The VES awards were just the beginning of my “Christine Goes Hollywood” fortnight. Hot tickets in hand, I ventured to the CBS studios on Fairfax Blvd to spend the day waiting in the queue to see my principle British muse, Gerard Butler, appear on the Late, Late Show with (fellow Scot) Craig Ferguson. Upon arrival I was not surprised to find a knot of women ensconced in sleeping bags reclining on folding chairs outside the gates of the studio.
It was a cold blustery morning and the location of the line was no help. Nestled under the fichus trees along the boulevard, the intrepid band of fans shivered in the deep shade.
“You ladies be the tarts?” was my opening line.
The first clutch of four exchanged glances, one answering in questioning tone “Yeah?”
Introducing myself, I was warmly welcomed into the fold. Questions abounded. It seems there are many women who love romance fiction (big surprise, huh?) and a smaller subset that fancies writing. One of the women I spoke to is in the midst of trying to get her screenplay (adapted from a novel) picked up. When I asked if she’d experienced any unusual coincidences in her life encouraging her to continue on this path to publication, her brows flew up, eyes widening to the size of teacups, “Oh my God, yes!”
Seems this creative process stuff has some common threads for those so blessed.
I purchased the hard cover copy of the Frank Miller graphic comic “300” from the Barnes and Nobel down the street by Farmer’s Market during a walking/warm up break. Good thing, because upon arrival into the welcoming corral/covered patio of the studio audience holding area, we were informed that the program manager, Bryan, would be willing to take items backstage to Gerry for autographing. Woo hoo…wedging a business card between the sepia toned pages, I launched my newly purchased book off into the depths of the labyrinth of white linoleumed halls.
The taping was wonderful. Spectators properly inspired by jocular audience “enhancer”, Chubby B, the one hundred thirteen members laughed, cheered and gyrated to the entertainment. Australian new age/jazz/salsa band, Cat Empire, began the show with a brass-embellished rousing song. The six members were on and off the stage in a matter of minutes. It’s quite amazing to witness the organized efficiency of the stage crew, swarming the cozy confines of the studio like termites on a mound, moving equipment and furniture with the careless ease born of experience.
Guest Henry Winkler aka “the Fonz” of Happy Days fame did a weird segment spoofing the self-help craze, “The Secret”, with a mock up of his version. Seth MacFarlane, creator of the popular cult animated series, Family Guy, touted his new live action series premiering soon. Then classy Oscar winner, Jennifer Hudson graced the stage, statuette in hand, for a charming interview. She exudes an unjaded air of genuine revelation over her cascading fame. A Chicago resident, she has no plans of moving to L.A. and doing the Hollywood thing. Good for you, girl! Keep that hometown boyfriend and your feet planted firmly on the ground.
Last came himself. Segment far too short, Gerard’s long legged saunter into the blazing studio lights was met with a well-deserved standing ovation. The man waved to the crowd and dropped into the modern curve of the upholstered chair next to Craig.
“Do they always follow you around like the Beatles?” Craig asked.
“Oh yes,” Gerry pointed to a supposedly recognizable face as the audience laughed.
Very little 300 promotion actually took place during the few minutes of the interview. Gerard, put at ease by the lilt of Craig’s Glaswegian burr, went into automatic Brit brain, referring to his fall from cigarette abstinence one cold Montreal evening as a “search for a fag”. Yes, he quite fancied a fag after a long five month shoot. What is it about cold winter air and a solitary walk that gets a man to thinking about his old cigarette addiction? The audience chortled along with his embarrassment as he realized the American-British divergence in terminology.
Segment over, Ger exited with a warm appreciative wave and smile. (stopping again, to sign Craig’s black Vespa… didn’t he do this last visit, as well?)
