I woke up the next morning to the smell of breakfast. Such a comforting way to open my eyes, because I knew Darren was such a good cook.
By the time I finished taking a morning piss, Darren was coming into the room with a hearty breakfast to present to me; a cheese omelette with diced tomatoes, hash browns, a warm croissant, and two thick slices of bacon on the plate which I attacked without hesitation. A good orgasm followed by good sleep always turned into me waking up hungry as hell.
“Guess I’ll start my diet tomorrow,” I said as I snapped into the crunchy goodness that Maria would throw a fit over if she saw me. He kissed my cheek and joined me in bed to eat his portion of food.
After we finished, I went for a morning jog, and came back to Darren working on his laptop. I figured he must have been working on a script or something but when I peaked over his shoulder a few minutes later, all I saw on his screen were half-naked women on the red carpet.
“What’s this?” I laughed out loud.
“Research,” he smiled up at me before clicking around to show me a folder of photos he had saved.
“The red carpet thing again?”
“Last night got me curious,” he answered before clicking on the first image. It was the infamous photo of Rose McGowan at the MTV Awards red carpet, dressed, or should I say mostly undressed, in a dress made of beads, her tits and ass totally exposed. “Were you even old enough to remember this happening live?”
“Don’t do that, Darren,” I said as I mushed him on the shoulder. “Of course I was old enough. What year was this anyway?”
“1998,” he said.
“I was eight years old, thank you very much,” I said, which made him shake his head. “But I do vividly remember when it happened. They blurred it out on TV. But I remember me and my bros were like ‘whaaaaaat? She’s naked!”
“Not quite naked. She wore a G-String, with the tiniest string caught between her ass cheeks. But it might as well have been nude. I was writing Requiem at the time, which really makes me feel fucking old,” he paused to look at me, acknowledge our age difference and sigh. “But anyway, I remember the media having a field day with it. They didn’t know whether to blame her boyfriend Marilyn Manson or drugs or MTV or just conclude that the end of the 20th Century meant the end of western civilization as we knew it.”
“As if an actress showing her body was a sign that the world was ending,” I rolled my eyes. “Not the President getting his dick sucked or wars over oil. Nope, boobies.”
“Right. But I’ve heard through the grapevine through some of my industry sources that her choice of dress was more than just an attention seeking display of t and a. She was making a statement.”
“What kind of statement?” I asked.
“That night at the VMA’s was her first public appearance after what Harvey did to her.”
I should have known it would have involved Harvey Weinstein. His abuse and harassment had turned our entire industry upside down in the last few weeks, sparking the #meetoo movement.
Darren turned away from me to focus on the photo on his screen. I followed his lead and stared; Rose looked so confident and put together as she stood there half-naked in front of hundreds of people. And those images lived forever.
“So I guess, this was her way of, I don’t know, taking back some of her own agency in regards to her body; getting to choose how and when she can sexualize it?” I said, trying to make sense of it.
“I think it was pretty powerful,” he said. “Throwing it in his face, middle finger to Hollywood. That kind of thing.”
“Joke was still on her, though,” I said, remembering how she became more known for this than her acting. “It followed her everywhere she went.”
“Very true. She was ahead of her time. 1998, we were still surprisingly prudish. But things have changed, Jennifer. There have been so many ladies that have followed in Rose’s footsteps in choosing an awards show to make bold statements with their choice of dress; and in many cases, their lack of clothing.”
He clicked a few times until a video of Alanis Morissette started to play. She was wearing a bathrobe on stage, surrounded by thousands of people, and Darren told me she was hosting some Canadian awards show in the mid 2000’s.
Alanis started her speech by talking about how bad American censorship was, in comparison to Canada where they weren’t afraid of the female breast.
“She isn’t going to get naked is she?” I asked incredulously as he smiled and just told me to watch. I remember Alanis had a music video back in the day where she was naked, walking around a city and sitting in a crowded subway, but I didn’t recall ever hearing about her stripping nude in front of an entire audience on stage.
So when she said “I am truly proud to be able to stand here,” and began removing her robe, my jaw fell open waiting in anticipation. When her robe came open and then fell to the floor, my eyes popped wide, amazed at what I was seeing for the split second that the image of her standing naked with a hairy vagina was actually believable.
“Wait a minute,” I said before taking a closer look as Alanis proudly stood there, arms in the air, showing herself to a crowd. “She’s wearing a tan bodysuit!”
Darren cracked up laughing. “But for a second, you totally thought she was naked.”
“Hardy har,” I said as I watched the skit continue, with a voice off-stage chastising Alanis for showing nipples and bush on national TV. I still didn’t really get the point. “So what statement is she making, exactly?”
“You remember when America had a melt down over Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl half-time show?”
“When her nipple flashed for like a second? Yeah I watched that live and laughed my ass off.”
“Well nobody else was laughing. American media, the TV networks, the FCC, the NFL. They all freaked out as if they had aired porn on their network. And of course, they were whining ‘what about the children?’ Alanis rightfully thought their reaction to a woman’s breast was ridiculous. So her little skit was to mock and criticize America’s irrational fear of female nudity.”
“Okay, okay, I got it,” I chuckled. “That’s pretty funny. But she wasn’t really naked.”
“You’re right,” he said before hitting a few more keys again. “We’ve gotten a little better about the female body not causing a meltdown. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not great about it, but more stars of today have been able to push the boundaries without it ruining their careers.”
He clicked through dozens of stars, including Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Lil Kim, Toni Braxton, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Irina Shayk, Miley Cyrus, and Bleona Qereti wearing a variety of see through, sheer, mesh, lacy or thinly veiled gowns that either let certain body parts hang out, exposed lots of bare skin, or formed a naughty silhouette that left very little to the imagination.
“Yeah, I’ve seen most of these before,” I said as he was finishing his history lesson on the evolution of the nearly-naked dress at red carpet events.
“They get less interesting each time, huh?”
“I mean they are beautiful dresses on beautiful women but…”
“They’re not Rose,” he smiled. “See, when she did it. It was something bold. And even though I respect all of the women I just showed you who have followed in her footsteps, I can firmly say none of them have actually followed in her footsteps. The barely-there, almost-nude dress is its own corporate industry now. You should know, all these bold statements are made by the same exact designers. When Rose did it, it was called crazy, shocking, unbelievable, now when an actress gets convinced by some fashion house to go almost-nude they get the cute buzzwords like risque or edgy. You see what getting at?”
“You think they are just copycats. Unoriginal. Trite. Chasing her shocking statement without actually making a real statement of their own.”
“You got me,” he said. I still couldn’t quite get what he was fishing for, but something about his smile unsettled me. “It’s amazing that we’ve had about 20 years of nearly-nude dresses but no one has been bold enough to drop the ‘nearly’ part of it.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I eyed him. “It’s going to take a crazy bitch to do something like that.”
“A little crazy, perhaps. But I’d prefer to say someone bold, someone with the same righteous anger that Rose had. Someone that wants to give the middle finger to Hollywood and shake up what has become a banal, empty, shallow ceremony.”
“Good luck finding that bitch,” I laughed.
But Darren wasn’t laughing as he stood up, now looking down at me. “I think I did find her. Or, she found me, that night at the bar.”
“You must be kidding,” I said, still laughing at this ludicrous proposition. “You gotta be shitting me right now.”
“Give me one good reason why you wouldn’t do it.”
“DUH! I would be naked, Darren. NAKED!”
“You like being naked.”
I took a second to gather a rebuttal, still in disbelief that his proposal would even need one. “Babe, seriously. I can’t go to the red carpet naked.”
“You can’t come up with one reason why.”
“People would think I was nuts!”
“Every bold artist that does something different is a little nuts. They’re always called crazy.”
“How would I even explain why I’m doing it?” I asked, annoyed at him for pushing for me to explain why I couldn’t do this, but even more annoyed at myself for struggling to come up with a single good reason.
“Why would you need to explain it?”
“Because I’d get a million questions about it for the rest of my life. My future children would be answering for it,” I nearly shouted at him. “Plus, we’re in the middle of the metoo movement. Women are tired of being sexually harassed and objectified. Me showing up naked to the red carpet would undermine the entire thing.”
