MONDAY DECEMBER 2, 2002
I’m not a morning person, and I don’t really understand people who are. My friend Andrea gets up early and is always trying to convince me that I’m missing “the best part of the day.” Well, let me tell you about “the best part” of Monday morning. My flight to New York wasn’t until 12:45 pm, but I had a few things to do before I go, so I get up early, pack and go out to do some banking and run some errands. First stop, the bank. I have to get a money order, and figure it won’ t be busy at 9 am. I run to the bank on the corner. Of course it doesn’t open until 10 am. The security guard glares at me as I try and open the door. Strike one. I leave the bank and go to the post office. On the way someone spits and almost lands a large gob on my pant leg. Not pleasant. Strike two. Get to the post office and suffer through a long line-up. I pick up my parcel, and am out in about twenty minutes. Not bad, maybe things are looking up. I leave the post office and narrowly avoid being thrown up on by a random passer by. What is it with people and their disagreeable bodily functions? Strike three. At this point my natural inclination was to run home and go to back to bed to wait out “best part of the day,” but I had a plane to catch, and decided to leave right away for the airport.
I turn down the street to my house, and while I have been gone several large Hydro trucks have moved in and completely blocked the street. I’ll have to grab my luggage and get a cab on the street. Strike four. I stand on the street, freezing cold until the cab arrives. While I’m there I read newspaper stories about someone getting kicked to death at a restaurant in the East end, and a bar on College Street that blew up the night before. As the cab pulls up I feel a sense of relief that I’m going somewhere clean and safe – New York City…
The cab ride to Terminal 3 at Pearson was thankfully uneventful. I guess the “best part of the day” was over. You don’t realize how many Americans come to Canada to visit friends and family on Thanksgiving until you try to fly to the US on the Monday following the holidays. The long, long, long line-up to check-in was followed by equally long line-ups to clear customs and go through security. Security seemed a bit tighter than the last time I flew to America. I was grilled at customs, searched at the security point and just before boarding the plane there were random checks. I missed getting pulled aside, but one of the other reporters from Toronto was thoroughly checked. Good thing too, she looked kind of shady…
The flight left on time, and despite AA’s nickname of “American Scarelines,” the flight was quick, safe and without incident. The food service, however, was disappointing. We were offered a bag of Tiny Twist pretzels and a beverage. That’s it. Arrive on time, and grab a cab to the Drake hotel in mid-town Manhattan.
I love New York. The city bristles with energy, and after dozens of trips there in the last few years, I still get excited about going there. The Drake is a grand old hotel just off of Park Avenue. As we drive there we pass Bergdorf Goodman, Gucci, Fendi and Burberry. I guess I’ll have to go elsewhere if I plan on doing any shopping while I’m here. After checking in I check my schedule and discover that I have several hours before I have to see Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Here’s my confession — the story of my weird obsession. (Don’t worry this will all make sense soon enough.) Twenty years ago I was working in a restaurant in the Eaton Centre. Starting at the end of November for eight hours a day I was forced to listen to an endless loop of the sappiest Christmas music ever recorded. It drove me mad, and I decided to try and find some better Christmas tunes. The first records I found were some James Brown 45s with names like Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto and Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year. There are both incredibly funky, with the latter being, in my opinion the Stairway to Heaven of Christmas tunes. It’s great stuff, and it got me hooked on collecting unusual holiday discs. I vowed to never again listen to the appalling Stars on 45 discofied version of Frosty the Snowman. The memory of this song still haunts my dreams. Since then the collection has grown to enormous proportions and gets bigger every year. For the last few years I have found myself in New York around Christmas and make a point of hitting the record stores to see what’s new and unusual. Last year on my annual NYC Christmas hunt I found some very rare stuff – an old Bob Seger recording of Sock It To My Santa and the like.
