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The “It” book you absolutely must pack in your beach bag—an addictively juicy novel of celebrity love gone wrong
Chosen by USA Today, People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue.com as a Great Summer Read
“Liftin, who’s cowritten memoirs with celebs including Tori Spelling, presents her first novel as a tell-all by a star she calls Lizzie Pepper. Married young to an actor involved in a cultlike religion, Lizzie ends up leaving him and…Sound like someone we know? Liftin’s not saying, but her book is dishy fun.” People Magazine
“I’ve had a million meetings in my acting career, and I had no idea that this would be the one that would change my life forever. I walked into the room, and there was Rob . . . in the flesh.”
Actress Lizzie Pepper was America’s Girl Next Door and her marriage to Hollywood mega-star Rob Mars was tabloid gold—a whirlwind romance and an elaborate celebrity-studded wedding landed them on the cover of every celebrity weekly. But fame, beauty, and wealth weren’t enough to keep their marriage together. Hollywood’s “It” couple are over—and now Lizzie is going to tell her side of the story.
Celebrity ghostwriter Hilary Liftin chronicles the tabloids’ favorite marriage as Lizzie Pepper realizes that, when the curtain falls, her romance isn’t what she and everyone else thought. From her lonely holidays in sumptuous villas to her husband’s deep commitment to a disconcertingly repressive mind-body group, Lizzie reveals a side of fame that her fans never get to see. Full of twists and turns, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper is a breathless journey to the heights of Hollywood power and royalty and a life in the spotlight that is nearly impossible to escape.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Hilary Liftin is a ghostwriter/collaborator specializing in celebrity memoir. Since 2006 she has worked on fifteen books, ten of which hit the New York Times bestseller list, including Stori Telling by Tori Spelling, which won the 2009 Bravo A-List Award for Best Celebrity Autobiography; Miles to Go by Miley Cyrus; and High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips. Hilary is also the author of the memoir Candy and Me and coauthor of Dear Exile, both penned under her own name. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children.
Hometown:Los Angeles, California
Date of Birth:August 12, 1969
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:B.A., Yale University, 1991
Read an Excerpt
When I first told P. J., my longtime publicist, that I wanted to write a book, she just about hung up on me. (It wouldn’t have been the first time—P. J. has one way she likes to do things: P. J.’s way.) After she’d cooled down a bit, she reminded me that we’d spent the past year and a half trying to show the world that my life was completely boring and mundane in an attempt to get the press to relax its twenty-four-hour watch on me. Why would I want to stir things up again?
It was a good question, and it has a real answer, but it might not be what everyone expects.
I know that people want to hear my side of the story. I’ve been asked the same questions every time I’ve stepped out into daylight for more than seven years. Lizzie! Lizzie! Why did you marry Rob Mars? Was it a career move or do you really love him? Is he gay? What’s it like inside the One Cell Studio? Have you learned to levitate? Is it a cult? Why did you leave Rob? Did he cheat on you? Seriously, is he gay? Where’s your wedding ring? Are you saving your sons from the Studio? Are you and Johnny getting back together? And, of course, Who are you wearing?
I am going to answer those questions (though I’m not going to dwell on fashion). In doing so, I have no choice but to violate my ex-husband’s cherished and embattled privacy. I don’t do so out of spite. In fact, I’m deeply conflicted about it. A marriage that fails has surrendered on multiple levels: the smallest intimacies; the day-to-day rituals; the fundamental principles. In my case, my issues with Rob’s involvement in One Cell are distinct from my issues with Rob, but it became, and is in these pages, very difficult to separate the two. What will forever be true is that I respect Rob, and I will always care for him, and I would rather not hurt him.
So why am I telling the story? Why expose Rob, and myself—and even, to some extent, our young sons, who didn’t choose a public life? It’s not revenge or bitterness or a desire for attention, that’s for sure. I’m not trying to make my ex-husband look bad, and I’m not trying to make myself look good. I’m not trying to rejuvenate my image or pay off debts. But for the last fifteen years the press has drawn me in crisp, simple, black-and-white lines. The Girl Next Door. America’s Sweetheart. Rob Mars’s wife. For all the paparazzi shots and legal briefs and features that have been written about the “news” of my every trip to Starbucks (venti soy latte, if you don’t know already), nobody ever writes or talks about the reasons or the reality. I feel like nobody really knows me, and, until very recently, there were some things even I didn’t understand about myself.
After this bizarre, otherworldly phase of my life in which the press tried to predict, expose, and analyze every slight movement I made, I was determined to reclaim those years, to describe what they were to me, regardless of what the truth might do to my image, dammit! The right to tell my own story, in my own words, became so important to me that I made sure it was part of my divorce agreement. (I achieved this in a rather unorthodox way, but more on that later.) Now that it has settled at last, I can finally break the first commandment of celebrity: I can tell the imperfect, unpolished truth.
I’m only thirty-two, but, as they say, my life so far has been quite a journey: growing up a straight-A student in Chicago; landing a lead role on a beloved TV series before I finished high school; making movies in Hollywood; marrying a megastar; giving birth to twins; getting a divorce under circumstances I never could have predicted; launching O Naturale, my organic cosmetics line (available at a department store near you). These are the Wikipedia trappings of a Hollywood life. I’m famous for what is completely obvious about me—that’s how it works—but behind the screen, behind the scenes, behind the behind the scenes, I’m human. I fell in love, as people do, and entered a marriage that I thought would last a lifetime. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve kept secrets. I’ve had my heart broken. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky, and I’ve had my share of struggles. Through it all, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there are no black-and-white lines. In my story, there is no he said/she said, no good and evil, no right and wrong. We are all human, complex and simple, great and small. This is a story about the choices that we each make every day, and how those choices make us who we are.