“I don’t think your naked body would undermine the conversation, it would add to it,” he said. “Is a powerful woman’s choice to expose her naked body in public a feminist act of courage, or reinforcement of the male gaze?”
“Are you asking me?”
“No, I’m framing the debate, the much needed conversation about sexual objectification, female empowerment, nudity and censorship. And those are just the ideas of an old white guy. Who knows what debates your statement would spark from perspectives other than my own?”
He looked as if he was dead serious about this, but I just stared at him as he kept pitching me on this crazy idea.
“This would be a grand social experiment on the world stage where we get to find out how the entire world would react to a simple statement of a woman spending a few minutes naked on a red carpet. It might muddle a few conversations, but bold political and social statements are often best employed where they can be interpreted different ways and the meaning can be argued.”
“I think the last thing I need is to be caught up in another argument over my body.”
“You let them argue over it, you just provide the inspiration. Your body is the blank canvas, they’ll color it.”
“Oh I know they’ll color it,” I scoffed. “And I’m fucking terrified of the kind of paintings I’d get.”
He took a brief moment to gather his thoughts before putting his hand on my hip. “I know you’re afraid of your image being ruined.”
“It has already been ruined,” I barked harsher than I intended. This whole thing was bringing up old wounds. “I’m tired of people painting my image for me. First they made me out to be some cool, quirky, relatable, girl next door who falls, and has boogers, and eats pizza.”
I couldn’t believe I was getting this angry.
“They contrived a likable competition between me and Anne Hathaway, their previous ‘It Girl” and decided arbitrarily that they liked me better. Then after throwing her out like trash, they grew sick of me and decided my personality was fake and not cool anymore. Now everyone wants me to just shut up and go away. If I did something like this? Showed up naked to a friggin award show? Darren, everyone would hate me.”
“I understand you have reservations about your body being the center of a cultural war. That’s scary. Terrifying. I acknowledge that, Jennifer.”
He looked into my soul.
“But you have already decided you’re going to be unapologetically Jennifer. That you’re going to talk shit about the President , that you’re going to insert yourself in the cultural war that is politics, even though you know you’ll get backlash. You decided you would be the face of change in Hollywood, that you’ll be the vanguard fighting for equal pay, that you wouldn’t sit idle and let the narrative of your career be dictated by what ‘they’ think.”
I opened my mouth to speak but words didn’t come out. But he still had a mouthful for me.
“You know a large part of this country hates outspoken liberal women, but did you let that stop you from being an outspoken liberal woman?” he asked rhetorically. “Even if it meant less people went to see your movies. Even if it meant your ‘likability’ took a massive hit. Even if you alienated family, even if your home state of Kentucky turned on you. You decided it was more important to be loud and heard and seen. That you wouldn’t shut up and go quietly make cute, fun movies in a corner somewhere. You chose to be bold, not safe. And that is why I fell so in love with you.”
I already knew that Darren’s attraction to me had evolved over time. He didn’t start out wanting me and there wasn’t any surprise why.
I grew up in a very conservative, religious state. An environment that influenced me, even if I wasn’t quite as conservative or religious in my own personal beliefs. At the beginning of my career, when I was wanting to be liked and make movies everyone would love, I embraced that wholesome All American girl image, and kept my political views hidden, deciding it was better to be agnostic about anything that could make anyone dislike me.
For a guy like Darren; born in Brooklyn to progressive teachers, raised in Manhattan learning the arts of broadway and ballet, who’d attended prestigious universities, and backpacked through the Middle East and Africa and Europe to expand his worldview, and made controversial movies that a large percentage of people hated, that conservative, inoffensive girl that I was did nothing for him.
It wasn’t until I decided to speak out and become more willing to become ‘unlikable’ by being me, that he started to see that I was more than just that drunk girl he encountered at the Governors Ball bar.
“I wouldn’t consider pitching this idea to anyone else but you,” he said as I just stood there looking at him. He so obviously believed in this. “I went to bed last night thinking about how powerful your orgasm was; and it naturally led to a vivid dream about walking with you down the red carpet. You were nude but it wasn’t some sex dream, Jennifer. In my dream, you were making a statement that had everyone captivated. I woke up with this intense desire to see you actually make that statement with your body. You’re the only woman alive I know that could pull it off.”
“Lady Gaga or Beyonce would be able to do it and get away with it,” I said as a rebuttal.
“Exactly, they’d ‘get away’ with it. Part of their brand involves getting away with showing as much skin as possible. It’s different for an actress at the Oscars. There’s a perceived level of sophistication and prestige, well beyond the Grammy’s or MTV Awards. A political statement there, from you, would be one of the most powerful statements of the 21st century. A true moment in the intersection or art and entertainment and culture and politics that will shake up the way we even talk about those subjects. A moment that would stand alongside monumental celebrity statements like Jane Fonda’s photo in Vietnam, or Kanye West proclaiming that the President didn’t care about black people.”
“Darren, listen to yourself!” I said in exasperation. “You’re not talking about anything meaningful. Just a girl getting naked.. Even comparing my naked body to war-protest or racial politics after Hurricane Katrina is ludicrous. You would get me laughed out of the industry if I pulled a stunt like that and compared it to actual political statements. A rich white privileged celebrity getting naked isn’t going to change the world.”
“History disagrees with you. Celeb nudity has always been a way to spark a conversation that challenged our thinking or disrupted the norms of the day. When John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded their first album together, they took nude photos to be used as the cover art. Beautiful and courageous, nothing sexual about it.”
He leaned down in front of the laptop and typed in his search before pulling up the photos in question. He was right, there really was nothing sexual about seeing Lennon and Ono naked.
They were completely naked against a white backdrop, one photo from the front showed his showing his flaccid, uncircumsized penis, and her breast and hairy crotch, and another from the rear showed their bare butts as they held hands side by side.
“Their label refused to put the album out with that cover because of the controversy that was a famous naked person,” Darren spat, breaking my train of thought on the almost banal nature of their nudity.
It made sense that they would block the full frontal nudity. That wouldn’t even fly now, let alone in the 70’s.
“But when a one-year-old magazine called Rolling Stone got their hands on the uncensored photos they decided to print the naked photos for their one year anniversary,” Darren said, as if what Rolling Stone had done was God’s work.
“Completely uncensored. Front cover – John Lennon and Yoko with their bare asses exposed for the world and a quote from the bible about man and woman being naked and unashamed. Inside the pages, a chance for the world to see a member of the Beatles and his muse naked. Pretty powerful. And controversial. They were banned in certain markets. Some people even got arrested for selling them, thrown in jail for selling obscenity. This sparked a national conversation about obscenity and our bodies.”
He scrolled to an article written about the subject and read a bit about how the decision to print the naked photos helped save the early Rolling Stone magazine from financial turmoil. Then he quoted the editor of the magazine at the time about the national outrage the printed nudity provoked. “Print a famous foreskin and the world will beat a path to your door.”
He stopped looking at the screen to focus on me.
“This intersection of nudity and art and politics not only helped birth the cultural landmark that is Rolling Stone magazine, it was also the precursor to the Bed-in protests that John and Yoko Ono used to promote world peace. Publicity from their naked statement helped to make the Bed-in protests happen.”
“You have a gift,” I told the man that was an artist before he was my boyfriend. I closed my eyes and thought back to how far he had pushed me on his set.
It was a talent, a charming way with words and intentions that worked on more women that just me. Through pillow talk, Darren had told me many stories about his time on set, and through my own probing, I had discovered the lengths his actresses would go to please him.
Jennifer Connelly was one of those women. For that infamous ‘ass to ass’ scene – in which a lubed double ended dildo was inserted inside of her character as she bounced her ass on another drugged out whore in front of a crowd of rich men – a body double was used for the vast majority of it.
But Darren had convinced her on the final day of filming the scene to partake in her own debasement even though it was not contractually obligated for her to do so.
“I still don’t know why she decided to do it,” Darren had told me while we held each other naked in bed while watching the scene on Darren’s outdated TV. He had looked at me then and grinned. “Would you have done the ‘ass to ass’ scene if I would have asked you to?”
He had the charms to make me say yes, and he knew it.
But I shook my head as Darren stood there in front of me now, working his charms, using all of his persuasive tricks to get in my head. But I couldn’t let him win.
