What the Red Carpet is really like

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So there’s the fantasy of what it’s like to cover a red carpet event, and then there’s the reality. You know the fantasy: you’re Mario Lopez or Kelly Ripa or (fill in your favorite celebrity schmoozer here), and the celebrities come to you, all eager and enthusiastic, and they laugh at your jokes and tell you how smart your questions are and then you take selfies with them, and the cutest one—your most favorite—even flirts with you, and not in a fake-Hollywood way, and then the publicists thank you and invite you to the after party for Dom Perignon and less formal conversation and dancing and orgies.

Right.

I should have realized things weren’t going to be so dreamy when I asked the publicists if I could bring a guest to the premiere and they said no. Ok, no big deal, tight list and all. But then the follow up was, you did see the movie already, right? In case you don’t understand: I had to see the movie several days before the premiere. It’s not that I just couldn’t bring a guest; I wouldn’t be allowed into the theater myself!

Because I am hopelessly naïve about these things, I spent a lot of time yesterday panicked about the questions I was going to ask. I IMDBed everyone. I read up on their likes and upcoming projects, because you know, I was going to have so much time to ask all of them loads of questions. By all of them, I mean the big stars: Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch and of course, director Ryan Murphy. He and I were going to have a long chat about why “American Horror Story: Coven” was a huge disappointment and how he needed to resuscitate Kathleen Turner’s career in season 4. Or Annette Bening’s. Hey, a (gay) boy can dream.

I got dressed up all snazzy—wore my fanciest belt and shoes—and then subwayed into Manhattan. When I showed up at the Ziegfeld theater, the carpet was indeed red, and it was covered by a long white tent so that no bystanders could see inside and get in the way of our fawning. Check-in was easy enough, although when I said I was with the Wall Street Journal, the publicist quickly corrected me: “You mean WSJ.com?” Yes, of course. That.

Again, fool that I am, I just found an empty spot and stood there. Then I looked at the ground and realized that the names of all the media outlets were written on laminated cards, and I was standing by People magazine. Imagining myself more important than I am, I started to move down the line towards the TV people, hoping to see my card on the ground. I couldn’t find it, so I asked, and then had to make my way back to the frozen tundra of print and online journalists: i.e., the end of the line, the area that all the stars pass over because they’re tired and they’ve already done 27 interviews and the entrance to the theater is right past us, after all.

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The guy from Vanity Fair assured me that HBO was better at this than most. “They usually make sure the big names stop at us too,” he said. At least some of them. The movie studios, apparently, are less kind to us writerly trolls. On the one hand I was happy to be placed next to Vanity Fair. But then I saw who was to my right: the Daily News. Mind you, the Australian covering for the Daily News was hilariously acerbic. She didn’t want to talk to anyone who wasn’t a big name. “I’m not going to ask these people what it was like working with the cast and crew and have them tell me how amazing it was, blah, blah, blah,” she said. “Seriously, I’d rather ask them about their last bowel movement. Far more interesting.”

The first thirty minutes I finally got to understand what it feels like to be a really short person at a rock concert: you know the band is playing, but you can’t see anything. Well, I could see the celebrities; they were about fifty feet to my right, talking to people with professional cameras and microphones. I, on the other hand, had my iPhone.

Not that the publicists and handlers didn’t try to keep me busy. Probably the most hilarious thing about these events is that they hand out a “tip sheet” which not only gives you the names of all the cast members and stars who RSVPed for the event, but it also includes pictures of every one of them. You know, like the dioramas at the Natural History museum, every species is photo-identified, in case, you know, you don’t actually know what Julia Roberts looks like. Ok, I’m being catty. I actually did not know what Sean Meehan or Adam Shapiro looked like. In fact, I didn’t know who they were, but that didn’t stop the publicists from asking me to interview them. “Ask” is a nice way to put it. What actually happens is the publicist points to their pictures on the tip sheet, tells me that they are “available to talk” and when I nod my head and say nothing, they bring them over anyway and say, “Eric, I have Adam Shapiro here for you.” Of course, I am an idiot who has no questions for Adam Shapiro. Worse, I am not saavy enough to pretend that I have questions for Adam, who to be fair, seems like a very pleasant man, so I just say “I’m good” and the publicist shoots me a look like I just killed the dog she and Adam share.