I wasn’t really interested in the part: another helpless girlfriend—too small a role for me—but my management told me to take the meeting. It was Rob Mars after all. You don’t say no to Rob Mars.
I’ve had a million meetings in my acting career, and I had no idea that this would be the one that would change my life forever. I walked into the room, and there was Rob. At this point I was past being dazzled by movie stars—or so I thought. But even at the Oscars, in that concentrated crowd of self-involved, hard-to-impress A-listers, Rob Mars turns heads. Celebrities gawk at him the way most people gawk at them.
Here he was. Rob Mars, in the flesh. Seeing him spun me back to my teen years, before I took the role of Lucy McAlister on American Dream, before all the press, the red carpets, the award ceremonies, the movies and TV appearances. Back to the days when Rob Mars was a life-size poster on my best friend Aurora’s bedroom door, and we had no idea that I would ever lead a life that would have me meeting him in person, much less as a potential colleague. I would say I never dreamed of it . . . but isn’t this what everyone dreams of?
Rob rose to greet me, tall and debonair, his familiar face sharper in three dimensions, as if he’d always been slightly blurry onscreen and now he was in high-def. His brow and chin were strong, elegantly framed by salt-and-pepper hair. But you know that. What I really mean is that in person his features were breathtaking, his face chiseled by destiny. And I had never noticed before how his eyebrows slanted down toward his ears. It made him look a little vulnerable in spite of the ridiculous bone structure.
“Hi, I’m Lizzie,” I said, and stuck out my hand to shake his. A worry flitted through my head. Was he one of those germophobes? I hadn’t done my research. Had I blown it already? But he took my hand and at the same time leaned in to kiss my cheek. Phew.
“Can I call you Elizabeth?” he asked. “You’re too sophisticated for Lizzie.”
I nodded dumbly. My father was the only person who called me Elizabeth. Elizabeth felt premature, but also intimate coming from Rob—as if he’d already found something in me that he’d been looking for.
“Elizabeth,” he said, and smiled. That famous megawatt smile, but now it was for me.
We took our chairs, and I noticed that he was one of those people with a disproportionately long torso because sitting down he was a good foot taller than I was, and I’m five foot seven.
There were other people in the room. Six, maybe? Hard to say, I never pay much attention to entourages of agents and managers, and I was transfixed by that smile. Anyway, Rob was the one who led the conversation from the start. He talked about how much he’d admired my work, not just on American Dream, but in Underground and The Last Hurrah. I ate up the praise. American Dream was formative for me—I grew up on that show—but I didn’t want it to define me as an actor for the rest of my life. Plus, these compliments were coming from one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Maybe the biggest movie star. Rob Mars isn’t just a moviegoer’s idol. He’s an actor’s actor. He’s played good guys, bad guys, teen heartthrobs, Jesus himself, and an immortal god who rules over an unbelievably distant planet. He even sang in some musical where he played a sensitive cowboy. Anyway, my point is completely obvious to anyone who has ever stepped into a movie theater. Nothing Rob Mars ever does feels small, and it never is. All his movies over-perform. He over-performs. Whatever you think of that movie, he was a completely believable Son of God. Somehow even the cowboy musical, which was generally considered to be a flop, made millions of dollars. Meanwhile, all my movies so far had been small, offbeat indies with good reviews and mediocre-to-nonexistent box offices, and all my parts had been awkward girls with glasses and names like Ruby who just needed to accept their quirkiness before realizing that the cute lead guys loved them in spite of themselves. And now Rob Mars himself knew who I was. By name. He knew and said he loved my last film, which, as far as I could tell, had been seen by about twelve people. If nothing else came out of this meeting, at least I had that.
We chatted. He never broke eye contact. He might not even have blinked. Even stranger, he also didn’t say a word about the part in his new movie, which was ostensibly the reason we were there. Where was this going? I was flattered and a little confused. But fine, if he was one of those people who liked some long, semi-personal “get-to-know-you” conversation to see if I had a brain before getting to the point, I could play that game.
“Okay, this is off topic,” I said, “but I read this amazing book last week: The Birthday Boys. It’s a fictionalization of Captain Robert Scott’s failed expedition to the South Pole. He and three other men froze to death in a tent, waiting out a blizzard that they knew would never end.”
“Tell me more,” Rob said. A good sign. I had a morbid interest in survival stories (they could take place at either Pole, in the Andes, or in outer space so long as they involved intrepid people in inhumane circumstances fighting for their lives), and as my go-to topic of conversation they tended to separate the wheat from the chaff. Approximately half the time, my audience took the first chance to excuse themselves to get another drink. But I had Rob’s full attention.
“One of the characters says it was so cold their teeth splintered. Do you think the author made up that detail—or do you think their teeth actually froze and cracked? I mean, they’re teeth.”
Rob seemed to ponder this.
Then he said, “Guys, could you . . . ?” and before he finished the sentence, the room emptied.
Now it was just the two of us. Rob sat calmly in his armchair, but I could feel his intensity radiating toward me.
“So, Elizabeth, I hear you had a poster of me on your wall?”
I cringed. He’d seen the profile in Glam, the one where I said he was my childhood crush. It wasn’t true—the poster I had in mind was the one on my best friend Aurora’s bedroom door—sometimes in an interview I panic under the pressure to come up with an answer. My real childhood crush was Alec Dumall, but since he’d just been busted for downloading child porn (hey, perhaps we’d both had crushes on each other!)—I’d had to think fast.
“Do you always read Glam, or do you mostly just tear out the pictures and tape them inside your locker?” I teased.
He laughed. “I like you, Elizabeth Pepper.” There was an awkward pause. Or, rather, I felt awkward. Rob sat there watching me squirm, a beatific smile on his face.
