I can't get arrested in this town!

When Celebrity Arrest Syndrome goes international.

Published March 30, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

"An ongoing New York protest against the police shooting of an unarmed street vendor got a dose of Hollywood support this week. Activist Susan Sarandon and 218 others were arrested Thursday ..." -- "Names & Faces," Washington Post, March 27

Ronnie, hi, it's -- sorry honey, can you hold?

[Eight-minute pause.]

Hi, Ronnie, you're a sweetheart, that was my homeopath, he's impossible to actually get on the phone. So I called because the talk we had last week? About this is a transitional point in my career and we need to raise my profile and get me into quality projects? Well, I'm doing Pilates with the cable news on -- it helps me clear my mind and get centered -- and guess who I see? Susan Sarandon, on the television, prime time, getting arrested. Looking absolutely fucking drop-dead gorgeous, I could rip her throat out. Have you heard about this Amadou Diablo man in New York? Well, apparently the thing with this Diablo --

[Three-syllable pause.]

You see, Ronnie, this is exactly what I was talking about. The second-guessing and the corrections and the nit-picking. Do I have to remind you who could have jumped over to Ovitz when he came sniffing around? Fine, so this Di-OWL-o apparently had his rights violated by the New York police, really badly violated -- yes, well, I'd call that "violated," wouldn't you?

[Brief, apologetic pause.]

My point is, they wrote Sarandon up like she's Mother fucking Teresa. Blah blah blah chestnut-haired Oscar winner and activist. Blah blah blah commitment to social justice. Blah blah blah Tibet blah blah blah longtime actor-director companion. I don't know what page it's on. Laine found it on the Netscape and gave me the gist -- you know what my homeopath said about having newsprint in the house.

My point is, we both know there's room in this town for like three successful older actresses. After 40 I don't care how much Stairmaster you do, how much surgery you have: You need stature. You need -- Laine, what's that word? -- you need GRAVitas.

My point is, this Diablo thing is getting huge. Sarandon's there this week, next week you bet it'll be Alec Baldwin. After which Streisand, Tom and Nicole, pretty soon everybody's jumping in and it's over. We've got a narrow window. We need to get me arrested, Ronnie, and we need to get me arrested fast.

[Medium-length pause.]

[Long, icy responding pause.]

[Longer pause, with ample time for fumbling clarification.]

Oh and the Lifetime Original Movie was a good idea? "Torn Apart: A Surrogate Mother's Story" with Gabrielle Carteris? Listen, Ronnie, I am not ready to disappear for 40 years until they flash me for five seconds in the Academy Awards death reel. I want my fucking halo now. I want to be the Stepmom. I want to be Sister Whatshername with Sean Penn. You want to continue representing me, you call Ed Sharpton's agent, you call whoever you have to and you get my highly toned ass thrown in jail.

Ronnie, honey, it's me. No, I'm at the Mercer -- the planter of wheat grass in the room at W New York was like half-dead, I couldn't deal with it. So are we all set with Sharpton's people?


They said what? I have to what?


That isn't going to work. Because it's not, that's why. Because I'm not standing on the asphalt in New York City in March, with the bird shit and rain and exhaust fumes and my multiple chemical sensitivity and God forbid I even breathed that to my homeopath, that's why. Can't the police just send somebody? Yes, yes, Ossie Davis, yes, Ruby Dee, I'm sorry but what else are they going to do all day? They make, what, one movie a decade?


No, I can't just issue a statement! Ronnie, a man basically died or whatever here. This is not just about getting me on television. This is about sending a message, which requires that I get on television, which if you think anyone's sending cameras for a fucking press release you are seriously in the wrong line of work.


Well, that's your job. It's national news, right? Aren't they protesting in Los Angeles too?

[Really extremely brief pause.]

