I salute him obediently and follow him up the steps.
“Here we go,” he says under his breath. And then, he turns to me, asking more seriously: “Are you ready for this?”
He’s implied this question every time I’ve had to sign my name on a contract, every time a piece of this collaboration moves forward. But there’s a duality there now: He’s asking whether I’m really ready for what we’re about to dive into promoting headlong—my seventh feature film, but the first I’m making with my father—pulls me up short in a bright square of concrete.
“I hope I am.” I gape at him, heart pounding as if maybe I’ve made a huge mistake. It happens a little bit each time I start something new: the sense that I’m really a fraud, that I don’t actually know what I’m doing, that I somehow got into acting on a technicality and not because I earned it.
Usually the feeling evaporates pretty quickly. This time, though, it’s hung around since officially agreeing to take on the role of Ellen Meyer: farmer, local civil rights activist, and badass extraordinaire. Some of that has to be due to the pressure of leading a film with my extremely famous father in only a supporting role. And some of it has to come from knowing that we’ll be on a rural location together for a month and a half, and I have no idea whether it will bring us closer at all.
And on top of that—the pressure of acting with Dad aside—I’ve never done anything like this. Milkweed is a subtle script: the story about a tenacious woman who comes back from heartbreak to find the love of her life and help shape her small Iowa community, while going through the pain of losing a parent to dementia. It’s brilliant but entirely character driven, and will require acting chops I’m not even sure I have, under the guidance of one of the best directors in the world.
“What if I’m not ready?” I ask, chewing my lip.
“The correct answer was yes,” Marco says, tapping my chin so I’ll stop biting down on my abused bottom lip. “You are.”
His confidence in my ability has always been solid, but I know this right here is part bravado, too: the pressure for Dad and me to do a film together has been slowly building to a hysterical frenzy. It’s no longer a When Will They? headline, it’s become a Why Haven’t They? Admittedly, as Dad’s career has slowed down and mine has picked up, it feels like the perfect time for our Jane-and-Henry-Fonda moment. The script is incredible, the timing works, and I wouldn’t even be relying on Dad’s celebrity to get me in the door: if I back out now, it would be a PR nightmare for Marco.
“You are, Tater Tot.” A sweet smile and a wink takes the edge out of Marco’s next words: “Don’t make my life a living hell.”
He pulls open the glass door, gesturing me ahead of him. Cameras flash, applause rises in welcome, and although my brain is still stalled out, my body makes the subtle shift from Me to Tate Butler: My eyes widen, and an easy smile spreads across my face. I stand a little straighter, walk a little looser.
A tight semicircle of people waits just inside the gleaming lobby, and a stocky, bald man with a salt-and-pepper beard steps forward, hand extended. “Hi Tate, hi Marco. I’m Lou.” Lou Jackman, according to the notes I crammed in the car. Twitter’s VP and head of community engagement. “It’s fantastic to meet you.”
I grip his hand. “Thank you for having us today.”
He laughs. “Are you kidding? Anytime. We’re grateful you made room in your schedule.”
“Let’s hold off on the gratitude until you see me tweet,” I tease. Flashes pop in a constellation behind him.
“I think you underestimate how many people are looking forward to this.” Lifting his chin, Lou pulls my attention across the room to where a table has been set up with two laptops side by side, two elaborate black desk chairs, and a small vase of flowers. A bowl of Skittles tells me someone did their homework on the famous Ian Butler sweet tooth. An array of cameras on tripods are set up in front of the table, waiting to catch every one of my fumbling typos. Awesome.
Dad is already here, his charm having been quarantined in a green room until I arrived and they pulled him out from a hallway to greet me. He waves with the trademark crinkly-eyed Ian Butler–smile as we approach each other.
My stomach tilts; I saw him only four days ago at the agency offices in LA, but when he stands to give me a hug, a thousand flashes burst as though we’re being reunited after a decade apart all over again—capturing my smile over his shoulder.
The narrative is that we’re as close as any father and daughter could be. The narrative is that we’re together at holidays, birthdays, vacations. The truth is he drops in for a quick glass of wine on Christmas; his assistant Althea recruits Mom’s help to choose something lavish and semi-personalized for me on my birthday, and we’ve never taken even a day of vacation together. Clearly, the narrative is bullshit.
Dad turns to face the room of press and Twitter employees, throws up his arms like this is the greatest welcome he’s ever received, and hurls a smile at them so supremely trademark Ian Butler that a few people actually cry out “Oh my God.” Even with the more stoic men in the room, I sense the collective, vibrating thrill of being so close to a celebrity of his magnitude.
And I get it—he’s an icon. I still have that momentary buzz of adrenaline when I see him. It doesn’t seem to matter that he’s no longer the Ian Butler of fifteen years ago—he’s fifty-six now, at the top of the extended hot-years (for men) in Hollywood—he is still charisma personified.