“Look,” he said, “I have to go. But I want to spend more time with you. Can I take you out?” Take me out. A date? Either a date or a mob hit. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that Rob Mars was the most eligible bachelor in the world. Aurora was going to keel over and die. But I wasn’t making any assumptions.
“Sure,” I said, trying to sound casual.
“Excellent!” he said, and pumped his fist in the air. Yup, a fist pump. But it was somehow okay on him, as if he’d invented it and everyone else who followed had turned it fratty and overused. “Hold on,” he continued. “Let me walk you to your car.” He picked up the landline and pushed a button. “I’m heading down to the lobby,” he said.
He walked me out into the office hallway. One of the suits who’d been in our meeting came up to us. “All clear,” he said, and vanished. Rob and I headed to the elevator bank, and it struck me that the cubicles, which had been bustling when I entered, were quiet now. The halls were empty. Even the front reception desk wasn’t monitored. This was ACE, one of the biggest agencies in Hollywood. Incoming calls were always answered immediately. Yet, as we exited, multiple phone lines rang and rang.
The elevator was waiting when we got there. The lobby button was already lit. And when the doors opened and I saw that the lobby, like the offices above, was completely deserted, I finally understood what “all clear” meant. Rob walked me to the front door as if it were perfectly normal that an entire office building would shut down operations to let him pass. Because, as I would soon learn, it was perfectly normal to him.
“Shut up.” Aurora, who had just served herself some of our take-out sushi, sat up straight.
“Well, it’s not necessarily a date. He just said—”
“It is totally a date and, holy crap, we have to figure out what you’re going to wear. When is this date happening?”
“I don’t know. He said he’d call.”
“You have to be ready!” Aurora exclaimed. “I know how this goes down. He’s going to call the day of. A limo will whisk you to a restaurant, where you’ll be the only people because he’s reserved the whole place for the two of you. You won’t have time to think. The only solution is to be fully made-up and wearing a black cocktail dress every waking moment of your life. Do you own the right dress for a date with Rob Mars? This is major.” Aurora sprang up. She flew to the closet, her unruly mane of blond hair bouncing. In a blur of wiry limbs, she started pulling out dresses.
“Trying too hard,” she said, rejecting a dark red silk. “Slutty . . . this could be good.” She held up a graphite sparkling mini-dress. “Hel-lo, Lizzie!”
“He calls me Elizabeth.”
Aurora tossed the dress aside. “Oh, forget this one, then.”
“Can you please stop this makeover montage?” I begged.
Aurora threw three dresses into my arms. “Try these ridiculous little handkerchiefs.”
“He might not call, you know.” I dropped the dresses on the bed.
Aurora paced impatiently. “Pepper, you are impossible.” She paused and closed her eyes. I waited. More was coming.
“You know that he’s gay.”
“Aurora . . .”
“I’m serious. I have it on good authority. My power yoga teacher is best friends with his lover.”
Aurora was visiting from Chicago, where her power yoga teacher, an L.A. transplant, was her best and only source for all celebrity rumors, including plenty about me that we both knew were lies. Mostly. Okay, exaggerations. The one with the tequila shots and the Segway on the 405 is true, but I was young and I’m not proud.
“Fine. He’s gay. He’s also twenty years older than I am. I’m just going out with him. If he ever actually calls. And even if he does, it might not be a date—certainly not if he’s gay—so who cares?”
“It is a date. I’m just saying be careful. You don’t want to be a beard like his last wife.” Rob had been married to Lexy Hartfield for fifteen years. Lexy Hartfield! How could I compete with her? The long, dark hair, full lips, almond eyes, and curves that made me look like a schoolboy. If Lexy was Rob’s type, then I certainly wasn’t. She was drop-dead gorgeous, famous for never wearing makeup or styling her hair except on set. Without the fancy dresses and professional makeup, I’m a plain Jane. (See, for evidence, any paparazzi shot of me from the past year, along with the accompanying snarky, derogatory caption.) And, if anything, I’ve been encouraged to play up my plainness and sensibility. Because, as my publicist never fails to remind me, I am famous for my girl-next-door character, my girl-next-door upbringing, and my girl-next-door looks. Apparently I’m famous for how undeserving of fame I am. Furthermore, Lexy was a daredevil, said to have performed all her own stunts in the action movies that made her a star. She could have any man in the world. There was no way she was a beard. Yeah, now that I thought about Lexy, I realized there was no way Rob would go for me. Easy come, easy go.
I lit a cigarette and leaned out the window to exhale. My parents were visiting the next day, and my mother had a nose like a bloodhound.
As always, Aurora was right. The call came without warning. But what she failed to anticipate was that it would come at seven a.m., at least two hours before what I consider to be daybreak. My phone vibrated on my bedside table as I groped for it in the dark room.
“Elizabeth. It’s me.”
Me. Because he knew I would know.
“Hey,” I whispered, hoping my half-awake croak would pass for sexy.
“Can I steal you away?” This guy had spent too much time reading scripts.
“Um, what did you have in mind?”
“Let me surprise you. Come downstairs. Your chariot awaits.”
Downstairs? He was downstairs? “I’m . . . I’m just waking up. And if this surprise is going to run past eleven, I have a few things to cancel.”
“Cancel,” he said. “I’ll wait.”
I peeked around the edge of my curtains. There he was, on the street ten flights below, leaning against a lamppost. He saw me at the window and waved. Crap. Did every moment in his life seem like it came straight out of a movie? He gestured to a limo parked outside my front door. My “chariot.”
“Be right down,” I said into the phone.
Ten minutes later I slid into the backseat of the limo. It took me a second to process that I was the only passenger. Where was Rob? “Wait!” I said to the driver. I thought there was some mistake. Maybe I’d hopped into a limo someone in my building had summoned for a trip to the airport.
