money and earn back his family's farm after they're forced to sell. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but this isn't a movie designed to require an examination of the specifics. It's all about glances. Touches. Wind through hair as lovers kiss atop a cliff.
Off-screen, you hear me say, "Excuse me, it's my first day here. I'm not sure where I'm supposed to go."
Joseph stops lifting boxes, back to the audience. His right hand lingers for a beat. Then he turns toward the camera lens-slowly, methodically-daring us to look away from the chiseled angles of his upsettingly exceptional face.
The director set up the shot so we meet Joseph by gazing up at his six-foot-three frame. His blue eyes pop against the cream of his Aran sweater. A native of Ireland himself, Joseph complained the iconic look was too on the nose. Wardrobe didn't budge. They wanted this moment. The stark contrast of Joseph's boyish features and his brooding edges. His dark blond hair combed into a subtle swish. His ocean-swept eyes touched with hints of sadness. And the brogue. It was all about the brogue melting off those lips.
Good god. It's no wonder I loathe him.
I make it a few more minutes into the movie before deciding there's no way I can watch myself kiss that bastard tonight. Smug asshole. Most unprofessional man I have ever worked with in my entire career. And goddamn brilliant on-screen in spite of it.
His career has skyrocketed since we shot this. And I'm hours away from the start of a made-up producing job handed to me by my famous family to fill the void of my most recent bout of unemployment.
I close my eyes, trying to sleep, needing to wake up in fighting form.
But Joseph Donovan's features are burned into my mind, etched against the backs of my eyelids like the sun at high noon, burning me.
My mother greets my late arrival with an unbroken stare, arms folded across her chest and aviator sunglasses tipped down past the bridge of her nose, leaned up against the wall of Stage 15. She's wearing a baby-blue crewneck tucked into a pair of tight black jeans. Her long blond locks are in a ponytail pulled through a black ball cap, but she's left the bang pieces out to frame her face, because she hates when she looks too severe.
From this distance, she could easily pass for a twenty-five-year-old. Even up close, actually. She has the skin of someone who has had a professional aesthetician for decades, and the unmistakable glow of a person who cherishes being important to strangers. It's the hard-earned confidence that gives her age away. The no-bullshit facade of a fifty-eight-year-old woman who has seen it all and is no longer impressed by any of it. When the acting world turned on her, she picked herself up and transformed into a producer, intending to make a better life for other women in the business.
Right now she looks ready to turn on me just as effectively.
"Do you really not care about this?" she asks. Years of smoking have left an indelible mark on her voice, a sandpaper grittiness that's as iconic as her beaming smile.
"Hi, Mom. Good to see you too. Yes. Everything is okay. Thank you for worrying." It's hard not to wheeze, having done my best power walking impression to get to her, not a drop of caffeine in my system to offset my lack of sleep.
"You look tired." She pinches my skin, then gives me a perfunctory cheek kiss. "We've got a lot to cover in not a lot of time. I'm gonna be running around today, so I need you to keep eyes on everyone and make sure we're running a tight ship. You know how crucial the first few days are in establishing a tone. It starts at the top of the chain, Sloane."
"I'd hardly call myself the top of the chain here," I quip. "You made my job up."
The look she gives me makes actual goose bumps form along my arms.
"I'm sorry," I correct. "I turned off my alarm instead of hitting snooze. It was an accident that will never happen again."
"Oh, Sloaney, please don't act like you're new to this. Not now. Always set at least three backup alarms. I can't have everyone on set thinking you can get away with whatever you want just because you're my kid." She says all of this without breaking pace, dragging me along like we're doing our own Aaron Sorkin walk and talk. "At least you're dressed well."
The only helpful decision I made last night was to set this morning's outfit out on my dresser, feeling that strange kind of restless dread that made me both overplan and underprepare. Naturally I've ended up in nearly the same look as Mom, only in a different color scheme, with my shirt a muted yellow, my jeans a vivid blue, and my unplanned ball cap a heather gray. The best thing about having a long bob is being able to plant a hat on my head and have my whole style look intentionally casual, when the truth is I barely had time to brush my teeth, much less my hair.
