Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cruz'n For A Brew'zn: An Interview With Penelope Cruz?

Where to begin?

I hadn't heard from (name withheld by request - I will refer to this editor by their initials, which are "J.J.J.") at (name of publication withheld by request) in over six months. When I saw [their] name pop-up on my cell phone, my stomach sank. My last article detailing graft within the the paper's parent company had not gone down very well with the big wigs upstairs, and I had attributed this to the fact that I had not received any writing assignments since.

I feared legal repercussions. Instead, I received what I would later come to comprehend as one of the worst, most perplexing writing assignments I had ever been tasked with in over 15 years as a freelance journalist.

"Anthony, my boy," J.J.J. said in what can best be described as a jubilant tone (which, for this ever-frustrated and easily irritated editor is a rarity indeed). "Do I have an exclusive for you!"

As my bowels slowly began to ease, my apprehension took hold. "Oh, yeah...? I haven't heard from you in a while [J.J.J.]. Now all of a sudden here you are with an assignment?"

"Water under the bridge," J.J.J. said, [their] ever-present cigar audibly mashing between [their] teeth. "Under. The. Bridge."

I didn't say anything, for effect.

"Look, do you want the work or not?" he barked smoothly. "I haven't seen your name on a byline in a while."

J.J.J. was right. It had been a while. The last piece I wrote was snarky bit about 50 Shades of Grey (sigh) for a local alt. weekly with a readership tighter than a Brooklyn transplant's jeans. I needed the work, if for anything to fill-in the gaps on my resume. 

(Also, if I may be completely honest with both you and myself, I needed the cash. And if I'm taking assignments from J.J.J., then you know I'm desperate.)

"Okay [J.J.J.]," I said, smugly. "Whaddya you have for me?"

"How would you like to interview Penelope Cruz?" J.J.J. said with [their] usual gruffness.

"Penelope Cruz, the actress?" I asked in disbelief.

"No," J.J.J. snapped back. "Penelope Cruz, the garbage collector! Of course it's the actress Penelope Cruz!!!"

"Hell, yeah!" I returned, barely hiding my giddiness. "I'm in!"

"Great! Can you get to the [name of airport withheld by request] by 3pm?" Typical J.J.J. It was already 2:30pm.

Thankfully I was already dressed in a sports coat and pressed pants from a job interview earlier in the day (though, I didn't have time to put my tie back on). I grabbed my shoulder bag and shoved my notebook, computer and pens into it. Unable to locate my digital recorder, I settled on simply using my cell phone's recording function as my recording device, instead. "I'm leaving now."

"Fantastic!" J.J.J. wheezed.

"Hey [J.J.J.]," I paused, cell phone crooked between my shoulder and ear. "What's she promoting?"

"That's what you're going to find out, hotshot!"  "Hanger 18. Go get her!" [they] said before abruptly hanging up the phone.

I jumped in my Tercel and lead-footed it down to the airfield. 

Arriving at Hanger 18, I found Ms. Cruz's public relations liaison, Angela Havelock waiting for my in front of a private jet, engines whirling and ready to go.  She was flanked by two very large, very menacing bodyguards in matching black suits.

"Mr. King?" Angela greeted me with a manufactured smile, my reflection staring back at me sheepishly in her impenetrably thick and expensive-looking sunglasses. Her pail face was framed by a blonde bob haircut grown longish. 

"Yes," I said.

She wore a black-as-night short sleeve top and matching ankle-length skirt. Her shoes, also black, were of an unknown manufacturer to me, but I could tell that they easily cost more than the monthly rent on my studio apartment. In shaking my hand, I immediately noticed that hers was ice cold.

"Glad you could make it," Angela said, ushering me into the pristine private jet which reeked of new plane smell. "My employer has much to discuss with you. We're hoping for a favorable interview."

"As am I," I concurred. "What does Ms. Cruz want to discuss?"

"You'll find out when we get there," Angela said, cryptically.

"Okay, so, where are we off to, then?" I asked, as we both took our seats.

"I'm afraid my employer's current whereabouts are strictly confidential," Angela informed me, removing her sunglasses. "I can't tell you precisely where we are flying to. It's for her protection, you see."

"Protection from what?" I asked.

"I'm afraid I can't divulge that information." Then, Angela leaned forward and said in a hushed tone, "Let's just say that my employer has had some ...extremely enamored admirers."

I imagine she would. A star of Ms. Cruz's caliber and beauty must have amassed legions of whackadoo fans over the years. But this level of secrecy and security bordered on the absurd. 

As I buckled my seat belt, one of the bodyguards yanked my shoulder bag out of my lap. He took the seat across from me and began rifling through the bag's meager contents. 

"Just a precaution," Angela assured me. "I'm sure you understand."

I did, and I didn't.

