A Poet from Hollywood: Love, Insanity, Stephen Gyllenhaal, and the Creative Process // Chapter 3

Cantara Christopher
9 min readSep 2, 2022

[IN WHICH I RECREATE THE ACTUAL SHOCKING PHONE EXCHANGE BETWEEN MYSELF AND THAT FINE, FINE OSCAR-NOMINATED SCRIPTWRITER NAOMI FONER]

“How Did You Get This Number!?”

At the beginning of our relationship Stephen had blithely assured me that his family and friends were behind his book. The friends he rattled off were an impressive and varied lot: Alan Dershowitz, the famous lawyer; the Danson-Steenbergens, an acting couple; the Woodward-Newmans, another acting couple; the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Styron; the Booker Prize-winning novelist Michael Ondaatje; Graham Swift, another Booker Prize-wining novelist; Hugh Ogden.

Now understand this. I’m a publisher. This is what that list of celebrated people meant to me: Seven possible unit sales.

And who the hell was Hugh Ogden?

“My mentor, Hugh Ogden. He’s an English professor and a poet,” Stephen told me over the phone early in March. I had to confess that I hadn’t heard of him. “We have to bring Hugh on board,” he continued. “He helped me a lot when I was at college. He’s excited to hear about the book.” When I asked Stephen what he meant by bringing him on board, he suggested that Ogden write the Introduction.

An old poet introducing a younger, emerging one in the younger one’s first collection — that would be dignified and very traditional. I approved of this plan.

But Stephen for some reason could not stop pitching. “I can get you Graham Swift. I can get you Michael Ondaatje. Did you ever see The English Patient?” I told him I’d only read the book. (I thought it was a little pretentious.) “Ondaatje’s a good friend. He’ll do it. And Graham owes me for Waterland.” Stephen directed the film version that starred Jeremy Irons and Ethan Hawke. I much preferred the book.

“Well, who do you want to write the Introduction?” I asked.

“All of them!” he exclaimed.

We finally settled on Hugh Ogden to write the Foreword, while either Ondaatje or Swift would write the Introduction. In a spirit of non-cooperation, however, both refused. (It was Swift’s refusal that prompted…

Cantara Christopher

Sometime actress-writer leading visitors down the rabbit hole of the arts, sex, magick, Filipiniana, and America’s hidden history