“You have a way of making it hard for a woman to say no to your vision,” I told him. “Of turning a woman’s ‘I can’t do this” into an honest attempt to do it anyway. You make a girl want to say yes every time you ask for something that would please you. Yes, I love being naked, yes I came hard to a fantasy about being naked at the Oscars. Yes your idea sounds like an exciting and maybe even empowering way to recapture confidence in my body and provoke a conversation. But I can’t say yes to this, Darren. I can’t. I love that you’re so enthused about this idea. That we have something to talk about other than mother! And I’m honored that you think I’m as brave as the image of me you have in your dreams. But I’m not that girl.”
“Jennifer,” he began to disagree but I put a hand up and stopped him from continuing.
“Babe, sometimes dreams and fantasies are just that,” I told him.
Our relationship ended three days after I spoke those words.
But our breakup was unrelated to that conversation. Nothing to do with it at all.
Our problems as a couple started well before, and went much deeper than a rejection of our dreams and fantasies.
See, Darren was right. We never should have mixed business and pleasure – those ingredients were toxic for healthy relationships in the industry. And that toxicity was with us from the very start even though we tried to hide from it.
The argument that killed our relationship was always inevitable because the seeds to that argument were planted that very first day Darren flew out to Atlanta to pitch me on the movie we ended up making together.
As much as everyone in Hollywood likes to pretend that our careers are all about the art, the truth of the matter is that money is our master. There is no way to get around it.
Unless you’re one of those directors or actors making shitty movies in your backyard and screening that cheap piece of shit on your shitty home theater projector to your grandma, then you’re going to need money to make anything worth making.
Darren had his own production company – Protozoa Pictures – that he started with his buddies from college. His small group of friends were close knit and extremely talented, helping Darren produce, write, and compose all of his films, including his first one which they had made for something like $60,000.
That film, his high-contrast black and white, post-modernist, surrealist, artsy-fartsy mumbo jumbo thriller (that I made myself watch and told him was brilliant upon our second meeting) ended up grossing more than $3million in the limited amount of theaters it was released in.
Darren was proud of his first film, both because of the critical praise (Roger Ebert gave it 3 and a half out of 4 stars) and because it laid the blueprint for him to be a commercially accessible artist and not sell out.
So he decided then that his career would be built upon producing his own small budget films – being free of too much stifling studio influence – thus giving him the freedom to explore his non-mainstream ideas.
He would never make a ton of money, but having equity in his own projects meant that even with modest box office returns, he could create like a starving artist but live as a wealthy enough Hollywood creator.
So that was what he and his friends did over the next decade; financing or co-financing several of their films, at least in part, themselves, either through private investors, small loans, or with their own personal savings.
It was doable with small budgets $5 million or smaller, and it usually led to great returns, if not at the box-office, then especially in home-video.
The times they ran into problems were when they tried making big budget films, which bombed, and in one case nearly led to the dissolution of Darren’s production company.
But they had rebounded with the success of ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘Black Swan’, which together cost less than $20 million to make, but grossed nearly $400 million worldwide.
Now they were back on the path they began with their first film; small budget, talented cast. Nothing too big, let the risks be offset by the distributors. And Darren had made a first-look deal with New Regency to buy the rights to and distribute and market his films.
Things were going great for him and his company that day he met in my hotel room and pitched me on his new passion project that he wrote in a weekend.
But where he and his producers had wanted to make the allegorical arthouse horror film for less than $5 million, I was fresh off a campaign for gender pay equality, demanding that women be paid what they were worth. And arguing that I should fight for what I was worth in negotiation.
I was Hollywood’s highest paid actress, rightfully so, with worldwide ticket sales to my movies producing more than $5 billion just seven years.
Darren was not going to be able to get me for cheap, even if I wanted to work with him for cheap. My agency was not going to let me cave in and accept less than my going rate.
I fucking hated negotiating. I got bad anxiety and would suddenly become shy when the moment came to express my wants, or place a monetary value on my time and talent.
I was that girl that never knew what to fill in during a job application asking “how much do you want?”
This severely screwed me during some of the early negotiations I had after winning my Oscar. I was entitled to huge paydays, but I didn’t get them.
But my team; including my publicist, agency, and lawyers were smart, calculated, cut throat, and they were dedicated to making sure I never made that mistake again.
My publicist had me pen an op-ed that went viral, titled “Jennifer Lawrence: Why do I make less than my male co-stars?” which ended up getting featured in The Guardian, The Atlantic, and The New York Times.
I explained in a no-nonsense style of writing that I was frustrated with the differences between men and women at the negotiating table.
I wrote, “When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early.”
And finished by talking about my male co-stars, Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, Bradley Cooper, and how they secured their huge pay days. “I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share. Again, this might have NOTHING to do with my vagina, but I wasn’t completely wrong when another leaked Sony email revealed a producer referring to a fellow lead actress in a negotiation as a “spoiled brat.” For some reason, I just can’t picture someone saying that about a man.”
My piece sparked a national conversation about actresses and their pay in Hollywood.
And while I was proud of expressing myself – and also encouraged by the outpour of supportive text and phone calls that I received from fellow actresses that echoed my frustration – I had no idea that behind the scenes, my agency wwas going to use my editorial as a power play with Darren and his production company.
The same exact day my op-ed went viral – and I kid you not, this was the same exact day, mere hours after it was published – my agent leaked to Variety that I was in talks with Darren to star in his next film. They also made sure to mention that I was his first choice and that he wasn’t considering anyone else in the role.
This news effectively put all of the pressure on Darren and his production company. As soon as someone read how I was being underpaid, the very next news story they read about me was how I was going to be in Darren’s next movie. My agent even leaked the plot of the script and that it was a horror film, which got everyone even more excited. The websites, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, TMZ, they all pretty much reported it as if it was a done deal.
But it wasn’t a done deal. Far from it.
But now, if Darren failed to cast me, his “first and only choice”, it would effectively drain a huge amount of excitement for his new project that had been generated by the media linking me with the acclaimed director of Black Swan.
It was a brilliant move by my agency.
But it put a strain on Darren and his partners.
My agent went to the table with an asking price of $20 million, the salary I earned for my last film.
Darren and his company immediately rejected it.
They did not want their small budget film to suddenly become a $30 million project.
But Darren was willing to work it out; he wanted me for the role, and I wanted to be in his movie, so the negotiations continued even after my agent told their company that I would not sign for a dollar short of our asking price.
But as the days went by without either side budging, I started to fear that a deal wasn’t going to get done, and I was going to miss out on a project I really wanted to work on.
I kept thinking about his words. “I’m going to break you. And you’re going to put the pieces back together.”
And I wanted to be broken by him, dammit!
“Just close the deal,” I ended up telling my agent on day-4 of the negotiation as I lay in bed thinking about him. “If we have to ask for less, then just do it. I don’t want to miss out on this opportunity.”
“You’re not going to miss anything,” my agent promised me. “You’re getting this role and you’re getting a huge payday. Trust me, Jennifer.”
But I never wanted to steal a huge payday from a small production company and private investors. I wanted a studio like Disney or WB or a huge conglomerate to pay me the big bucks.
It just felt wrong trying to take Darren and his company for all they could afford.
Day-5 of negotiation nearly broke my heart. When I talked to my agent, she revealed that Darren and his producers had reached out to other actresses about taking on the role if they couldn’t get a deal done with me.
“Who did they reach out to?” I asked her.
“I don’t know. Just that they are Academy Award nominated actresses.”
“Find out who they were,” I demanded.
And an hour later, she came back with the names. She was good.
“Michelle Williams is willing to sign on for $250,000,” she told me as she sat inside a noisy coffee shop. “And they got Alicia Vikander for $500,000 if we don’t do it.”
I nearly panicked. I was not 4000% more talented as an actress than Alicia or Michelle. And surely Darren and every single person involved in his production company knew that. Why was this even a conversation anymore?
“There is no way they are going to fight it out for me, now,” I told her. “If I want this role, I need to lower my asking price now.”
“I’m working on it. You’re going to get this. Trust me, Jennifer.”
I talked to her again later that night as I was drying my hair, and in an off-hand comment, she mentioned that she found out during another round of conversation that Natalie Portman was actually Darren’s first choice for the part.
