When most people make New Year’s resolutions they vow to give up smoking or to lose ten pounds. Me, I decided not to buy soap for the next calendar year. It’s not actually as nasty as it sounds. Instead of buying bars of Ivory I’m just going to pilfer soap from every hotel I stay in.
There is a lot of soap in my future. This four-day weekend I’m off to Los Angeles for two days, then New York City for the balance of the trip. Two cities. Two hotels. Many bars of soap.
I arrive early for my two o’clock flight and kill time by waiting at the gate. For some reason there are two flights leaving from the same gate and it is very crowded. It also seems like most of the people here stayed home the day they taught lining up in school, so it is a kind of chaotic. In the melee I make the first celebrity sighting of the trip. Tim Roth is at the head of the unruly throng, and although he looks calm, if everyone in the crowd took one step forward he would be squished flat against the big sliding glass door that leads to the plane’s walkway.
The flight is delayed, and once we get into the air the turbulence is so bad that for the next five-and-a-half hours I feel like a James Bond martini – shaken, not stirred. Being whipped like a meringue for that length of time is no fun but it did lead to one of the more pleasant aspects of the trip. Usually on planes I do my best not to speak to anyone. A quick “hello,” or “would you like some pretzels?” to the person next to me is more than enough contact for me. I’m not on the plane to make new friends. On this flight, however, because the turbulence was so horrific the woman next to me started talking about the flight and we continued to chat for the entire flight. She is a producer of television commercials and was on her way to Los Angeles to shoot a car ad. The challenge of making this particular spot, she told me, was working with the ten baboons hired to jump all over the car. It’s a strange business.
She also told me great stories about working with Vadim Perelman, the Kiev born, Toronto raised commercial director, who recently made his feature debut with The House of Sand and Fog. He has a reputation of being very talented but also very difficult. His quick temper might stem from a troubled life – at one point he had to beg for money on the street so his family could eat.
Just before The House of Sand and Fog was released, she told me, Perelman held a screening for his old advertising pals in Toronto, followed by a cocktail party at The Windsor Arms. He invited everyone who had helped him in his career. While his guests drank champagne and chatted about the movie he stood to make a speech. After a few halting words of thanks he stopped and said, “I can run a movie set, but I can’t express my gratitude to you for all your help…” With that, teary eyed, he went around the room, hugged everyone and delivered personal messages of thanks to each person. It was an interesting story, and presented a much softer side of Perelman’s personality than I had heard about.
She also told me that Steven Spielberg has taken Perelman under his wing and is shooting a documentary about his life. Not bad for a guy who dropped out of Ryerson Film Studies after only two years.
So despite being tossed like a salad for the whole flight the company was good and the time breezed by.
Shaky town was a little chilly when we got there, but the palm trees swaying gently in the wind at least gave the illusion of warmth.
I don’t have any interviews scheduled today, just a screening of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at nine o’clock. This is where the time difference really kicks you in the butt. By the time I’m watching the opening credits it’ll be midnight, my time. It’s not the ideal way to see a movie, but it is my only chance to see the film before doing the interviews on Friday.
I took a shuttle bus from The Four Seasons to The Grove Theatre located at Fairfax and 3rd Street near the famous Farmer’s Market. The theatre is located adjacent a giant fountain that features a choreographed water show with lights, music and giant jets of water. It’s elegant in a showy kind of way and very L.A. but I’m too tired to be wowed by it.
I’m tired and hungry and have lost my cell phone at some point in the last couple of hours. As I walk into the theatre I’m imagining someone wracking up my phone bill, making long distance calls and phoning 967 numbers. Fortunately The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is so good it woke me up like a blast of cold water in the face, and purged all the thoughts of evil phone thieves from my head.
Before you ask, the movie’s unusual title is quoted from the poem Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744). The script was written by Charlie Kaufman based on a story idea by director Michel Gondry. It’s an unusual story about Joel (Jim Carrey) who is amazed to learn that his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has had her memories of their bumpy relationship erased. Hurt, he contacts the inventor of the process, Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) to have Clementine removed from his memory. As his memories of his ex-girlfriend disappear Joel rediscovers his love for her. From deep within the nooks and crannies of his brain Joel attempts to escape the procedure. As Dr. Mierzwiak and his team of technicians (Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood) chase him through the maze of his memories it’s becomes clear that Joel doesn’t want to let go of Clementine.
