This is the third installment of the series, “The 12 Days of the Tilley-Blandin Coronavirus Christmas.” More stories about the Tilley-Blandin family universe can be found here.
Charlize Theron woke up with a start in a strange bed. Somewhere, she could not identify precisely where, her two children were wreaking the indeterminate kind of havoc that can only occur in strangers’ homes. Charlize had been sleeping in the bed her erstwhile boyfriend Hopper had last graced as a teenager. She was covered in a comforter featuring the band U2. The comforter smelled vaguely like stale boy.
Charlize was hiding out in Hopper’s parents’ apartment in the artists’ colony, Westbeth. Hopper, if her memory served her right, was living in one of three pandemic bubbles located somewhere between 75 and 250 miles away. She Zoomed him every few days but had not been in his presence since the outbreak of the pandemic.
She had been introduced to Hopper through her agent, who also represented Hopper’s mother, the novelist and screenwriter. Charlize was preparing to co-star in a movie written by Hopper’s mother based on Hopper’s first book, a pop-sociological analysis-cum-fairy tale focused on the children of creative parents. In order to protect cast and crew from the coronavirus, the film was scheduled to be shot in Australia, beginning in January. Reese Witherspoon’s company, Hello Sunshine, was the producer.
She liked Hopper a lot (“He’s good at sex, self-contained, erudite, looks good in clothes, and is confident around me,” she told Reese).
Before the pandemic, she had been sleeping with Hopper, but on the down low. Not even her publicist Amanda knew about their relationship (“You’re not a celebrity, you don’t need my shit,” she told him. “Not yet at least”). Since the onset of the pandemic, she had retreated from Hopper. Vaguely retreated (“I like you,” she told him. “but my kids don’t need the craziness of your family. And you cannot divorce yourself from your family. We would get sucked in”). Charlize refused to tell him where she was living (“We both know that you would show up on my doorstep,” she said, “which I don’t view as healthy for either of us”). Also, she learned, Hopper was having pandemic sex with his ex-wife. She did not consider the affair a dealbreaker.
As consciousness took hold of her morning, she geo-located her two children by focusing on their voices. It was just the three of them in the Tilley-Blandin’s apartment. It was not a large apartment, and the children were not large, either, but still. Reese Witherspoon had asked the Tilley-Blandin’s for access to the apartment for an actress in the film, without mentioning the name of the actress (“You’re just going to have to trust us,” she said. “She needs some privacy”).
“I’m pretty sure that Hopper’s mother has not washed the sheets since he last slept in them,” Charlize whispered to herself, as if she were David Attenborough narrating a documentary. “They smell like teenage Hopper, just older. It feels like I’m in the Hopper Tilley-Blandin Museum, where everything has been preserved since he left for college.”
She noted the Green Day concert poster on the wall, then looked at it more closely. An adolescent Hopper was standing with the band. She recalled him telling her the stories about his parents hosting parties for artists and musicians when he was a boy. On the other wall, photos of a younger him with the Beastie Boys and Weezer had also been made into concert posters. She reached for her phone, scanning for news, and paused at the headline “U.S. Health Officials Warn Thanksgiving Travelers They Could Seed a Surge on Top of a Surge.”
When the decision was made for him that Hopper would leave the family compound they called the “Tilley-Blandin Fortress,” Hopper’s parents had told their son that he could not move back to New York (“Reese already told someone associated with the film that they could use it”). They did not know about Hopper and Charlize until they read about it in the blog post “The Secrets of Miss Olympia Tilley-Blandin.”
Someone seemed to be recording and reporting on the family’s whereabouts, movements, private conversations, and even thoughts.
When she Zoomed with Hopper, Charlize used a fake background so that he would not know that she was sleeping in his bed. She just wanted to focus on prepping for her role. She was starring as a character based on Hopper’s mother, a writer with a vivid interior life. Edward Norton was to play opposite her as a character based on Hopper’s father, a painter with a vivid exterior life. Sometimes too vivid.