This year I spent Monday afternoon at Virgin Records in Times Square and several other smaller shops hunting through the racks. At Virgin I found a comedy record by Bob Rivers called White Trash Christmas. Rivers is a radio DJ who has released several Christmas records. This one contains the soon-to-be classics Have Yourself an Ozzy Little Christmas, Osama Got Run Over by a Reindeer and What if Eminem Did Jingle Bells. Pretty funny stuff, although it doesn’t exactly fill one’s heart with Christmas cheer. My next stop was the Colony record store on Broadway. This place has been here for a million years, and is one of my favorite stores in NYC. The staff is really old, I imagine that most of them have worked here since the stone age, and they are foul tempered and not very helpful, but for some reason I like the abuse. It seems so New York to me, that in a strange way I find it charming and funny. This time I enter the store and ask the first salesperson I see where the Christmas section is. No response. I ask again. He just stares ahead, lost in thought and completely ignores me. I try one more time. “Excuse me, where is the Christmas section?” “I HEARD YOU THE FIRST TIME,” he grunts, suddenly coming to life. Begrudgingly he takes me to the back of the store, where I find another Bob Rivers CD called Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire. The title of one of the songs, The Carol of the Bartenders appeals to me so I pick it up. The last stop was a small store near the hotel. I find ‘Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets! 13 Rockin’ Christmas Instrumentals. I’ve been looking for this one. Los Straitjackets are a Mexican wrestling mask wearing quartet from LA that play stripped-down surf-punk guitar tunes that rock like crazy. This one is a mix of traditional and original tunes. Pretty good haul for one day.
Now I have to get back to the hotel, grab a bite and go see the movie. Have dinner with Teri Hart from TMN and Amy Lerman from Movie Television on CITY-TV. We went to Q56, the restaurant in the hotel. They had soup and salads, and by this time I realized I hadn’t eaten anything at all today so I hammered back a delicious French Onion Soup and a steak (medium rare please!) with root vegetables and white asparagus ($43 USD).
The movie was at the Regal Theatre on Second Avenue. It’s an old tri-plex in midtown that seems like it could use a bit of a facelift. I sat in the balcony, and the rows of chairs were so close together that I had to have my legs hanging out in the aisle. Otherwise I couldn’t sit up straight. Also there were ashtrays on the backs of the chairs. I can’t remember when I have seen that in recent years. The movie is three solid hours, and will definitely blow people’s minds. The battle sequences are unbelievable, and there are lots of new characters.
On the drive back to the hotel I took in the Christmas lights at Bloomingdales and was glad I was in New York at Christmas. It’s beautiful, and almost looks like a movie set. Before I go to bed I check my schedule for the next day. My first interview isn’t until 1:30 pm, so I can sleep in and possibly miss the “best part of the day” in NYC.
Tuesday December 3, 2002
I got up at a reasonable hour and checked out of the hotel. Overnight the temperature dropped about a million degrees and it’s quite cold. Some of the other reporters from Los Angeles are complaining that they have to walk five blocks in the cold to get to the interviews. My Canadian constitution kicks in, and I don’t even do up my jacket as I walk up Park Avenue.
The interviews are at the Regency Hotel on 61st street. Very elegant, and very expensive. I make my way up to the hospitality suite, and am greeted by every hotel employee with a “Good morning sir,” as I walk to the hotel. I get tired of saying, “Fine thanks, how are you?” I’m glad everyone is so pleasant, but I think I was “greeted” 10 times in the 45 second walk from the door to the elevator. At the hospitality suite I have a bite to eat from a buffet set up for the reporters. It’s an orgy of eggs, bacon, bagels and pastries topped with sugary icing. I scarf back as much of this stuff as I can, washing it back with several cups of tea. It’s really hard to get a good cup of tea in the US, but the more upscale hotels seem to understand that the basic ingredient of tea is boiling hot water. Clearly someone at the Regency is on top of this.
There are nine sets of interviews to do today, so it’s going to take a while. Each interview is only 5 – 7 minutes long, but it’s the waiting around that takes the time. I start late, at 2:30, with John Rhys Davies, a veteran actor who was in the Indiana Jones movies. The term gregarious might well have been invented to describe this guy. Despite having done a whole day of interviews the day before, and a morning of them before I got to him, he was ion very good spirits. In The Two Towers he plays Gimili, the warrior dwarf and does the voice of Treebeard. The former role is very physical, so I was surprised to see him walking with a cane. He explained that he was recuperating from an on-set accident (on a different movie) where he had injured his leg and broken his hand. We had a lively chat, which you will soon see on Reel to Real.