Ace Ventura 3: Who Let the Dawgs Out this ain’t. This is a dense, visually beautiful story of love as though told by Phillip K. Dick. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet both give very strong performances – Carrey hasn’t been this good in a serious role since The Truman Show and Winset is sexy, funny and wistful.
After the movie I went back to the shuttle bus. The driver had found my cell phone on the floor next to my seat. I checked, no long distance calls had been made. Yah! I was still jazzed from the movie, and unexpected return of my cell phone as we left the parking lot. On the ten-minute drive back to the hotel, however, I could feel my lids getting heavy. Back at the Four Seasons I bypassed the bar, went to my room, packed the soap in my luggage and fell into a coma-like sleep.
FRIDAY, MARCH 05, 2004
It’s a beautiful day. I opened my balcony door and took in the sights – the palm trees, the Hollywood Hills and early morning joggers getting some exercise before the smog gets too thick. My interviews don’t start until three-thirty so I have most of the day to prepare and hang-out.
I start the day with some room service – a giant urn of tea, some Heuvos Rancheros and a smoothie made of fresh fruit. I weigh myself and discover that I’ve lost twelve pounds since the last time I stepped on a scale three weeks ago. Maybe I should have two orders of Heuvos Rancheros…
Outside the hotel I have two very random celebrity sightings. Billy ‘I’m not really a Hobbit” Boyd is waiting for his car from valet parking. He likely dropped by to say hello to LOTR cast mate Elijah Wood who was doing interviews upstairs. As Boyd’s car (actually, a giant silver SUV) pulled up, celeb number two showed his face. Penn Jillette, the tall half of magicians of Penn and Teller appeared, suitcase in hand. I half expected for fire to shoot from his fingertips, or perhaps to see him levitate his way to his car, but apparently all his magic props were packed away, and instead he simply waited at the curb like any other mortal.
The weather was hot and sunny, so with thoughts of the giant block of ice that has been sitting in front of my house since January I soaked up the rays and walked down 3rd Street. Along the way I passed a store called Meg’s which is owned by friends of mine from New York. We never seem to be able to hook up. When I am in New York they are always in L.A. and visa versa. I poked my head in just to check if they were around and for once the travel gods were smiling and we were all in the same place at the same time. The store is lovely, located in a trendy part of 3rd Street between Sweetzer and Kings Road. We chat for an hour or so, getting caught up and comparing notes on who had the worst flight in on Thursday. They won. I only had turbulence to deal with. Their flight was hours late, and there was no meal service because of the brutal turbulence.
From there I move on to the Farmer’s Market. The original Farmers Market was created at Fairfax and 3rd Street in 1934 when 18 farmers parked their trucks on vacant land at Gilmore Ranch to sell fresh produce to locals who flocked to the location. The first merchants at the Market – the farmers who sold produce from the back of their trucks – paid 50 cents a day in rent. It’s a little different since The Grove complex of high-end shopping opened next door, but some of the old-timers are still there. Du-par’s Restaurant has been there for sixty-four years and Magee’s has been serving Market patrons for 68 years.
Over the years many Hollywood stars have been associated with The Farmer’s Market, and it was once described as “the number one place in L. A. to spot stars” by the L. A. Times. James Dean is believed to have eaten breakfast at Farmers Market on the day of his fatal car crash (9/30/55), and Esther Williams once performed at Gilmore Stadium – she had a pool built and staged a water ballet – and when the show was over, the pool was immediately removed.
I find a nice sunny place to sit and work on reading my notes and sketching out questions for the interviews. I’m so happy be to sitting outside after the brutal winter we’ve had in Toronto that I have hard time concentrating on my work. I don’t make out lists of questions for these interviews, but I do try and familiarize myself with the information and make a few notes on things I’d like to cover. Usually I have a page of point form notes written in a scrawl that resembles hieroglyphics. Many times I have been doing an interview, looked down to check my notes and have been unable to read what I have written on the page. Today I take extra time to make sure my notes are legible.