“It’s okay,” the driver said. (His name, I would later know, was Lewis.) “He wanted me to give you this.” He handed me an envelope and we started speeding toward the highway.
“Elizabeth,” the neatly written note read, “I’m sorry it has to be like this, but it will be much better for both of us if we aren’t seen together. Yet. Now please look out the passenger-side window.”
I turned to my right and there, driving in the lane next to us, was another black Escalade with Rob sticking his head out the back window. He gave me a thumbs-up, a questioning look on his face. I smiled gamely and returned the thumbs-up. What choice did I have? I couldn’t turn back now. I grounded myself by composing a text to Aurora in my head. i am living your fantasy. Rob’s car pulled ahead of mine, and he stuck his arms out toward me, as if we were being tragically torn from each other. I couldn’t suppress an internal swoon.
I still had no idea of our destination, but it dawned on me that Rob was right to arrange for us to travel separately. Nobody was following us. Nobody had whipped out their phones to take pictures. Nobody wanted an autograph. We were free. This was a feat. The tabloids had barely gotten over my embarrassingly public breakup with Johnny Flaim. (“Lizzie’s Flaim Out”—which tabloid hadn’t had that headline at the ready?) The moment they caught me with someone new, they would have a field day. No, I realized, I would no longer be the lead. I may have been a star, but Rob was the sun. The headline this date would have generated wouldn’t have started with me. It began and ended with Rob Mars.
An hour later we arrived at a harbor, still and gray in the morning fog. I was getting hungry and hoped we were there for a romantic breakfast at some restaurant by the shore followed by a quick ride back home so I could spend the rest of the day by myself squealing loudly into my pillow, but instead we thanked our respective drivers and Rob led me down the docks to a waiting yacht. I’ve been on yachts before—mostly for parties—and it wouldn’t have surprised me if Rob owned this one. A captain greeted us, and we climbed aboard. Rob led me to the upper deck. I caught a glimpse of the living room as we passed the main deck. It was stark and formal: black enamel paneling and white leather furniture. Up on the top deck, a bottle of champagne was chilling in a bucket. I mentally texted Aurora: definitely a date.
Rob poured me a glass of champagne, but instead of serving himself one, the captain came out and handed him a jugful of something green and foamy. I raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t drink much,” he said. “This gives me incredible energy.”
Something about the preplanned champagne for me, green smoothie for him was disconcerting. What exactly was I doing here? “Are you trying to get me drunk?” I said.
He put down his glass. “Elizabeth, that is the last thing I would do. I want to know you. The real you.”
“Okay, well, then I have to tell you. The real me thinks saying things like ‘the real you’ are kind of cheesy.”
He froze and looked almost hurt. Then he stared deeply into my eyes and said, “Guilty as charged.” His face broke into a smile, and suddenly Rob Mars the movie star and Rob Mars the person simultaneously merged and separated. His expressions, his smile, his manner—all were familiar to me from his movies. No actor can transform himself entirely. But in that moment I also had a flash of recognizing the divide between who he was and what he brought of himself to his characters. I saw that—right now, at least—he was not acting for me. Then, for the first time, I allowed myself a tiny, internal “wow.”
He lifted his green jug to my crystal glass. “Requesting permission to be cheesy?”
I smiled in spite of myself. “Granted.”
I had assumed we were alone on board except for the captain, but we hadn’t traveled far from shore when another man came out onto the deck. He wore jeans and a light yellow cashmere sweater. He looked sort of beige and featureless, like a soulless Wall Street guy on his day off, nondescript except that one of his pale eyes had a patch of brown in it. He was sucking vigorously on a mint, which I could smell as he approached. He stopped sucking, smiled politely, and then quickly, as if it were a tic, flipped the mint in his mouth with his tongue.
“Elizabeth, you remember Geoff from our meeting,” Rob said.
“Of course I do.” I didn’t. Clearly I’d been otherwise focused or I would have remembered the mint-sucking. As I watched, the stranger opened an Altoid tin and popped two new mints in his mouth. The guy was chain-mint-sucking.
Was Geoff one of Rob’s agents? Maybe this wasn’t a date after all.
“Welcome aboard,” Geoff said. “I won’t disturb you, but I wanted you to know how happy we are to have you as our guest.”
Apparently this man was my host. I automatically thanked him and complimented the boat. Then Rob touched my chin and turned it in the direction we were heading. Rising before us was an island. It was lush and green, and appeared deserted except for one enormous white stone building, which cascaded like a snowcap down the highest peak of the island.
“This is Century Island,” Rob said. “Geoff is kind enough to let me use it.” If anyone would own an entire island, just miles off the shore of L.A., it would be Rob Mars or one of his associates. Was it even on maps?
“I’ve never brought a guest here before,” Rob went on. “You’re the first.”
I liked the sound of that.
On the island, Rob and I followed an old, rough boardwalk that clung to the rocks. We came to an overlook that jutted out over the rough water below.
“Let’s sit,” Rob said.
“Is it safe?” I asked.
“Trust me,” he said, and led me forward. Sitting side-by-side on a driftwood log (too perfect!), we were mostly quiet. I reminded myself not to romanticize the whole thing. I was on a fantasy island date with a fantasy man. I wasn’t about to be seduced by all this perfection. Besides, not everything was perfect. I was freezing. Then, out of nowhere, a massive wave crashed spectacularly against the rocks, nearly sweeping us out to sea. I screamed and jumped to my feet.
“You’re drenched! I’m so sorry,” Rob said, wrapping his coat around me.
“I’m totally fine,” I said, but as we headed back off the promontory, I slipped on the now-wet rocks.
