One of the quirks of being a full-time pop culture writer is getting invited to media events and having no idea what to expect. Usually you go, see a new movie or show, and then leave. Sometimes there’s a Q & A with the principals, free popcorn, maybe even a cheese plate. Occasionally there are sliders.
This past week we were invited to cover the premiere of Bravo’s new series Dirty John at an event space in Hollywood. I was a big fan of the podcast, a lurid true crime series about a fascinating stalker/sociopath who glommed onto an Orange County family and almost tore it apart. Its central figure, John Meehan, was somehow completely, compellingly insane, yet also with traits recognizable from every scumbag you’ve ever known. He pretended to be a doctor and also a combat vet, mainly to bilk women into paying his way while lounging on the couch playing CounterStrike. He went to a screening of American Sniper with his fiancée and told her “that’s how it was over there.” The show had the fatal attraction element, was a perfect slice of Orange County life, and there was no murder victim at the center of it that you’d have to worry you were exploiting by listening to it. I loved it. I didn’t know how it would translate to a scripted show, but Bravo seemed like a perfect fit.
I should’ve known it was going to be a fancier affair than usual by the “red carpet” part of the invitation, but when you go to screenings almost every day of the week you stop reading these things carefully. I showed up just as Eric Bana was passing in front of the step and retreat, being ogled by photographers. Ah, so it was a real premiere premiere. Bana plays Dirty John, and I do love Eric Bana. His performance as “excited Australian guy who tries to explain Aussie Rules Football to Adam Sandler” in Funny People doesn’t get talked about enough.
The premiere space was a big, modernist warehouse kind of a thing, with a screen at the far end and some white faux leather chairs in front of it. An ocean landscape was being projected onto the side walls, over which was superimposed various words, which would move and change. The word FAMILY in white font transformed into FEAR in black font, as waves crashed behind it. LOVE became LIES. People I didn’t recognize but who carried themselves like celebrities posed in front of the word art, taking pictures for longer than seemed acceptable. All around me mingled famous people in designer t-shirts and unfamous people in suits and cocktail dresses. Was I overdressed or underdressed? The eternal LA question.
With no date and no one I recognized, I did what I usually do at these things: drink the free wine, and awkwardly stand. There was some good people watching. As I was making my way back from the open bar I walked past someone wearing a giant, shiny, leather bomber jacket with “CHATEAU MARMONT” stitched onto the back in ostentatious white lettering. “Oh brother,” I thought to myself, shaking my head. As I continued walking more of the jacket wearer’s face hove into view and I got a pang of familiarity. Those cheekbones… those laugh lines… I know this person. It turned out to be James Franco. (Further research reveals the jacket was made by Gucci, the company who sponsored his art film, Dicknose in Paris).