My God, what's wrong with this country? Doesn't anybody care about anything anymore?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

No, Ronnie, everything is not OK. It took the Mobile Arrest Unit hours to show up, if I don't have a chronic-fatigue relapse it'll be a miracle, and the coverage! Don't I pay you to manage this? "Tinseltown Gadfly and Elderly Rev in Paddy Wagon Fracas"? Civil-rights legend, my ass -- the man's a bigger camera hog than Jenny McCarthy. Anyway, that's not why I'm calling. The Diablo thing was all wrong for me. I need something of my own, and I think I've found it. Did you know we're bombing a tiny country? Well, Laine's still working on that, but I'm pretty sure it's near Albania --

[Brief, witty remark.]

Yes, with Bobby De Niro and Anne Heche, I was thinking exactly the same thing! And Ronnie, this is going to be way bigger than Diablo. They're protesting at the American embassies all over the world, and, well -- I know you like me to consult you in advance, but I had Laine set up a meeting with one of their people.

[Brief, flustered protest.]

That's exactly what I thought, but this gentleman gave me some of the most fascinating literature, and Ronnie, the stories are all lies. The spite! The conspiracy! Apparently entire villages of people have staged their own mass murders just to smear the Serbians. And of course the media -- well, it's just like what they did to that poor fat man in Atlanta. Ronnie, mistreatment by the press? Who better than me to understand! This could be like George Clooney after Princess Diana --

[Brief, cautious venture.]

People are different these days, Ronnie. Sure, they ripped Vanessa Redgrave over that Palestinian business, but look, she just won the Globe for "Gods and Monsters."

[Brief, tactful remark.]

Whatever, well, nobody else knows that either, but they gave her the Globe anyway, that's exactly my point. And, better, this is Europe, which can only help my international box office, I mean I'm sorry but I bet they don't have three cineplexes in Tibet. Now. Does America have an embassy in Los Angeles?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

[Extended, shrill tone.]

Pick up, Ronnie. Ronnie, pick up. Fuck. Sorry about the connection, but apparently this country's out of my cell area -- it's, like, out of all the cell areas. So since you obviously had issues with this project I had Laine go ahead and do the legwork, and, well, all the best demonstrations are in Eastern Europe. We're in -- Laine, honey, where are we? -- I think it has some of those little dots in the name, you can have your assistant look it up. Meantime, look for me on CNN. I have to go, the organizers are passing out cocktails. I wish you could see -- they have some type of little towel stuck in them. This is the most fascinating culture!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Well, Mr. Skeptic, eat your words. It was amazing: the stone-throwing, the police dogs -- it was just like "Born on the Fourth of July." No, not a scratch! Laine had a bit of an allergic reaction to the gas at the embassy while he was securing my oxygen mask, but fortunately he had his epinephrine. Afterward? Well, I guess you could call it a "jail," the literal translation is "dungeon," but -- no! Of course not! They sent me on to the Hilton. Evidently "Lethal Menace" just made their theaters, and, well, not to brag, but I'm something of an icon here. It's not the St. Regis, but this isn't a vacation, right?

[Hopeful interjection.]

No, not quite yet, that's what I'm calling about. I need you to make a teensy call to the State Department. One of the gendarmes is complaining of a stiletto-heel puncture -- of course it's mistaken identity! You think they don't have Manolo here?

[Brief reassurance.]

Great. Now I want a press conference as soon as my plane gets in. Laine's faxing you a fact sheet on Mr. Milosevic for handouts, and he's checking if we can borrow a couple of Serbian children -- but just in case, put in a call to Tad at ICM. See if we can get a piece in Us -- no, somewhere serious -- let's try George. And ... and ... excuse me ...

[Hushed, concerned inquiry.]

No, Ronnie, I'm sorry, it's just the opposite. I've never felt better. Things are about to turn around for me. Can you feel it? I just -- I feel my work right now is coming from a very real place. Oh, Ronnie. It means nothing to have a gift unless you use it for something important. Isn't that why we were put on this earth? Isn't that what this business is all about?

By James Poniewozik

James Poniewozik is a Time magazine columnist on TV and media.

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New York City Susan Sarandon