“I’m a weak person.” He is quoted as saying at the recent Wondercon convention in San Francisco (more about that later). How can a man who puts himself through training that would daunt even a professional athlete and continually takes on roles that challenge the most seasoned actor view himself as weak? Self-effacing to the end, this man is deserving of every admirer he’s gained in his eleven plus years of hard won parts. Late to the acting gig, he has steadily matured in his craft, taking roles with depth, characters to inspire generations of viewers. Never succumbing to the lure of glamour, he time and time again shifts look, posture and nuance in favor of propelling his art into legacy. I salute you, my dear, for having such admirable integrity in a business that is sorely lacking in same. What is the definition of strength? If this isn’t it, then I don’t know what is.
Transferring a message via Bryan, Mr. Butler once again displayed his class by thanking the fans in the audience for supporting him. Always sensitive to the challenges his fans endure to be in his company, he promised he’d do his best to entertain them at all his upcoming public appearances.
Exiting down the three flights of stairs, we collected cell phones and donned coats to brave the chilly March night; the few of us who had submitted items to be autographed, gathered around the studio manager. Bryan doled out the half dozen fan generated paraphernalia to eager waiting hands. Mine being last in the small stack, I gratefully took back the book. No signature on the cover, I opened to the watercolor splashed interior design. In bold fluid strokes “Gerry Butler” was scrawled across the wash of the speckled page. Once again….class. Rushed beyond reason, booked past sanity in the vortex of promotion for his new movie, the man paused to acknowledge the fierce devotion his fans have to him. Admiration does not adequately relay what I feel for this person. What an amazing soul.
It’s two days later and I’ve commuted up the coast three hundred eight five miles to stay with an old college friend and attend the Wondercon convention at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. Taking BART into town, I strolled past the bustle of shops and Saturday adventurers on Market Street, cutting over to Moscone along Third Street. Aroma of coffee wafting from cafes, I ignored its olfactory allure in favor of getting into the huge Esplanade Ballroom. Arriving half hour after doors opened, two and a half hours before the first scheduled panel presentation, I was not surprised to see a queue stretching down the marbled stairs leading from the thirty-five hundred-seat auditorium.
Doors to the ballroom opened shortly before twelve, tarts and gals dashing for the coveted front rows. I was in line at the bottom of the long progression of stairs, so ended up some eight or ten rows back. Still with a perfect view of the long white cloth covered panel table, I settled in for the day, visually perusing the sea of metal-framed chairs behind me. Did they actually expect to fill this vast venue? Silly question.
By the time the one o’clock presentation rolled around, led by the Pixar academy award winner (for The Incredibles) in charge of the upcoming Ratatouille summer release three-d animated feature film; the room was nearly full. Clip after clip of pure charm captured the audience in its spell. Can’t wait for this one. It’s the best thing I’ve seen since Disney’s honeymoon days of Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. …Better.
“Trailer Park” was a fun look at upcoming movie trailers. Mostly spring and summer releases, it afforded the audience the opportunity to see what’s gonna vie for their film-going dollar in the next few months. Lots of excitement generated over the live action Transformers movie. The generation that grew up with them and the TMNT (Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles) were hoopin’ and hollerin’ for more.
By far, the most anticipated panel of the day was 300. Zack Snyder, the film’s director, was introduced first. He gave a brief few words before bringing out Gerry. Confident and poised for questions, Gerry ambled between seating options, finally alighting next to Zack. The excitement in the room was electric. Shiny short leather jacket and white shirt (fast becoming a Butler trademark when left to his own casual devices) fit his broad shoulders like a second skin. Short-cropped hair and soft scruffy beard, it was his smile that said it all. It was going to be the Zack and Gerry show. The addition of beautiful Lena Heady completed the small panel. Lena seemed a bit overwhelmed, then bored with all the attention focused on her male lead. Her skimpy cotton spaghetti-strapped top exposed a right arm tattoo, seeming to beckon the arrival of summer.
