Waiting for Mel…
Been trying to get an interview with Mel. Gibson. No luck so far. Frankly, I’m not even sure Mel knows I’m alive. I suspect his Los Angeles press agent, Mr Alan Nierob, has not been passing on my emails.
It started in April last year with a long and possibly overly involved interview request that, in hindsight, might have been the wrong approach. The basic synopsis was that, yes, Mel’s a prick.
But who isn’t? I also intimated that Mel’s anti-Semitism and wife-raging might be a form of PTSD.
The diagnosis I proffered was that big stars like Gibson must have some potentially dark and dangerous down time when not making or promoting films. People are most vulnerable to their extremes when idle.
Nierob: Paul, Thank you for your email. I’m sorry but Mel will not be available for an interview with you at this time. Thank you for your interest.
I kind of lost interest in Mel after that. Then in December, the New York Times’ powerful lead theatre critic, Ben Brantley, wrote a strange piece called “Hugh Jackman Keeps His Pants On”.
It was about “Back On Broadway”, the show in which Jackman regaled the largely middle-aged female audience with his favourite matinee songs. The way I read the story, Brantley was saying Hugh was gay.
It turned out Nierob was also Jackman’s US agent.
Toohey to Nierob: Brantley says Hugh comports himself on stage in a manner like “a flaming queen”. The review is laced with insinuations that Hugh is gay. I am hoping for a comment, asap, on this review.
As I learned, no one representing actors in New York or Sydney ever takes issue with a Ben Brantley review. If Brantley says Jackman carries on like a “flaming queen”, Brantley obviously means something much, much deeper, and anyone who thinks otherwise is plain ridiculous.
Brantley himself told me his story was not intended to be a comment on Jackman’s sexuality. “It was an analysis of an on—stage persona (and Mr Jackman plays explicitly with the notion of duality throughout the show), and an attempt to define his immense and particular appeal to women with this production,” he said.
Hmmm. I detected a strong attempt to resist me from becoming No. 1 on the “Most Read” sections of the Australian online news sites that day, with a headline about “our Hugh” being a flaming queen.
But in LA, where Nierob is located, it’s a film world. They’re less concerned about theatre critics.
Nierob: Actually I didn’t read it that way but suggest you talk to the writer. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on the writer’s part.
Toohey: And when are you going to get me a one on one with Mel?
Nierob: Oh Paul, you’re killing me re Mel!
Toohey: Great. Next week, then…
Toohey: This arvo, as we Australians say…
Nierob: I like it.
But Mel wasn’t getting any closer. And why this Mel thing, anyway? Because it seemed to me he was the only man in Hollywood who was real.
His behaviour might have been ugly, but it was authentic. And finding authenticity is difficult in the film business. The only way to get the real lowdown on someone like Mel would be to spend time with him, in a situation that was not tied to any film promotion.
But that’s a hard ask. Stars and their agents don’t want to know about reporters unless there’s a film to sell.
Even then, an Australian correspondent in the US will find himself sidelined in the “foreign media junkets”, along with reporters from Estonia, Poland and Canada.
Junkets involve being put in a conference room, where you wait among coffee urns and tiny sandwiches. You then sit at a roundtable interview with a star or two, and maybe the producer and the director. Or it might be a press conference.
Foreign media tend only to be granted one-on-ones with major stars if the producers have come to the conclusion their film stinks.
If so, let the Estonians and Australians see if they can generate some interest among the rubes back in their inconsequential countries.
I think that’s why I got a one-on-one with Daniel Radcliffe for his film “Woman in Black”. The makers of this film, even before it was completed, appeared to have determined it was going to dive. And they were right.
So I found myself standing alone in a silent, Victorian penthouse suite in the Waldorf—Astoria, high above the traffic, in a room filled with tiny cakes, waiting for a 20—minute interview with Radcliffe.
Another one was “New Year’s Eve”, starring a cast of millions, including Hilary Swank, Robert de Niro, Halle Berry, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jon Bon Jovi, Ashton Kutcher, Zac Efron and Katherine Heigl.
