Edmund was a rising star, welcomed like a lost child by the film world. The papers were crazy over him like a dog with a new toy. There wasn’t much else a 21-year-old could wish for. He had the looks, the fame… and the MONEY! He sure had a heavy wallet. Who would’ve thought two movies in three years could get him where he was? Like the sun in the early hours of the day, Ed’s rise was inevitable.
A reporter pushed through the crowd and stood by the barricade. Edmund stopped like any actor on the carpet would do. You had to give some time to be interviewed. That’s the whole reason you came out there, to pay your dues to publicity. “Excuse me, Mr Ibsen, is there any relation, that you know of, to Henrik Ibsen?”
He laughed. “Not that I know of.”
“But do you think your genius for storytelling has somehow come from him?”
“I wouldn’t call it genius.”
“But Mr Ibsen…”
She was cut off by Edmund’s publicist who ushered him along the carpet towards the theatre doors. One man managed to throw their gravelly voice to his attention. In an aged and rugged tone, they asked, “Mr Ibsen, do you feel you’ve earnt your fame?” The question faded away as the doors closed behind him. Edmund stood in shock, thinking what his answer would’ve been.
Did he really earn his fame? Did he deserve all of it? The whole world was calling to him and he embraced everything openly, just as it did to him, but was it to be a short-lived romance? Was there a hooded figure at the end of the corridor of stardom to take him back to normalcy, back into the world of recent but departing memory?
Questions from reporters were usually straightforward: who was your inspiration? How did you prepare for the role? What product do you use for your hair? But that last one, however intentional its pithiness was, left a mark in Ed’s mind. It was a splinter he’d feel whenever he touched the walls of fame and fortune.
“Sir, through here is your seat for the premiere.” His manager and agent were beside him, and the three of them entered the darkness, following the trail of lights to their seats. By each of their seats, a glass of red, vintage, 12 years old, and on the screen in front of them, the title of the movie: THE NEW KING. A movie to secure his trifecta.
It was a successful premiere. The director, the writers and Edmund himself stood together and received the well-deserved four-minute standing ovation. Ed was a graceful, natural actor, no one denied that. People looked at him work and saw a young man born to entertain with dignity. There were very few people who held such a presence.
The afterparty was at a producer’s house along the bank of a river. A beautiful spot. There were more people than Ed could count dancing in the back room, but if he had to guess, he’d say close to 300, maybe a little more. And numerous rooms lined hallways throughout the house. What happened in those spaces were up to the people in them.
He wasn’t a heavy drinker, or really a drinker at all. A glass of wine or a couple beers were his limit. For the first few hours he was partying with the rest of the crowd, but the attention they gave him was soon too much to control. A trio of men, all around the age of 60, approached Ed and asked if he would drink with them. They were polite at first, but then their insistence became forceful. He noticed one of the men was carrying an extra bottle of scotch. In that moment, not a single person paid a glance at him. He was being removed unbeknownst to the entire party machine. They brushed past Edmund’s own manager, but he took no notice. It was like a leopard prowling the village streets, hiding in the shadows, except Ed was not the leopard but the helpless prey caught in its mouth.
As the three men reached the room they wanted, a familiar voice echoed from where they had just left. “Mr Ibsen! What are you doing back here?”
One of the men shouted back. “He’s busy. I’d recommend giving him some space.”
“He doesn’t look busy.”
“I assure you, he is, now go back to the party.” You could hear the frustration.
The man with the familiar voice continued to walk towards Edmund. “Are you alright, Mr Ibsen? Are these men bothering you?”
Edmund gave him a look with just his eyes that screamed ‘YES’.
The three men that surrounded Edmund turned to this new figure, noticing exactly who he was. “Stay out of this you rundown,” one said. “You shouldn’t even be here,” said another. They stepped back to the door of the room, turning their backs to him.
“I have a few friends in the press who would love to hear about Mr Hausen, Mr Crooks and Mr Schmidt’s activities at tonight’s party,” he said to Ed. Everyone could feel the three men holding their careers close to their chests. “I may be against the practice, but I wouldn’t mind seeing these sharks poached. Wouldn’t you, Mr Ibsen?” Ed looked back at the man with fear in his eyes. He wanted to nod more than anything.
The three of them snarled, cursing him under their breaths. “You’ve overstepped this time, Miller.” They walked back to the crowded hall, slipping into the collage of fame and deceit that blanketed the dancefloor.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” Edmund said as he shook the hand of the man named Miller.
“This wasn’t just for you; I’d do anything to spite those fools.”
The man led Ed into the room to cool off. He was still fired up with a vigilant fear, one he had never needed to face. “Care for a drink?” Miller asked.
Edmund shook his head and waved his hand. “I don’t drink,” he said.
“I wasn’t offering that kind of drink. Do you want water or not?”
“Oh, water would be nice, thank you.”
He handed Ed the glass and took a seat across from him. The leather armchairs were lined with golden rope that had tassels hanging from the ends. “Such over-the-top chairs.” Miller laughed as he flicked the tassels like a cat does to a ribbon.
“I quite like them. It makes me feel regal if that makes sense.”
“Don’t be so naïve.”
“I’m sorry.” He didn’t know why he apologized but Miller’s manner made him feel the need to.
“How rude of me, I haven’t even introduced myself.” He extended his hand. “Miller, Miller Bergeron.”
