GANGS OF NEW YORK JUNKET ON-LINE DIARY – NEW YORK DEC. 6 – 7
My horoscope for Friday says, “Life looks a bit grim today.” I have a long day of travelling, seeing movies and running around today, and I refuse to accept that particular celestial prophesy. So I check another paper. “If a partnership is not working out the way it should…” This one isn’t shaping up very well either. I’m willing to read every newspaper and magazine on the airplane until I find a horoscope with some good news. OK, I check the Toronto Star. More bad news. What am I doing on an airplane? It’s not like I really believe in horoscopes, but I do occasionally read them, and I’m just surprised that all of mine are so negative. I didn’t think they’d tell you really bad things… Anyway, I finally find some hope in the pages of Vanity Fair. “Just because you are experiencing a little retrograde blip in your 3rd solar house…” (WHAT!) I won’t share the whole new agey thing with you, but to sum up, it basically says everything is going to be OK, which is good because it is my second trip to New York this week, and I’m tired and grumpy.
Luckily I’m not superstitious, (despite my little freak-out about the horoscope) because if I was I would never have gotten on either of the out going planes from Toronto. On Monday I left from Gate 13. GATE 13! I didn’t know they had Gate 13s. I assumed that they wouldn’t, just as most hotels don’t have 13th floors. Then today I scheduled to leave at 1 pm, or 13:00 on the 24 hour clock. Seriously, I know people who would have let this get the better of them. Not me, I bravely forged on and got on the plane, mostly because I had a First Class ticket, courtesy of my friend Teri Hart who wheeled and dealed us into the pointy end of the plane with the bigger seats and decent food.
On Monday, as I reported in an earlier diary, I flew American Airlines with disappointing culinary results. This trip was a vast improvement with a light lunch of cold chicken, pesto pasta shells, some brie and a spinach salad with roasted garlic and chive dressing. For dessert there was Lindor chocolates. I have eaten better food for sure, (Air France still takes the award for best in-flight food) but at least this was a bit more substantial than the packets of pretzels they heave at you on other airlines.
Our flight was on time, which I found surprising considering that New York had just been buried in snow. I left last Tuesday and it was cold, but still quite pleasant. On Wednesday they got more snow than they had all of last winter. By the time I arrived on Friday most of it was gone, but travelling by car was still a take-your-life-into-your-hands kind of proposition. We got stranded at LaGuardia (located in the aptly named town of Flushing, NY) for a while because there simply were no cabs to be had. None. There was a huge line, and every ten minutes or so one lone cab would come by, pick up the first person in line and the rest of us would shuffle a couple of inches towards the front, like cows on the way to the slaughterhouse. Then a slightly sleazy looking man named Larry approached us and asked if we wanted to take a limo downtown. He’d give us a lift for fifty bucks, which is about twice would it would normally cost, but the option was to stand in line and slowly grow old, or get downtown before my next birthday. We took the limo. What he didn’t tell us is that we would be sharing it with seven other people. It was starting to feel like a shady deal, but we really didn’t have a choice, now that we had left the line whatever progress we had made towards the front was lost, and we’d have to start all over again. So we hop in with the other passengers – five elderly ladies from Alabama and a father and daughter from Richmond Hill, Ontario.
It was cramped, with one old woman virtually sitting on my lap. Her name was Kathryn and she hails from Jacksonville, Alabama. In the course of the trip we learned that she agrees with “that Canadian woman who called Bush a moron,” has an “unmarried 36 year-old son named Brendan,” has been married twice, and has a Chihuahua-Jack Russell terrier mix named Little Patches. She was hysterical, with a lovely, sing-songy Southern accent. Little did I know at the time that save for travelling companions, she would probably be the nicest person I would speak to over the course of the weekend. More about that later.