Back at the hotel things aren’t running smoothly. The schedule is out of whack and Jim Carrey arrived really late, and is taking his time deciding on which interviews he would like to do. No matter, there are five interviews in total, so I’m not going to pull my hair out over whether or not I’ll get Carrey.
I’m scheduled to start near the end of the day, so I’ll likely be the last interview of this session for most of the actors. First up is Kirsten Dunst, who is tres cute with her short hair. She’s tired and looks it. It has been a long day for her and she clearly wants to get this over with. On camera the interview goes well, and we discussed the script and the emotional core of the film. She agreed with my analysis that the story can be as fanciful as you like as long as the emotional core of the film rings true.
She seemed relieved when the interview was over. A few minutes later we met in the hall just outside her room. She was with her publicist and wanted to drop by Mark Ruffalo’s room to say hello before she left for the day. I asked her how the day had gone for her.
“If one more person asked me, ‘If you could erase one memory what memory would it be?’ I was going to scream,” she said.
I pointed out that I hadn’t asked that question.
“Yeah, your questions were good,” she said. “And every man who walked into the room wanted to ask me about dancing in my underwear and they all used the word ‘panties’…”
Again, I pointed out that I hadn’t been one of the dirty old men who asked about her undergarments and mentioned that Mark Ruffalo is a whole lot more naked than she is in the movie. She giggled when I enquired if anyone had asked about Mark’s panties.
When she went into Mark’s room I heard her yell, “If you could erase one memory what would it be!” then the sound of uproarious laughter from the two actors. Apparently it was the questions of the day for all the actors.
I’ve interviewed Mark Ruffalo many times in the last year or so, and find him to be a pleasure to speak to. He’s open, funny and has a nice relaxed way about him. He’s also the only man (other than Viggo Mortensen) that all my women friends unanimously agree is husband material. We chat for some time, but most of the interview we can’t use because we unwittingly gave away the end of the film. Maybe much later we’ll use that footage once everyone has seen the movie.
Like everyone else on the planet I saw Titanic when it came out, but in the years since I haven’t given Kate Winslet much thought. I’ve seen her in the odd film, and actually really liked her performance in Quills, but she wouldn’t have made my top five list… until today. Her performance in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is flawless, and completely different than anything else she has attempted before. And for the first time I thought she was beautiful. Really beautiful.
My newfound lofty expectations of her were more than met when I walked into her hotel room (oh no, this is starting to sound like a letter to Penthouse Forum). She’s down to earth, smart and used the word “whilst” effortlessly during our conversation. We discussed how people are used to seeing special effects in movies and can spot CGI a million miles away. This movies uses special effects, but of a more organic nature. There is very little computer manipulation of the images; instead director Gondry used older techniques. She described to me a rig that was attached to the camera lens that was made of two pieces of glass, and had a prism effect. When the two pieces of glass were shifted slightly she would disappear from the shot, even though she hadn’t physically moved. The “hand made” special effects give the movie a magical feel, and even though they are based on age-old techniques they seem very fresh. For more with Kate Winslet check out Reel to Real in March.
The final interview of the day was Elijah Wood. I’ve interviewed him several times for the LOTR films and am always amazed at how upbeat he is. The LOTR press days were vicious, every media outlet on earth was trotted out for these guys to talk to, and I can only imagine the stupid questions they had to answer. That’s bad enough for one movie, but to have to do it three times is just cruel. But he seems fresh and eager when I get him, even though he has been sitting in a stuffy hotel room under hot lights all day. Perhaps he really is a Hobbit with supernatural powers. We discussed how is character is being seen as the bad guy in the film, but I told him I didn’t see him as completely awful, just desperate. Really, really desperate, and this clouded his judgment. He agreed and expanded on my theory. More with Elijah Wood in March on Reel to Real.
I finished my interviews at ten minutes after five. Good thing too, my drive to the screening room for tonight’s movie leaves at five-fifteen. I’m off to see Spartan, a political thriller starring Val Kilmer and written and directed by David Mamet.
