Lindsay Lohan had just been fired again, and she wasn't taking the news well.
"She was really hurt about it, and I felt terrible," said David Michaels, who was set to direct her in a movie called "The Other Side."
Michaels made the call to his 23-year-old would-be leading lady earlier this spring after investors in the film balked at Lohan's most recent tabloid misadventures.
"The budget on the film had been increased from $15 [million] to $20 million, and when the producers were going out for that kind of money, they were finding financiers and distributors asking, 'Is she really going to draw people to a theater? Is the money going to be covered?'" Michaels said in a recent telephone interview. "It certainly had to do with the six- to eight-month period after we signed her, that her image did not get any better....
"Everyone seems to be all about finding what's wrong with her, and no one seemingly is really reaching out to her and offering her a path to reclaiming what she once had."
What she once had, of course, was promise. A decade ago, Lohan was considered one of the most talented young actresses of her generation. Her performances in teen comedies such as "The Parent Trap" and "Freaky Friday" earned her comparisons to the likes of Jodie Foster. "Her talent was undeniable," said Mark Waters, who directed Lohan in 2003's "Freaky Friday" and 2004's "Mean Girls." "I would set out the most difficult obstacle course for her for a scene, and she'd nail it like a floor routine. She was that good."
Since her feature film debut at 11, however, Lohan has increasingly been recognized not for her movie performances but for behavior ranging from drug abuse and eating disorders to failed stints in rehab and, most recently, possible probation violations in relation to a 2007 DUI charge.
Her conduct has pummeled her reputation and her career. Those who finance and make movies, wary of her physical and mental health and skeptical of her ability to show up to work on time, if at all, appear increasingly hesitant to risk their money on such a repeat offender. And although readers may devour tales of her off-screen escapades on celebrity websites and in tabloid magazines, they seem less willing these days to drop $10 for a ticket to one of her movies.
Lohan has not appeared on the big screen since 2007, when her thriller "I Know Who Killed Me," in which she had a dual role as a stripper and a torture victim, flopped. Her 2009 comedy "Labor Pains" failed to get a domestic movie distributor and debuted on the cable channel ABC Family. She has a small part in the upcoming "Machete," and after being fired from "The Other Side," she was cast as the late porn star Linda Lovelace in a biopic called "Inferno," which has not begun filming.
And yet, there's nothing Hollywood loves more than a good comeback story. Lohan has the sympathy of filmmakers and business partners (like those she works with on her fashion line, 6126) who say she'd readily be accepted back into the film world, much like former substance abusers Robert Downey Jr. and Mickey Rourke, if she could somehow defeat her demons.
But that would require a sense of purpose and discipline that, if a recent jaunt to the Cannes Film Festival is any indication, may still be absent.
When she flew to Cannes in May, she was supposed to be promoting "Inferno," and, according to director Matthew Wilder, Lohan did have meetings with foreign sales executives and others "who, after having met her, put up money" for the film.
Yet the images that emerged from France were more suited to TMZ than the trade papers. One night, there she was stumbling off a yacht; on another, she posed for a photo next to what looked like a mirror plate covered with white powder.
Back in the States, a Beverly Hills judge reprimanded her for going to Cannes and missing a probation hearing related to an August 2007 case, when she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drug charges and no contest to three driving charges. (Lohan claimed her passport was stolen and said she was unable to get back in time for the court date). As a result, she was forced to post $100,000 in bail and wear a clumsy ankle bracelet that monitors her alcohol consumption.
Only a couple of weeks later, during a party after the MTV Movie Awards, her bracelet was set off. She's due back in court on Tuesday, when she may face up to a year in jail if she is found guilty of violating her probation.
As her bail bondsman was delivering an additional $100,000 to the court in early June as a result of the ankle bracelet violation, Lohan took to her Twitter account to deny she'd consumed alcohol.
"This is all because of a FALSE accusation by tabloids& paparazzi& it is [expletive] digusting. [sic] I've been more than I'm compliance &feeling great"
Through her manager, Lohan declined numerous requests to be interviewed for this story, and publicly purports to be — at least via Twitter — healthy and happy.
"i'm doing and feeling great, filming right now and so happy… I really feel lucky " she wrote on the social networking site last month .
In a series of interviews with The Times, many who have worked with Lohan say they saw warning signs even during her early teenage years.
Nina Jacobson, who headed Disney at the time of the "Freaky Friday" release, said the studio immediately saw star potential in the then-teenager. "She definitely felt like a star, and she really carried the movie with Jamie Lee [Curtis]," she said. "I think coming out of it, we were absolutely of a mind to do more with her."
Still, Jacobson wanted to make sure Lohan was ready to handle the scrutiny that came with being a Disney poster child.
"I said, 'Are you sure you're prepared to be under the Disney spotlight?'" Jacobson recalled. "And she said she was fine with it. But most people wouldn't be — it's just an age when you sow your wild oats. [S]he said she felt confident she could do it and was more than ready to live up to those pressures."
Only a short time after that discussion, when she began shooting 2004's "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen," there were "rumbles of what was to come," said the film's director, Sara Sugarman.