“I know who you are,” said Miller as he shook Ed’s hand. “Everyone does.”
“That seems to be the case around here.”
He gave Ed a distasteful look. “Why are you so full of yourself?”
Ed’s mood changed. “Why are you so mean?” The way he had spoken sounded like a wide-eyed kid was talking, but in all fairness, he was just that, a kid thrown into the adult world who hadn’t yet learnt where to step. He knew nothing of the struggles Miller had gone through, or anyone else in fact. There was an innocence to him that was often mistaken for ignorance.
For a second, Edmund asked himself if he’d met Miller before, maybe at a dinner party or a distant theatre screening. Miller began the small talk but all Ed could focus on was the gravelly tone of his voice, its rustic warmth like the fireplace of an old log cabin crackling in the background. “I feel like I’ve earnt this drink,” he heard Miller say. There was a uniqueness to the way he pronounced ‘earnt’, as if it had been stuck in Ed’s mind all day.
Miller sat in silence, holding his cup to his lips and looking directly at an uncomfortable Edmund. “Do you like the attention? Does the gaze of the world bring you clarity?” The questions puzzled him. “Or does it feel like a cloud has moved in front of the sun?” He paused before he spoke again, interrupting Edmund’s response. “Because that’s what it’s meant to feel like, a darkness growing around you until you’ve forgotten the touch of sunlight on your skin.”
There wasn’t any movement in the room besides Miller placing down his cup. Ed was too full of thought to put any of it into words. He looked around and saw a framed poster with a young man — most would call him handsome — standing with one hand holding the brim of his hat, and the other on his holster. It was the stance of every cowboy you’ve ever seen. Under the man was a title in bold, crooked letters: BORN TO THE SADDLE. He recognized the movie. When he was young, maybe six or so, his grandfather would play it for him on his old VCR machine, always saying how the leading man was more famous back then than any celebrity can ever be today. The poster had all the names of those in the film but there in the middle, written bigger than any other name, was Miller Bergeron.
He turned to Miller who had already realized he’d seen the poster. “I quite liked that photo,” he said without even looking at what he was talking about. Miller sat forward in his chair. “You wanted to know why I’m so mean? Some people become bitter because they didn’t make it in the business. I turned bitter because I did.”
“But you were a star.”
“The bigger the star, son, the stronger they collapse. No one’s meant to be that famous, and no one should ever be.”
“That won’t happen to me, will it?”
“When I look at you, I can see that same flame growing taller and brighter. I can see the very twinkle that controlled me like a disease.”
“So, you’re saying I should quit? When I’m already this deep? What if I don’t want to go back?”
“I’m not saying you need to quit; I’m saying you need to resist the fame. Don’t let it consume you. Shake off this childishness so the money can’t stunt your growth. If you leave it be, it will push the pillow harder on your face, leaving you helpless and gasping for air.”
Edmund was not worried about money. His movies were worldwide successes and it made him millions. Miller was different, he was another type of being Ed had not yet met in the industry.
“Let me ask you this, what did you buy with your first million?”
Edmund had to think hard. He’d done so much since then. “I’m not sure. I think I bought my father a car.” He felt proud of that gesture. It was a gift to his family to say ‘thank you for raising me to reach this success’. Ed thought to himself, any person who made that money would surely give back to the people that made them, right?
“I did the same for my father, but that’s where our likeness ends. What the world didn’t know was I let my selfishness run free. I bought myself five cars for every one I gave to my dad, and by the end of it my dad had three new cars in the garage.”
“You couldn’t have used all of them. They would’ve wasted away in some hangar.”
“I never drove them myself. They were trophies to me. All I did was spend. My world became a collection of materialistic futility, like a museum of money closed off to the outside. House after car after yacht after villa. I spent more money than most people can even fathom. They say the rich swim in their wealth, and I sure did. What I didn’t notice was the plug dislodging from its socket, causing my pool to drain. Now I’m in this house without any real reason, walking amongst people who once swarmed me with jobs but now ignore my washed-up existence. Three buses it took me to get here. Two hours. No one else in this building knows what that’s like, and if they say they do, they’re lying.”
“So you wasted it all on cars and houses?”
“That was only part of my decline. I wasn’t only crazy about money, I was crazy about women too, marrying every beautiful girl I saw. The money was halved until there wasn’t enough left to split. My first wife left with 22 million in her pocket, my last wife left with six grand.”
Edmund was stuck in his thoughts. “I can learn, I can adapt. Times have changed since then. Things are different now. Even if the fire grows, I am the only thing that can give it fuel.”
“That’s the bane of most people like you. They climb high and think they can never fall, but when they do, no one cares enough to catch them. I’d say save yourself now before you find yourself at the peak with one foot in a ditch and the other off a cliff. You’re a good kid, Ed, but soon enough there’ll be nowhere else to step.” There was pain in Miller’s voice. He was an old man remembering the freedom of youth, how, to him, it meant prosperity and wonder. Now he was but a mole hiding in his dugout away from the world he ruled long ago. Edmund thought back to the script of his movie, remembering a short passage:
A failed king with regret in his heart walks down the mountain he once climbed. He sees the new king, filled with drive, making his way towards the peak. Opposite paths these poor kings tread. Their passing’s but a blink in the breeze. “Watch your footing,” the failed king cries, his wisdom catching the wind in the trees.