"Twins." I gesture to our complementary ensembles, hoping to lighten the mood.
"Don't be generous," she scoffs. "I haven't been allowed to play a thirty-year-old since I was twenty-five."
This version of my mother-Kitty Porter: boss lady-is utterly incorrigible. I never thought I'd say it, but I miss her usual wandering 6:00 a.m. phone calls to me, talking about her cats and her yoga mat and her favorite BrenŽ Brown quotes.
She once spent twenty full minutes detailing the way the sunlight in her office was streaming onto a picture of Tyler; our younger brother, Powell; and me. It's a black-and-white portrait shot by Annie Leibovitz, and we're all piled onto one another like puppies. Tyler was eleven and had recently chopped off all her hair but hadn't yet solved how to style it. It was a scrappy brunette mess, dangerously close to bowl cut territory. Powell was nine and cute as ever. As far as I'm concerned, he still looks the same. Like a soft butter roll just out of the oven, with his hair that same iconic blond as Mom's. And then there was fourteen-year-old me rocking the classic braces-and-bangs combo, my hair a greasy brown and ironed straight as a pin. Even the bangs.
"I won't screw up again." The tremble in my voice surprises me. She hasn't made me this nervous since I bravely admitted to her that despite her sage advice, I was going to study acting in college after all.
"Good." She does the eagle-eyed hand gesture she picked up from Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents. "Keep eyes on everything. And make sure Tyler's calm."
"I'm on it."
The problem is, I haven't looked at the call sheet. I don't know who the first AD or the second AD is. Or what we're shooting today.
Knowing too much hurts too much. It amplifies the ugly voice in the back of my head that reminds me that once upon a time, the leading role in this production was supposed to be mine.
I do know that the movie has a working title of Horizons. It's a romantic World War II drama. My stepdad wrote it. My sister's directing it alongside him. My mom's going to be acting in it for the first time in almost twenty years. She's playing a supporting role, a widow named Vera who battles an illness while also having a secret love affair with the Black woman who lives down the hall. That role will be played by my dad's other ex-wife, Melanie Davidson, mother of my youngest sister, Sarai, who just turned eleven and surprisingly does not have a part in this project. Yet.
It's a good old-fashioned nepotistic family circus over here.
And in another world, I would be the center of it all. The face on the poster. The top of the call sheet. The main character, a schoolteacher named Elise whose life gets upended when her old neighbor returns home from the war right as her mother's illness is progressing.
Instead I'm here as a consulting producer, and no one-not even me-has any idea what that job really entails.
When I was growing up, summertime meant moviemaking time. Tyler would take one of our parents' fancy video cameras into the backyard of whichever house we were staying at for the week, and she'd direct Powell and me through one of our many terrible homemade remakes. Who isn't a fan of two siblings playing love interests that refuse to even hug? Makes for a stunning re-creation of Titanic.
In spite of Powell and me begging Tyler to turn every remake into an action film where we kill each other, there was a magic to our backyard passion projects. A desire among all three of us siblings to find a way to capture a good story. We could transform the pool at Mom's Calabasas mansion into the Atlantic in 1912. We could turn the gate in front of Dad's Beverly Hills estate into the prison cell from Chicago.
I started visiting my parents on set when I was old enough to walk. I've watched directors yell in my mother's face for no reason. Sat in my dad's trailer while he argued with important people about call times and script changes and hairpieces. Witnessed my parents' marriage to each other dissolve before my eyes, all over on-set jealousies, box office numbers, and critical praise favoring one of them over the other. I know how terrible and toxic show business really is. I've always known.
But there's a part of me that's always wished for it to feel like it did in the backyard with my siblings. Pure and spontaneous and fun, fueled solely by the desire to create something memorable together.
We almost have that here.
Most of the soundstage has been transformed into the entire fourth floor of a 1940s apartment building, with cameras around the apartment that Elise shares with Vera. Their living room is done up in muted reds and soft lavenders. There's just the right amount of clutter. Stacks of papers probably meant to be Elise's writings. Sewing and knitting tools strewn about. A coffee mug resting on a faded newspaper. A small window for daylight to spill through.