Friday, April 27, 2018

Robert Evans

Robert Evans, Toronto, Sept. 2004

MY VERY BRIEF SHOOT WITH LEGENDARY HOLLYWOOD PRODUCER ROBERT EVANS was probably the strangest celebrity encounter of my whole career. This isn't admittedly saying much - I spend at most ten or fifteen minutes with any celebrity portrait subject; you would have to be a pretty overweening egomaniac to turn a dozen minutes with a stranger into some kind of drama.

For any movie fan, Evans' reputation preceded him. Even if you squint and ignore his personal history, he was the man without whom the Godfather films and Chinatown would never have been made. Any time spent with either the book or movie versions of The Kid Stays In The Picture will fill in the rest of his very Hollywood story, and I was pretty excited when I was told that I'd be taking his portrait.

I had been shooting in rooms at the old Four Seasons in Yorkville for years, but I'm sure this was the first time either I or Chris Atchison, the writer for the free daily and my constant companion during the film festival, had ever been in one of the penthouse suites. We arrived punctually, and as soon as we walked through the door I was blundered into by then-Hollywood hotshot (and recent #MeToo culprit) Brett Ratner, who neither apologized nor acknowledged my existence.

Trailing his entourage, Ratner bellowed out to Evans that they'd hang later as he left the suite, leaving Chris and I to make our introductions to the legendary producer. Evans was a striking man, dressed in velvet pants and a pair of those slipper-like loafers with some sort of heraldic shield embroidered on them in metallic thread. He wore a turtleneck sweater that was obviously woven from the softest wool you could obtain from the belly of a cashmere goat, and had a bolo tie around his neck. (Chris learned later that the bolo was made from the waist chain of a belly dancer who would later become the wife of Evans' pal, Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash.)

Robert Evans, Toronto, Sept. 2004

But what I couldn't help but notice was his tan, which burnished his skin to a tone that put me in mind of some well-polished antique furniture made of a now-endangered hardwood. I wondered if my new digital camera would be up to reproducing such an unusual skin tone, the likes of which I had never seen before in person.

It was agreed that I'd take the photos after the interview, so while Chris sat down with Evans on one of the big couches in the sunken living room of the suite, I wandered around looking for a nice spot of light. I noticed that every table in the room was piled high with stuff; it looked like Evans had been holed up here for weeks, perhaps months, and hadn't just breezed into town for the film festival.

There was a pile of his book, The Kid Stays In The Picture, next to stacks of screenplays and movie industry trade publications. There were also big piles of DVDs and videocassette tapes, which ran the gamut from VHS movies and screeners, big 3/4" tape cartridges with typewritten labels from editing suites and duplicating houses. and pornography. Lots of pornography.

Over on the couch, Chris' interview had taken a very strange turn. I can't remember his first question, but Evans had ignored whatever subject Chris had hoped to hear about and had embarked on a very long story about sitting in a Manhattan diner late one evening with JFK, then just a senator, and a master plan for education he had talked about with the future president. There was no indication that Evans had any intention of answering Chris' question, so he motioned to me to start taking shots while Evans was talking. This was not going well.

Robert Evans, Toronto, Sept. 2004

Suddenly aware of my camera, Evans began pausing his story to pose for me, at which point I'm sure Chris knew that, while I might not get the portraits I'd been hoping for, he was definitely not going to leave the suite with a printable interview. I can't remember whether it was Evans or his assistant who cut things short abruptly, noting that the doctor had arrived.

Sure enough, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a man entering the room who looked exactly like Hollywood's archetypical physician to the rich and famous: A luxurious head of hair and an open-necked shirt, a buttery soft suede bomber jacket, pressed chinos and a big leather doctor's bag, the sort I hadn't ever seen outside of the movies. He was directed towards the bedroom while Evans and his assistant asked if Chris was available to come back the next day to finish his interview. While he talked, Evans walked toward the open bedroom door, his thumbs hooked into the waistband of his velvet trousers, which he began pulling down over his narrow buttocks.

"I've got to get my shot!" he shouted back to us, cheerfully.

A brief moment later Chris and I were standing back outside the closed door of the suite, open-mouthed and speechless. "Did that actually just happen?" we said, before we started recapping the last ten minutes for each other while we waited for the elevator.

The doors opened while we babbled, and among the half dozen people standing inside the elevator were actor Paul Giamatti, who asked us what we were talking about. We told him who we'd just met.

"Evans! Really? Oh my God tell me what happened!"

And so we started the whole story again - Ratner, the velvet pants and the bolo tie, JFK and Dr. Feelgood with his bag. Giamatti and everyone else in the elevator got caught up in the aftermath of our giddy celebrity-induced blubbering, as eager as we were for every little detail confirming that Evans really lived the outlandish life we all imagined he did. Chris showed up the next day for another brief interview with Evans that just barely answered any of his questions, while I got these photos and a story that I've dined out on countless times.

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