The screening room is in an office building just off of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. As I walk down the hall to the auditorium I pass hundreds of framed photographs of a man with large, thick glasses hugging every celebrity you can imagine. Some are in black and white, some in lurid color, particularly one with an obviously drugged-out Paul Williams that looks like it dates from the mid-Seventies. It is a quite a collection… I haven’t seen that many b-list celebs in one place since Liza Minelli’s wedding. Anyway, the guy with Coke-bottle bottom glasses in all the photos is the owner of the screening room. I didn’t catch his name, but I spoke with him before the movie started. During our conversation he disappeared several times, only to return with more photos and memorabilia to show me. His prized possession was an honorary doctorate from a local university. “By rights,” he said, “you should be calling me doctor.” Hollywood is filled with strange characters.
Before the film he made a speech informing us that we are about to see “a beautiful picture, let’s not ruin it with noise from our cell phones…” I’m not sure I would call Spartan a “beautiful movie,” but it is an interesting one.
Val Kilmer plays Robert Scott is a career military officer working in a highly secretive special operations force. He is recruited to find the daughter of a high-ranking government official. His partner on the mission is novice Curtis (Derek Luke).
Soon the straightforward search-and-rescue mission becomes complicated by the political ambitions of those in high places – like Stoddard (William H. Macy), a political operative who may know more than he’s telling about the clandestine circumstances surrounding Laura’s abduction. Scott and Curtis are at the brink of tracking Laura’s whereabouts when the mission comes to an abrupt conclusion, with the media issuing reports of the girl’s death.
Scott returns to the quiet life and awaits his next assignment, but Curtis seeks out Scott to confide his belief that Laura is in fact alive. If she is, their continued unofficial investigation will put them as well as Laura at the center of a dangerous conspiracy that reaches the highest levels.
Sounds complicated, no? Well, it is, but in a good way. Think of it as a double episode of The West Wing, (one of the good ones from last season before Aaron Sorkin left), with sharp dialogue and a story that takes chances. I sometimes wonder why Val Kilmer is famous. He hasn’t had a hit in years and his Top Gun / Batman heyday seems like a long time ago now, but then I see him in something like this and am reminded what a good actor he is.
I’m ravenous when I leave the screening, and since I can’t afford to eat in any of the restaurants on Rodeo Drive we head back to the hotel, grab a table on the patio (!) and have a leisurely dinner. I’m in bed early ready to fly to New York the next morning.
SATURDAY, MARCH 6, 2004
I’m up at an hour that can only be described as “arse o’clock.” It is 4:30 am when my alarm goes off. I fight off the urge to hit snooze and hide out in my room. It’s still dark when I take a shower. It’s still dark when I check out of the hotel. Ditto with the cab ride to LAX. I was up so early that the sun didn’t start to drop rays until I was at the gate.
I wasn’t the only one who had to get up early that morning. I spotted Val Kilmer making his way to the departure area. He was leaving L.A. (or Valifornia as his fans call it) and making his way to New York to do a day of press to promote Spartan. In person he is quite striking looking, and he draws some attention from people at the airport. It must be his eyes. A website, valkilmer.com describes them as “greenish in color and very soulful.”
As we board the plane for the seven am flight I pass Val who is sitting in row A seat one. He nods at me as I pass and I mumble a “hello,” as I shuffle past him. I don’t think he could possibly remember me. I have only interviewed him once, and that was seven months ago on a press day in Toronto for Wonderland. He must have done fifty interviews that day, so either he has a terrific memory, or he always wanted to be an airline steward and enjoys greeting people as they board the plane…
Uneventful flight. The breakfast is pancakes with apples, a strudel and some tea. The movie is School of Rock and I have a chance to read an entire GQ magazine. The plane isn’t very full, and I have an entire row to myself. Other people are stretched across the empty seats, but I can never quite negotiate that. I’m too tall to lay down on a plane, my head always sticks out in the aisle, and I have had some unpleasant run-ins with service carts on other occasions when I have tried to catch a few winks in that position. There is nothing quite as unpleasant as being woken from a deep sleep by getting dinged in the head by a flight attendant with a heavy serving cart. I know. I have the bumps and bruises to prove it.
