Behind the Cover Story: Stephen Rodrick on Getting Access to Lindsay Lohan
Stephen Rodrick, a contributing writer for the magazine, wrote this week’s cover article about the making of the movie “The Canyons,” which was directed by Paul Schrader and includes Lindsay Lohan. Rodrick last wrote for the magazine about Martin Peretz, the long-time owner of The New Republic.
What surprised you the first time you met Lindsay Lohan?
The first time I met her was at a table read that she was already late for. Everyone else had long been in their seats. Paul Schrader had just given a lecture about how Lindsay thrived on chaos and, on cue, she walked into the room, hair tossed, smelling of smoke and bangles on her arm banging up and down. I scrawled “fragile” and “tornado” into my notebook. That sounds a bit melodramatic, so I didn’t put those words in the story, but she can be melodrama personified.
By the end of the time you spent with Lohan, had your impression of her changed?
There’s a scene in the story where she has to weep on camera, and she retreats to her room. And you could just hear wailing, and I describe her crying as sounding like a child lost in the woods with no chance of rescue. And that’s what I believe. She entered Hollywood as a child star with two massively dysfunctional parents who have filled their own Dr. Phil hours. She didn’t have a chance. For every Jodie Foster, there are five Lindsay Lohans.
But here’s the thing, there’s talent in there. She has that undefinable “it” quality. You can see it at certain moments in the film. The frustrating/tragic thing, and Lindsay would be the first to admit it, is getting that talent out of her over the past few years has been nearly impossible. That’s why I called the piece “The Misfits,” after Marilyn Monroe’s last film, one that Schrader and the crew were constantly talking about on set. You can’t argue that Lindsay has the talent or resume of Monroe, but there is that same feeling of talent slipping away, perhaps permanently.
What was the cast and crew’s reaction to Lohan?
It varied, but you could say it started it with awe, slid to amusement and ended with annoyance. You have to remember this was a grueling 21-day shoot, and everyone was working 12-hour days, many of them for $100 a day. If you have a star that is chronically late or constantly involved in some kind of drama, it wears on your nerves. There was a moment when Schrader and James Deen (Lohan’s co-star) argued about a scene in Malibu — a very rare occurrence — and Lohan chided Deen for disrespecting his director. There was much audible sighing and smacking of foreheads from the crew.
These people all seem to share one problem: debt. Is there any way that “selling out” or “cashing in,” neither of which are phrases with positive artistic connotations, will create a good movie?
Well, I think there’s a big difference between doing a movie “on the cheap” and selling out. And none of the players are actually broke; they just don’t have the cash to self-finance a $250,000 film, much less a $5 million film. While there was some element of “maybe we could make a killing,” I think “The Canyons” was more driven by a desire to actually make something and not wait three years for overseas funding or for a project to wind its way out of turnaround. There was a lot of “how can we make this look like $5 million film?” and not much of “how can we make this as commercial as possible?” If that were their goal, there probably would have been less full frontal.
How did you get access to the set like that? Usually, these things are micro-managed by publicists and handlers.
I’d met Schrader a few years back when he was trying to do a Bollywood movie. He was incredibly open about the process at a lunch we had in Manhattan. That project ended up not happening, but I kept tabs on him, and when I saw the first news about “The Canyons,” I e-mailed him and said that if I was going to do the piece, I’d need nearly complete access. He said, “Let me think about it.” An hour later, he said, “Let’s do it.” Lindsay’s people balked, but Paul, to his everlasting credit, said, “That’s fine, but I’ll have to replace her.” Her people backed down.
Paul Schrader seems like a tough boss. Was he hard on everyone?
Yes and no. Here was a man with a legendary IMDB entry and he’s trying to make a film for $250,000 — a k a $8.75 million less than his previously smallest-budget film. The crew was pretty green and that wore on him after a while, in conjunction with Lohan’s creative misbehaving. I think it was a careful-what-you-wish-for experience: He had total control and there were no studio execs breathing down his neck. But in exchange he had to do a lot of little things he wasn’t used to doing, whether it was resetting a boom mic for a shot or trying to find one of the interns to retrieve his reading glasses from his hotel in the middle of a busy shooting day. (The poor kid made three trips before bringing the right ones.) Plus, he’s 66; men get crankier as they get older. I can speak from personal experience on that one.
Were there some scenes in the story that were left on the cutting room floor?
Oh, man, there are enough B-sides and extras to make the magazine equivalent of Oasis’s “The Masterplan.” I joked with Sheila Glaser, my editor, that we were cutting stuff that would be the lead in most Hollywood stories. At the wrap party, I tried to talk Lindsay into posing for some photos with Deen for the story. She said she would if I could get him to apologize for “disrespecting” her during filming. She wanted Deen to get on a table and shout a mea culpa. Deen just laughed and said, “That is so not happening.” It was a lot like high school. Then there was the time Lindsay picked up the hot end of a curling iron and was treated with some frozen peas out of the producer’s freezer. So many memories.
In the end, what did you think of the film? You’ve seen it a couple of times.
I like it, but that may be a little Stockholm Syndrome kicking in. Whenever I do one of these stories, I always root for the project. So if you’re there day-in, day-out, you lose critical perspective. But as I said in the story, the film’s weakest 10 minutes is the film’s first 10 minutes, and that ain’t good. Braxton Pope, the producer, and Bret Easton Ellis, the screenwriter, wanted to reshoot the opening scene, but Schrader wouldn’t hear of it. He had his reasons, namely wrangling Lohan for another day of shooting would be like trying to catch water in a net. But after a slow start, the film kicks into gear.