What Hollywood Celebrities Don’t Want You To Know

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Refinery29’s Assistant Living asks assistants to talk about themselves for once offering truthful, no-frills insight into the time before fame and fortune. What’s it like working next to the dream job? They talk, we listen. This week, we fly west to interview B., 25, in her sleek bungalow buried in the the Hollywood Hills. After six months working as the personal assistant to an A-List celeb, B. reminisces about her life combatting catty sexual rumors on set, arriving late to her own birthday party, and the surprisingly soul-sucking task of searching for the perfect lightweight beanie. How did you get the job?
"When I heard about the job, I was working a film-related desk job, getting paid well in an assistant role and moving up the ladder steadily. But I was bored, itching to do something more active, to get out from behind the desk. A friend in the industry heard that my (would-be) boss was in New York, where I was living at the time, and in need of a personal assistant during film production, and I was quick to volunteer myself. They weren’t offering more money for the job, but I also wouldn’t be taking a pay cut, and it was a short-term commitment, so I jumped at the opportunity. I was on set essentially 24/7, so six months felt more like a year." What was your salary?
"I was working for $850 a week, BEFORE taxes, which isn’t great. It was less than what I had asked for — I wanted $900 a week, but they wouldn’t go for that. I think because it was short-term, they didn’t want to pay me too much. "Going in, my boss made it seem like the hours and workload would be much less strenuous. The stress/time commitment grew gradually, and I was honestly so busy and exhausted that I never stopped to do the math. At the time, I paid $1,100 in rent and $150 for utilities per month. Also student loans. But I was so busy I hardly had a social life (and therefore any time to spend money) so I managed." So this wasn’t a typical 9-to-5.
"Not at all. It was seven days a week, and I’d have at least two 20-hour days a week. It was relentless. And of course, after a long day, I’d usually get a middle-of-the-night call, which was usually just a chance for my boss to vent. After working an 18-hour day, I’d take the subway home from Manhattan to Bushwick; at 4 a.m., it could take over an hour. Some days, I wouldn’t get home until 7 or 8 in the morning." You couldn’t just expense an Uber?
"No, because I wasn’t hired directly through the production company. I signed a separate contract to be his assistant, and expenses weren’t included. Sometimes his driver was nice enough to take me home, but that only happened occasionally." Can you tell me a little bit about the NDA you had to sign?
"It was a pretty typical NDA. It stated that I wasn’t allowed to defame him publicly in any way, which means I’m not allowed to say anything about him to the press. Ever. Because he’s a celebrity, and his entire existence relies on his public image." Biggest perk?
"The people who I got to meet and my experiences on set were so valuable. I remind myself that I could still be at my old desk job. While I was mostly miserable for six months, it definitely put me on a trajectory I’m excited about, and I’m still in touch with the people I met on set. It’s good to be around creative people who are passionate about the same things you’re passionate about." Biggest pitfall?
"Honestly, the biggest thorn in my side throughout production was dealing with the ridiculous speculation surrounding the fact that I was a young woman working for a famous man. I constantly had to fend off assumptions and comments like, 'What did you do to get this job?' "Our professional relationship was being constantly sexualized by everyone around us, and it honestly felt like being bullied daily. This was also compounded by the fact that we’re working on a film set, which is a totally male-dominated sphere. "To give you a specific instance: He had these kettle balls on set that he used for workouts throughout production. People were always asking me how his balls were and if I’d rubbed them that day. So that was pretty gross and annoying. "Also, never getting praise for what you do is taxing, and that was probably the most frustrating aspect of the job." What was your first impression of him? Has it changed?
"A lot of people warned me that he was difficult, and I might not like the job. At first I didn’t pay much heed to the warnings. I figured people were too sensitive, and I was confident in my abilities to deal with difficult people. I thought he was curt, not mean. And I continued to uphold that opinion until the stress got too high for him, at which point I realized the warnings had been warranted. "To his credit, the production was particularly fraught — everyone was working super long hours and there wasn’t enough money — but the more stressed he got, the less pleasant he became. And I was the only person he could vent to, really." Most outrageous request?
"He got it into his head that he really needed a lightweight beanie to cover up his long hair (he’d grown it for the part). At that time, however, lightweight beanies weren’t really in stores because it was November and it was getting cold. "He had me go around to a million different stores — Barneys, Bergdorfs, Bloomingdale’s — purchasing various $300 to $400 beanies. And I’m telling you, there was a problem with each one — they were too long, too ragged, two stripe-y, too heavy. I went all over the city looking for the perfect fucking beanie, and none of them were good enough. And of course then I had to go around returning them all after they didn’t fit his needs. He ended up buying a beanie in L.A., the apparent capital of lightweight beanies, and made sure to rub it in my face that he had successfully fulfilled my task."

Were you afraid of your boss?

"I wasn’t necessarily afraid of him, it was more that I was afraid of losing my job and the security surrounding it. I mean he would yell a lot, and he sort of had that LBJ effect where he’s very tall and looks down and yells, so there were definitely intimidating moments, but I was never scared of him. The worst thing he could do was fire me — and that’s what scared me the most. "I don’t like failure. I didn’t want to get fired because that would mean admitting to myself that leaving my solid salaried position was a mistake. It would mean that the risk I took wasn’t worth taking." Did you have a relationship with his family?
"His kids loved me, and his wife hated me. I think the fact that I was a young woman who was around her husband 24/7 bothered her." Were your friends and family supportive of you in your role as assistant?
"My family knew that I was working crazy hours, but I wasn’t really complaining much to them. I definitely didn’t get to see my friends very often. I was actually late to my own birthday dinner because my boss wanted me to pick up his son and park his car on a Saturday evening."

Do you regret taking the job?

"If I were to go back and do it again, I would. Because the reason why I’m where I am now, in a position that I love, is directly attributed to my time spent working for him."

Do you see yourself having your own assistant in the future?

"If I were to ever have an assistant of my own, I think, now having been through what I’ve been through, I would be very careful in the way I interact with them. I would speak to them as an intelligent person, get them involved in whatever I’m doing, and work to make sure they don’t feel like an alien or intruder in my life. "[Most assistants] are just starting out and they’re curious. They’re not working these hard jobs because they have nothing better to do. That needs to be acknowledged. The people who work as assistants, especially in the film world, are there because they’re trying to learn. And I think it’s a real responsibility to nurture that person if they’re working under you." Any advice for young women looking to go into a similar field?
"Tragedy plus time equals comedy. That’s all I can say. "No, but seriously, as far as advice: Definitely don’t cross that personal/intimate boundary with your boss. It’s the worst thing you can do because you don’t only put a black mark on your record, you make it harder for other women in this industry by perpetuating a stale stereotype. It might seem fun and carefree, but ultimately, this person probably isn’t interested in you. It’s just a power play and everybody will be worse for it: you, your reputation, and the women who succeed you in such a male-dominated industry." What did the line look like for you, and how did you avoid it?
"That line was often waved in my face. He’s a very macho man’s man. On my first real day on the job he was walking around in his trailer half-naked all day, finding whatever excuse he could to strip down. I continued to find myself in these uncomfortable positions as the months passed. I had to be very careful in those situations not to say anything, not to be too close physically, not to ever engage flirtatiously. I made sure to always be professional so as not to create any sort of ideas or temptation, because when you’re around somebody for that many hours a day, you’re at their house while they’re exercising, in their car while their changing, it’s an unusual level of intimacy. It’s beyond professional. "Had I stayed for a drink one night, things could have escalated. You never know!"

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