We land at JFK in mid-afternoon. No one, including Val has any idea where to pick up our luggage. It is a big barn of a place and there is no indication of which baggage carousel is ours. Eventually I spot Val sitting near a carousel and wander over. He says hello again and we chat. I told I had seen the movie the night before and enjoyed it. Then he said something kind of cryptic.
“David Mamet is so funny,” he said. “He should make more comedies.”
I don’t really know how to respond, as I didn’t find this movie particularly amusing. I think he might have been referring to his deadpan delivery of the dialogue and how that may have brought some humor to an otherwise very serious subject, but frankly I’m a little baffled.
Luggage in hand I grab a cab to The Regency Hotel on Park Avenue. The one bonus of getting into town later in the day is that the rooms will be ready. I sign in and go up to my room on the eleventh floor. I open the door and a blast of hot, dry air blows me backward. It’s so hot in the room I think my hair gel is going to melt (that could get VERY messy). As I turn down the heat and throw my bag on the bed I notice a squishing sound. I take a step. There it is again. Closer inspection of the floor reveals that it is soaking wet. Probably it has just been shampooed and to help it dry they turned the heat up to one million degrees.
It feels like my skin is starting to blister and I’m being cooked from the inside out (OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was hot) as I call down and to the front desk and arrange another room. It’s on the fourth floor – my view is gone, but at least the carpet isn’t sweating. I notice that a “commemorative” bottle of Evian in my mini-bar is $12. I inspect the bottle and can’t find anything unique about it other than the outrageous price. Later, when I am out walking around I buy the same bottle of water on the street for $1. How says you can’t make money running a hotel?
I go out and walk around for a couple of hours and see a man in a cowboy hat with a belt buckle as large as a dinner plate. I admire the courage it takes to pull off a look like that but don’t it would look good on me.
Tonight I have to see Taking Lives at the AMC Theatre in Times Square. Saturday night in Times Square really has to be seen to be believed. There are more people at the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway than there are in the town I grew up in – it is jam packed. On top of that there are billboards and flashing signs on virtually every inch of free space on the buildings. It is a sensory overload.
The theatre is huge. I notice The Passion of the Christ is playing on five screens here, and there are line-ups at each theatre. I’m reminded of a headline I saw in the satirical newspaper The Onion earlier today on my walk: Jesus Demands Creative Control Over Next Film. Inside it is as chaotic as it is outside. This isn’t just a press screening, there will be a general audience as well. I like seeing movies in New York with regular audiences. Critics tend to be a jaded bunch, with a “seen it all” kind of attitude, so it should be fun to see it with an audience that will interact with the picture.
An FBI profiler (Angelina Jolie) is called in by French Canadian police to catch a serial killer who takes on the identity of each new victim. The first scream from the crowd comes about nine minutes in. From that point on there is a lot of commotion in the audience. People are shouting, “Don’t go in there!” as Angelina Jolie’s character moves to explore an old basement and “Told you so!” as Ethan Hawke reveals a dark secret. That kind of thing would drive me crazy normally, but here it seems to fit and gives me a good idea at how people will react to this movie.
I liked the movie. It is a good thriller in the spirit of 1980s fare like Basic Instinct and the Canadian in me is happy that it was shot and takes place in Quebec. Also, Ethan Hawke’s character comes from Nova Scotia (as do I) although he needs a little work on his accent.
After the movie I go back to the hotel, pack the soap (see page one of this diary) and go to bed.
SUNDAY, MARCH 7, 2004
I didn’t set an alarm to today because my interviews don’t start until three o’clock. My plan was to get up early, check out of the hotel, stow my bags, have breakfast somewhere and study my notes. Unfortunately I woke up an hour after I was supposed to have vacated the room. Whoops. The anxious maids in the hall are circling the room like vultures, waiting to come in and strip the bed and erase all signs of me ever having been there. They’ll have to wait, and I’ll probably get charged a fortune for a late check out.
During packing I realize that I have accumulated quite a lot of things on this trip and my luggage feels like it is packed with anvils. I leave the bag in the hospitality suite – I don’t have to worry about anyone stealing it because none of the pampered reporters on this junket could lift it – and go for a walk. It’s sunny and warm so I find an outdoor café on Lexington Avenue and have something to eat while I go over my questions.
