The backstage room at the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s press conference area is a beehive of activity.
“Is George here yet?”
“Is that Johnny vaping in the corner?”
It’s a place where no last names are necessary and the star wattage is blinding. Actors, directors, publicists and gofers mingle while air kisses, handshakes and Hollywood hugs are exchanged.
This year the Toronto International Film Festival is mounting 11 press conferences featuring everyone from Matt Damon and Sandra Bullock to George Clooney and Keith Richards.
I’m hosting four of them — Demolition, The Martian, Our Brand is Crisis and Black Mass — with, as MGM used to brag, “More stars than are in the heavens.”
Despite the buzzy nature of the events, backstage is a casually chaotic place where actors get caught up with one another before taking the stage.
Matt Damon made the rounds, glad-handing with his The Martian cast mates, many of whom he hadn’t met because he spent 90 per cent of his of screen time alone, stranded on Mars.
The business of the press conferences happens on stage. Moderating these things provides a fascinating glimpse into both sides of the publicity machine.
Ideally the press conferences are a reciprocal event: Reporters ask questions to actors and filmmakers they might not otherwise have access to, and in return the stars get publicity for their films. It’s a pretty simple but often unpredictable transaction.
Gone are the days of the legendary “journalist” who asked all her questions in rhyme, but for every sensible inquiry about the movie, there is inevitably another off-the-wall query that leaves panel lists either annoyed or scratching their heads.
At the Our Brand is Crisis conference someone asked Bullock about her character’s grown-out roots. The Oscar winner replied as best she could and when she finished, Clooney chimed in, “Aren’t you glad you asked that question?”
Later she shut down a silly query regarding how she keeps her bum as toned as it is in the film. “It’s so sad that you just want to talk about the butt,” she said, before tersely adding that leg lifts are the secret to posterior pertness.
Not that the attendees are the only ones to pull a gaffe or two. During the Demolition conference, I asked Chris Cooper a long, rambling question about his character. He seemed genuinely perplexed, and you know what? I was, too. Sometimes you can overthink these things.
Later at The Martian presser, there were 13 people on the stage, everyone from Michael Pena to Damon, Scott, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jessica Chastain, and in the shuffle I made the horrifying mistake of forgetting to ask the great Sean Bean a question and didn’t realize it until we were out of time.
Who doesn’t acknowledge Lord Eddard Stark?
Me, idiotically. Next year I promise to go to him first and frequently.