Making Lipstick Jungle
Nov. 8, 2007—I am sitting at a table in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, about to do a table read of the first two episodes of Lipstick Jungle, a new television show for NBC based on Candace Bushnell's novel of the same name. At any given point in the last six months, I would have told you that the odds of my sitting here were 50-50—at best. Candace is the person responsible for creating Sex and the City, and because of that, there has been a lot of time and attention focused on Lipstick Jungle in the hope that lightning might strike twice. But the history of this project has been fraught—even by television's fickle standards.
We shot the pilot in March, were picked up in May, and were scheduled to begin shooting in late July. Then, just over a week before our start date, I got off a plane and checked my messages; there were calls from my agent, my manager, and Tim Busfield, the man responsible for the show's day-to-day operation. I knew I hadn't been fired; if that were the case, I would have received only one sheepish call from whomever had drawn the short straw. But something was no doubt up.
As it turned out, a few weeks earlier, NBC had changed leadership, and the new regime decided to replace the writer/producer on the show. The upshot: We were "shutting down" while a new team could be put in place. For the next few weeks, phone calls and rumors flew as everyone speculated on what had happened and what it meant for the future of the show. Eventually a new writer/producer was hired, and we were told that the show would go forward.
No one I spoke with actually believed that.
There are a lot of ways to bury a show, and having been disappointed more times than I care to admit over the last 25 years, it was easy to see what was happening—or so I concluded with defensive pessimism. Then, one of the lead actresses announced she was pregnant, and the show was officially pushed to late November.
I looked for other work.
But as the weeks turned to months, word occasionally filtered out that scripts were being written, and by the time the writers went on strike, just a few days before the table read, we were sitting on six production-draft scripts, enough to take us to early February before we ran out of material. Earlier this week, I had the obligatory medical exam—a ritual of insurance protocol. Next came a wardrobe fitting and camera test—during which Candace announced, "I wouldn't fuck you in those shoes," and then walked out for a cigarette—and now here we are, in early November, sitting around three tables pushed together. And there is no one here more delighted about it than me. As an actor, you know when a character suits you well, and the truth is, no part has fit me this well since I did St. Elmo's Fire 20 years ago. The ideal meeting of actor and role does not come along that often, and so when it does, you want to grab at it.
Traditionally, table reads are notoriously dull affairs in which the director, writers, actors, and producers, along with various crew members, hear the script aloud for the first time. It can be a stressful moment—up to this point, the show has just been words on a page, and it can be nerve-wracking when it suddenly begins to take on three-dimensional life. Typically, actors react in one of two fashions: They either mumble their lines into their laps, or, worse, "perform" them with a gusto that I always find embarrassing. For years I had been a mumbler (most young actors are), until somewhere along the line I realized that I was going to be judged by everyone anyway, so I might as well speak like a normal human and be heard by the 20 or so assembled in the chairs lining the walls around us. After a brief introduction by Tim, the large cast, crammed close at tables cluttered with scripts and coffee, launches in. Perhaps it's the relief of finally beginning after such a long and uncertain path, but there is a gathering momentum in the room as the pages turn. The scripts read very well—they're funny, and sharp, and poignant—afterward, the room is filled with excited chatter.
The only thing left to do now is shoot.
Andrew McCarthy plays Joe Bennett on Lipstick Jungle.