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Partial Creation of "Fetish" with Joan Collins by Charles Casillo

It was 1 am on a frigid February morning and Joan Collins’ boots were getting a haircut. We were supposed to shoot the outdoor scene earlier in the day but because of the non-stop snowstorm, filming kept being delayed. A team of crew members continuously shoveled the balcony and tried to keep the ground dry–all the better to keep legendary goddess from being electrocuted while shooting. As the snow fell and the city came to a halt, the lights were being set up by the grips and electrical department and Joan’s big furry boots were being trimmed by wardrobe department–and hair and makeup.

The movie we were shooting was “Fetish,” a short, very dark comedy about an iconic movie star–drug addled and plagued by tawdry headlines–trying to make a comeback on a late night talk show. Joan was playing the “star,” Francesca Vonn and I played the eccentric talk show host, Darius Russi.

Because we all have our own private impressions, dreams, misconceptions and ideas of what she is like, there is something I want to tell you about Joan Collins. She is probably a little bit of everything you imagine her to be. I suppose she is many different things to many different people. She has been a star for decades and she comes from the era when stars were STARS for good reason. Talent. Beauty. Personality. And that special somethingness that average people just don’t have. I mean, starred in dozens of movies and plays. She met Marilyn Monroe. Dated Warren Beatty. Acted opposite Paul Newman. And made television history by becoming one of the most indelible soap opera vixens before or since her indelible role as Alexis on “Dynasty.”

Yet the strongest impression she made on me during the making of “Fetish” is that of a hardworking actress. I think that most people working with her for the first time would expect a “diva” ( a word she detests), making demands and worrying only about the way she looks. Not true! Joan really was interested in the character of Francesca Vonn and wanted to make her as real as possible. When the director, Matt Pellowski, suggested that what celebrities are like in their public persona–movies and on television–bears little resemblance to what they are like in real life, Joan embraced the idea for the character wholeheartedly. “Francesca” appears in her full celebrity glory in the opening “talk show” scene. Glamour, beauty, humor, charisma. But as the night goes on, the character gradually becomes less fabulous, more ordinary, as she leaves the studio and heads back to the host’s apartment–slowly revealing her vulnerabilities.

You would think Joan would be hyper-conscious of being ultra-glamorous. Actually she was much more interested in “becoming” the character. Instead of wearing the two knock-out gowns Mark Zunino (designer to the stars) had created for Joan to wear in the movie, she decided to wear only the red stunner in the opening scene, opting for a much more simple black outfit–from her own closet, I believe–for the scenes that took place out of the show-businessy television studio.

Matt added to the drabness of “real life” by using the desaturation of color process in post production, draining the color and life out of everything, giving a bluish, almost corpse-like pallor to the characters so that they look even more grim.

As a writer it’s a tremendous joy to see a character brought to life. Watching Joan bring layers to Francesca Vonn was incredibly exciting. Here is a woman who knows what to do in front of a camera. She’d always incorporate something surprising–and it really comes across and works when you watch her subtle actions in the rushes.

“Fetish” was a difficult shoot. We were filming a lot of pages of dialogue a day–always out of sequence. Shooting out of sequence is normal in movie making but it usually is shot out of sequence scene by scene. We were confusingly shooting out of sequence moment to moment. Joan always gave it her all.

Sometimes I sat alone with her in her dressing room running lines. But, let’s face it, she can’t help it: when you’re Joan Collins you carry that fantastic history around with you like an aura of perfume. Sometimes you can’t help but be intimidated. And no matter what is done in post production, you just aren’t going to make Joan Collins ordinary. She has that beautiful bone structure–the seductive eyes–the kind of face that Hollywood turned out in its heyday.
The hours dragged on, the snow kept falling at a steady, heavy pace. Joan was holed up in her dressing room. My dressing room was a few hung blankets squaring off a five by five area–where I could change, have my hair and makeup done, and stare at the “walls,” with my anxiety building. Oh, would it ever stop snowing! I was growing more and more tense. I broke out in hives and Ann Marie DeMauro, my wonderful makeup artist, kept having to use kleenex to absorb my sweat and her makeup spray gun to cover up the welts on my neck. Then she would leave my tent and I’d stare at the walls some more. When I ventured out of my haven, I was in a panic induced stupor. And I was mean! Snapping at people and growling and then going sullen and silent–a big baby. The crew members sitting around took note. “What’s wrong with him?” somebody asked.

“Here,” Ann Marie said, positioning a giant hand-mirror in front of my face. “I know how to cheer him up–his reflection.” Hrmph! I resented the implication. But, weirdly, she was right. “My handsome prince,” she said. I brightened immediately.

“I think you made the rash on his neck go away,” Kelvin Dale, the executive producer said.

Suddenly, Joan came out of her dressing room and sat around with the makeup artists and some of the interns and the rest of us who weren’t setting up outside. Ann Marie began talking about “Dynasty.”

“Everyone wanted to look like you,” Ann Marie said. “I remember we all used the ‘beer can’ rollers to get our hair that way.”

I said: “The day after a new Dynasty episode everyone was talking about you. You were the ONLY female star on television.”

“Oh, there were some others…” Joan said.

“No!” some Joan zealot’s shouted in unison. “Not as big as you!”

“I remember there was a contest,” Neal our cinematographer chimed in, “a man was offered a choice between a million dollars or a date with Joan Collins.”

“I remember that!” Joan said.

The crowd around Joan started to grow and everyone contributed their favorite Joan Collins memory. Some of the crew were only in their 20s and had only heard rumors of Joan’s glamour and beauty. Now they experienced it first hand. The snow was letting up. “I can’t believe I have to deliver that long monologue at this hour.” Joan said. Yet, even though we had all be working long hours there was a genuinely warm feeling as we waited to be called to the set.
At last the phrase, “We’re ready for Joan and Charles” went down an assembly line of walkie-talkies, finally reaching us.
At last, in the middle of the night, we were ready to go out on to the balcony where Joan would deliver a long speech. We took our places. It was about 13 degrees outside–with a frigid wind blowing. In the scene, Joan enters the balcony first–without a coat–and I follow and place a fur around her shoulders. Which means she stood on the balcony for a long time without wearing a coat. Since her feet wouldn’t be in the shot at least she was able to wear her furry boots–fashionable and newly groomed.

“Action” Matt said.

Joan, as Francesca, looked out over the city. I, as Darius, came up from behind and put the coat on her. Then we said the lines for the first time in front of a camera.

“This coat kept Marilyn warm on chilly Manhattan nights,” Darius says.

“Is she your favorite star–Marilyn?” Francesca asks him.

“No,” he says.

“Who is?” she asks.

“You.”

CUT!

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