“I gotcha,” Rob said, catching me with a strong grasp. He put a sturdy arm around my waist and guided me to safety. There was a reason Rob had been cast as Jesus. He radiated supreme confidence, as if he understood the world on another level. Life, death—he walked the line without recklessness or doubt. He expected my trust, and I gave it. I leaned against him, sinking closer to this increasingly familiar stranger. Cautious though I was, and far out of my comfort zone, I suddenly felt brave, safe, or both. I had just walked out onto a cliff with this man. Where else would I follow him?
Looking back on it now, I still remember that feeling and what it triggered in me. I was a girl who’d always done what was right and best. My parents had the greatest faith and confidence in me, and I lived up to that. I was their wonder child, achieving their dreams for me without even trying. Now here was a man who opened my world in just the way I was ready for it to be opened, at just the right time. I was practically handed to him on a silver platter. As it turned out, this was true in more ways than I knew.
After a while, we climbed the road up to the fortress. Rob had called it “the Lodge,” which was like calling Versailles “the Country House.” Thankfully I was wearing flats (Aurora had nailed that one). “Welcome,” Rob said, opening the oversize front door.
We were standing in a great room, all white, surrounded by glass walls showcasing the panoramic view. Lounge-y couches faced outward, and the centerpiece of the room, on the inside wall, was an unusual, vast stone fireplace. A massive fire blazed, though not a soul was in sight to credit with having built it. I held my hands out toward the heat, trying to stop shivering.
“This fireplace is cut into the mountaintop. See?” Rob thumped his palm on it. “It was my idea. One solid piece of rock.” Then he interrupted himself. “I’m a jerk. What you need is a hot shower.”
Rob led me downstairs to a bedroom. The floors were polished concrete, smooth and shiny as an ice rink. One wall was the rough rock of the mountain; the rest were glass. The room jutted out over the uninhabited wilderness of the island. All the furniture was white and gray, and on the dresser was a steel vase, cut in jagged lines echoing the mountain vibe. In it were a dozen perfect roses.
“There’s a bathroom in there,” Rob said. “Take your time.”
When I emerged from the shower, my wet clothes had disappeared from the bed and a white robe, which seemed to have been pre-warmed, was spread in their place. I put it on, took a picture of myself in the mirror, and forwarded it to Aurora with a text: am at crazy private island with boy wonder. more later. I rejoined Rob on a monolithic balcony that overlooked the harbor, where the yacht was docked next to another, smaller boat, so far down they looked like bathtub toys. Rob handed me a glass of water and took my hand. We sat watching the sun move across the sky, and my phone started chiming. Text after text, streaming in from Aurora. I slid my hand into the robe pocket and shut her down. Poor Aurora. I was torturing her.
It suddenly occurred to me that I was starving. It was after noon by then and we hadn’t had a bite all day. As if someone had read my mind, a waiter appeared with a towering tray of food and gracefully slid it onto a table. I started to thank the man, but he disappeared before I could say a word.
“Don’t worry about it,” Rob said. “I want to pretend it’s just us.” There was clearly a staff up here—a chef, this waiter, someone who kept everything spotless and warmed bathrobes for guests—but from the utter silence you never would have known it.
The tray before me was spread with delicacies. On one side was a block of ice, carved with rocky edges and a flat top. Was I wrong, or did a narrow path winding up the side look exactly like the path we had climbed to get here? On the peak, exactly where the Lodge would be, was an architectural arrangement of sashimi and an artistic smear of wasabi. I raised my eyebrow. “We’re supposed to eat the Lodge?”
Rob deftly picked up a bite of yellowtail with his chopsticks and popped it in his mouth. “I just ate your bedroom. Now where are you gonna go?”
On the warm side of the tray were small bowls of miso soup, tender bites of lobster somehow cooked with foie gras, and squid tempura. It was so over the top that it came all the way around again and tasted like comfort food.
For the first time that day, Rob and I sat face-to-face and talked. We covered unexceptional first-date ground—the annual ice-cream socials in his hometown (Hudson, Ohio), my frustration with this phase of my career, and our favorite places in the world. But what stood out to me was how easily the conversation flowed. He did more of the questioning, to be sure, and I did more of the talking. Here was a man who could have any girl he wanted. If I wasn’t right for him I wasn’t going to pretend otherwise. On the contrary, I did everything I could to emphasize the ways we didn’t match. Where he was supremely confident and unflappable, I was overly cautious; a bit cynical; serious, but sometimes brazen. He persisted nonetheless. In a way, weirdly, that was what convinced me we belonged together.
A few hours later another boat arrived at the island. We watched its passengers disembark from above, and Rob pointed out his brother, Scotty; Scotty’s gorgeous pregnant wife; and Geoff’s girlfriend, Patricia.
“I’m wearing a robe. They’re going to make assumptions,” I said.
“Your clothes are probably ready. Let’s check your room.”
Indeed my clothes were back on the bed, now dried and folded—maybe ironed, from the look of them. Somewhere in this fortress was a roomful of Oompa Loompas cooking, washing, ironing, and God knows what else. I wondered just how carefully they were watching me. Before I went into the bathroom, I took one of the red roses out of the vase on the dresser. I broke it halfway up its stem and left it on the table. When I came out of the bathroom, two minutes later, there were a dozen perfect roses once again in the vase. There was no sign of that broken rose. No sign, in fact, that I’d been there at all.
By the time I returned to Rob, the new guests were sipping cocktails in the great room. Rob introduced his older brother as “the handsome Mars.” Apparently when they were growing up Scotty had been the high school’s star football player, a top student, the pride of the family. Even now, having taken a backseat to his movie star brother, Scotty radiated charm and self-confidence.
“I never watched your show; I must be the only one,” he said.
“Oh, don’t worry!” I said. “It’s actually refreshing not to be confused with my character. People are constantly telling me that I shouldn’t have set the family house on fire. I’m, like, ‘It’s a TV show.’”