Get to the hotel in time to check in, drop off my bags and leave immediately to see Gangs of New York at the AMC Empire Theatre in Times Square. The Essex House is a fine-looking old art deco New York hotel with a great view of Central Park – I can see the skating rink from my window, and hear the clomping of the horse drawn carriages – and very central. The hotel is just steps away from Carnegie Hall, Columbus Circle and shopping on Fifth and Madison Avenues. Close-by is Saks Fifth Avenue, Museum of Modern Art, Radio City Music Hall, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center. Too bad I’ll be too busy to actually see any of this stuff…
It’s dark by the time we get to the theatre, but Times Square is so lit up it seems like mid-day. The theatre is huge, with twenty-five screening rooms. Never have I seen so many escalators. We worm our way through the maze of hallways and escalators – it kind of looks like that famous M.C. Escher painting of the interconnected stairways – until we get to theatre number seven. The seats are like large leather airplane seats, which is good because Gangs of New York clocks in at almost three hours. I grab some popcorn, some pretzels with a dipping sauce and two cokes ($15.50 USD) to share with Teri. We’ve been talking about the French Onion Soup at the Essex House all day. She claims it’s the best in the world, but we didn’t have time to have any. Maybe later, for now we’re stuck with fake cheese, fake butter, popcorn and pretzels.
I have been curious about Gangs of New York for some time. I know that Martin Scorsese originally wanted to make this movie about twenty-five years ago, but it kept getting shoved to the back burner. Even in it’s most recent incarnation it seems to have taken some time to get to the screen. Leonardo DiCaprio has been circling around this script since he was seventeen, well before his success with Titanic, and in fact he told me he actually even changed agencies to make himself more available to Scorsese. The director always takes a long time to edit his films, sometimes as much as a year-and-a-half or two years as in the case of The Last Waltz, but Gangs has been so highly anticipated, that the delay raised doubts in people’s heads. I have been hearing rumblings from people that the constant delays and changing release dates signify that the movie isn’t any good. That if they had a winner they wouldn’t have done re-shoots. Well, that’s all just conjecture. I’ve seen it, and while you’ll have to wait for the whole review later this month on Reel to Real, rest assured, Gangs of New York isn’t Martin Scorsese’s Heaven’s Gate. Daniel Day Lewis hands in a great performance as Bill the Butcher, leader of the Nativists and the supporting cast of British and Irish actors are impressive. It’s a good movie with plenty of Scorsese’s trademark visual flourishes and an interesting story. Tune in to find out more.
After the movie we make our way down the maze to a chartered bus that will take us back to the Essex House. I finally get to have my French Onion Soup, although by this time it’s edging up to mid-night. Soup, a couple of drinks in the bar and its bedtime.
Saturday December 7, 2002
What has happened to E! News? It’s absolutely terrible. I got up early this morning to the music of clomping horse hooves in Central Park, switched on the television and was assaulted by the most lamebrain, empty headed drivel I have seen in a long time. Is this what now passes for entertainment journalism? I could only watch a couple of minutes before my disgust got the best of me and I changed the channel.
After my shower, as I am loading up my travel case with all the little soaps and shampoos from the room – the Essex House has particularly nice ones – I am still marvelling at how insipid that show was. Little did I know I was about to spend the rest of my day with people exactly like the ones I turned off the TV to avoid.
My first interviews of the day were for a film called The Pianist. I missed seeing it in Cannes this year, where it deservedly won the top prize. I haven’t liked the last several Roman Polanski films, but I saw The Pianist a week or so ago in Toronto and was very moved. It is an incredible film, with a beautiful lead performance by Adrien Brody.
The interviews are running a bit late, so I have a bite to eat in the hospitality suite. It’s the usual stuff, eggs, bagels, bacon, home fries, and I strike up a conversation with one of the American junketeers while I am eating.
“I just came back from doing the interviews,” he said.
“How’d they go?” I asked.
“Fine,” he said, “but I didn’t know Thomas Kretschmann was German. I would have asked him all kinds of different questions had I known.”
I don’t bother to point out to him that the last name alone might have been a give-away. Or perhaps that he plays a German in the film, or even that if he had bothered to read the press notes that we were all given that the first line of Mr. Kretschmann’s biography reads, “Thomas Kretschmann, born in East Germany…” Instead I sat there quietly with my eggs marvelling that this guy has the nerve to call himself a journalist. I wonder how he has managed to hang onto his job, when even the simplest tasks, like doing some research, are clearly beyond him. Later in the day I hear a story about another junketeer who asked George Lucas “whether Dark Vader was a good guy or a bad guy.” Honestly, it’s enough to make a hungry guy like me loose his appetite.