Back at the hotel I’m told that Val Kilmer has cancelled most of his interviews for today. It seems he isn’t feeling well and needs to lie down. That’s funny, because he seemed OK when I spoke with his yesterday, but who am I to judge. I also hear a rumor that on the Jersey Girl junket at the Essex House (I’m not doing that one. I’m set to interview Kevin Smith in Toronto.) Miramax is not releasing the Ben Affleck tapes. Apparently Diane Sawyer is interviewing him on Primetime so to insure her exclusivity Miramax is hanging on to Ben’s junket tapes until after Sawyer’s interview has run. The day after Primetime airs the tapes will be sent to the junket reporters.
My first interview of the day is with Ethan Hawke, or as I like to call him, “the man formerly known as Uma’s husband.” I think it is rather brave of him to be doing a full press day like this when his marital problems have been so widely publicized. You have to figure that out of the forty or so interviews he’ll do today at least a few people are going to try and talk trash about Uma and their break-up. If I were him I’m not sure I would put myself in the position where I would be expected to discuss my personal life in a very public forum. I stick to talking about the movie and he seems a bit relieved.
Next up is French heart throb Olivier Martinez. He plays a by-the-book cop in the movie who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Angelina Jolie. Most viewers will remember him either as Diane Lane’s lover in Unfaithful, or the bad guy who offered “One hundred meeelion dollars!” to anyone who could break him out of jail in S.W.A.T.. As I sit down he tells me he and the cameraman are having a competition to see who falls asleep first. It’s not the most promising opening to an interview I have ever had, but I soldier on and hope for the best. We discuss which is more fun to play, a good guy or a bad guy. He gives me a long winded answer about playing bad guys. I almost fall asleep during his answer.
There is a slight delay for my interview with Angelina Jolie. Apparently she is changing her clothes every few interviews so that all the footage from today won’t look alike. I wait in the hall until I am called in. Walking into the suite I see three or four people leaning over Jolie, primping her hair, and powdering her face. I can’t see her, but I’m sure she’s in there somewhere. When the make-up and hair people step away the effect is like the Red Seas parting, or a red velvet curtain raising behind which there is something extraordinary.
Jolie is quite remarkable looking, so much so in fact, that she almost doesn’t look real. She calls the raised veins on her forearms her best feature. I disagree. As GQ recently pointed, “To speak of her beauty in morphological terms – the lip cleavage, the puma eyes, those great heaving… blah, blah – is like pointing out the sun.” She is a mish-mash of unusual features – GQ recently described her face as “ripely round, yet violently angular,” with plumped lips and a forehead made for arched eyebrows. I think that any one of these features might look odd by themselves, but put together they form a whole that is undeniably striking.
We’ve all heard the tabloid stories about the vials of blood, eating disorders and the tattoos but there are no markings visible today, although she has a number of them. She has a koan inscribed on her stomach in Latin that translates to: “What nourishes me also destroys me.” Today she is the epitome of elegance. She’s open, looks you straight in the eye when speaking to you and gives thoughtful, interesting answers to my questions.
She plays an FBI profiler in the film and we discussed the similarities between that job and her day job as an actress. Both are observers and both have to have a keen understanding of human nature. For the full interview with Angelina Jolie watch Reel to Real in March.
She’s the last interview of the trip, and it is only four o’clock. My plane isn’t scheduled to leave until eight-thirty but I really want to get home, so I head for the LaGuardia hoping to make an earlier flight. The airport isn’t that busy, but apparently the flights to Toronto are delayed because of bad weather in Canada, so I have to wait until seven-thirty. I park myself in the executive lounge and wait. Trainspotting director Danny Boyle is also in the lounge – he’s shooting a film in Toronto and is probably waiting for the same flight I am – but he looks like he wants to be left alone and after doing interviews all afternoon I’m done talking about movies for today so I don’t approach him.
The flight is uneventful, and I’m glad to be coming home. It was a long, strange trip, but at least I was able to keep up with my New Year’s resolution – I came back with four bars of hotel soap!