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"The Wife"

Avoiding wrinkles in the red carpet requires a plan.


My husband is a celebrity. A movie star, actually, though he doesn’t consider himself one. He thinks he’s an actor, and a serious one, who enjoys research, rehearsal, and the give and take of performance. And he is a fine, serious actor. But when we go to an awards ceremony, or the opening of a studio movie, he’s a movie star, and he has to walk the line – that red carpet bounded on one side by roaring fans and the other by screaming press. This is part of his job, too.

I’m the smiling nonentity clinging sweatily to his hand, face flash-frozen into a death’s-head rictus. I should reveal that I, too, have appeared on the big screen, mostly in tiny roles in independent films or tiny roles in large studio films that had mostly disappeared once the films actually opened. My only claim to fame is that I played Christopher Moltisani’s mother in The Sopranos. However, if anyone recognizes me, it means I haven’t been getting enough sleep, since Joanne, my character, is a recovering alcoholic who looks so ravaged that old boyfriends get to chortle at how horribly I’ve aged.

For the award shows, I get the full glam makeup and hair treatment, courtesy of whatever studio is behind the movie my husband is representing. Still, there’s only so much they can do, since I’m over 50 and I refuse to Botox my way to a Kabuki mask where my face once was. My weight is typical for a middle-aged woman. That means when I’m in a herd of starlets, I am sasquatch, she of the thunderous footsteps lumbering behind. The mother in me wants to fling these little shadows onto gurneys and attach IVs to their puny arms, but my inner middle-schooler quakes in the presence of so many queen bees and wants only to bury her nose in a book by any of the Brontes and be transported to an alternate reality.

My husband now knows he can push certain limits, dawdling at the hotel until various publicists, agents, and managers are screaming over cellphones, “The doors are closing!” The first time, at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, we pulled up to a frantic aide announcing our arrival into a walkie-talkie as if we were heads of state – or perhaps wanted in 13 states. Once we exited the car and my husband was swept into the maelstrom of sound and light, I realized belatedly we hadn’t made a plan for the walk. I had pictured some kind of hazy Hansel and Gretel deal, two innocents holding hands, tripping through the forest of photographers and fans. Instead, he was suddenly standing alone between two huge roaring canyons. And I was left with the choice between the geisha walk-behind, the pushy “I’m his wife – take my picture, too!” maneuver (not my style), and the halfhearted hang-back. I chose option three.

Luckily, his publicist kindly guided my husband past the scarier interviews. She was also there to push me gently into the picture when the photographers asked for “the wife.” Here, in a burst of on-the-job training, and prompted by my husband’s sotto voce instructions, I learned to swivel my head in a half-Exorcist twirl while keeping a smile pasted on my face. He was great at this, the picture-taking, but then I had never seen a bad shot of him in our 23 years of marriage. I, on the other hand, had permanent psychic scars from school photos that had provoked uncontrollable hilarity from my own parents.

On the flip side of my “photo”-phobia, my husband is rendered mute with terror at the idea that he has to come up with a pithy sound bite. I’m as mouthy as he is reserved, so this is my chance to hold up my end of our yin-yang team. If the red carpet is a bizarro-world reflection of whatever’s powering our marriage, then this is the real picture: Opposites not only attract, they interact like mad when they need to protect each other.

At the premiere of The Patriot, I warned him of a flap in the news about 10-year-olds carrying rifles and that he should be prepared with an interesting comeback when asked about gun control. We thought up several replies. Loaded for bear, my husband walked up to the first interviewer with confidence. She flashed him a dazzling smile and asked: “Boxers or briefs, Mr. Cooper?”

Marianne Leone, actress, writer, and the wife of Chris Cooper, lives on the South Shore. Send e-mails to coupling@globe.com.

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