The Diva Whisperer
BY Ari Karpel
November 19 2010 4:00 AM ET
Their father, Michael, is a painter; their mother, Brenda, a former TV executive. His parents own Brenda Antin, a high-end Los Angeles antiques store where they also sell their own line of furniture. “My mom has better taste than anyone I know,” Antin says. “She is really tough. Most things that [my siblings and I] do are not good enough. She’s always saying to me, ‘When are you going to make a Merchant-Ivory movie?’ I’m like, ‘Mom, no one’s making Merchant-Ivory movies.’ Hopefully she’ll like Burlesque. She came to the set and she’s so critical of design, but she actually thought it was beautiful.”
Antin’s crystal-clear concept for the film’s visuals—a pastiche whose inspiration spans Fosse’s Cabaret to Bertolucci’s The Conformist—is what secured his leading lady. “He knew what he wanted visually, and for a first-time actor that is important,” Aguilera says. “I think it was the creative craziness I was drawn to. He brought so much energy and passion to the set. There wasn’t a day that we shot that he wasn’t completely engrossed in the film.”
Convincing Cher, though—well, that was another task. “I could have gotten Jesus to show up at a bar mitzvah easier than I could have gotten Cher in that movie,” Culpepper says, displaying his usual flair for hyperbole. Cher hadn’t done a movie since 2003’s conjoined-twins comedy Stuck on You, starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear. But Culpepper sent Antin’s script to David Geffen (Geffen and Antin dated more than 20 years ago; they’re all good friends now), who slipped it to his friend (and, to make the circle smaller, onetime flame) Cher. Culpepper says the Oscar-winner backed out 30 times before fully committing—no doubt more hyperbole—but by all accounts she was a trouper. “She’s exactly who you want her to be,” Antin says. “The cool chick from Moonstruck, very laid-back, mellow.”
Wait, are we talking about the same person? Superstar Cher?
“Sure, she has a lot of changes for things at the last minute,” Antin concedes, “which is sometimes daunting, but she’s never the diva presence on the set that you would think a modern icon like her would be. She’s a cool lady.”
Aguilera says much the same: “Cher tells it like it is, but in a way that isn’t rude or pushy or bitchy. She is straightforward, she is smart, and I am so glad I can say she is now a friend.”
Still, no production of this scale goes off without a hitch, especially one that’s filled with so many big personalities, on camera as well as behind the scenes. “Things get heated on a movie with this kind of a schedule,” Antin says, “where everybody’s tired from working 15-, 16-hour days. We had to rehearse on weekends and tech the musical numbers on the weekends.
“It was a total fucking nightmare,” he says, smiling. “And it was a dream come true.” Kinda like…high school.