 

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Did I want to talk to Rob Thomas? Not really. I mean, Rob Thomas is cool, I guess, but he’s not in the movie. He’s not even in the movies. Is he making music anymore? But Rob Thomas does look good! I’ll give him that.

At 7 O’clock the Aussie from the Daily News is saying she doesn’t have enough stuff to even bother to write a story, and in five minutes they’re going to whizz everyone into the theater and we’d have squat. I decide I should at least take some photos, although even that isn’t easy, since at this point both Taylor Kitsch and Jim Parsons are about 10 feet away and I need to be ready to ask a question at any minute.

And then Angelina Jolie struts past us. Angelina Jolie is so so thin. Holy shit is she thin. She just walks on by by herself. Followed by a few other faces, including none other than Larry Kramer himself, who wears a red cap and a robe. No shit I actually thought it was Cardinal Egan. I was like, damn, HBO, that’s some get for a movie like this. Then I looked closer: Larry Kramer! Still going strong.

 

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Before I get a chance to process this Julia Roberts walks right by us straight into the theater. Apparently she got the “skip ahead five places” Chance card on Monopoly and decided we aren’t worth a chat. That’s the back of her head, below:

 

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Finally, I do manage to talk to some of the stars. Some thoughts: Taylor Kitsch is sexy, and beautiful. And funny.

 

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Matt Bomer is ridiculously sexy and beautiful. His eyes are sort of obscene. I decided I had to touch him, so I shook his hand.

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Jonathan Groff is beautiful, but probably too nice a guy for me to describe as sexy. He’s like the just- happy-to-be-there-aw-shucks kind of celebrity. He told me he loved my glasses.

 

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Ryan Murphy was wearing a cool suit, and is kind of a serious guy. I don’t think he liked my question. But he still managed to give a good answer.

 

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So while all of this is going on all these other celebrities pass by, and of course I want to take pictures of all of them but I can’t, because I have to do the interviews, and Mark Ruffalo is the last one on the line and I’d really like to ask him some questions, but well, it’s 25 minutes after the show was supposed to start so that’s just not going to happen.

 

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What does happen is I share the escalator with him, because one of the publicists decides she is going to sneak us in to hear the opening remarks. Mark Ruffalo looks good in that so-casually-sexy-it-hurts kind of way. But we’re on the escalator already and I feel like it’s wrong to pitch questions at someone on an escalator.

Upstairs is a zoo. FYI, at these premieres, all of the popcorn and soda is free. Don’t think I don’t indulge. Sometimes, I’m told, there are gift bags on the seats. Not that I’m doing any sitting. I just stand, listen to the president of HBO give a speech, then Ryan Murphy give a speech, and watch everyone give Larry Kramer a standing O, and then I am whisked the hell out of there.

All in all, I guess it was fun. Sorta. The movie is brilliant, and everyone involved should be super proud of their work. Walking back to the subway, I still had my “Red Carpet” tag around my neck, and I passed by a group of would-be paparazzi and obsessed fans standing on the 55th street end of the Ziegfeld, the other side of the theater where they were going to wait for two and a half hours for the celebrities to come out (a good hundred feet away from them) as they walked to their limos. Some of them looked at my tag and then up at me as if I was magical, and it made me think how bizarre our culture’s obsession with celebrity is.

Why is it that being around them somehow makes us feel special? A lot of people told me that they were jealous that I was going to interview these stars. But why? And why did I feel so nervous preparing to meet them? None of them came across as the least bit intimidating in person. They were personable, charming, down to earth. Maybe that’s what we envy. I don’t think I could ever be as charming or self-possessed as these people are in the spotlight.

Probably it has something to do with the fact that they are part of our collective dream. We all know who they are: we watch them and talk about them and sometimes feel like we know them. Most of us also secretly fantasize that we want to be famous, and these people have achieved it. So we are in awe of their status.

But I don’t exactly envy them. Being on all the time seems like a lot of work. I couldn’t imagine having to constantly think about my “persona” and the expectations of thousands if not millions of fans.  I prefer the kind of spotlight writers have: where it’s far more about your work than about your public self.

Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “What the Red Carpet is really like

  1. Read your WSJ.com Speakeasy review of “Vicious.” Very perceptive comments on the portrayal of gay male characters on television.

    Then I noticed the link to your website. Very funny blogpost about your experience covering a red carpet premiere. I plan to share it with others.

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