When they began working together Kelley and Michael decided to do something different.
At first they ask me to guess who they are, then, watching me struggle, admit that Michael is his own invented character, while Kelley has adapted her look for a character in a film too obscure for me to have ever seen. Michael, I thought immediately, must be some sort of super-villain, with his green-hued skin and curling silver horns. ”Close!” he smiles. In fact he is Spyral, a character from a comic he wrote (but never illustrated since he couldn’t draw—and couldn’t find anyone who could to his satisfaction–he says he wanted the look of The Watchmen, but in black and white) when he was a teenager. Spyral is a morally ambivalent character. A former scientist and victim of a freak lab accident, he has the makings of the archetypal mad scientist, but instead his real priority is mere survival as his body mutates. Sometimes this means breaking into labs or creating his own temporary laboratory in abandoned warehouses where he conducts less than ethical research, but, having never considered himself a part of the world to begin with, he’s not motivated by revenge. And occasionally his research may have potential benefits for humanity, but that, Michael is quick to tell me, is an accident, like Silly Putty. This backstory also explains Spyral’s tatty outfit, consisting of a ragged black overcoat, a black t-shirt fading to gray, and black jeans that have been ripped apart at the knee and sewn back together with orange and green thread. His eyes are also, thanks to contacts, orange and green.
So is Kelley, I naively ask, part of Spiral’s world? Is she one of the companions he depends upon? With her pale skin, heavy lidded eyes, and a prominent scar across her forehead she looks like a victim of a lab accident herself. She quickly corrects me. ”Have you ever seen a 1936 Bela Lugosi film called The Demon Bride?” I shake my head, but quickly try to recoup any credibility I may have lost by adding that I do own a DVD of Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla. Kelley explains that The Demon Bride is extremely rare in spite of its star. A few prints exist, but there are no copies you can buy in any format. She tells me she’s based on the films character Mordella. Except for the costume. Apparently the cinematic Mordella doesn’t wear a nicely cut jacket, waistcoat, and tapered trousers, all from the same fabric with an elegant black-on-black paisley design.
They both insist that their present characters were born out of unwillingness to compromise. But compromise what, exactly? Even before I ask, though, I already know the answer. When Kelley and Michael say they don’t want to compromise they mean they don’t want to be someone they are not. They want to be themselves, even if that does mean applying enough makeup and costuming that they look like someone else. I start to ask Kelley why she chose Mordella, but there are tourists coming, and I feel the need for a latte.
Around noon Kelley and Michael invite me to join them for lunch. Or rather they ask if I’ll get them lunch from a nearby fast food place, with the offer of further information about their backgrounds. I tell them I’ll pick up the tab if they’d like something better, but Michael chuckles and says, We’re putting you to enough trouble as it is. Since they’ve also invited me to stay with them that’s more than an exaggeration, but I decide not to argue. Kelley wants a fish sandwich and a sweetened iced tea. Michael requests one of the signature salads, saying, “I have to watch my girlish figure.” His instructions for how he wants it prepared are so elaborate they take up more than two pages in my notebook and I have to repeat them back. Twice, because he keeps making changes. Maybe I’ve been enlisted as courier because Michael’s been banned. But shortly after I’ve ordered they join me at one of the places concrete tables covered by a metal umbrella.
Lunch is brief. I don’t want to keep them, but there is time for a question thats been pressing on my mind: have they ever been noticed by anyone in the industry? “A couple of times,” Kelley says. “Once an indie film director–no name dropping, but even then he was too big to call himself indie anymore–stopped and talked to us. I gave him my card and he said he’d call if he had a job for me. You know how that goes.”
She hands me her card. It’s simple black and white, no embossing. The lower right-hand corner gives a number, an email address, and a website. In the middle is her name and, below that, Makeup Artist. Design, Application. I’m surprised. I thought everyone on the Boulevard was aspiring to work in front of the camera, not behind it. I want to ask about their ambitions, but they’ve finished and are popping breath mints. Kelley opens her bag and begins applying touch-ups to Michael. Then, taking out a hand mirror, she dabs at her own face with a sponge. She then carefully reapplies her lipstick, which, for the first time, I notice isn’t black as it appears from a distance. It’s iridescent, and shimmers purple or turquoise as it turns.
In spite of not being recognizable figures Kelley and Michael do a surprising amount of business, averaging about six tourists an hour, although I’ll later learn this is a third or less of what the established figures get. Perhaps the attention they draw is because their costumes are so unusual. After all it was their unusual look, followed by Kelley’s husky, “Hello, stranger,” and Michaels slightly cryptic “Help is wanted, needed, and available,” that drew my attention in the first place. What’s their strategy, though, their desired end game? That takes me back to Kelleys card. Is she offering a live version of her portfolio? Michael, I’ve learned, is more in line with the others, a hopeful actor. But he has a dream some producer will see potential in Spyral’s backstory. Summer bonanzas have been made from less in Hollywood, which is why its also Hollyweird.