This week Laurie Fitzroy is with Jan at the Buck & Flutter, a community theatre he’s founded with Paul Jacob from the Raynes. There’s a little coffee shop and bookstore tucked away at the back, overlooking the gardens where they do outdoor performances in summer. It’s a shabby place and Laurie (being Laurie) wanted to buy it outright and pay to have it fixed up, but Paul persuaded him just to take out a five-year lease and let the kids and volunteers who run it see if they can turn it into a paying concern. Laurie can see it’s a much better idea, but twice a year he puts on a benefit show there with as many huge-name actors as he can persuade to take part, and these days that’s quite a few… But I don’t mean to tell his story for him. Jan, I hope you’re comfortable on the battered sofa with the rainbow-crochet throw. The coffee and tea are excellent. Your question was…
I’d like to ask Laurie if he could ever be persuaded back to Hollywood? Maybe now he’s older and more aware of how bad it can be he could be better prepared?
Laurie: Oh, Lord. The truth is that I have been back since the last time I caught up with you.
It wasn’t a case of temptation, exactly. You know I crashed and burned my career three years ago. I couldn’t get theatre work because I was “that actor” who’d sold out for the big screen and Hollywood, and I couldn’t get film work because I was “that actor” who’d been too posh to darken a studio door before Blood Moon. Yeah, I really nosedived. I deserved it all. I couldn’t kid myself I’d done it all for Sasha’s good when I looked back and saw how my ego and insecurities had come leaping out for a mad waltz the second Douglas Brett offered me the job.
The thing is, I owed Sir Ralf, the theatre director who gave me the part of Romeo before I went nuts and ditched out on him. I really owed him. I liked him a little bit less once I found out how many old boys’ clubs he and my father had had in common, but unlike the Monster of Mayfair, he’s a decent man. Once my face had healed up enough not to scare the kiddies, I got in touch with him again. Sasha had helped me believe it was okay to start again from the bottom, and I knew that was what I should do. Building it up for real this time, you know – not in a great big Hollywood flash. I offered Sir Ralf my services for one season, unpaid, any role he liked.
Well, he took me up on it. With a vengeance, the old sod. He took a bloody-minded delight in using me as an example, a dire warning to any other junior stars who looked like getting too big for their Louboutins. He didn’t even let me on the boards at first – set me to work as a coach and a prompt, with a bit of scene-painting thrown in. Weirdly, I didn’t mind. I’ve always had a knack for getting other actors into the swing of their roles, and it was so bloody peaceful, perched on my stool in the shadows of the wings or splashing paint onto the props. On his “at home” days, when he let groups of RADA students in to have a look around and get the smell and taste of a top-end theatre production, the kids would sometimes escape his eagle gaze and creep up to me to get my autograph, then scuttle off like mice again because they knew I was meant to be in disgrace.
His Romeo and Juliet did brilliantly. The lad I’d knocked back to the role of Mercutio, stepped into the Montague pants with tremendous dignity. I’d like to think I’d be as gracious in the same circumstances: he never once had a pop at me. Look, I was serious when I told Sasha I hadn’t gone as far as rolling the trolley in front of his dressing-room door that time when we were trying out for parts, but I didn’t help the poor guy, either, and his kindness taught me a thing or two about not being so damn cut-throat in pursuit of my ambitions.
It became a kind of in-joke that the great Laurence Fitzroy was working as a gopher for Sir Ralf, and it did me a huge amount of good. Whatever hot air Stefan’s bullet hadn’t taken out of me, that finished the job. I was completely and happily deflated. I wasn’t working all the hours God sent. Sasha and I had time to go over to France to see Tante Elise, time to go and see Clara dance, time to… Well, you know my poor Sash went through the meatgrinder while I was buggering about playing vampires, and we had time to catch up with each other. To see, in the new peace after Stefan’s death, how much we’d changed. This isn’t the right time to go into details – though I promised Harper I’d be more forthcoming when she writes our next book – but I took Sash on a fortnight’s holiday to Sofia, where he was supposed to show me all the scenes of his childhood, but we never really got out of bed.