"Lindsay was commanding a lot of money and designer clothes, and people were throwing things at her in the formative years," Sugarman said. "It's bad enough that you're recognized and you don't know why people are giving you so much attention — let alone throw money and power into that equation. If you don't have your foundation, I think it's just hard for people."
But what really troubled Lohan, Sugarman believes, were her deep-seated insecurities. She didn't like that she had red hair or freckles, two trademarks of her endearing image.
"She didn't see herself as a pretty girl. She'd criticize herself. She wouldn't leave herself alone," the director said.
Many attribute those self-esteem issues to Lohan's family life, which was, at that point, unraveling. Her father, Michael Lohan, an ex-Wall Street trader, had been sent to jail for offenses related to driving under the influence of alcohol. And mother Dina Lohan lived in Long Island, New York, with her three other children while Lindsay resided on the West Coast during her teenage years.
It was a time when Lohan was painfully lonely, said Greg Wells, a music producer who worked with her on her second album, 2005's "A Little More Personal (Raw)," on which she penned an angry song to her father called "Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father)" about how much his absence in her life had hurt her.
"My studio is on Robertson Boulevard, so she'd show up at the studio and have all these paparazzi chasing her," he said, which at one point resulted in a car accident. "She was 19 years old, her dad was in jail, her mom was on the East Coast, and there was a stalker in the hotel where she lived. I remember her crying on the phone with her mom, saying, 'I am here all alone, I was just in a terrible car accident.' My heart really broke."
In 2007, the bad behavior ramped up. Lohan was arrested twice on suspicion of DUI, checked into rehab twice, and spent 84 minutes in jail. She also took a huge blow professionally during production of " Georgia Rule," when a letter from producer James Robinson castigating her for her "heavy partying" and acting like a "spoiled child" was leaked to the media.
"I remember the day she didn't come in to work and said she was sick, we had a photograph of her the night before out at 3 in the morning," Robinson, the chief executive of Morgan Creek Productions, recalled.
Director Garry Marshall called the executive to say he had already shot as much footage as he could without Lohan, and the production was quickly losing money.
"He was just like, 'Jim, I don't know what to do. I've hit a wall,'" Robinson said. "The other actresses — Felicity Huffman, Jane Fonda — all tried to Mother Hen her. They did everything they knew how to help that girl get her act together, and she just didn't listen."
Months later, in an interview with a magazine, Lohan admitted she was a "bit irresponsible" on set.
In the years that followed, the tabloid-chronicled spiral continued. Today, even some of L.A.'s nightlife moguls, who once welcomed the cachet — and publicity — Lohan could bring to their club, are fearful of her erratic behavior.
"Lindsay Lohan had many crazy nights at Trousdale," said Brent Bolthouse, who owns that nightlife establishment. "I've been friends with her for a long, long, long time. I hate to see her behaving poorly. I would never go to someone's house and behave that way."
Some film industry executives suggest Lohan may be difficult to insure or inordinately expensive to cover on future productions (producers typically take out insurance to protect their investments in case key cast members cannot complete a film), but "Inferno" director Wilder said he isn't concerned.
"I think this is a project that's really important to her, and she'd dedicated to it," he said. "There's such a crazy machine built up around her now, and there's so much noise around her in the press that people forget she's a really great actor."
Lohan does seem to have a solid team managing her career. Though she has jumped around to various agencies, including Creative Artists Agency and Endeavor in recent years, she is currently represented by Nick Styne at CAA and is managed by Untitled Entertainment. During the last few months she has had no official publicist, though she is still in contact with her longtime press agent, Leslie Sloane, co-president of Baker Winokur Ryder PR.
Meanwhile, Lohan has also been busy pursuing her fashion career. Her leggings brand, 6126, will expand into a full clothing line with 280 pieces being released this month. The collection will hit the racks after a highly publicized gig for Lohan as the artistic advisor at Ungaro last fall failed when Women's Wear Daily labeled her line, which featured glittering, heart-shaped nipple pasties, "cheesy and dated."
"[W]e've not had a problem with our retailers questioning any sort of negative press," said Kristi Kaylor, president of 6126, which is named for Marilyn Monroe's birth date. "It's really frustrating for me, because I do see such a different side of her. She just recently flew to New York and met with our Bloomingdale's and Saks [Fifth Avenue] buyers to sit down and let them know how serious she was. Anything she does, she wants it to be 150%."
Another potential upcoming film vehicle could be "The Dry Gulch Kid," an adventure comedy that would co-star Willie Nelson and be produced by his company. Kerry Wallum, a producer on the movie, said he had become interested in casting the actress after hearing about her work on the Robert Rodriguez-produced "Machete," out in September.
"I think Willie has seen it all. Everybody makes mistakes, and some people make them over and over. She's a good actress," Wallum said, adding that Lohan is not yet officially attached to the film. "Maybe this is the deal that will straighten her up completely. And even if it ain't, we'll be out in the country. I guarantee she'll be to set on time. She'll be stuck out in the middle of nowhere."