“He would have went with her if she didn’t get pregnant,” she said matter of factly.
I was near tears as she kept talking. She explained that Darren’s partners at Protozoa Pictures didn’t think I was worth it. His best friends Ari and Scott had specifically said they were skeptical about me even being a big box office draw outside of franchise films.
“Darren is the lone dissenting voice still fighting for you,” she told me. “And I’m using that to your advantage.”
When I hung up the phone with her. I felt angry.
Just angry at everyone.
I was angry at my agent…for doing her job and fighting for my payday.
I was angry at Darren’s producers…for doing their job and advising against risky investments.
I was angry at myself for being so angry at what was just normal business.
But the worst emotion was feeling like I had been betrayed by Darren, particularly that he had looked me in the face and lied about writing his script with me in mind.
How dare he?
And how dare he consider any of those other bitches? Negotiating with them while supposedly fighting for me?
But the angrier I got, the sillier I felt. How could I be angry at him for not putting his eggs all in one basket? This was a business. He had to consider other options, especially when I was asking for fucking $20 million and these other chicks were asking for pennies in comparison.
At least he was still fighting for me, for whatever that was worth in this cut throat business, I thought as I went to bed.
When I got the call the next day, I fully had prepared myself for the bad news; that Darren had come to his senses and realized I was not worth fighting for, and he would either wait for Natalie Portman to have her baby or go with the beautiful british chick Alicia Vikander, who was obviously more talented, and better looking to boot.
“Just got off the phone with Darren literally 20 seconds go. We got a deal,” my agent told me instead. I was in a state of shock as I listened to her tell me actual good news. “$15 million salary. 20% of the ticket sales, so you’ll definitely clear more than $20 million during the theatrical run. And if this is as big of a hit as Black Swan, then close to $25 million for home video. Didn’t I tell you to trust me?”
I badgered her over the next day and a half before she was willing to tell me how the sausage got made. She hadn’t wanted me thinking about what concessions the production company made in order to come to an agreement with me. At least not until I actually signed.
Darren had personally given up a few participation points from both his writing and directing credits, and convinced his investors to give up half a percentage point. They had also reduced the production overhead by 8.5%.
“No big deal, they’ll just hire a few less assistants from each department and give them a little lower of a wage,” my agent had tried to comfort me regarding production costs being reduced.
It didn’t make me feel any better knowing that some assistant was going to have to work twice as hard for half the pay because the money that would have went towards making their load easier was instead going into my pocket.
I met with Darren and the producers that didn’t want me later that week, shaking their hands, closing the deal, but still feeling like shit.
They were smiling, but it was obvious they had fought a losing battle in trying to convince Darren to go with someone else. And now they were stuck with me.
But I wasn’t just feeling shitty about the salary and backend bonuses I had secured for myself, but also the perks package my agent had made non-negotiable.
A private jet for myself to be used during production
$10,000 a month allowance during production.
A car allowance.
First class tickets during production for up to 5 companions.
A 54 foot long first class, two story trailer, complete with leather sofas, a chef’s kitchen, two queen sized beds, walk in closet, 8 flat screen TV’s, tap beer, and a steamed shower.
Per diem for two stylists, two publicists, a dog sitter, up to four personal security guards, a personal chef, a personal trainer, and payments for up to three personal assistants, which really was just a way for me to have his production company pay my friends to hang out with me on set if I wanted.
“I don’t even want half of these things,” I had mentioned to my agent when she told me she was about to fax them the list of perks she came up with.
“I know you don’t. But it’s important to make this kind of stuff standard in your contract, so that when it comes to something you really want, you can cross of less important things easily. Gives you leverage.”
“Makes me look like a spoiled brat.” In my op ed I wrote that I shouldn’t be afraid of being perceived as a brat, but it was clear that fear still persisted.
“You really have to let this ‘but what will they think of me?’ fear go,” she had sighed. “As if you demanding what you are worth means you failed some character test. Look, don’t feel sorry for these rich men. They will discard you the second your tits start to sag or you aren’t the ‘it’ name anymore. So until then, it’s ‘fuck you – pay me’ with no remorse. You’re a movie star. Let them treat you like one.”
The contract I signed was too rich for New Regency, specifically 20% off the top for all tickets sold, so they decided not to buy the distribution rights even though they had first-rights deal with Darren.
Paramount came through and secured the rights to the film, but stipulated that Darren had to film in Canada to take advantage of state and regional tax incentives. This meant giving up the perfect house and location that Darren had found on a scouting trip in the northeast near Maine.
So this was the prologue that set up my romantic story with Darren.
I felt so guilty that I ended up insisting that I take care of the tabs for lunches, drinks, dinners, and other outings with Darren and his producers. Darren wouldn’t accept it most of the time, at the very least offering to provide tip. But I did take the cast and crew out for dinner and drinks right before we started filming, telling everyone that it was all “on me.”
I thought it would help ease my conscious; but making people order the most expensive steak and lobster on the menu didn’t really make up for the fact that a small production company was renting a $2 million trailer so that a movie star could take craps in gold plated toilets, and take naps on leather recliners while on set.
Spending that much on dinner and drinks (the bill came to nearly $100,000) just made me look like even more of a diva that couldn’t spell frugal, let alone abide by those principles.
I hated having a guilty conscious over money. I was sure male stars didn’t give a shit. So why did I enter production with the desire to prove to everyone that I was worth it? To prove to Darren, who I had only just met, that he hadn’t made a mistake by wanting me for his passion project?
So yeah, we started work on the film, fell into bed a month in, and fell in love by the time filming wrapped.
But boy was our relationship complicated.
Beyond the age differences, the long distance (I mostly lived in L.A., he lived in NYC), the fact that we had very different personalities, and incompatible groups of friends, I went into a relationship with him knowing he had made huge sacrifices for his company to have me star in his film.
Perhaps that was partially why I even ‘let him’ convince me to show my boobs in the film. Boobs helped sell tickets and I needed this film to make its money back.
I used to always wonder if Darren resented me, even if just a little bit. He was in an awkward position, supporting me in my feminist campaign to secure a bag of money, while also trying to create economically viable art.
Darren wasn’t just a director or owner of a production company; he was a father, he was still paying his ex-wife alimony.
I didn’t want to be the reason my new boyfriend struggled to pay his mortgage. I didn’t want to be the reason his friends struggled to pay theirs.
I could only imagine the conversations he had with his friends about me when I wasn’t around.
The pressure for our film to succeed weighed on me, and even though he never told me that it bothered him, I could tell that it weighed on him as well.
Our film needed to win at the box office if our relationship had any hope of surviving.
This pressure killed our sex life during the press tour for the film. We traveled from city to city together, as a couple, but also as director and actress, writer and performer, the highest paid actress in Hollywood and the man that wrote her checks (well not really, but it sounds better in my head).
We discussed our private relationship with the media (as urged by Paramount to help market the film) while also trying to discuss the film with the media as colleagues, further linking the two very different relationships together.
Did I mention that we didn’t have sex at all on the press tour? The exact opposite of how all over each other we were during production, where almost every night I took him inside of me.
But things were different on the road promoting a film that was booed during the Venice Film Festival for being too weird and violent.
Press tours were usually easy for me, redundant and boring talking up the same plot and answering the same questions over and over again, but easy enough emotionally.
But trying to convince people why they should go see a parable about God and global warming that takes place in a house for 2 hours and gets crazy at the end was really hard, especially since I knew Darren and I had put our fucking hearts into it.
This was his masterpiece, perhaps mine too, and I desperately wanted it to succeed. But promoting it was exhausting, frustrating, and stressful, and those feelings were the death of desire.
We knew we had a polarizing film on our hand but I had hoped that audiences would be able to see the artistry behind it, the concepts, and ideas, and masterful directing.
I never cared about following the day to day box office numbers before, I was too busy with scripts, meetings, filming, and photoshoots, but I woke up every morning asking the studio analyst what they were hearing and following the websites that tracked that kind of stuff.
I ended up getting a call late in the middle of the night from Darren shortly after the premiere and I heard the dejection in his voice, even though he was trying his best to appear upbeat. “Paramount says it’s going to open third this weekend,” he said. “Oh, and we got a F Cinemascore.”
