Smooth Operator

Hold the phone.

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The novels chronicle the intersection of celebrities and “real” people and the ways in which our idea of movie stars transforms them into fictional characters, whether in our own heads or in Us Weekly.

“Celebrities are archetypes and, in Hollywood, because they go to the grocery store and they go to the car wash and we run into them, the lines become blurred. We project so much onto these people. A lot of my work is about the confusion of the personal assistant to a celebrity who suddenly, because of the behavior of the celebrity, feels that they are the celebrity’s friend.”

Though “Still Holding” features its share of depressing subplots — a thinly veiled Brad Pitt goes into a coma, an overweight personal assistant goes off the deep end — there’s also the wry characterization of a Drew Barrymore look-alike who moves to Hollywood, only to be cast in a Spike Jonze movie about celebrity look-alikes.

“I’m an Aries, so I’m attracted to twins and doubles,” he explains. “I did an essay some years ago for Talk magazine about celebrity look-alikes, and I found their stories to be tremendously poignant. The notion of these people coming to Hollywood to act and the only job they could get was impersonating someone famous became a kind of weird metaphor for existence.”

Though Wagner has lived for years on the outskirts of Hollywood — “in terms of my socioeconomic status and my status in the business itself,” he elaborates — things are only now beginning to accelerate. Paramount and Fox Television bought “I’ll Let You Go” for him to make into a television series; David Cronenberg wants to direct one of his original screenplays; Wagner would like to adapt “Still Holding” for the screen, and he’s been working on two non-cell phone novels.

That’s not to say he’s abandoned the concept altogether. “I might put together a collection of short stories about Bud Wiggins, a character in ‘I’m Losing You,’ called ‘Bud Wiggins, Returning,’” Wagner says. “In showbiz, when you get a call back from someone, they always say ‘Sherry Lansing, returning.’” And if Wagner hasn’t already gotten that call, it likely isn’t far away.
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