As soon as he was done perusing my bag, the bodyguard thrust it back into my chest. "It's clean," he said in a flat, blunt tone.

What had J.J.J. gotten me into? Was this some sort of revenge scenario [they] had been cooking up for the last six months?

The flight took less than two hours by my estimation (I couldn't tell for certain, as my watch - as well as my cell phone and shoelaces - had been confiscated by one of the bodyguards before we took off). Nobody spoke while we were in the air, despite my numerous and awkward attempts to ask Angela questions (she simply ignored me while conducting business furiously on her iPad), or trying make light chitchat with the stone-faced bodyguards. So I busied myself with the best "who," "what," "why," "where," "when," and "how" questions I could concoct as if I had the foggiest notion as to what any of this was all about.

We landed at an airfield that looked nearly identical to the one we departed from. As we got up to exit the plane, the pilot emerged from the cockpit with a warm smile (a welcome sight, given the company). 

"Welcome to... " began the svelte, middle-aged aviator. He wore his salt and pepper mustache neat and trimmed. His feather grey hair tousled ever so slightly by the gentle wind coming from... from... which direction was it? I wasn't exactly sure.

No sooner had he started his sentence than he was quickly cut-off by Angela, her pursed ruby red lips elongated back as if the ends were trying to touch each of her ears. Wide-eyed, she made a series of slashing motions with the flat of her hand which barely grazed her neck. "Shht! Shht!"

The pilot look sheepishly at the floor, like a middle-aged child who just got in trouble.

As we made our way down the stairs, we were greeted by three more black-suited bodyguards surrounding a black Cadillac Escalade with black-tinted windows. Angela's assistant, Melody, emerged from the back seat. 

Melody was about 22 or 23, petite, with cat-eyed glasses. Her hair was tied back into a perfect, no-strand-of-hair-out-of-place bun. As became apparent by her body language (and the way she curled herself around her tablet computer), Melody was easily fearful of her boss.

"How was your flight?" Melody meekly asked Angela.

"None of your business," Angela sniped back. "Mr. King, this is my assistant, Melody. Melody? Mr. King."

Before we had a chance to greet one another, Angela was onto business. They walked and talked rapidly from the plane to the car.

"Did you get the revised schedule I sent you?" 

"Yes. The changes have been made."

"Good. Emails?"

"Yes. I personally responded to all of them this morning?"

"Okay. Scripts?"

"Outlined and noted, with tabs on all of her pages of dialogue..."

"No, Melody. Prescriptions!"

"Oh. Yes. They are on the counter of the master bath, right next to the sink."

"Good. Good."

One of the bodyguards opened the passenger-side door of the Escalade, which is where I assumed I was to sit. As I began to enter, the guard flat-palmed me with one hand to the chest, pinning against the side of the car. With eye's wild, he began reaching around to his back for ...something. A weapon, perhaps?

Incredulous, Angela waved him off. "I sit up front, Mr. King," Angela informed me. "You'll sit in back with Doug and Caesar. And I must insist you wear this during the car ride."

No sooner had she extended her left hand then Melody placed a black satin hood into it. 

I laughed this off. "Are you serious?"

She peered into my eyes and said, "Quite."

I took the hood and got into the back seat of the immaculately clean SUV. Two bodyguards sat on either side of me. The driver sat eerily still, looking forward out the window.

As Angela took her seat up front, she closed the door and rolled the window down. "Good work," she said to Melody in a tone that denoted she could barely believe the girl could handle such responsibilities. Turning her attention to her iPad, Angela then remembered one more piece of business that required immediate attention.

"Oh, and Melody?"


"The pilot. Fire him!"

Before the SUV sped off - and the black satin hood was taken out of my hands and placed over my head by one of the bodyguards - I could see Melody turn to the plane were the pilot was, and then back to her employer with sad, yet determined eyes.

The car ride took forever. Under the black satin hood, not only could I not see out, but I couldn't breathe very well, either. And despite the A/C being turned up seemingly full blast, I was sweating like a pig. Or at least my head was. The rest of my body was - despite being sandwiched between two very large men made of completely of muscle and testosterone -  quite cold.

Realizing I may very well be in this situation for God knows how long, I laid my head against the headrest and promptly fell asleep. 

I'm not entirely sure how long I was asleep, or even how long we had been driving, but I awoke from my slumber to hear the familiar metallic clink-clunk of the SUV rolling over one of those tire-shredding deterrents most common in metropolitan parking garages. Just as I was shaking off my sleep-induced grogginess while trying to get my bearings, one of the bodyguards ripped the black satin hood off my head, taking several strands of my hair with it.

"You snore when you sleep," Angela informed me. "Loudly."

I was led out of the SUV only to discover that we were indeed inside a slate grey underground parking garage. Angela was already at the elevator waiting for it to arrive as I stumbled over to her, still groggy.