I ended up twittering ‘mother!’ to see what the tweeters were saying and that was a mistake.
People didn’t dislike the movie. They. Hated. It.
And by extension, they hated the people that created something that they hated so much.
I never heard pretentious thrown around so much as people described our movie as some cynical, misogynistic vanity project that Darren and his girlfriend had tricked people into seeing, thinking it was a fun haunted house movie.
I didn’t go back to sleep that night. I just lay in bed, heartbroken for Darren, his pain giving me pain, our worst nightmares realized.
The opening for our film was the worst wide release of my career. And while I was still going to be paid more than $20 million for signing on the dotted line, Darren and his company were going to lose money and some industry cache.
But where I would have welcomed Darren screaming at me for being a poor investment – at least it would have allowed me to scream back at him and we could get all of our toxic feelings out in the open – Darren dealt with his disappointment in an emotionally unsatisfying way.
He silently read bad reviews to himself, made self-deprecating jokes about how hard it will be to make another movie with a high budget, and would say “at least all of the critics are praising your performance.”
In fact, Darren was even more complimentary to me than before. And with the press tour over, he made up for lost time by passionately making love to me as well. I never once heard him turn the failure of our film on me.
Perhaps I should have felt good about him not blaming me for his failure? It was progressive and mature to accept responsibility for failure, right? But for some reason, I couldn’t feel good about his lukewarm disappointment. I needed his heat to boil over. I hated feeling like he wanted to be angry, that he wanted to tell me how he felt, but that he was keeping it bottled up to be the better man.
Because of this, I always felt like he was hiding something from me, his true feelings, his true anger.
Sure, he told me about his disappointments with people ‘not getting it’ – and spent a lot of time discussing the reviews he read (and he obsessively read every review published about his movie) – but a true and proper explosion of anger never came.
Three days after he suggested I go naked to the oscars, we were talking on the phone, and once again he was talking about the fallout of our failed film. He mentioned his company having five movies in development and the difficulty he was going to have securing funding for the few that called for a bigger budget; his private investors were gun shy now.
I couldn’t take the passive aggressive comments anymore. And I still wasn’t quite over my own insecurity about his lie that flattered me into accepting his role in the first place. So I lashed out, mumbling under my breath “If only Natalie Portman didn’t get pregnant.”
There was a beat of dead silence, and then an “excuse me?” from him. And within seconds we were arguing with each other. And that anger I needed to hear from him finally came, especially when I accused him of lying to me about Natalie being his first choice.
He denied it up and down and kept screaming “Who told you that?” and “How long have you been holding this in?”
By the time we got to him asking “Are you calling me a liar?” it was clear that the trust between us was broken.
That call ended in tears and the understanding that we were over.
We talked the next morning, calmly, both apologizing for our words, our anger, but we mutually still arrived at the decision to end our romantic relationship.
I was still in love with him. He told me he still loved me deeply – and I believed him – but when I hung up the phone, I felt as if I had exhaled for the first time in months. The press tour and failure of the movie we made together had turned some of my blonde hair silver, and given me wrinkles that weren’t there before.
I felt relief which proved to me that breaking up was the best thing for us, despite the fact that I still loved him.
We met up a week later at his house in New York. Normal post-breakup procedure. Closure, getting my things from his place, returning things he left over my place, that kind of thing.
He invited me into his bachelor’s pad, and as soon as I was inside I inhaled the sweet but masculine fragrance of his place. He always smelled so wonderful.
“I can’t stay for long,” I said, holding my purse close, standing by the door.
But my body betrayed me.
We ended up in his bedroom where he made me cum more times than I care to admit out loud. He was into studying the Kama Sutra and was well-read on sexual literature (he was also the only guy I knew that didn’t watch porn, just read erotica – I’m not sure how that factored into how good he was in bed, but he was nearly 50 and could always get his cock hard) so combined with his years of experience with women and his raw obsession with my body, he had the stamina, dedication, and techniques to keep me on cloud nine for hours.
And he was a magician with his tongue, too.
It was almost scary how well he knew how to please my body, far beyond any of my previous lovers.
So yeah, we had sex just one more time. Can you blame me?
To our benefit, getting that out of the way made it easier to really open up and talk about our failures as a couple. We were naked, our walls were down, our egos were subdued, and emotional intimacy was in the air as we looked into each others eyes, his hand resting on my nipple, my fingers stroking his thigh, so our vulnerable thoughts just flowed out.
We revealed so many feelings we had kept from each other, being more honest in one evening together than we had been in the past year. He even admitted that Natalie had been his first choice for mother!
But as great as the lovemaking was, and as much as I appreciated connecting with him emotionally, we both agreed that it was still best for us to move on. Too much baggage.
I very much still valued his opinion and still wanted to talk to him whenever I needed an older male figure to confide in or get advice from. And I really enjoyed watching movies with him.
So we made a promise to be friends, and so that wouldn’t just be lip service, we agreed to watch some screeners together at some point before we submitted our votes for best director, best actress, and best picture to The Academy.
“Just no more sex,” I told him, which felt weird to say as we lay naked in his bed, the smell of sex in the air, the taste of sweat and cum in my mouth.
I spent the months that followed my breakup clinging closer to my friends, who had felt pretty alienated from me ever since things got serious with Darren. Me and Amy Schumer had even gotten into a dispute because she was always bad mouthing him and calling him “pretentious” and “stuffy.”
“He used the word ‘milieu; in a sentence when I met him,” she complained. “He is so not good enough for you.”
While it was true that I didn’t need to use my word of the day app whenever I was with Darren, I thought it was a very stupid reason for her to not like him. Back when me and Darren were together, I slipped up one day and shared with him that Amy thought he was pretentious and he responded by calling her low class and “outrageously unfunny.”
It always sucked when your friends didn’t like your man, and vice versa.
While I was usually a hoes before bros gal, I was into Darren, so my girlfriends had to take a backseat as things between us got serious. That meant I rarely had the time to hang with them. So Amy was actually pretty happy when I revealed to her that we had broken up. Ditto my best industry friend Emma Stone.
Emma was more understanding of my relationship with Darren, she saw why I would be into him, even if she too agreed that he wasn’t good for me. That was why I was more willing to share so much with her, while keeping Amy on the outside.
Emma was actually there for me during my relationship with Darren. She let me call her in the middle of the night to vent and actually responded to my “Darren is so annoying!” text messages whenever I wanted to complain about my man.
I needed her whenever I walked away from Darren. And Emma never disappointed me when it came to being there for me in my times of need.
We attended the Women’s March together (along with Adele and Cameron Diaz), had several dinner dates and brunches around L.A., skipped the Golden Globes and instead stayed in to drink wine and laugh at our bad jokes, and even flew to the Bahamas for a 2-day vacation when she had a little time off from her busy schedule.
It felt good and empowering to be around so much positive female energy after a breakup. It was essential even, allowing me the space to confide my deepest insecurities, regrets and failures.
I loved that I could tell her anything.
Well, almost anything.
There was one secret that I kept to myself. A desire, no, a craving that had invaded my mind and taken possession of my body.
The Oscars were coming up in a month. And I wanted to go there completely naked.
Oh God, was it true? How could it be true? How could I secretly crave something so…crazy?
I thought the fantasy would pass, especially after I masturbated to the idea every night in the weeks after I broke up with Darren. But the intensity of the thoughts only grew stronger, more frequent, more invasive.
Everywhere I went, the thought was with me.
The grocery store, the airport, the movie studio, I couldn’t help but imagine myself walking around naked at all of these places.
And the impact these thoughts had on my body was so powerful. Hard nipples, wet pussy, goosebumps, heavy breathing. It was insane. And annoying.
Why had Darren cursed me with this itch I could never scratch?
Why had I allowed him to reawaken this exhibitionist kink that I had mostly buried since I became famous?
As frustrating and irritating as it was to want something so stimulating that I could never actually give myself, I could have handled it if it were merely a sexual fantasy. Everyone had secret fetishes and fantasies.
Who cares if the one that got me hot involved showing up naked to an event attended by all of my peers and colleagues? It wasn’t that far down the rabbit hole. It’s not as bad as golden showers and erotic asphyxiation, right?
