Stranger in a strange land: Going undercover at the 'Super 8' premiere
Maybe I'm jaded after spending so many years covering the movie biz, but I get a bigger kick from champagne than from going to movie premieres. The parking is always a hassle, the movie never (and I mean never) starts remotely on time, and it's really not such a big thrill to see a scrum of quasi celebrities and Blackberry-addicted agents and managers swarming around, giving air kisses to each other. (If you're sitting next to someone checking their email all through the movie, as I was Thursday night, you know you're probably sitting next to an agent.) But I wanted to see "Super 8" something bad and the only screening Paramount invited me to was the Wednesday night premiere, so there I was with a producer pal of mine at Westwood's Village Theater.
I've got some thoughts about the movie that I want to save for an upcoming column, but if you're dying to read a review, check out my colleague Kenny Turan's take -- it's pretty clear he was underwhelmed by the film, which he compares unfavorably to its biggest influences, "E.T." and "Stand By Me."
Knowing it would take forever for everyone to show up and finish air kissing -- the movie, in fact, started a half-hour late -- we decided to hang around outside and see who got the biggest reception from the crowd of onlookers lurking near the entrance. The results were interesting. I guess J.J. Abrams had already gone inside by the time we arrived, but Josh Duhamel got some oohs and aahs, Jimmy Kimmel had a nice reception and Steven Spielberg roused a loud cheer from the crowd. But the biggest applause was reserved for ... Conan O'Brien, who was given the kingly treatment from his fans. No one seemed to recognize Michael Bay, or even worse, the lovely lady on his arm. In fact, even comic Fred Willard got a bigger reception from the crowd.
Oh, and Jaime King got a few throaty roars from the guys when she showed up, even though I had no idea who she was until my producer pal clued me in. I guess he must've seen her on "My Name Is Earl," though he wasn't admitting it. King even went over and mixed it up with some of the faithful, having her picture taken and engaging in some good-natured banter.
That probably bodes well for King's career. Even in this crazy messed-up world, where most celebrities have the lifespan of a Tootsie Roll, the stars who take some genuine care in making an effort to connect with their audience -- think Tom Hanks or George Clooney -- usually have a longer shelf life than the competition.
My experience Thursday night was a perfect example. When my pal and I stood outside the theater, an entire battalion of industry types strolled by us. Even though I've had lunch with most of them over the years, hardly anyone recognized me or stopped to say hello (well, except for ex-WME bigwig John Fogelman, probably because I coached his kid in Little League.) Spielberg even said hello to my producer pal, even though he hadn't seen him in years. I got zip -- until, ahem, Tom Cruise showed up.
Needless to say, Cruise is not exactly a personal friend. I did an interview with him light-years ago for Rolling Stone and met him once at the old MGM offices when he was making "Valkyrie," when we talked about our kids, who had both been doing gymnastics. So I didn't shout out his name or blow him a kiss. Yet amazingly, Cruise veered over from his path inside the theater, gave me a firm handshake (no air kiss, thank God) and asked if my kid is still doing gymnastics and how things are going at his gym, where Cruise's son used to work out. We had five minutes of totally mundane dad talk before I finally pushed him toward the theater entrance, reminding him that he had an entire room to work.
OK, even for a cynic like me, it was a kick, I admit it. Of all the people at the premiere, including the many big shots, from Paramount chief Brad Grey on down, that walked by, it was Cruise who wanted to stop and have a little chat. Maybe he knows that I've made fun of him for his Oprah couch jumping, maybe not. But it was a refreshing reminder that sometimes when you bump into a movie star, you feel like you've bumped into a human being.
-- Patrick Goldstein
Photo: J.J. Abrams with his wife, Katie McGrath, at the premiere of "Super 8" Wednesday night in Westwood Credit: Chris Pizzello/Associated Press