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Essay

Los Angeles Adaptation

December 01, 2002|Andrew Rice | Andrew Rice last wrote for the magazine about cycles of budget austerity at Hollywood studios.

Most of my Los Angeles friends are wary of Hollywood's influence on their lives, fearing the distortion of its celebrity and money. My wife, Lisa, and I feel the same way.

One day the telephone rang. It was a location agent. She said Spike Jonze wanted to rent our apartment for his new film, "Adaptation," starring Meryl Streep and Nicolas Cage, which opens this week. "Adaptation" is twisted and quirky, like Jonze's surprise hit "Being John Malkovich," in which people slide through a portal to spy on John Malkovich from the point of view of his own brain.

In "Adaptation," Streep is a writer who lives in a New York apartment. In real life, Lisa and I live in a big, airy 1930s Koreatown apartment with high ceilings, hardwood floors and French doors. If you squint and ignore the palm trees across the street, you could be in a swanky New York pied-a-terre. Our place offers New York without leaving 213.

The studio was offering a lot of money--equal to more than a year of our rent--to use the place for just 14 days. The moviemakers promised that our personal possessions would be treated like sacred relics and stored before the place was completely redecorated. Afterward, the apartment would be returned to our place--original paint and all.

On the other hand, it would mean turning over our home to people we'd never met, which tweaked our vulnerability: We thought about all the things we hoped nobody would ever see, the secrets, whether dark or banal, that are somehow reflected in our home. It would also mean moving into a friend's place for a while.

Despite our misgivings, we agreed. The night before shooting began, Lisa and I returned to have a look. We turned the key, opened the door and gasped. It looked stunning. We take pride in our taste and our belongings, but we now felt like the Beverly Hillbillies. Every elegant detail was a repudiation of our daily life. The cream-colored walls were painted chocolate brown and hung with elegant gold drapes in place of our dusty blinds. An eclectic mix of modern and antique furniture filled every angle in the place without making it seem crowded. A Picasso looked great in the corner, and a dining table was set with white linens and nice china. This was our home, and it looked a million times better.

Lisa and I are writers. The office in our apartment is typically messy and spartan. It was now a fantasy writer's office, the kind every writer longs for and which no one we know has, including the rich and famous. A Mies van der Rohe chair held down the corner of a plush rug. The only realistic detail was the desk clutter of reference texts, bills, legal papers, computer software, notepads, letters and so on.

Hundreds of books lined ornate wooden bookshelves. Strange, I noticed. We owned the same books. My gaze jumped back to the desk. Oh, no. Mixed in with the prop books and papers were dozens of personal documents. The business contracts, financial records and personal correspondence we'd packed away to be safely stored were scattered everywhere. A more thorough search turned up my baby book, credit card receipts, papers from my therapist, a family photo album and our complete set of computer backup discs. We fanned out through the apartment. More of our books--and lamps and art and bedding.

We'd been Malkoviched.

I showed up on set the next morning to raise hell. Outside, I found the site rep, the person responsible for safeguarding our things, and was just starting to lay into him when a woman shuffled up the sidewalk in slippers and a bathrobe. She turned up my front steps, looked me right in the eye and said, "Hi."

"Hi," I said back. She looked familiar.

The site rep made the introduction: "Mrs. Streep, this is Andrew. This is his apartment."

I muttered something about it being great to meet her.

"Thanks," she said. "They're calling my scene." She turned up the staircase.

The last time I watched the Academy Awards, Sean Connery still had his hair. My usual reaction to seeing a famous person up close is to marvel at how short they are. But there was something about Meryl Streep walking into my house in a fuzzy bathrobe and slippers that let the air out of my anger. I even forgave her right then and there for "The River Wild," which says something about the distortion field of celebrity.

The production company paid extra money to help us forgive the use of our belongings. We took it but, even so, swore that we'd never rent out our place again.

Months later, two weeks before our baby was due, the makers of Zima beverages asked if they could rent our place to shoot a commercial. The money offered would more than cover the medical costs of delivering the baby. We looked long and hard at our calendar, counting back the days from the baby's due date, and stayed at a friend's house near the beach while Zima painted our house pink and yellow for two days.

This Friday, we'll be standing in line to see "Adaptation," waiting like proud parents for our apartment's feature film debut. Location scouts drop by every couple weeks to check the place out. Recently, "The Division," a Lifetime network show, filmed a murder scene in our kitchen and painted the office purple. We're not picky.

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