But he and Cassavetes grew so close, Cassavetes says, that Hollywood told him how he helped his son escape the U.S. (Jack Hollywood denies this.) At the time, Jesse Hollywood was secretly living in a tiny beach town outside Rio de Janeiro.
Cassavetes would offer details strictly hypothetically. Jesse Hollywood, he said, may have stayed in a safe house for six weeks after the murder, and then may have been driven to Washington where he may have taken a boat to Canada. Later, Jesse may have grown frustrated with his handlers and used fake identification to fly to Mexico, then Brazil.
The director says that in some ways, Jack's choices aren't too far from his own.
"If it were my kid and he were facing the death penalty, I might just grab him and get him out of the country," he says. "I think it speaks to the very essence of right and wrong and love. It's what makes the story interesting."
Parents still in pain
CASSAVETES' dramatic memorial to her son has so far brought no comfort to Susan Markowitz (played by Sharon Stone in the film), who by her own count has attempted suicide 13 times since her son's death. She has scheduled half a dozen private screenings of the movie and canceled every one. Still, she says, she will see the movie.
"I'm sure it's going to freshen the pain," she said, "but it's like another step." Unlike Jack Hollywood, she and her husband Jeffrey weren't hired as consultants because they'd already sold the rights to their story to a TV producer who never used it. Over the years, Susan has dutifully attended the seven trials in her son's case, often carrying his leather jacket to court. Nick would have been 22 years old by now, and Susan still sees him everywhere, in grocery aisles, in the light through the trees, in the empty cereal bowls in her sink. His case ends with Jesse's trial and it's bittersweet for her.
"I'm kind of afraid of the ending because that's when I'm really going to have to accept it," said Susan. "Right now, it's unfinished business."
For Jack Hollywood, bitterness and desperation manifest differently. As he recounts the last years, he sounds tired of the scrutiny. He recently served 18 months in an Arizona prison for attempting to buy marijuana and was found with the ingredients and recipe to make the date-rape drug GHB. He was released in September. Now he's biding his time in Flagstaff, Ariz., waiting to have his parole transferred to California. He visits his son every few weeks, speaking to him through a glass wall.
Hollywood says the film glamorizes his son's lifestyle to an absurd degree.
"My son lived in a 1,200-square-foot house in a lower middle-class neighborhood," he says. "In the movie, he lives in some mansion in Palm Springs. I thought, you know, it's Hollywood. So they make it pretty glamorous. And they kind of blew it out of proportion to make him look like he was a real kingpin."
In reality, he says, his son was "just under a lot of pressure."
"I don't think that the story that they tell is true at all," he adds. "I'm sure when it gets to trial people will see that."
Despite the legal headache and controversy, Cassavetes says he isn't worried that his movie will jeopardize Hollywood's chances of a fair trial. How could it, he asks, when each side believes the film benefits the other?
"A story like this makes your judgment glands start secreting all kinds of stuff," he says. "You start judging all over the place. And what I tried to do was just calm myself and say, 'Nick, if you're going to do this, just tell the story and let the audience judge how they want to judge.' "