“Didn’t I hear something about how you got the part? Something about how you didn’t have to audition?”
“It wasn’t like that exactly,” I said.
Rob jumped in to tell the story, which had been reported in practically every feature ever written about me. He’d obviously read up on me, and he wasn’t afraid to show it. “She turned down the audition for American Dream because her grandmother was dying.”
The media constantly reported that I skipped the audition to be at my grandmother’s deathbed. It was a better story, but it wasn’t accurate. “Actually, she was just in the hospital,” I said. “It was a massive stroke, and nobody thought she’d make it. But the doctors didn’t know Granny.”
Rob went on, “She wasn’t about to leave her grandmother for some lousy lead in a network series. The showrunner, Steve Romany, gave her the part of Lucy McAlister anyway. Sight unseen.”
“Actually, we’d met before,” I explained. “And my mom sent him a tape of my high school play.”
“Now I remember,” Scotty said approvingly. “How honorable of you to set aside your dreams for your family.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I hope I haven’t changed.”
“Not if everything Rob has told me about you is true,” he said.
I raised an eyebrow. Rob jumped in. “You embarrassing me already, dude?”
“Apparently he’s heard all about me,” I teased.
“Don’t butt in,” Scotty said to Rob. “We’re getting along just fine without you.” Rob threw up his hands and backed away in mock surrender.
Then, just to me, Scotty said, “I really want Robby to find someone. It’s been six years since he and Lexy split up, and it’s so hard for him to meet people.”
“Seriously?” I said. “It’s hard for Rob Mars to meet women?”
A long, rough-hewn table stretched out from the fireplace like the line of an exclamation point. Dinner had magically appeared on it: The Oompa Loompas at work again. Rob rematerialized at my elbow and guided me to a chair between him and Scotty. I was relieved. I hadn’t talked to Geoff’s girlfriend, Patricia, yet, but her mouth was set in a thin line and I had her pegged as an ice queen.
Rob had told his brother about me. I knew what that meant—or thought I did at the time, because I was still operating on the standard Boy Meets Girl protocol. In that manual, Boy Tells His Brother About You translated to: Boy Has a Crush on You. I was flattered, and talking to Scotty made Rob seem more like a typical vulnerable guy looking for love, with the added complication of being The Biggest Freakin’ Movie Star in the Whole Wide World.
On my other side, Rob was talking to Geoff about an island in French Polynesia. “Rapa is a tiny dot in the middle of the ocean,” he was saying, “three hundred miles from the closest island. The fruit I ate there was the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s out of this world.” Rob turned to me. “You don’t realize how much pressure civilization exerts until you truly escape it. God, you would love it, Elizabeth. I hope to take you there someday.”
Rob, who could go anywhere in the world, longed for the isolation of far-off lands. This bit of knowledge might have appealed to my sense of adventure. Or at the very least caused me to consider what it meant that this man had a thing for islands. But to be honest, all I heard was the word “someday.” I made a mental note for Aurora. Rob was the opposite of my ex Johnny. Johnny couldn’t commit to seeing me later the same night, much less “someday” in the vast and unpredictable future.
After dinner, the other guests made their excuses and turned in early. I smiled inwardly. It felt like they were conspiring. They wanted to give me and Rob a chance. Once again I got the sense I’d just passed a test that I hadn’t even known I was taking.
The sun had dropped below the horizon, its fiery wake still blazing the sky. Rob took my hands in his. “Elizabeth, I’m having an amazing time. That boat is at our disposal. We can head back whenever you want. But I want to ask you if you’re willing to stay here with me tonight.”
Aha! There it was. He expected me to sleep with him on our first date. He’d shown up at my apartment without calling first, transported me to a secret island without telling me where we were going, and now he thought I would just hand it over? But of course he did. Because who wouldn’t sleep with Rob Mars on the first date? I had to admit that he’d gone to a lot of trouble for a guy who could just walk into any bar in the world, snap his fingers, and have his choice of the hottest women around. Still, I wasn’t about to give in. So what if he was Rob Mars? I wasn’t anyone’s conquest.
“Rob, this is so fantastic. You, this place, all of it. But I have to get home! I didn’t plan . . .”
“Don’t worry,” he interrupted me. “You’ll have your own room. We’re not there yet. I’m very attracted to you, but I respect you too much to proceed with anything but caution.”
“Do you always speak in . . . road signs?” He was just too perfect. I couldn’t buy it. I needed him to crack.
“You want to know what I’m really thinking?” he asked, and now he was close, leaning against the wall to make himself closer to my height, his voice low and flirty.
“I think so,” I said. Then he put his hand around my neck, pulled me toward him, and kissed me. And for every ounce of cynicism in my body, even knowing how gag-inducing these next words sound, I have to admit that an electric charge ran through me. I know, I know, but cut me some slack. There was a glorious sunset. I was alone on a balcony overlooking an island with a man who had been named Glam’s Sexiest Man of the Year more times than I knew. I was standing on my tiptoes to reach him, clean, warm, and buzzed, and that first kiss threw me completely under his spell. When we finally came up for air, I stood there, dizzy and dazzled, until Rob said, “P.S. I’m not gay.” We laughed, and all the distance between us—our ages, our Hollywood status, the fact that he was the one calling the shots, the totally ridiculously over-the-top setting—it all evaporated and we were two regular people who wanted to know each other. And that’s what the whole prolonged date was like. Moments that were normal and mundane and just like anyone else could have been experiencing, surrounded by events and situations so far outside the realm of normal experience that, after an entire day, it got hard to tell which was which. Living that way for months, or years, only made that distinction fuzzier.