But it wasn’t just the fact that thinking about being naked around clothed people was hot that troubled me, it was how Darren’s pitch about it being empowering and powerful also stuck with me.
I couldn’t remember exactly how he sold the idea to me. But I remembered certain phrases.
“Step outside the box of modesty.”
“Embrace the body you have and stop chasing the one they want.”
“Give a middle finger to Hollywood and shake up the world.”
“You’re the only woman that can pull this off. Not even Beyonce could.”
“Recapture the power you lost and flaunt that they can never steal it again.”
“Give your haters something to be jealous and mad about. Show them that naked body.”
Okay maybe I’m getting his quotes wrong, but that’s besides the point.
I kept hearing his voice in my head and agreeing with all of his sentiments, about how boring the industry was, about how prudish and regressive society was about nudity and female bodies, about how empowering it would feel to upstage my own leaked photos, about how if I was only brave enough, I could provide a pivotal cultural moment and spark a worldwide conversation that began with my naked body but went into all kinds of intellectual discussions I wasn’t smart enough to have on my own.
I never considered myself an attention whore, but damn if I didn’t become excited, mentally and sexually, at the idea of my naked body being at the center of attention for the entire industry.
My ass, my tits, my pussy, on all of the news channels, front page on all of the magazines and newspapers, captured, and printed, and published for all time, never to be forgotten.
The night shows would have a field day with it; John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Bill Maher, SNL. They would have material for weeks.
And I would be masochistic enough to sit there and watch every single segment as they talked about how crazy Jennifer Lawrence was for showing up naked for a red carpet.
I would probably even get a ton of media request to attend a Late Night taping completely nude. Gosh, and now I was horny all over again, energized as the thought of being interviewed by my friend Colbert while completely naked before a viewing audience.
My naked body had already been worldwide news before, and the images were available to anyone that ever wanted to look, but this was different. I didn’t consent to anyone looking at my photos then.
In fact, I publicly told everyone who looked at my naked photos without my permission that they were “perpetuating a sexual offense” and that they should “cower with shame.”
As Darren had said, this was the difference between having your home invaded and throwing a party at your house, with everyone invited.
And the choice to give permission for everyone to look at me completely naked held a very deep emotional appeal to me.
I still remembered my first humiliating day in the industry. I was young then, fresh out of Kentucky, naive, and impressionable. And according to the production that cast me, also pretty fucking fat.
I was a tall girl and carried my weight pretty well, I thought. My stomach was mostly flat but because I had puffy cheeks, that basically meant I was an obese whale. At least to the director and producers, who all wanted me to lose 15 pounds in 2 weeks or else I would be fired.
To give me some inspiration, the one female producer on set (most likely put up to it by the men who couldn’t do it themselves for fear of looking like male chauvinists) had me do a naked lineup with five nearly anorexic actresses where she took photos of us from the front and back.
This, so she said, would give me the fuel I needed to get the body of a proper actress.
I remembered how humiliated I felt as I stood naked and a male producer tried to cheer me up by saying he thought I was still pretty fuckable.
But the story I never told the press was how I also remembered nearly killing myself to lose those 15 pounds in 2 weeks. And on the day I was to report to the set, I dropped my clothes and stood naked before those same producers, all of them, to show off the body they shamed me into chasing.
It was one of the most exhilarating and empowering moments of my life, dropping my clothes without being told to, saying “you still want to fire me?” and watching the look on their faces as they said “wow” and saw me as a sexy and confident woman that wouldn’t cower away after their attempt to humiliate me.
Although I wasn’t an unknown nobody on the verge of being fired anymore, I still felt a connection to those feelings, I still admired that girl, because she took action and regained her dignity after they tried to make her feel like shit.
This was why letting everyone see me while I was still in the prime of my life – at the apex of desirability as a young woman, more than pretty fuckable, but ‘wow’ worthy – held a deep appeal to me that was equal parts sexy and empowering.
See, while I was also inspired by the unsexy and innocent nudity of John Lennon and Yoko Ono; his soft little cock, and her flat and sagging breast and butt, nakedness that truly illustrated that merely being naked wasn’t inherently sexual or even hot, that wasn’t what I wanted for myself.
Exposing my naked body HAD to be a little sexual if it were to actually empower me.
I wanted the male gaze to attach itself to my naked skin, I wanted the shocked expressions, the lustful looks.
I wanted to feel sexy again, in the way that I felt before the world got to see something they weren’t supposed to see.
So much for Darren claiming I was free of vanity.
These feelings and thoughts were embarrassing, so I kept them to myself, declined to share them with Emma even though I knew I could tell her anything else in the world. She just wouldn’t understand this one thing. How could she? I didn’t even understand it.
The only person I knew that would understand was the charmer that indoctrinated me with this unholy hunger in the first place.
So even as the days turned to weeks of no communication with Darren, his voice stayed with me. His ambition for me slowly but surely infiltrated my own worldview. And I found myself critiquing beauty norms of Hollywood and showing righteous anger towards the unoriginality and fakeness of awards season.
When actress Blanco Blanco was shamed for wearing a sexy red gown to the Golden Globes, while everyone else wore conservative black gowns in support of the #meetoo and #timesup movement, I publicly supported the actress in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter.
“I mean, this was a night of celebrating women in our industry – of finally saying we won’t tolerate harassment of our women,” I told the reporter. “Yet this woman in our industry had to endure harassment just because she wore something that made her feel good and maybe even a little sexy. It’s hypocrisy. And part of the problem. She isn’t inviting harassment because of what she decides to wear. I don’t care if it was revealing, I wouldn’t care if she wore lingerie, or came dressed like a stripper, or showed up completely naked to the red carpet – it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t deserve harassment or slut shaming from her peers or anyone else. We have to stop policing what women wear or don’t wear.”
The topic came up again a few weeks later, this time while I was in London promoting my new movie Red Sparrow.
But the shaming wasn’t directed at a mostly unknown actress, this time it was coming directly to me.
Some editor for a British culture magazine called me out for wearing a sexy Versace dress while I posed for a photo outside with my male director and male co-stars.
The men were dressed in pants, coats, and scarves, while my legs and shoulders were exposed. This was enough to set this lady off.
“This is such a quietly depressing (and revealing) image,” she wrote to her 100 thousand followers. “True equality means either Jennifer Lawrence getting a coat, or Jeremy Irons having to pose for a photocall in assless chaps.”
More people, mostly women, decided to chime in with their critiques until it was a full blown news story, trending on twitter and prompting all kinds of reporters to call my phone wanting a response.
I was furious when I decided to respond on my social media account.
“Wow. I don’t really know where to get started on this “Jennifer Lawrence wearing a revealing dress in the cold” controversy. This is not only utterly ridiculous, I am extremely offended. That Versace dress was fabulous, you think I’m going to cover that gorgeous dress up with a coat and a scarf? I was outside for 5 minutes. I would have stood in the snow for that dress because I love fashion and that was my choice.
This is sexist, this is ridiculous, this is not feminism. Over- reacting about everything someone says or does, creating controversy over silly innocuous things such as what I choose to wear or not wear, is not moving us forward. It’s creating silly distractions from real issues. Get a grip people. Everything you see me wear is my choice. And if I want to be cold THATS MY CHOICE TOO! If I wanted to go COMPLETELY NAKED in the cold, THATS MY CHOICE TOO!”
I got plenty of supportive texts and phone calls regarding my statement. But strangely, nothing from Darren.
He wasn’t much of a texter but he always read my interviews and would shoot me a “good read in [whatever publication]”. This happened even after we broke up; he loved the interview I did with Oprah and 60 Minutes and sent me long texts to applaud me for my honesty.
But nothing about #dressgate, specifically about what I said about going naked.
At first I was angry. But of course, I quickly caught myself and realized I was being silly. He was busy, we weren’t together anymore, and he wasn’t obligated to send me texts or comment about anything I said in an interview.
But even with that realization, I also had to acknowledge where that anger came from. I still wanted Darren’s approval. His acceptance was still incredibly validating to me.
I called him as soon as I was back in New York and told him I had a few days free in my schedule before I had to do Cobert, Howard Stern, and attend several events. If he still wanted us to watch some screeners together before the Oscars, then now was the time.