It was directed by veteran Garry Marshall (“Happy Days”, “Mork & Mindy”, “Pretty Woman”) and the deal was the media would hang out at a nice hotel in Manhattan’s Times Square and be brought down, in a group, to see Swank film a brief scene. And then we’d get to interview her and Garry Marshall.
Scanning the production notes on the subway to Times Square, the pages gave off the reek of a post-tsunami field morgue. Big stars had signed up to this one in order to settle their outstanding tax bills.
It was a cynical namedropping orgy based around a preposterously thin plot: a woman (Swank) battles to pull off New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square.
Even though I was one of those unfortunate children not allowed to watch “Happy Days” after school, I knew Garry Marshall was a heavyweight in the lightweight American cultural pantheon.
He was a very pleasant man who spoke to us like we were all his own children. Which is what he had been doing his whole directing career.
He just loooooved working with all these people.
Then came the Swank roundtable. She just looooooved working with all these people.
I can’t remember exactly what I asked her but it was loosely along the lines of why a credible actor such as she was wasting her time with this bullshit.
Her smile hit Siberian wasteland megasubzero. She declined to look at me for the remainder of the roundtable.
Fair enough. Because the real question should have been why I was wasting my time with this bullshit.
“Limitless”, starring Bradley Cooper, Robert de Niro and Australia’s Abbie Cornish was another.
We members of the foreign press had seen the film prior to a media conference at Manhattan’s Trump SoHo hotel with Cooper, Cornish, de Niro and the director.
The plot involved a guy (Cooper) who came across a pill that made him a genius, with bad aftereffects. It was vaguely passable.
Abbie Cornish revealed that she just looooooved working with all these people. And that she was a devout vegetarian, who only wore “animal—friendly” shoes.
And then, as she stood to leave, one of the reporters up the front asked her about the leather belt she was wearing.
The director and the film’s writer then took the time to commend each other on the film’s sharp—edged wit, integrity and style.
De Niro fronted up, bored and grumpy. In “Limitless”, he played a rich businessman. It was a nothing role, a Saturday afternoon stroll. I put it to him that he had not been required to extend himself whatsoever.
I assumed he would ignore the question or growl at me. Instead, he answered it, saying that sometimes he did films just to establish relationships with people he liked.
“Was it something that was so (great)? No. But it was good for me, it was well-written as I say and I put a lot of work into it.”
De Niro had just dumped on the whole production. It was a mildly bracing moment in what otherwise was a debauchment of self - congratulation.
Then it was downstairs to another suite for a one-on-one with Bradley Cooper, the world’s most handsome man. I remember nothing of the conversation except that he was incredibly polite and said nothing.
I caught a lift back down to Earth. Standing next to me was a man in heavy dark glasses, a cap and a jacket. It was Cooper, heading out for an anonymous walk around lower Manhattan.
I think it works like this: stars overdress as non-stars so they’ll be recognized as stars.
By May, this year, I was again feeling the non—Gibson inertia.
Email to Nierob: Alan, I think I’m finally able to make time for that Gibson interview. See you soon, Paul.
Nierob: Actually, I think you’re way too busy.
Toohey: Alan, you’re quite right. Probably best you fly Mel to NYC, leave him hanging in a hotel somewhere in the Meatpacking District and I’ll try to shuffle him into my schedule when I get a moment. That works. Paul.
Nierob: He’ll be right over.
Toohey: OK, I’ll sneak him in. If the Meatpacking District is pricey, the Broadway Hotel and Hostel has rooms for $26 a night. I found this in the “Reviews” of the facility: “Shared areas are very good, comfortable and staff are very nice. Rooms are quite small, but ok. Sadly, restrooms were a mess. If you have a room with shared toilets, think about it again. Not clean, not comfortable, I’d expect a bit more. If I would stay again? Yes, but only for one or two nights.”
Still waiting to hear back.
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