After living in this city for more than four years, you would think I usually get in on some movie premiere action every once in a while. Sure, I've come close to experiencing the red carpet treatment in the past (see: last year's Star Wars - Episode III afterparty where I cut JJ Abrams in line at the sushi bar), but never have I truly lived through the complete cinematic hoopla...until now (curtain rise!).
My unabashedly Hollywood weekend started on Saturday as a background actor for an independent Tori Spelling movie (not a typo) and ended on Sunday night as an attendee of the L.A. premiere of Babel.
Many folks in this town make their living as extras in film and TV. One can roll in some decent dough simply by standing next to Jim Carrey in a pivotal restaurant scene or in a supermarket watching Felicity Huffman get shot by Laurie Metcalfe (By the way, that Desperate Housewives hostage episode? Holy Emmy consideration!).
My old Venice roommate was frequently featured in Scrubs and had a couple of scenes in the Brittany Murphy rom-com Little Black Book. The schedule is flexible and the hours are sometimes tedious depending on the production. If there ever was a job that gave enough free time to read Atlas Shrugged cover to cover and complete a few sudoku puzzles in the process, it would be working as a background actor. Most the day is spent sitting in a "holding room," munching on cookies and slurping up stale coffee from Costco.
My work as an extra in Kiss the Bride was for no pay, and my ass later hated me for it. Hours were spent sitting in uncomfortable pews of an Episcopal church located in Van Nuys, the armpit of the Valley. The director, C. Jay, and I worked on the Hot in Hollywood benefit back in August (see Under the Influence), and he had sent out a call for help, looking for friends and acquaintances to fill up St. Mark's for a wedding scene in which our gal Tori gets hitched to guy who's actually in love with the best man (oh the shenanigans!).
Armed with my trusty hardcover novel, I sat in the holding room, which was an auditorium connected to the parish's elementary school, and got acquainted with a redhead named Johanna. We were introduced to each other by our friend-in-common Michael, one of the actors in the movie. Together we spent several hours, take after take, watching Tori walk down the aisle, throwing rose petals at the wedding party, and feigning surprise when the climactic bombshell was dropped at the altar ("Oh no he didn't!"). I'm pretty sure you can catch me clapping for the couple as Tori runs by and hops into the "Just Married" pick-up truck.
And I'm pretty sure you can catch the little pregnancy bump hiding under Ms. Spelling's dress.
Sunday was said premiere in Westwood. I went stag, arriving early so I had enough time to check in, snatch up some complimentary popcorn, observe Zach Braff catching up with Casey Affleck a few rows away, say a quick hello to Alicia (Silverstone), and realize just how skinny (and gracefully aged) Jacqueline Bisset is in person.
Naturally the movie started late. The director, Anonymous's very own Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (21 Grams) introduced Brad and Cate and the rest of the cast, spouting out words of gratitude and appreciation for everyone involved in the continent-spanning project. Applause, applause, the curtain lifted.
Rinko Kikuchi stole the show as Japanese deaf-mute Chieko, a Tokyo teen on the verge of sexual self-discovery. After watching her powerful scenes I had an urge to hop on an American Airlines flight to Japan, load up on E, and spin the neon night away in an underground techno dome.
Leaving the theater emotionally drained and craving some sustinance other than the oily Styrofoam that passed for popcorn, I searched the sea of exiting attendees for a familiar face from my company. No such luck. Everyone was making a mass exodus to the Hammer Museum two blocks away where open bars, free sushi, and a live Moroccan band awaited them.
Mr. Pitt, where could you be?
Molly met me at the entrance to the party (she couldn't make the film portion of the program), and together we did a lap around the huge courtyard. Salma Hayek to the left. Bradley Cooper to the right...My boss straight ahead.
Coincidentally Kathleen was the mastermind behind the whole soiree; she was producing the event. Molly and I congratulated her on a job well done, and then it was off to hunt down Gael Garcia Bernal. Molly refused to leave the grounds until she saw her man In. The. Flesh.
People hovered by a large white partition that stood as a barrier between the VIP section and the rest of the party. Apparently Brad was hanging out behind it, chatting with studio-looking suits and old ladies who were just delighted to be in the company of such a "handsome young man." No Gael. Molly's patience was wearing thin. Before I could imagine her shouting "Gael? Gael? Where are you?" across the venue in a fit of desperation, both of us got distracted by the decadent dessert bar. Thankfully my friends have tact and know how to keep cool in a hectic Hollywooden environment. The digicam remained in my blazer pocket. In no way whatsoever was I going to take it out and humiliate myself in front of co-workers by playing Japanese Tourist.
The night wound down and I was getting a little tired of passing the same smootchers during our walk around the bars. Gael was nowhere to be found. Molly's buzz was wearing off. And I tried to fathom how much money went in to this spectacle (perhaps enough to pay off the student loans of a dozen college grads?).
We viewed the crowd from our ledge on the second floor. Beams of light and projection stills from the film flickered above the throng of moneymakers and movie mavens.
"I'm ready to call it a night," I said. And with that, we made our exit.
A neglected TiVo was waiting for me at home.
Taking a moment of silence for Mr. Rumsfeld,