He told me he was on his way.
I dressed conservatively but comfortably, in a spaghetti strap top and sweats. I also made sure to wear a bra even though I never usually did. I wasn’t trying to entice him.
Plus I had made a promise to Emma that I wouldn’t fuck him again whenever we had our day of watching movies. She didn’t believe I was over him. She didn’t believe we could have a platonic friendship, or that I could be trusted to keep it platonic if we spent an entire day alone together.
That was about to be put to the test.
He showed up dressed in a jacket, cap, and jeans. We hugged, engaged in a bit of small talk, mainly about how it’s like going through airport security to get access to my condo.
I had snacks prepared for us; trailmix, apple slices, raisins, and some vegan popcorn. I’d order in later for lunch and dinner.
We watched the first screener on my sofa, Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film ‘The Shape of Water’, and I broke the ice by making a masturbation joke (while watching the actress masturbate on screen) within the first ten minutes of the movie. We both seemed to loosen up after that. Sex jokes were funny and he knew I was often crass when I was nervous.
Little did he know that I was more than nervous, I could barely concentrate, because all I could think about was why he never responded to my batsignals about public nudity that I’d sent out into the public sphere the last month.
He excused himself to the restroom after the movie was over.
I knew that he liked to read magazine or newspaper articles when he took a shit, so I had removed all of the magazines from my rack in the bathroom, except for one – the Hollywood Reporter issue where I defended the actress and said she should be able to go naked on the red carpet if she wanted to.
If he wanted to read something, it would have to be that.
But he came back quick enough to let me know he had probably just taken a piss. Fuck.
We decided on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri next, sitting a little closer on my sofa.
He had to take a phone call about halfway through the movie, leaving me alone with my thoughts as I sat on the sofa looking at the paused screen. I really wanted to know why he didn’t have anything to say about my comments. And by the time he returned to the sofa, I had worked up the nerve to just ask him.
“Did you ever hear about my dressgate controversy?”
“About the dress you wore in London?” he asked. He chuckled after I nodded. “Yeah I saw that. People can be so stupid. They have nothing better to do, I guess.”
“Did you read my response though?”
“I read it.”
“And what? I thought you were right. It is your choice.”
“Hm,” was all I said before sitting back against the sofa and crossed my arms.
“Why?” he asked.
“Just asking. I found it strange that you didn’t have anything to say. You’re usually quick to offer your opinion.”
“I didn’t know you wanted my opinion about that,” he said before narrowing his eyes at me. “I’m more interested in why you felt the need to add that last sentence about going out there naked.”
“It was just a thought,” I lied.
“And let me guess, the ‘a woman should be able to show up naked to the red carpet’ thing you said in the Hollywood Reporter was ‘just a thought’ too?”
“I mean, sure I remembered what we talked about – what you wanted me to do and everything. But yeah, I was just trying to make a point. I thought using a naked analogy helped bring the point home.”
“Uh huh,” he said.
“It’s true,” I stressed. “Just because I referenced what you wanted me to do doesn’t mean I want to do it.”
He held up his hands. “Jennifer, you don’t have to convince me.”
“I…I know,” I stuttered. “I was just saying.”
“Okay,” was all he said before reaching for the remote. “Sorry about that phone call. It was from an old friend. Wanted to know if I could make a little get together. But I told them I was busy.”
“If you have to leave, that-”
He interrupted. “No, I’d much rather spend the rest of the evening with you,” he smiled. “But I turned the phone off and we won’t have any other disturbances from my end.”
“Sounds good,” I said as he unpaused and leaned back, this time further away from me than he was before.
I was frustrated for the rest of the runtime.
We watched ‘Call My By Your Name’ and ‘Lady Bird’ before our pizza (I was on the cheat day of my diet!) arrived for dinner. Then decided we’d watch ‘Get Out’ since the sun was setting and horror movies were always better in the dark of night.
After dimming the lights, and cutting on my gas fireplace, we ate a few slices of pizza, then slowly but surely found ourselves cuddling with my dog in his lap. When the movie got scary, and I started shaking, I felt him hold me close. It felt nice, and while skirting the edges of platonic behavior, it was innocent enough; intimate but not sexual.
When the movie ended, I checked my phone and saw that I had a text from my friend Rachel who was getting married next month.
“I don’t have a thing to wear,” I told him as I got up from the sofa to put in ‘I, Tonya.’ “Hopefully I can find another day to squeeze in my schedule to go shopping for something nice.”
“You have a closet full of dresses you’ve never even worn,” he said, exasperated. “Wear one of them to your friends wedding.”
“Eh, those are all out of season,” I complained, knowing it was going to irritate him. It humored me watching him get mad over how much money I spent on clothes I never wore. He would wear the same two pairs of pants every day if it was up to him.
“Jennifer,” he sighed.
“What?” I laughed, acting oblivious. “Okay then, I won’t go buy anything new. I’ll just do what you want and show up naked. ”
I meant it to be funny but for some reason, it fell out of my mouth sounding way more sarcastic than I intended.
And he didn’t even come close to cracking a smile, so I knew it wasn’t just my ears that heard how hostile my comment sounded.
He shook his head. “Are you ever going to get tired of this?”
“Of what?” I asked timidly, almost like a scared little girl in front of her father.
“You’re very bad at this, Jennifer,” he barked.
“Bad at what?”
“Communicating,” he said. “Especially when it comes to your desires.”
“You’re not a dumb blonde. Stop playing that part.”
Now I was getting upset. “Darren, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“You should be embracing your desires. Not passively aggressively throwing them back at me.”
“I’m not throwing anything at you.”
“I hate it when you act immature like this,” he said harshly. “This is why we broke up.”
“Well maybe you treating me like a child is why we broke up,” I snapped in defense. Our insecurities over the 22-year age difference often came out like this.
“I just want a straight answer, Jennifer. If you don’t want to go to the Oscars nude. Why do you keep bringing it up?”
“I’m not bringing it up. I just made a freaking joke.”
Darren took a long breath before grabbing my hand and staring into my eyes, as if he could see into my soul. It felt humbling.
“You’ve let this become an albatross,” he said in a low tone that was both powerful and gentle. An adult’s tone. A man’s whisper. “Sweetheart. Be honest with yourself.”
And with that, the truth poured out of me. “Okay I fucking admit it!” I told the only person that I knew could understand how I felt, the only person that could help me understand why I felt this way. “It’s like a splinter in my mind. It excites me beyond belief. The way you described it keeps playing in my head and I can’t stop thinking about it.”
I told him about how often I was thinking about it, how even in random places I would get excited just thinking about being naked at that very moment. “I feel like some kind of pervert.”
“You’re an exhibitionist, not a pervert,” he said in a reassuring tone, though it still didn’t make me feel any better about it.
“Well actually I looked up the word ‘pervert’ and it talked about sexual behavior that is abnormal or unacceptable. Me wanting to be naked in a public place fits both definitions. So I kind of am.”
“Sexual behavior,” he said, emphasizing sexual. “Even if you get some sexual excitement from exhibiting yourself, that in itself does not make it sexual behavior. I mean, you wouldn’t be on the red carpet having sex. You’d be doing the same thing everyone else is doing. Walking, talking to reporters, and posing for photographers. You just would be nude.”
“You don’t get it Darren. It’s not ‘some’ sexual excitement. I’ve been getting off to the fantasies almost every night. Any time someone even brings up the Oscars, I get shivers and weak in the knees from imagining myself out there with no clothes on. I mean, my nipples are hard and my pussy is wet right now from just talking about it.”
He looked as if he didn’t know how to respond so I apologized. “Sorry. TMI. I’m just trying to be honest. This is extremely sexual in nature for me.”
“Well I think it’s good that you’re willing to admit it. That’s a big step.”
I felt alone in my perversion and it made me defensive. “But what about you? Huh? The idea doesn’t do anything for you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t also get off on the idea of showing me off naked?”
“That’s not what it is for me,” he insisted.
“But I was your girlfriend and you were the one that introduced the idea to me. YOU were eager to let the whole world see your woman butt naked. I heard the excitement in your voice. You want everyone to see me. Your colleagues, your rivals. There isn’t some voyueristic element to it for you?”