But that night, in the moment of our first kiss, the extreme and ordinary met in a flutter that brought a flush to my cheeks. I’m always too cautious. I haven’t missed a night of flossing since I got my first and only cavity in 1994. Three friends have extra sets of my keys, just in case. So what if I was going to miss my Pilates class in the morning? So what if tomorrow turned out to be the day my dream script arrived by messenger and I wasn’t the very first girl next door to read it and respond to my agent? So what if my doorman silently noted my walk of shame the next day? I was tired of being so relentlessly well behaved. All that responsibility looked good on the outside, but I secretly knew that it was just fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of taking risks. Fear of the unknown. I felt safe with Rob. And I wasn’t even going to sleep with the guy! It was time to be spontaneous for once in my life. This was an awesome, once-in-a-lifetime date and I wasn’t ready for it to end. “Okay,” I said.
“Okay . . . ?”
“Okay, I’ll stay.”
Rob saw me to my room, and it was hard to leave him, but it was what we both wanted. I clung to the knowledge that he would be there again in the morning, because I already didn’t want us to be apart. We parted at my door. Walking back down the hallway, Rob tripped and caught his fall. Then he turned back and saw me watching him.
“Damn,” he said. “You saw that.”
“Aha,” I said. “You’re not perfect.”
He swooped back toward me, took me up in his arms, and spun me around, with a deep, unforgettable kiss. “Am I a movie star again?” he asked.
“I like the you who stumbles. The one who doesn’t get it on the first take,” I said. He put his hand to his chest, thumping it against his heart. “Get out of here, cheeseball,” I said, giving him a little push back down the hall.
I closed the door behind him, went to the bathroom, and stood looking at myself in the mirror. My hair had dried curly and was in desperate need of product. His stubble had chapped my chin. I stuck my tongue out at myself, giggled, then hid my face in my hands like a stupid teenager. Holy smokes, this was actually happening. Then I crawled into the bed—high-thread-count, down pillows galore—and finally called Aurora.
That trip to Century Island was and still is sacred to me. It reminds me that I fell in love with Rob for real, for who he was and how we were together. Rob played gods and romantic heroes onscreen, and there was a reason he was so good at it. He was remarkably present. When we were together, he was completely in that moment and that moment alone. We were the only two people in the world. He believed in us, and I believed in him. Anything seemed possible. Sheer joy. An unimaginable love. Eternal life while circling an unbelievably distant star.
Rob liked to say that he put the pedal to the metal in our relationship. I liked to say “Please don’t use car metaphors to describe us.” In the beginning, every day was a step forward for us as a couple. Right after we returned from Century Island, he sent me two dozen long-stemmed red roses. The note just read “Yours.” Roses have never been my favorite flower. So Hallmark-y. But they fit with Rob’s unrelenting romanticism, which was slowly dismantling my cynical resolve. What was so bad about having a man send me the type of flower most symbolizing love? I decided to let myself enjoy more, judge less.
He called several times a day, just to see what I was doing. He texted me: Here’s what has been going through my mind all day: Elizabeth. Elizabeth. Elizabeth. Where is Elizabeth right now? What is Elizabeth doing right now? When will I see Elizabeth again? Elizabeth. Elizabeth. Aurora joked that I was being stalked by the most famous man in the world.
Most of my previous relationships—okay, both of them—had begun with tipsy fumbling that escalated into hot and hurried sex. Rob, on the other hand, prepared for our first night together as if it were already an anniversary. One night at my apartment we were on my couch, making out.
He whispered in my ear, “We know this is going to happen.” We rolled off my couch onto the floor. “We know it’s going to be incredible,” he said. He paused to look at me, and every hookup I’d had told me exactly what he was going to do next—but then, to my surprise, he stood up and helped me to my feet. “So why not make it one of a kind?”
I leaned in to him, my arms around his neck, my hips sealed to his, still in the moment. “What did you have in mind?” I whispered.
“My plane.” Then he was gone, leaving me rumpled and alone. I looked at the clock. It was just before midnight. My Prince Charming was afraid of turning into a pumpkin.
A week and one private jet ride later, I called Aurora. I had to tell her—our friendship history mandated a full report of every sexual encounter—but this time was different.
“Definitely not gay,” I told her.
She squealed. “I. Need. Every. Detail.”
“It was great,” I said.
“That’s it? Crap.”
I didn’t tell her that having sex with Rob for the first time was unlike with any other lover I’d had. At first I’d had my doubts about the plane: Would the crew know? Would it be cozy and romantic, or was it stunt-sex? If people caught colds from breathing the air on commercial airlines, what would I catch having sex on a private jet? How much of my relationship with Rob Mars was destined to take place in exotic locales?
We boarded at a private runway in Malibu. As I met the pilot and the crew, I scrutinized each of them. Did they know why I was here? How many times had he brought women on board for this very purpose? Were they secretly laughing at my naïveté? Keeping score? But they kept to their tasks, friendly, with blank military precision. One snicker and they’d be fired.
Rob led me to a closed-off room that was outfitted like an elegant, minimalist hotel room. (Yes, there was a bed. That had been one of my unspoken requirements.) I lay back on the pillows, kind of figuring we’d get right to it.
“Slow down there, Lizzie,” Rob said. “FAA regulations say we gotta sit in our seats for takeoff.”
Oh. Right. There were two big white leather lounge chairs that looked funny with their regulation airplane seat belts, like those women who wear business suits and stockings, then cap off the look with sneakers for the walk to work. The pilot’s voice came on, but instead of making any formal announcements, he just said, “You guys ready?” I looked at Rob. He raised his eyebrows at me.
I nodded, and Rob pushed a button on the arm of his chair, sending our affirmation to the pilot. We were off.