Anyway, my interview with Adrien Brody is first. He’s an impressive young actor who began acting at age twelve. He’s one of those guys that you probably would recognize, but not necessarily know his name. Movie buffs will recognize him from strong performances in Harrison’s Flowers, Bread and Roses, Liberty Heights and The Thin Red Line. He may be one of those “I know the face but not the name” guys now, but that will change with the release of The Pianist. He’s in every frame of this movie, and hands in a memorable performance, one that will probably be recognized when it is time to hand out the Oscars. He’s quite thin, but very intense. We talked about the responsibility of playing a true-to-life character, and working with Roman Polanski, one of cinema’s greats. He felt a great deal of pressure to get it right because part of the story is based on Polanski’s experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto. See the rest of the interview on Reel to Real later this month.
Next up was Thomas Kretchmann. He has a small but pivotal role in The Pianist, and we talked about many things, and he asked about my last name. I explained that Crouse is a German name, but when my great-great-Grandfather came to America he didn’t speak any English and the customs people changed the spelling from Kraus to Crouse, and we have used that spelling ever since.
The rest of the day was spent waiting… and waiting… to interview the cast of Gangs of New York. As the day wore on it became painfully obvious that the situation was out of my control. There were a lot of press there and everyone was vying for the interviews with Cameron Diaz, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis. My interviews were supposed to start at 3 pm, but by the time I actually sat down with Lewis, it was well past dark, and the talent was tired, and so was I. At 4:30 I heard one of Lewis’ people ask how many interviews they had left. Keep in mind they had been going since 9 am, and the day was almost over. “Not too many,” said the handler. “Only about 23 more.” Wow, it’s amazing to me that the actors have anything left to say after doing 50 or more interviews on the same day. At one point Lewis came out of his suite and hung out in the hallway. “I’m going to stretch my legs,” he said. “It’ll be better in the long run… I’m turning into the shape of a chair.”
I was concerned about the Daniel Day Lewis interview. I don’t know why but I had the idea that he would be very difficult, but just the opposite was true. He was very relaxed, and when he found out I was from Toronto he wanted to discuss Bowling for Columbine and the famous scene where Michael Moore goes door to door and finds many of them unlocked. I told him my door is always locked, and while Toronto is safer than many American cities we still have our own problems. He’s very good in Gangs, and I felt very lucky to speak to him, as he doesn’t make very many movies and doesn’t often speak to the press.
More waiting… then Cameron Diaz… be still my beating heart. She’s funny, lovely and a good interview. When Harvey Weinstein, the head honcho of Miramax poked his head into the suite to say hello she sat up and yelled “Pappy!” When I left I congratulated her on the film. She said she’s very proud of it, and even though there are a lot of interviews scheduled today, she’s more than happy to talk about a project she really believes in.
At this point, after a long day of waiting around I’m told that the Martin Scorsese interview isn’t going to happen. I’ve spoken to him before, so I wasn’t too upset, but I would have liked the chance to speak to him. He’s one of the best filmmakers going, and a very interesting guy. There is an energy to him that I have rarely ever seen before. He has a very domineering personality, a strength that comes through in his work. In the end though, it would have driven me crazy to only have a couple of minutes to chat with him. I’ll wait for another time when there is time to have a proper conversation.
More waiting. Everyone is getting edgy. Leonardo DiCaprio is my last interview of the day, and he is getting burned out. A long day of talking to the press has taken a toll on him, and all he wants to do is stand in the hallway and smoke cigarettes. Can’t really blame him, but I need this interview, so I struggle on. I finally get him, two and a half hours later than originally scheduled, and he put on a good game face. We discussed his character, and the fact that he has been attached to this project for a very long time. See the whole interview on Reel to Real later this month.
I have what I need, finally to do a story on Gangs of New York, and make my way to airport. The snowfall of a couple of days ago has made travelling in the city difficult, and when I finally get a cab, it is quite late and I’m in danger of missing my flight. It’s only seven miles from the hotel to the airport, but it takes about 40 minutes to make the trip and cost about $20 US. When I get to the airport there is no one there. It’s a ghost town. I thought maybe something had happened and the place was shut down. Actually, though, because it was late Saturday night there are very few flights, so I breeze through check-in and just make it to the plane.
The plane is empty, so I catch so sleep, and land in Toronto just in time to make it home and catch Saturday Night Live. Funny to run from one city to go home and watch a show shot in the city I had just left.
When I get back I check my e-mails and discover that I am booked to do one more trip to New York next Friday. FRIDAY THE 13th! As I said earlier, it’s a good thing I am not a superstitious person.