How very glad and relieved she was that Reese had not let slip to anyone where she was located. She was also glad that she did not celebrate American holidays like Thanksgiving. It would have only disappointed the expectations of her friends and agent that she did not land a photo on TMZ for her sumptuous, envy-inducing feast.
It was all she could do to keep her grip on this temporary reality, protect her two children, and keep putting one well-insured foot in front of the other.
“Chlöe, dear, how hard can it be to get 200 personalized gift baskets assembled and delivered before Christmas?”
“You know that Black Friday was yesterday, and Christmas is almost here, right?” Chlöe responded archly, not really expecting an answer. She also thought that the Facetime connection probably removed some of the edge in her voice and facial expressions. She was one of those girls – young, college-educated, hard-working women perpetually referred to as girls — the personal assistant of a Hollywood star, in this case Charlize Theron. Chlöe, sitting in the den of her family’s residences across the country in Brentwood, was perhaps the only person who knew the delivery address of the apartment where Charlize Theron currently was staying.
“They should include DVD’s of 25 of my best movies – you can use the Rotten Tomatoes ratings. Do you think we should also throw in some Black movies?”
“Movies made by Black filmmakers and starring Black actors.”
“Hmmm…so you can demonstrate that you are woke?”
“In my humble opinion, that’s trying too hard. Especially since you are from South Africa. Apartheid and all. You’d be seen as trying too hard to be ‘woke.’ TMZ would not be kind. Your publicist Amanda and I have discussed this issue.”
“Alright. But get AB InBev and Dior to send things for the baskets as well – comped. Just remind them of how much product my face and my ass moved from all those commercials I shot for them.”
“You did look good in those commercials, boss. However, sorry to be a buzz kill, but if we had started this project during the summer, we might have been able to complete the task on time.”
“Get your assistant to help.”
“That’s so, so, so, so, so funny,” Chlöe said. “People Magazine should know about your comic side.”
Chlöe van der Rohe told her friends that she liked working for Charlize. She wasn’t really lying.
“Charlize is not a total nightmare,” she’d say, “but let me paraphrase, no, rip off F. Scott Fitzgerald: ‘The beautiful, tall, and famous are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, whatever talents they possess are amplified, their enemies and competition fade into obscurity, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born beautiful, tall, and famous, it is very difficult to understand.”
Armed with a degree in film studies from Wesleyan, family connections on both coasts, the ambition that eluded her two siblings and four half-siblings, and harboring no illusions about what any of that could get her once she barged through the door, Chlöe embarked on her career two years ago while interviewing for this job in Charlize’s kitchen in Los Angeles.
The first thing Charlize told her, without knowing anything about Chlöe but what appeared on the resume sitting on the table in front of her, was, “You should probably base yourself on the East Coast but be ready to relocate because I am never in any one place too long.”
Chlöe had grown up within her mother’s three marriages to trust-fund gentlemen on two continents and six time zones. “My family owns residences in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington, London, Paris,” she said. “Oh, and Barcelona. I always forget Barcelona. I think it’s because I got pick pocketed there once.”
“You don’t need this job, do you?” Charlize observed in a very direct manner.
“Better,” Chlöe answered. “I want the job.”
In the two years she had worked as Charlize Theron’s personal assistant, she spent extended stays in all her family’s homes, except the one in Chicago, trying to stay within arm’s reach of the time zone that Charlize inhabited. While her boss slept, she completed a spec script for a movie about the adventures of a young woman trying to escape both from her world of privilege and the family secret that threatened to destroy everything she held dear. Charlize had read the script, gave notes, promised to show it around her company, Denver and Delilah Productions, and remarked, “You used me. Bravo.”
“Well,” Charlize continued, “what about the Neiman-Marcus gift basket that people seem to send me every year?
“Sold out. Damn COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone stopped sending their assistants to buy actual gifts in the stores and LA County just basically ordered everyone to stay home.”
“What do you suggest?”
