Performance Anxiety

Brian Backer was as shocked as anyone when, after the end of principal photography for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, his co-star, Jennifer Jason Leigh, asked him if he would like to be her boyfriend. Backer said yes, without hesitation and without being able to contain the glee in his voice, and so began a relationship that would last the better part of the next nine months. Much like the character he played in the movie, Mark Ratner, Backer had almost no experience with women, and, as such, was constantly nervous about performing, sexually that is, with Leigh, who, while no means the town pump, had been with plenty of men before Backer, including Los Angeles Rams Wide Receiver Preston Dennard, whom she had been in an almost exclusively sexual relationship with, and whom, she would candidly tell Backer, educated her in all ways of the flesh. Afraid that Leigh would become impatient with his lack of skills in the bedroom, Backer became increasingly paranoid and jealous, which Leigh found cute, unlike most girls her age. After the release of Fast Times at Ridgemont High Backer found himself in the position of being offered leading roles in big-budget Hollywood films such as War Games, The Karate Kid, and Back to the Future, all of which he turned down, as he did not want to be apart from Leigh for any amount of time. At first Leigh found it endearing that Backer would put his career on hold while her’s was flourishing, but then, as he turned down one role after another, she found it disconcerting, then unforgivable, as Leigh could stomach at lot of Backer’s quirks, but not his lack of ambition. She wanted to be with someone who took acting as seriously as she did, who wanted to work and push themselves, who could, if need be, support her financially if her career were to stall, and as far as she could tell, all Backer wanted to do was get nude, get on top of her, and practice intercourse, they very thing he was bad at, the very thing he would never be could at, because he wasn’t equipped for it, unlike acting, which he was. And so Leigh broke up with Backer, over the phone no less, accidentally slipping when telling him the reason why, saying, It’s not me, it’s you, which made Backer cry, oh how he cried, for what seemed like an hour straight, his convulsive sobs and moans forcing Leigh to remove the phone from her ear, until his despair turned to rage, and he accused Leigh of cheating on him – which she hadn’t – and vowed to make her sorry one day. Backer said, I’ll show you, you slut, and then you’re going to come crawling back to me, and when you do I’m going to tell you to go to hell, do you hear me, go to hell! But Leigh never did come crawling back, and Backer’s career slowly petered out, until the mere thought of the two being in a relationship seemed so far-fetched that even Backer himself could not believe it had actually happened, which is why he never mentioned it to anyone, not even when Leigh’s name came up, which was often, due to the burgeoning cult surrounding Fast Times at Ridgemont High, as well as Leigh’s status as perhaps the best actress of her generation. It was not until years later that Backer ran into Leigh at Le Petit Four Restaurant on Sunset Blvd., where he was waiting tables to supplement his income. After some awkward pleasantries, Backer took Leigh’s order. He returned minutes later with her iced tea and Nicoise salad. Leigh was alone, reading a script. Backer looked at Leigh and said he had something he wanted to tell her. Leigh said, What is it, Brian? Backer said, I just wanted to let you know that you were right, that I should have taken those roles I was offered, that I look back know and I regret all of the opportunities I squandered, that I was just scared, I didn’t think I could perform, not with you and not in those movies, and I just wanted you to know that, because I’ve never stopped thinking about you, and what happened between us, and I just wanted you to know that I don’t blame you for what happened, that it was all my fault. Leigh put down her script and told Backer that she wasn’t familiar with the monologue he had just performed for her, but whatever it was it was good, and he had done it well. Backer told Leigh he had not been performing a monologue, that he was talking about their relationship, and what happened at the end of it. Leigh looked confused, claimed she had no idea what Backer was talking about. Backer apologized and returned to the kitchen, were he hid for the next twenty minutes, ignoring the rest of his customers and catatonically watching one of the line cooks prep some cauliflower. When he returned to Leigh’s table he brought the check with him. He placed the check at the edge of the table and told Leigh it was nice to see her again. Leigh replied likewise and told Backer she hoped they would see each other again real soon. Backer watched Leigh as she left the restaurant. He hoped she would turn around and look at him one last time, and even though she didn’t, Backer is still convinced, to this day, that she did.


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