I Get It…You’re an Actor
Article by Paul Preston
It’s award season again. Actors…please don’t embarrass me.
If you live in the Los Angeles area and receive an invite to a screening of an awards-contending film, chances are that the film will be followed by a Q&A with one or more of the stars or filmmakers, in an attempt to shed light on the process and deepen admiration for the players involved. An admiration the studios hope you’ll remember when it comes time to cast your ballot in guild or Academy Awards voting.
So you probably think, with the screenings being industry-only, that this is the way to see a movie – free from kids, free from concessions, and free from cell phones.
You would be wrong.
Sure, you’ll be free from the incessant chomping of candy and popcorn and the hopeful sound of people sucking the last drops of soda (and mostly air) from the bottom of a drink cup. But that’s it, because although there are no movie trailers at an industry screening, the universe has devised new and exciting ways to spoil things for you.
First of all, every actor-packed screening has a pre-show. Not one that’s planned by the screening organizers, but like The Rockin’ Roller Coaster playing a different Aerosmith song in your head depending on where you sit on the ride, you can hear a different actor’s life story depending on where you sit in the theater. Most thespian-centric movie-going experiences begin with the impossible-to-not-overhear list of movies the man or woman sitting behind you has seen. Complete with spoilers and their personal take, delivered at an “impressed yet?” volume. Chances are, he or she has found something horribly wrong with these films. Lucky you are in earshot.
Then comes the story about how they either came close to getting booked on said films or the rant against their representation for failing to put them in front of the right people to appear in said films. Reminder, this is all conveyed at an “any agents nearby?” decibel.
These strong arguments for an iPod aren’t just behind you, they’ll be in front and the to the sides as well, leaving you longing more than ever for the film to start. Even if it’s “Grown Ups 2”, SOMETHING to interrupt the couple next to you who are dying for you to know how much they know about “Philomena”, including how it ends.
Then the film begins, and the next two hours are fantastic. Most likely three, because it’s awards season.
After the film is the true only-in-Hollywood treat – an intimate audience with an industry hot-shot. Outside of known recluses and press-shy celebrities, very few ‘big names’ from Tinseltown seem above coming out and sharing their lives and experiences with who the best and most unpresuming actors in the business refer to as “an audience of their peers”. In any given awards season, you can find yourself in a theater, for no cost, listening to Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock or Anthony Hopkins talk shop. Most of the time, the moderator burns through a series of questions about the film that just played and perhaps some career-spanning questions and often there’ll be some talk about the craft of acting or filmmaking.
Then they throw it to questions from the audience…
Actors…this is where you lose me.
The most heinous offense during the audience Q&A portion of a post-screening panel is when the person asking the question forgets to make it a question. I mean, after all, here’s another opportunity to let a theater with hundreds of people know that you’re a smart guy! So the question becomes some incisive comment about the film, as if you’re letting Hugh Jackman know he did a good job. How else would Hugh go on without Dale from West Hollywood’s approval? This happened at a screening of “Australia” I attended, where a man stood up, went on for a couple of minutes about the fact that he owned a ranch (everybody got that?) and that he’s an actor (did everyone write that down?), and he just wanted to compliment Hugh Jackman on his horseback riding and that it looked authentic.
Hugh Jackman is a very busy man. He makes two to three movies a year and finds time to do BROADWAY SHOWS. I beg of you, when you get an audience with a guy that busy, make the most of your conversation with him. And telling him he “rides horses good” isn’t how you get that done. And for the sake of the other 349 people in the theater, make it a question so we can all play.
My friend Jon told me about a woman who stood up at a screening of “Elegy” and proceeded to tell Ben Kingsley that the actor who played young Ben Kingsley in the film wasn’t well cast because he didn’t have a pronounced nose, and it’s Ben Kingsley’s nose that is one of his most defining characteristics. I mean….it’s just…..really? Ma’am, you are NEVER going to run into Ben Kingsley at the Target or at Outback. This is your one chance to talk the Oscar winner about something meaningful, and THAT’S what you came up with? People, you’re bordering on Comic-Con here with the questions.
The last Q&A I attended had the angry grumblings and one loud shout-out of the word “QUESTION!” when someone was going on too long with an Ebert-esque diatribe about how well the final scene of “Nebraska” was directed. Of course it was directed brilliantly, that’s why we don’t do these Q&As during summer movie season – get to the question. So, people are on to you, and they no longer want THEIR time spoiled with Bruce Dern, perhaps the one and only time in their lives they’ll have audience with the likes of him.
The worst has got to be when Johnny Depp participated in a Q&A following a “Pirates of the Caribbean” screening. This was moderated by SAG President at the time, Melissa Gilbert. I’d do the same thing if I were SAG President – to hell with Backstage’s moderators, I’M doing it, it’s Johnny Depp. Well, she never got to a question until after five minutes of going on about how much she admired Johnny Depp. Then, after the best question of the day (from a 10-year old) about advice Johnny Depp might have for young actors, Gilbert proceeded to go on about how that’s a good question because SHE was a child actor and again we didn’t hear from Depp for another five minutes. The MODERATOR wasn’t asking questions! She was hijacking the one afternoon most of us would ever have with Jack Sparrow. The crowd got really restless and soon Gilbert lost her re-election bid as SAG President. God, I hope that’s why.
True to form, Depp was gracious and humble throughout, even though most of the following questions were “Can I get a hug?” and more proclamations by people in the audience that they were actors, too. Of course you’re an actor. I get it. And Depp gets it. We’re all actors or we wouldn’t have been invited to the screening in the first place.
You know what the best actors do? They don’t make it about themselves. They focus on their partner. And as awards season rambles into the home stretch, I beg of you to make the most of OUR time with these artists as if we’re all partners in this thing. If movie stars are going to refer to us as an audience of “peers”, let’s act like it.
And for the love of all that is holy, ask a QUESTION.