Author Gigi Levangie Grazer captures the heart and soul of the trivial and superficial atmosphere that is Tinseltown
May 31 Debra Messing stars in the USA television event, The Starter Wife. This is taken from the book written by Gigi Levangie Grazer, the wife of filmmaker Brian Grazer. Ms. Levangie Grazer captures the heart and soul of the trivial and superficial atmosphere that is Hollywood.
Messing plays Molly Kagen, the faithful wife of a Hollywood studio boss who suddenly finds herself having to start her life over when her husband out of the blue announces he wants a divorce. One minute Molly is a popular woman in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, and the next she is shunned by almost everyone. If you're not the current wife of a big executive, then you have no currency in the Hollywood scene. No one wants to be associated with her and she is almost forced to leave her home and spend the summer at a friend's house in Malibu, where she can contemplate her situation and figure out what to do with the rest of her life.
Malibu is not too different from Beverly Hills, and Molly finds she is still not appreciated or wanted at the local events. She cannot even get a table for lunch at a popular restaurant, until a friend (Joe Mantegna), himself a big Hollywood exec, insists she and her daughter join him at his table. Once she is seen in his company, lips flap and she is suddenly popular once again. In this world of superficiality, it's not what you know or even who you know, but who you are with at any one time. Never mind all the people and things that came before, if you're not on the arm of a big player in the business, you are nothing. But Molly has her eye on someone else.
When Ms. Grazer is asked how this story came to be she replies, "Well, what put it in my mind in the first place - I live on the west side of Los Angeles. And if you can't find a novel on any given block, then something is wrong. I'm sort of an outsider in an inside world. I have the gift of observing people and sort of taking notes. And one day, I was walking down the beach in Malibu and I saw this woman in her 50s. She had been dumped recently by a big movie star, and she was speaking to this man whom I knew very well and who happens to be homeless. But he walks around the beach in his orange beach shorts. He's fabulous-looking. You know, you couldn't do better. He's age-appropriate in his 50s, got a beard. And she was flirting with him, and I thought, 'give it to me, that's a novel.'"
In the miniseries, Molly is attracted to a homeless man. That is another reason for tongues to wag after she is seen kissing him on the beach. Gossip runs rampant.
Between the Hollywood cliques, rehab, and all the gossip, this is a film that brings out all of the aspects of the movie industry and Southern California, with all the big cars, plastic surgery, and inflated egos.
Messing says the story rang true to her when she read the script and she knows women who have been in the situation of being a "starter wife." "Well, I encounter them every single day in Los Angeles. It's a community filled with people who are somehow connected to the industry and there are high expectations for the wives of the power brokers, and there is a kind of look to the starter wife. There's the polished hair and the beautiful nails and the designer clothing and the white teeth and the, you know, very trim body."
She says the script was what really sold her on the movie. "I read this script and I thought it was so smart and funny and a little subversive and accessible, universally accessible even though it really does focus on a limited community, a subset of Hollywood."
Joe Mantegna adds to the conversation, "I've used a lot of words for women in my life but 'starter' and 'trophy' were never two that I used but -- I mean it's -- you know, it's funny because we use those terms, 'starter' and 'trophy.' Those would be in the Hollywood dictionary. And I mean that's what's intriguing about this book, this screenplay, because it's a world that has its own language and its own characters and all of that. I mean I think the public-at-large has always been intrigued by this world of Hollywood. God only knows if there's any more shows, you know, on at 7 o'clock called 'Extra,' 'Access,' 'E!,' any more magazines like 'People,' all that kind of stuff. The world seems so fascinated about what these people do to the point where people are building careers over making movies that when I was a kid these were the movies that you, like, you know, snuck in to see, you know, these X-rated kind of movies and stuff. People are making home movies of that and building careers on that. This is where this industry has gone. So you talk about 'starter' and 'trophy,' those are like Donald Duck terms now. That's cartoon stuff."
He admits that the script/book is based on life in Hollywood. "It absolutely rings true. It rings true in this world of Hollywood, which probably is a perfect microcosm for the rest of the world, and maybe that's why I find it so fascinating. The difference being is our world is under that microscope that everybody sees every day, and everybody knows the names of the players in the game. So everybody can see those same names and say 'Oh, did you see who so and so is going with?' as if they care, as if people really should generally care who married who and who screwed who or who did whatever to whoever where all of this stuff actually, of course, is going on in real life as well. But it seems to be much more fascinating to see it being done by these players on this stage called Hollywood." He adds with a big grin, "I've been [with] my starter wife for 32 years."
An interesting fact to note - this mini-series was not filmed in Malibu, but in Australia. Although it has the look and feel of Malibu, California, it is really Queensland, Australia, about which Messing says, "I think one of the funnier moments of shooting was we were shooting the gatehouse entering the Malibu colony (which they recreated), and it's a wonderful location. It looks exactly like the Malibu gatehouse. And we were shooting the scene, and all of a sudden a kangaroo just started to just hop right across the Malibu road. And I was like, 'Okay. That's not going to fly. People are not going to believe there is a kangaroo in Malibu.'" She smiles and adds, "So we had to cut while this whole family of kangaroos hopped by, which was kind of wonderful."
The Starter Wife premieres Thursday May 31 on the USA network.
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