Next up was director Peter Jackson. I spoke with him last year when the first Rings movie was released, and he doesn’t seem to have changed. Like last year he was dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and wasn’t wearing shoes or socks. I’ve interviewed lots of directors, and he doesn’t seem to have the controlling nature that so many of them display, despite having helmed the largest film project in the history of cinema. He’s down to earth and very personable. I asked him what his favorite moment from the whole LOTR experience was and he told me it was showing the completed Two Towers to his kids. They have been Lord of the Rings orphans for the last couple of years as he hasn’t been able to be with them as much as he would like. When he showed them the film they loved it, and seemed to understand why he wasn’t like all the other dads who come home from their jobs at five o’clock every day.
Andy Serkis was next. He plays the computer-generated character of Gollum. I asked about Gollum’s unusual voice, wondering whether it was computer enhanced. He said that everyone thinks it is, but actually he spent a great deal of time creating the voice organically, and to prove it he did several lines of dialogue from the film in his character’s voice. It’s really cool, and we’ll show it to you on Reel to Real.
Hobbitts Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd were together for their interviews. This is the third time I’ve spoken to them, most recently in Toronto at the LOTR exhibit at the ROM. They are very funny, and seem to get along very well. When I asked Billy Boyd how his life had changed since the release of the first movie. He says it hasn’t changed that much, except that he gets offered better scripts now. When I followed up by asking him if he can still walk down the street without being bothered by fans. “Oh, yeah,” he laughed. “I can still walk down the street, but now I wear diamond shoes.” Elijah Wood has his hair cropped very close to his head, which sort of makes him look more like Gollum than he would probably like to acknowledge. He’s very friendly, and commented on my suit. “You look very dapper,” he said as I sat down. We had a wide- ranging chat, which you’ll have to tune in to Reel to Real to see.
Viggo Mortenson is the really the star of The Two Towers. As sword wielding Aragon he is the strongest and most appealing character in the film. During the screening I heard someone say, “I don’t really know what’s going on, but Viggo is really hot.” This guy could be a huge movie star if he makes the right choices. In person he’s very serious, very soft-spoken, and quite low key. In his suite he has incense burning, and speaks so softly I had to lean in to hear him. We talked about training for the film, and how he got so close to the horse he rode in the movie he bought it once shooting was completed.
Sean Astin likes to talk. I think I only got to ask him one question, and just sat back and let him go. He’s the son of John Astin (famous for playing Gomez on the Addam’s Family) and Patty Duke and an Academy Award nominated director for a short film he made with his wife in 1995. Strangely his dad was nominated for the same award in the Sixties.
Bernard Hill and Brad Dourif were paired up. Hill is a character actor who played the captain of the Titanic in the film of the same name. Dourif has a wide-ranging resume that includes his Academy Award nominated role as Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to supplying the voice of the evil doll Chucky in Child’s Play and all the sequels. One of the publicists told be Dourif had been chain-drinking cappuccinos all day, and I have to say, it showed. He had that wide-eyed look of someone who had a gallon or two of caffeine running through his system.
The last interviews of the day were Miranda Otto and Karl Urban. They are both up-and-coming young Australian actors, who are first timers to the big Hollywood exposure provided by The Two Towers. Otto studied acting in Australia at the same school that trained Judy Davis and Mel Gibson, while Urban made his acting debut when he was just eight years old. They told me a story about camping out at the set of Helm’s Deep with several other cast members, having a barbeque and spending the night trading stories and drinking wine. Both said it was one of the most personal, and magical experiences they had while making the movie.
With the interviews finished the next hurdle was to try and figure out how to fit all the tapes into my suitcase. I thought I had brought a large enough case, but once you add in clothes, some LOTR promo items and 35 tapes the case ends up weighing 50 pounds and bulging. I creatively pack, and get the case downstairs (stopping for a cookie on the way) to grab a cab to the airport. I hate to leave after such a short trip, but I’m not too bothered because I have to come back to NYC on Friday to interview the casts of Gangs of New York and The Pianist. Unlike the fast trip from Toronto to NYC the trip home was a bit of a nightmare of delays and waiting around. I got home around eleven pm, two hours later than I had planned, but at least nobody spit or vomited on me, so I guess the trip home was partly successful.