“How much are you willing to spend?”
“I don’t know?”
“Please allow me to remind you that you are ‘actor rich,’ but not yet ‘producer rich.’”
“Thank you. I love being knocked down a peg by my personal assistant who’s probably richer than me.”
“It was in the job description you handed me during the interview,” Chlöe laughed. “Seriously, will you fire me if I spend more than $25,000?”
“No, but I will fire you if you spend more than $50,000.”
“Just do a good job. We gotta support the brand.”
“Chlöe, dear, Charlize Theron is not a person. She’s a brand, just like Coca-Cola.”
“Should I just call you LLC from now on?”
“Funny. It’s not in your script, so I am going to use it because it’s work-for-hire. Maybe I’ll tell people it was your idea. Maybe.”
“A girl can always dream.”
“The thing about growing up in South Africa is that the whole Santa Claus myth always seemed ridiculous to me as a girl. Why would some rando dress in a fur-lined red suit to deliver presents in the middle of the summer?,” Charlize said loudly into her cell phone, which was lying on the kitchen’s countertop while she made a cocktail called the Pomegranate Blossom (“I want to be the Stanley Tucci of the Pomegranate Blossom”).
“Huh,” Reese Witherspoon responded through the speakerphone.
“One good thing about being in New York right now is that you have to wear a mask outside, and, with a good hat, no one recognizes you and harasses you for autographs or selfies.”
“Honey, in our business, that’s not really a good thing.”
“Can’t a girl get a vacation?” Charlize laughed.
“So, has Hopper or his parents figured out that you are staying in their apartment?”
“No, you and Hello Sunshine seem to have been airtight,” she answered. “My girl, too.”
“Your girl? Chlöe?”
“Yes, Chlöe van der Rohe. I had business cards made for with the inscription ‘Screenwriter and Sometimes Personal Assistant to Charlize Theron.’”
“I have been hearing things about your girl, Charlize.”
“Before another word about me,” interrupted Chlöe, “I want to remind everyone that I am listening in on this call. As in, I listen in on all the business calls and take notes, remember?”
“Hey, it’s just us girls, Chlöe,” said Reese, using her Southern accent. “I heard about that screenplay. Charlize isn’t showing it to anyone. I don’t know if it’s because she wants it all to herself or because she knows you’ll up and quit if it’s any good. The mystery just makes us want to read it more.”
“I’m too embarrassed to say anything clever,” Chlöe said.
“So, this is supposed to be my call,” Charlize said, “and I’m reclaiming my time. I’m kind of glad to be going back to the southern hemisphere to begin photography next month. Australia should be fun.”
“About that, Charlize…” Reese began, brightly. “I have three pieces of good news.”
“Reesey Piecey, I don’t like that Elle Woods tone in your voice.”
“We’re getting vaccinated!”
“Wait! Are you anti-vaccine, Charlize?” Reese asked. She then shouted for her assistant to check the celebrity anti-vaccine list they kept in the office.
“No, you are confusing me with several other of your friends,” Charlize responded. “Girl, you hang out with some nasty ones.”
“C’mon, this is good news, Charlize,” Reese said. “I know a guy who knows Jared Kushner, who can get us included in the first tranche of vaccines next month. Our movie cast and crew should be wrapped up with the vaccine by early January.”
“Let’s hear the other good news, Reesey,” Charlize said suspiciously, “The news that you really want to share.”
“Okay. First, I know a guy who knows Gavin Newsom who can get us permits to move production to California.”
“Or maybe Vancouver,” Reese said. “I know a guy who knows Justin Trudeau who can get us entry into Canada.
“Wouldn’t you rather stay on the West Coast?” Reese asked. “Your kids can join my family’s pod and they can have Christmas while you focus on work.”
“And the third piece of good news?”
“Your boyfriend Hopper will be consulting on-set for the film,” Reese said. “You and he can start spend more time together.”
Charlize immediately regretting not telling Reese that there was no way that she was going to marry Hopper.