"You might consider adjusting your yourself," she said. I did the best I could.

There was no reason the elevator ride should have been any different from the plane ride and the car ride, as the four of us (Angela, the two bodyguards and myself) rode up to the 36th floor. Given the faux-art nouveau decorative nature of the elevator, I surmised that I must be in some sort of contemporary office or apartment building. The number pad and floor indicator were both gleaming new with their blue-on-black digital displays cased in brushed steel. Oddly enough, however, the elevator didn't feel as if it were actually moving up, but rather gently swaying side-to-side.

As we reached the 36th floor, the doors opened to a large living room where several very photogenic mid-to-late twenty something men and women were standing around, engaging in conversation. A jazzy, David Lynch-ian tune hovered over the din. 

The oddest thing about this scene, however, was that the place was lit like a sitcom or television commercial. It sounds crazy, but this place felt didn't feel like an real life apartment, but more like a sound stage.

Angela lead me to the middle of the room and positioned me in front of a set of closed double doors, where yet another black clad security guard was standing sentry. Angela walked past the guard and into the room. As I waited, I could feel the guard sizing me up and imagining various scenarios in which he'd enjoy dispatching me. 

Angela soon emerged from the room, swinging opening both doors in a wildly dramatic fashion. "You have three questions," Angela informed me, curtly.  

At this point I should have been stupefied. I was dragged however many miles on a private jet to ask world-renowned actress Penelope Cruz only three questions? Well, I would have been had it not been for the alarming realization that I must have left my shoulder bag in the SUV. Still, I was  confident I could wing this interview. i just needed to make my three questions count.

Against a huge picture window stood the actress, looking out onto the skyline of whatever city we were supposed to be in (in fact, the skyline didn't look quite real, but rather like an almost convincingly painted backdrop). Ms. Cruz was dressed in a smart, form-fitting cream-colored dress accented with a thin black belt. She was, quite frankly, radiant.

As soon as I walked in, she turned around and asked, "Coffee or espresso?"

"Oh, coffee, please" I said graciously, taking a seat on a brown couch in the middle of the room. I could feel Angela pacing behind me, crossing her arms in an needlessly aggressive fashion.

Ms. Cruz meanwhile was placing a plastic pod filled with some coffee-like concoction or another into a very fancy and futuristic-looking coffee maker. It only took a matter of seconds, but out came two cups of frothy brown coffee, which the actress delivered to my personally. Of the two cups of coffee, she handed me the slightly larger one. 

For a woman who seemingly surrounds herself with an aggressively rude staff, Ms. Cruz was the absolute picture of charm and grace.

As Ms. Cruz took a seat in a chair opposite the couch, Angela chimed in bluntly with, "Remember, I said three questions!" Perhaps it's Angela who should be concerned with her memory, as she just gave me these instructions 13 seconds ago.

The coffee was good. Perhaps a bit too sweat for my tastes, but good, nonetheless. I figured I'd use this as an in to ask lightheartedly, "Is this coffee?" I even went so far as to give my inquiry a nebbishy lilt. I like to put my interviewees at ease with seemingly innocuous questions first.

Ms. Cruz smiled and said, "it's Nespresso Vertuoline."

"How do they make the froth?" I asked, looking at my cup as it it were a laboratory experiment in a jar I was absolutely astounded by.

"It's coffee crema," she said confidently, as if that was a thing; a well known thing.

Before I even had a chance to inquire about this so-called "coffee crema" ingredient, Angela butted-in again: "Last question!"

This time my indignation at Angela's rudeness could not be contained, as I found found myself almost involuntarily turning around to give her a "the fuck's your problem?!?" scowl.

I needed to buy more time with Ms. Cruz, if for no other reason than to figure out just why the hell I was here on assignment in the first place. I didn't fly all this way and and endure her raft of well-dressed miscreant flunkies in order to not get the story I was sent here to write (whatever it may have been). So I played the only card I had left:

"May I have another cup, please?"

"Thank you," Angela said in a brash, snotty tone. "Next!"

Next?!? Huh??? Just how many reporters did they fly in to get this mysterious story, anyway?

As I left, Ms. Cruz held her coffee cup up to her chin, smiling while holding a spoon through the brownish froth. She sat motionless in that position as I was escorted out of the room by a bodyguard.

Next thing you you know, I'm whisked back into the SUV, then the private jet going back home. And that was that.

Needless to say, when relaying this story to J.J.J., a series of creatively crafted expletives were hurled my way. I think it's safe to say that this may be the last piece of reporting you see from me here in the pages of (name of publication withheld by request). Well, at least I got a cup of frothy coffee out of it.

Below is a dramatic reenactment of my interview with Penelope Cruz, starring noted Cruz look alike Francesca Fiore