“Oh, COME on, that’s pretty sexy,” said IMG Global Media President and former HBO honcho Chris Albrecht at a swank screening room.
Everyone had just been exposed to the first two episodes of “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” the English television show that will air on Showtime starting Monday. (An IMG company developed “Call Girl” in the U.K., and so they went looking for an American home.)
In the half-hour nighttime soap, 25-year-old English star Billie Piper plays a very high-end and thoughtful prostitute -- she’s rather like Carrie Bradshaw, except that the camera lingers on her applying personal lubricants before her dates.
But why an import and not a remake? “This country, being more puritanical, it’s always hard to find actors who get really comfortable with the nudity,” said Showtime’s president of entertainment, Robert Greenblatt. “It’s just a different climate over there. You can find actors who have a reputation and have actually done some serious acting. Who don’t need to be covered up every time they do a bedroom scene, which is true of most actresses -- most women -- unless you’re doing something a little more downscale.” (“Red Shoe Diaries,” anyone?) “The great thing about Billie is she’s open to that. And yet it’s also tasteful. We’re not that explicit with her. Anyway, I’m blathering!”
So did Albrecht, the former competitor, gouge Showtime on the deal? “Not at all,” said Greenblatt. (Albrecht declined to be interviewed for this article.) Greenblatt purchased two more seasons of eight episodes each; beyond that, Piper is not committed, and neither is Showtime.
“These shows they make over here,” said Piper of the U.S., “you’re tied into that for a long time. Provided they get optioned. I can’t imagine being away from the U.K. for that length of time. But then, you know, something great might come along and I’d be straight on a plane. Who cares about the dogs? Deal with it!”
Piper -- new on the corporate team -- made these comments (and more) when she came to New York to be part of the celebration for Showtime’s premiere of Season 2 of “The Tudors.” She watched “Enchanted” on the plane and flew first class. The date was March 19, so, according to the English tabloids, she was in the first trimester of her first pregnancy. Nobody mentioned how buxom she was.
A makeup artist (Jackie Cioffa), a hair person (Catherine Lehtonen) and a Showtime publicist were in her hotel suite. Piper was in just a white bathrobe.
“My husband can’t work out the difference between mascara and eyeliner,” said Piper. She has a lovely generic-posh London accent, likely not her own but a gift of the Sylvia Young Theatre School (it did not stick with her classmate Amy Winehouse).
“Well, put it on him,” said Lehtonen, who is very Finnish.
“Well, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing,” Piper said. She married actor Laurence Fox just last New Year’s Eve. After more than a decade in London, she’s already retired to the countryside; West Sussex, with the dogs. “Also, he can’t work out the difference between a skirt and a dress. Maybe men are colorblind. Men say, ‘I love your purple shirt!’ When actually it’s red. Obviously, it’s a sweeping statement. They have many good qualities. Sight isn’t one of them.”
Piper was a teen bubble-gum pop star in the U.K. “That whole industry was like a big machine,” she said. “And I often felt like one of the machine’s robots, basically. Hence the reason I’m now no longer in it. I think it made me quite uptight.”
She became super-famous on the first two seasons of the new and insanely popular “Doctor Who,” which began airing in 2005. She got married once before, in 2001. She published an autobiography in 2006, in which she recounts her youth and anorexia. “It’s quite long!” she said. “But there are pictures.” She regrets the book offhandedly, but not really.
She went out to L.A. for Stella Adler and anonymity for a few months once; in 2002, her ex-husband bought a house in L.A. that had, until 1999, been Lionel Richie’s. They sold it in 2003 to motivational speaker Grant Cardone. “I have to say the bougainvillea and hummingbirds would keep me there for years,” she said, but they didn’t. Even with a divorce (amicable) under her belt, it’s still like she stole Britney Spears’ happy ending.
She DID research for “Secret Diary of a Call Girl.” “I spent some time with quite a few high-class hookers,” she said. “I obviously met with the writer of the blog” -- the show stems from work by an anonymous blogger, who calls herself Belle de Jour. “But actually, it was the most helpful part of the research. You need to whore it -- whoa, hear it -- from the horse’s mouth.” Everyone died laughing.
“I was quite keen to know what the looks on the men’s faces are,” she said. “The biggest misconception: I thought most of the men who’d see prostitutes would be really bolshy and cocksure and, you know, just quite full-on. Whereas she said to me most of the guys are absolutely petrified.”
“We can put some lashes too if you want,” said Cioffa.
“Great!” said Piper. “I love lashes!”
Her agent came in and was kicked out.
“So, um, is it true I have to get up on stage?” Piper asked about the premiere. No, she need not. “Wonderful!” Piper said.
“You just have to stand up in your seat,” she was told.
“Brilliant,” said Piper. “I don’t even have to walk. Who do I have to talk to?”
“There’s a red carpet,” said the publicist. “There’ll be photographers. And an ‘Entertainment Tonight’ camera crew.”
“That’s such a cool show,” said Piper. “Station? Is it a station? No, it’s a show.”
There would be other actors there. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Peter O’Toole, Tracey Ullman -- “Oh, my God, I love Peter O’Toole,” said Piper.
There would be a series of photographs, she was told -- some alone, some with the “Tudors” cast. “Then we’ll walk you inside. Do you know who the chairman of Showtime is -- Matt Blank? And Bob Greenblatt, our president of entertainment?”
“Great,” said Piper.
“So we’ll take pictures with the executive suits. Then you’ll mingle at the party. Then Matt Blank will acknowledge that you’re here, then say hello. Then the screening is over.”
“Then I’m going to the Old Homestead,” Piper said. “To have a steak with my best friend.”
Hair and makeup took exactly an hour. They would do it again the next morning, then she would go back to England. Soon she would be shooting Season 2 of “Call Girl”; the English papers all said she’d use a body double for the sex scenes. She publicly acknowledged her pregnancy this week to the Associated Press. How will an increasingly pregnant-looking person play a prostitute for much longer without suspending production for a while? Showtime wouldn’t comment.
“No, I’m quite petrified of the red carpet,” Piper said, looking at all the work that had gone into making her up. “It always makes my hands clam up.
“In the U.K., I kind of avoid it as often as I can. I’m really about going in the back door. That sounds so wrong,” she said. She took a big drink of orange juice and smiled.
“I know that in America it’s a different thing. There’s some serious red-carpet action. They yell in the U.K. -- here, they won’t even know who I am. They aren’t briefed, are they?” she asked the publicist. Uh-oh. Yes. “Oh, good grief. What I need is some scissors. I have some bubbles on my sweater that need trimming off. Thank you guys so much, I’m really thrilled.”