“But you love talking about my body, about how my beauty marks and blemishes were images of perfection, and how perfection should be shared with the world and not photoshopped. And you were the one that convinced me that I should show my boobs in your movie. You don’t find the idea of showing me off hot?”
“I wasn’t thinking about how ‘hot’ it would be to have you show your breast in my film. I just felt it was necessary for the film. It sexualized the scene and-”
I interrupted “and that allowed it to represent sexual violence throughout human history. Yes I get it, you don’t have to pitch it to me all over again. You’re an artistic genius with a vivid vision. But you still get something thrilling out of it, just admit it.”
“Sexual excitement may be the primary motivator for you, but that is not what it is for me,” he claimed once again. “But either way, why does it matter so much to you that this be sexually thrilling for me? So you can feel better about your own sexual desires?”
“I mean, yeah. Is that so wrong? It’s embarrassing knowing that you seriously just want to exhibit me for an artistic purpose while I’m just some horny pervert that wants to get naked in front of a bunch of people for thrills.”
“It’s not just for thrills for you,” he said like some kind of therapist that knew me better than I knew myself. “And you’re not a pervert for having these conflicting feelings and compulsions. If you were, you would have jumped at my suggestion. But you’re here struggling with yourself. You’re a woman living in a society with conflicting rules placed on women and their bodies. They want you to show your body but then shame you when you do.”
He ran his fingers through the fuzz on his head, laughing now. “As an old guy, the only intellectual property I worry about is my writing and directing. But in this society, your own body is intellectual property. And your property was stolen from you and monetized by pornsites and actual perverts. Even your earning potential as an actress and model is very closely tied to showing your body in magazines and movies and award shows. And because of it you’re forever straddling a line between artistic exhibition and pornographic display. It makes total sense to me why you’d want to stop tap dancing around that line and just…be free in your own skin on your own terms.”
It felt like a mistake to talk to Darren about this. I needed someone to vent my frustrations to, but Darren was above letting himself get used as an emotional trash can. Darren actually had opinions, strong ones, and beyond that, a way with words that made everything he said seem so sensical and brilliant.
I went into this conversation wanting to get to the bottom of my fantasy so I could let it go. But I wasn’t thinking about letting it go now. I was actually considering going through with it. And that scared the living shit out of me.
I had to find an out. Something tangible and non-negotiable to prove to him that this could not happen. Something even he couldn’t find a way to talk his way out of. Actresses couldn’t show up naked to an awards show.
And even if they could, it couldn’t be me.
“Even if, hypothetically, I wanted to do this. They wouldn’t let me,” I asserted with some measure of conviction that it were true.
“Who is they?”
“The Academy. The security. The Network.”
“And why wouldn’t they?”
This was a simple question but for some reason a simple answer didn’t materialize in my head. I ended up blurting out “Kids watch the show. It would be considered obscene.”
And suddenly, we were back to John Lennon and his wife, appearing naked on the front cover of a magazine. I’m pretty sure no kids were harmed by what they saw.
“Who are you?” he asked, catching me off guard.
“What do you mean?”
“Who. Are. You.”
“Your ex girlfriend?”
“I’m me – I mean, what do you want me to say?”
“What is your name.”
I rolled my eyes. “Jennifer.”
“Jennifer who?” he pressed.
He nodded as if that should have said it all. “Sometimes you still act like you’re just some awkward girl from Kentucky. It’s that quality that I find so refreshing about you, that you’re not all Hollywood. But it’s also what frustrates me the most.”
He stepped closer to me and pointed in my face. “You’re Jennifer Fucking Lawrence. J-Law. The highest paid woman in Hollywood.”
“Not according to Forbes,” I interrupted with a laugh. “Emma Stone landed at number 1 on their yearly highest paid actresses list last year. The bitch took my place.”
He looked disappointed in my attempt at a joke. But I couldn’t help it. I had a hard time not being self-deprecating about myself, especially when someone was showering me with praise. A bad habit stemming from the insecurity I had about letting people down. I had to point out my flaws and shortcomings before anyone else could.
He narrowed his eyes at me. “You’re the youngest actor ever with 4 Oscar nominations. You’re a kickass action star and a leading lady for prestige dramas. You’re the youngest woman to ever win the ‘Sherry Lansing Leadership award’. You’re the face of women in Hollywood. Your influence is undeniable. Every joke you make creates a headline. When you trip, it creates a conversation. When you speak and make a statement, everyone listens. You’re the most powerful actress in Hollywood. Use that shit.”
Darren always affirmed me like this and I loved him for it. Plenty of people liked to kiss my ass but very few of them had the conviction and character I valued that made me hang onto their every word until I believed whatever they told me.
“But how?” I asked, wanting his direction to guide me.
“You tell me how,” he said instead of providing me with the easy answers.
I thought about it. “I skipped the Oscar luncheon a few weeks ago and Jennifer Todd – you know, the producer of the Oscars – she text me and said she was sad I didn’t come. I told her I would have lunch with her sometime soon. She would have the power to give me the green light from the TV perspective, I guess. And Dawn is the CEO of the Academy, so she could give the okay for the red carpet. I could have a lunch meeting with them.”
“And they would listen to you,” he said knowingly. “They love you.”
I paced back and forth, still in disbelief that I was still considering the impossible. Was this conversation real? Was the possibility truly at my fingertips? Had I moved from ‘absolutely not’ to the dangerous territory of ‘maybe?’
Or was I just riding on the wave of my arousal, sure to come to my senses after I diddled myself a few more times?
I looked at the man that was looking at me as if it wasn’t a preposterous idea for me to seriously commit to showing up naked to an awards show. Hell, he was looking at me as if it would be preposterous if I didn’t do it.
“I’m out of my mind,” I said with a big sigh before eying him. “Do you really think I could show up naked? NAKED, Darren. NAE-KID. In my birthday suit. Like, nothing on, in-the-buff, bare from head to toe, my tits and twat hanging out for everyone to see. ”
“I believe you could show up au naturel, yes,” he said, of course choosing some french way of saying naked instead of the more slangy terms that more-succinctly described what being naked was to me.
“You really think I’m that brazen?”
“I think you’re that brave.”
“Oh so we’re going to go back and forth playing word war?”
“I’m just trying to let you know that I believe in you Jennifer. I believe you’re beautiful, determined, and brave enough to pull this off. But that means nothing if you don’t believe it yourself.”
We just stood there for what felt like a few minutes before he must have gotten tired of looking at my pathetic face. He turned away and went for the coat rack in the foyer.
“You’re leaving?” I asked, sounding desperate, which made me hate myself a little bit.
“Yes,” he responded while taking his black coat and cap off the rack. “And you’re coming with me.”
“Where are we going?” I asked, puzzled.
“To get dessert.”
That answer felt strange. “I have ice cream in the fridge.”
“I don’t want any of that lowfat crap. I need something sweeter. Come on.”
“Okay,” I submitted to his spontaneous need to leave . “Well let me get my jacket and-”
“No,” he said in an authoritative tone. Being told no like that was almost erotic. “You’re dressed enough.”
I looked down at myself, clothed in a thin black top with spaghetti straps, my bare arms exposed and below that just grey sweats and multi-colored wool socks. “It’s like 30 degrees outside.”
“38,” he corrected. “We’re not going to be outside anyway. And your car has heat.”
“So I can’t even get any shoes to put on?”
“No.” Simple as that and not up for debate.
I felt like a little kid asking him if I was allowed to put on shoes. And God did that do something to me. God, I hope this didn’t mean I had daddy issues in addition to being excited by the idea of leaving my apartment so clearly underdressed.
“Is anyone going to see me like this?” I asked, still hesitant, even if a bit excited.
“Do you want anyone to see you like this?”
“Ha ha,” I rolled my eyes. “Seriously. What’s the deal here? What are we doing?”
“We’re going out for dessert,” he said, getting his cap and coat nicely in place, looking all warm and prepared for the New York winter night. “You’re a big girl, Jennifer. Either you’re coming or not. Make your choice.”
I closed my eyes and let out a good scream, which I knew nobody could hear because of the soundproof walls. With that out of my system I mumbled that I was going to regret this but grabbed my keys to follow him out, with no jacket, no shoes, and no idea where we were going.