I don’t kiss and tell, but I will say that I, Lizzie Pepper, am an official member of the Mile-High Club (though as Rob pointed out we were a lot higher than that). It didn’t escape my notice that I was joining a much more elite club at the same time: lover of Rob Mars. Maybe the grand production of the private plane took some of the pressure off him. If Rob Mars wasn’t a stud, world markets would crash. But it was only afterward when I finally appreciated where we were. In bed, still entwined, we gazed out the four oversize oval windows at a blue, blue sky. Then I saw what Rob had wanted. We were alone, suspended above reality, cradled by a miraculous machine, floating in a strange balloon of luxury and danger. We had escaped the weight of the world. This was the isolation that Rob craved. He was right; it was worth it.
I didn’t tell Aurora the specifics of that night. I didn’t tell her about Rob saying to me, “I’ve looked down at the world from this plane hundreds of times, and every time it clears my head. But you’ve gone and made it foggy again.” And I didn’t tell her that every night since, Rob and I had fallen asleep with him wrapped around me like a blanket, and that all night long he kept his hand draped over my waist or his feet tangled in mine. In the morning when I woke up, the first thing I saw was his dark eyes, wide open, inches from my face, as if he’d been watching me sleep all night long. I most certainly didn’t tell her that he had confided in me about the gay rumors, telling me the details of his sexual past. Those stories are his, and I will always respect his privacy on that count. What was most important to me was that he was honest with me, and that he trusted me with his secrets. I kept them from Aurora, and that was a first.
Rob had a house in Brentwood and a house in Malibu. Brentwood was a comfortable estate that Rob seemed to use as a crash pad when he had to be in L.A. for more than one day in a row and didn’t feel like commuting back to Malibu. But in those first few weeks we were mostly in Malibu, where his house was on a private beach. The entrance was at street level, and the house went six stories down from there to the shoreline—built into the rock on the street side and open to the Pacific on the other. Every morning Rob brought lattes out to the balcony and the two of us sat reading scripts, pausing to share a line or to gaze out at the ocean. Of course, the difference was that Rob rejected every script he read, while I called my agent to discuss each one: It had little to do with how much I loved a particular part. There was only one Rob Mars, but at any given moment there were at least ten Lizzie Peppers, just off their own American Dream, and I felt the dark fear of actors everywhere: Each day in which I didn’t land a part further convinced me I would never work again.
But when I looked up, the perpetually blue sky would wash away the shadows, drawing me back into the Hollywood fantasy: strolling on the dunes, being served by a private chef, staying in bed until the sun was high enough to hit the western-facing windows, and having your choice of parts, the hottest scripts with the finest directors in the business already attached, or willing to sign on if you were on board to play the starring role.
One of the biggest adjustments was something that at first felt like a small detail: Rob’s household staff. They tried to stay out of our way, but there were a lot of them, and they came in twos. Two drivers. Two chefs. Two gate guards and two bodyguards. It was easy to get used to not lifting a finger. What was harder was the lack of privacy. Anticipating our needs meant being available, which meant being . . . around. When I went to the bathroom, I locked the door and felt stupid about it, protecting myself from the people who kept us safe.
After I’d been in Malibu about a week, a masseur showed up.
“He usually comes every day I’m in residence,” Rob said. “I just wanted to update his nondisclosure before he met you.”
Rob returned from his massage wearing a white terrycloth robe, his skin shiny with oil. “Joseph has his table set up in the spare room in the gym,” he said. “Enjoy.”
That, at least, is what I heard him say. There was, in fact, a door in the back of the gym that I’d never noticed before, but I found it locked. I knocked, but nobody answered. When I texted Rob—too lazy to run upstairs—he clarified that the masseur worked in the spare room next to the gym. (Oh, the problems of being fantastically wealthy—how do you name all the rooms in your palace?) The locked room, Rob told me, was his private office. I remember finding it something of a relief to know that the staff didn’t have access to every nook and cranny of his life. I went next door and got the best massage of my life.
Afterward, sipping cucumber water on the back deck, my whole body felt like Jell-O. a girl could get used to this, I texted Aurora.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper is a thinly veiled version of the Tom Cruise – Katie Holmes relationship. Instead of couch jumping there was jumping on the hood of a car, instead of one child there were two, but it was still pretty obvious where the basis of the story came from. As a lover of everything TMZ I was excited to finally read this book, and I’m very glad I did. The world built was very real, the pacing was spot on and the characters were just fantastic. This was like reading a giant version of People magazine. The author, Hilary Liftin, is a well known Hollywood ghost writer, having worked with Tori Spelling, Miley Cyrus and Terri Hatcher. With this base of knowledge it is no surprise that Movie Star is such a spot on portrayal of what I think Hollywood is like. Friendships based on what connections the other can provide, jobs based on who you know and relationships brokered by agents and lawyers. I was happy to see that the characters had more depth than I expected. I came into reading this believing it would be mainly fluff and while there was plenty of it, there was also a solidness to the main character Lizzie. Liftin created a character that the every woman can relate to. At the end all of her decisions were based on what was best for her children, which made her very real. I ended up reading this in one sitting, it flowed very well and I needed to know what happened next. I enjoyed this read and can see why it was named one of Library Journal’s Best Books of 2015.
**I received an ARC of this story in exchange for an honest review** Rob Mars was a celebrity that even other celebrities gawked at as well as everyday people. Lizzy and Rob were both actors. Rob was on a very high caliber. Lizzy's best friend was Aurora. Lizzy was meeting with Rob about possibly being in a movie with him. Instead, Rob asked her out. Rob seemed to know all about her. Rob was attracted to Lizzy but let her know he didn't want to rush things. Lizzy was more naive than she ever believed. Lizzy believed she'd found her Prince Charming and her happily ever after, but then she saw things as they really were. She had a special reason to change her life. Lizzy found she could do everything she had to do with a little help from her friends. She became stronger mentally and determined. I loved her characters through its many fazes throughout this book. I also loved the other characters. It was a great book with a great plot. I recommend it.