Like most writers and actors trying to make it in Hollywood, Byron Lane was a celebrity’s personal assistant. Not just any celebrity, though. He was the assistant to Princess Leia herself, the late, great Carrie Fisher.
When Fisher passed away in 2016, Lane turned the heartache into a hilarious ode to her in a fictionalized version of his time as her assistant. The perfectly title A Star is Bored is about Charlie’s time as an assistant to Cathy. Though Lane heavily fictionalized his time with Fisher, the heart of their time together found it’s way onto the page.
I spoke with the writer about his experience in Hollywood, Carrie Fisher, and what it’s like to write funny.
Every writer’s background is extremely unique. What was your path to becoming a novelist?
I worked in the TV news business for a bunch of years; first in New Orleans and then Las Vegas. Then I moved to Hollywood for a news job. I also wanted to get into acting and writing. I went to work at my news job from midnight to about eight in the morning where I wrote news copy for the anchors. Then I would go home and take a nap before going on auditions and meeting with my writing group.
You’ve written quite a few different projects from web series to plays. When did you start shifting away from news to writing comedy?
I moved to L.A. in 2005 and started auditioning for different things, including lonelygirl15, which was one of the first web series on YouTube. I got very close to landing a part in that but didn’t get it, which inspired me to write my own web series. I wrote Herpes Boy about a boy who has a birthmark on his face and becomes accidentally famous. This producer, John Baumgartner, saw the series and asked me to write it as a film.
He sent it to Beth Grant, the actress from The Mindy Project and Donnie Darko, and she called her friend Octavia Spencer who wanted to be in it. That was my first comedy thing as a feature film and it won some awards in 2010. It was a cool experience.
You’re in Hollywood navigating being a writer and actor, but how did you get involved with working for Carrie Fisher?
A friend who was involved in Herpes Boy was dating someone who worked at Gersh Talent Agency, who represented Carrie at the time. This was in 2011. I got an email saying, “Hey, do you want to work for Princess Leia?” Carrie was looking for an assistant who has writing experience to help her with her own projects.
I had a job interview with her manager and then her. That was it. I worked with her for three years from 2011 to 2014.
I think a lot of people here celebrity assistant and they don’t necessarily know exactly what that means. Your book is based on your experience with her, but if you were writing a job description of what you did, what would that description be?
I was like her personal life manager. My job was to wake her up if she wasn’t already awake, make sure she had her medications and breakfast, make appointments, keep track of her calendar, and make sure she emailed people back. She would do a lot of writing that she hand wrote, so I would transcribe her writing. That was pretty much it.
When did you start writing the novel?
The novel didn’t start until after Carrie [Fisher] died. She used to say, “Take your broken heart and go make art.” When she passed away, that’s what I tried to do.
I could imagine that was a difficult time for people as close to her as you were. What did those early chapters and ideas look like?
It honestly was a joy to write. It really was written from the heart. Revisiting all of those good times with her made me feel close to her and made her feel alive in some way. It’s fiction, but I did try to capture my time with her. It was a time of fun, friendship, and joy. It was fun to write.
The ending was the hardest part to write because I was so torn whether to leave that job. It was hard to go back and look at that time and those experiences.
What I loved about it was the humor in it. When you’re writing, how do you approach writing funny?
I think the most important ingredient is honest. When I am thinking about a scene, I try to make it as real as possible. With Carrie, I respected and loved her. Respect led to honesty which led to great communication. It was easy to find humor and joy even in difficult situations. I tried to bring that same relationship to Charlie and Cathy and I hope that it translated.
Being in a healthy relationship is to be able to go through tough times and sometimes be able to smile through them. That’s what it was like working for her. It was an entirely fun, joyous experience. Sometimes I had to do real assistant work or we had serious conversations, but nothing was ever too, too heavy with Carrie.
What do you feel is the biggest difference between writing for the screen and writing for a novel?
You can do so much more in a novel. You can describe so much more and capture so much more. You have more land to plow. In a screenplay, every scene is really just a few pages. It’s also more dialog heavy.
Also, when you write a feature or a TV pilot, you hand it off to a director and a cinematographer who have their own vision with it. Your novel is your own vision and voice. In a novel, I am the director and cinematographer as well as the writer.
What comes more naturally to you? A script or novel?
I’m all in on the books now. Every now and then I have inspiration for different projects but I’m never married to writing one over the other. I’m excited to see what’s next.
When do you know an idea is right for the screen or right for the page?
It’s hard to know. I think it’s common for writers to feel insecure and wonder if their work is garbage. I feel that. I have moments where I feel something is perfect and then switching to thinking about how much time I wasted. I think that is normal and healthy. I think a lot of it is not knowing what something is going to be until it’s out there.
Was A Star is Bored ever considered to be a script or did you always see it as a novel?
I thought of all types of options for it. The easiest and most natural was for it to be a novel.
When you were fictionalizing from your time with Carrie, was there a lot of reflecting in journals or revisiting news stories about Carrie?
The truth is, my time with her was never dull. It was like a heightened reality. Those moments were hard to forget. I do find that friends will ask me about a restaurant or a bar and I have no idea. Every bar and restaurant is the same. But with Carrie, she would say let’s go dogsledding or let’s go buy Christmas lights for the hotel room. Things were never boring with her and those memories have always stood out in my mind. Even if it was having a good time with the driver of the limo, the moments just felt like heightened reality.
Lastly, I just wanted to compliment A Star is Bored as a title. It’s genius. Was that the working title?
The working title for a long time was just Celebrity Assistant but that was always a place holder. I was brainstorming and A Star is Born had come out when I was preparing to send the book to agents and I knew I wanted something with “star” in it. There is the section in the book where Cathy says she is bored. It just hit me and made me laugh.
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