Anxious to garner audience reaction, Zack went to the clip. Gerry skirted the long table, crouching to face the film’s action. Awesome footage of the first day of battle between the Persians and the Spartans crossed the screen in a gracefully choreographed display of gruesome beauty. Never has the stylized display of slaughter been so hauntingly filmed making it not only a technical marvel, but a soul wrenching emotional experience. One long take of Gerry’s King Leonidas as he plows through a stream of menacing attackers, superior training and fighting ability secondary only to sheer will and heart, insure that this scene is destined to go down in film making history as one of the most awesomely beautiful to date.
Q&A from the audience was next. A queue of about a dozen intrepid souls stretched down the center aisle behind a mic on a stand and the moderator; yours truly one of the them. Questions ranged from the non sequitur… “Oh my God…my girlfriend told me you were hot, but damn…you’re fine!!” (that’s a question?) to thoughtful… “Did you stay in character after a day’s filming? Was it hard to relax?” By the time it was my turn, the audience’s patience was worn thin with the silly. So I asked what I termed “the legacy” question. The room held its breath.
“My name is Christine London and I write Romance Novels. When I’m creating my characters and plot, it’s very exciting and easy to get carried away in the enthusiasm. But at the end of the day, it’s concern for what message will be propelled into the future that’s important. You (the panel) are in the midst of this incredible vortex of promotion and enthusiasm. When all the excitement and hooplah calms, what do you hope to be the legacy of the film?”
Zack, the director, fielded the question first. I got the impression he’d actually not been asked this question before as he seemed to be cobbling his thoughts as he went. The gist of his response was that he made a film he thought would be cool and thought/knew lots of other folks would too. He also commented on his hope that 300 would be a giant step forward in the CGI/graphic novel sub-genre of filmmaking. (Sin City being the last big landmark)
Prepared to receive the bum’s rush from the moderator (but not getting it), I grabbed the opportunity, leaned into the mic and continued “And you Gerry?”
To my astonishment, Mr. Butler seemed to be likewise a bit stymied. Ever the quick thinker, he eloquently assembled a response that shadowed Zack’s, adding that he wasn’t sure he’d (personally) left a legacy.
I couldn’t let that comment stand. Acting the assertive interviewer and carrier of the torch of truth, I interjected, “You already have, my dear… you already have.” (Rumbles of approval and agreement from his legions of fans)
At this point he made what the audience seemed to deem an obtuse reference to wanting to leave a certain kind of legacy that he wasn’t willing to get into at the moment. Being the empath that I am, it seemed pretty obvious to what he was referring, but I would need to talk one-on-one with the man to ascertain the validity of my impressions. Wouldn’t that be a fascinating discussion?
He ended his comments with a wish that the film would be deeply felt by many, to which I added “From your lips to God’s ears” and a heartfelt wave of thanks.
It wasn’t until Gerry was well into the next question…something about what he felt was his most challenging role that he echoed back to my question and became even more focused and serious. He talked about Dear Frankie and how he’d nearly passed up the script, not thinking it meaningful. When he was encouraged to take a second look, he saw the depth and humanity in the story. Phantom was the pinnacle of emotional demand because he wanted to accurately convey the loneliness and desolation of the soul of the character, taking it on himself (just as an empath would). He was actually answering my question in amazing depth and thoughtfulness.
As Zack had said, “You know how you feel when you release a novel (looking at me) and hope it does well…some people are gonna hate it, but you hope most will love it? Well…it’s just like that.”
…From your lips to God’s ears.
“What the fuck is that thing sticking out of my head?” Help…. Emergency bottle of gel!!
Photo by C. London
Post script funny: Sliding a wry glance to the big screen in mid-sentence Gerry blurted, “What the fuck is that thing sticking out of my head?” (cowlick present at his crown) Running a remonstrative palm across the offending sprout, the audience roared. “Emergency bottle of gel.” I called out, voice lost in the roistering laughter.
He also wanted us to know (in reference to his Leonidas beard) that he thought, “The damn beard made me look as though I was givin’ a blow job to a squirrel.”
He wants to do comedy in film. Rock on, Gerry!