This is beside the point! How did I end up in Hollywood again? This is a ridiculous story, but true. Sir Ralf did so well with his latest R&J that he was invited to take it on international tour. Broadway first, of course, but then, unusually, on a run up the West Coast as well, and I don’t mean Blackpool and Barrow-in-Furness.
I’m not sure why he dragged me along. At first I thought it was just to ram his point home further still about who was boss, but maybe he had an underlying scheme. This time Sasha came with me without being asked. He wasn’t about to leave me alone to face my Los Angeles demons. He’d made himself so indispensable at his office by that time that no-one argued his request for leave, and I’m not sure I’d have survived that first sight of LAX – so many ghosts, people I’d hurt without meaning to, memories of Libby Palermo and poor Bailey Price – without him by my side. (He didn’t get spot-checked that time, and I managed not to freak out.) So, almost exactly a year since I got my release from the Blood Moon contract, I found myself unpacking properties in the Jacaranda Playhouse, West Hollywood. On our first night, Third Swordsman came down with food poisoning five minutes before he was due on the boards for his fight scene with the Capulet mob. Sir Ralf materialised behind me in the wings, shoved a sword into my hand and practically chucked me onto the stage.
No make up, just my shirt and jeans. Unlike Kenneth’s All’s Well, this production of R&J was full traditional dress. I knew the choreography and lines, of course, just as I know – can’t help knowing – every other part in every other play I’ve ever done. I might have got away with it, if Sasha hadn’t broken character completely from the front row of the circle and greeted my appearance with a yell and a wolf-whistle.
And people began to notice. I carried on with my swordfight like a good Veronese bit-player, but the acoustics are phenomenal in the Jac, and I began to pick up on the whispers sweeping through the audience. When I went down as prescribed to a Capulet thrust through the heart, there was a roaring round of applause, a lot of booing and hissing for my opponent, and then a gale of laughter.
After that, Ralf started throwing me in for stray parts at random, the old devil. He gave me the chance to dress and make up after that first night, and he never admitted to me that a packed house for every performance and queues round the block for cancellations had anything to do with me, despite the hundreds of Blood Moon T-shirts in the crowd.
So much for working my way up slowly again. When we got back to England, apparently he’d tired of the joke, because he very solemnly offered me the lead in his next production – Richard III, where he said my scarred-up face wouldn’t matter. And there I was, out in the limelight again.
Not blinded by it this time, though. Harper will tell the story of my last few months in another book, but let’s just say I did well. I doubt I’ll ever be tempted to the film industry in Hollywood again. I’m no saint: the money was nice, and even as a top-ranking theatre actor, I’ll never see that kind of pay packet again. Things have changed for me inside and outside of work, though, and – well, I could have afforded to buy the Buck outright, if Paul hadn’t stopped me.
I like what money can do. The thing is, though – the thing that’s different with me now – is that Sasha showed me I could do without it. I’m in no hurry to go and starve in a garret, but I have a calm feeling in my heart that – provided he was in the garret with me, feeding the electricity meter with magic coins, making our shared single bed feel like an emperor-size deluxe at the Ritz – I’d be fine.
I’m not sure how far I’ve gone towards answering your question. You’re a very good listener and I seem to have run on about a hundred things you never asked in the first place. I don’t think I’d ever be prepared for Hollywood, no – not the Hollywood of bright lights and broken dreams. Yes, I’m older and wiser, but all that’s made me realise is how much I want to hang on to the life I have…
Speaking of which, I must run. I’ve got an appointment, and I can’t go into details, but it’s with a jeweller, and a ring might be involved, and a discussion of what shade of gold goes best with shadowy olive skin and deep brown eyes… and I’d better leave the rest of that story to Harper, too.
Harper: Yes, I think he really better had. I can’t believe he’s giving spoilers about his own sequel! Hope you enjoyed that, dear Jan. Next week it’s over to Dan and Rayne from The Salisbury Key, and they’ll be talking to Jacquie, who said…
I’d like to meet up with Rayne and Dan from The Salisbury Key. I’d ask them how their adventures turned out and what are they up to nowadays.