The morning after Jennifer’s Body opened, my husband, Dan, and I ate breakfast at a diner advertising ”The Best Omelettes in Burbank.” I couldn’t resist such a plaudit — it was even featured on a sign out front! — and I desperately needed to smother my sorrows in a therapeutic four-egg cholesterol bomb. With potatoes. And toast. And preferably spiked coffee.
You see, Jennifer’s Body, or as I like to call it, ”J-Bod,” was essentially DOA at the box office. And since I both wrote and executive-produced this future (I hope) cult favorite, I wasn’t feeling so grand the next day. In fact, I felt like drawing a hot bath and dragging a razor across my Achilles tendons. Granted, a lot of my favorite movies tanked their first weekend out, but when it’s happening to you, in the moment, well, it stings. You feel your personal stock crash, settling squarely in your gut. You picture an army of studio executives poised to leap from the roof of a Century City high-rise. Your wounded ego throbs like a hangnail. But:
”The weird thing,” I said to Dan over breakfast, ”is that for the first time, I kind of feel like I belong here.”
”What do you mean?” Dan was busy checking out a series of framed, autographed head shots on display in the diner. This ”wall of fame” is a common sight in L.A.-area restaurants.
”Well, now that I’ve had a failure, I actually feel like part of the business. You always hear about the ups and downs in Hollywood. But I haven’t experienced wrenching disappointment until now,” I explained, drenching a piece of toast in butter. ”It’s sort of like chicken pox. It’s supposed to happen to everyone. Besides,” I added, a note of false, desperate optimism in my voice, ”you never know what happens next.”
The owner of the diner spotted us looking at the glossy head shots on the wall. ”They all worked here at some point,” he revealed.
Huh. Sitting there in Burbank, I sensed I was positioned in a hive of ever-changing fortunes. It was a frightening feeling, but also oddly cozy. I was not the first girl to get stung in Hollywood, nor would I be the last.
The following evening, I went to the home of my friend and co-worker Jill Soloway to work on United States of Tara, or as I like to call it, ”U-Sot.” Jill and I had decided to watch the Emmys red carpet while doing a last-minute rewrite on episode 208. Our star, Toni Collette, was wearing a flamingo pink Monique Lhuillier that we’d all oohed and ahhed over on set the prior week. Jill and I were really excited about Toni’s Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy nomination, even though we’d been warned that a different actress was the heavy favorite to win. (It might sound like a platitude, but it really is an honor just to be nominated.) Besides, the dress alone was reason to tune in. I hadn’t showered in days, let alone donned couture, so I wanted to live vicariously through our glamorous lead.
I poured myself the first of many glasses of wine and headed into Jill’s breezy bohemian office. As we eased into the rewrite, I found myself getting lost in the sheer pleasure of creation. It felt good. I’d forgotten that the process is always more enjoyable than the result. Ad-libbing scenes with a friend beats the crap out of suffering through a test screening or paging through reviews. Jill and I took turns ”being” Tara and laughed at jokes that were way too corny to actually wind up in the script. It all felt loose and lovely, in sharp contrast with the tension of opening weekends and awards shows.
Then, defying predictions, it happened: UPSET! Toni won the Emmy. The moment it was announced, I screamed so loudly that I inadvertently terrified Jill’s children. The future of the show, our odd little ”traumatic comedy,” had changed forever, in an instant. When we’d least expected it. And when we’d needed it most. The most insane weekend of my career might have ended on an unlikely up note, but I was now braced for the inevitable dips. It’s all part of the landscape.