Stardust memories

In honor of the Oscars, I’m reflecting on my four years living in L.A. (1996 – 2000) and covering the film industry for Premiere Magazine, the now-defunct movie magazine for film lovers.

[Warning: this blog post is looooong.]

I met so many great stars (and regular folks) through that job — my first real writing job out of journalism school. I didn’t know how good I had it. I had moved to L.A. in August 1996 with no job lined up and knowing no one. I just wanted to work in the movie business somehow — maybe as a script supervisor or at a production company. To pay the bills, I was working at Nine West in the Beverly Center — to this day, the worst job I’ve ever had. I made it to October when I just called up and quit one day.

I got the job at Premiere the same week, through a cold call to the West Coast bureau in Santa Monica, on the infamous Bundy Drive of O.J. Simpson fame. I happened to get a fellow Midwesterner on the phone (thanks Max Potter) who told me about an unpaid internship they were looking to fill. He gave me the internship which turned into an editorial assistant job by Christmas. Over the following three years, I visited movie sets, attended weeknight screenings and covered dozens of premieres and red carpet events, including the Oscars, Emmy’s, Golden Globes and Independent Spirit Awards. I was 22 years old and on my own —  no spouse or kids to get home to. The rest of the staff had been doing it a while. They were over it, and too senior to go out weeknight after weeknight to squeeze into the press corps behind the ropes of the red carpet. Meanwhile, I was happy to.

Because this was before iPhones, I have precious few photos from all my experiences. Here are a few:

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{Here I am interviewing Brad Pitt at the post-premiere party of The End of the Affair at Jimmy’s II Restaurant in Beverly Hills / Century City area on December 2, 1999. The End of the Affair was directed by Neil Jordan, who Brad had worked with on Interview with a Vampire. Brad had just finished filming Snatch with Guy Ritchie. This photo was mailed to my office a week after the party. A professional photographer had snapped it. Pretty awesome that he took the time to send it to me, in retrospect. In case you’re wondering, Brad was a nice guy. Very present, interested and locked in — i.e., not looking around for someone more important to talk to. I always found the bigger the star, the more focused and kind they were.}

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{My first selfie? It was on the way to the Golden Globes in 2000, during the 3 months I worked for Us Weekly, a miserable job. I must have had a regular disc camera… I can’t remember. I do remember that shirt I’m wearing was like $20.}

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{In Santa Monica near the pier with my mom, when she visited L.A.}

I had worked at Premiere for two years before I got to cover the Oscars. It was a tough ticket and my boss usually covered it.

I know I covered the Independent Spirit Awards a couple times — and it may have been 1997. The Spirit awards are held in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica on the Saturday before the Oscars. It’s much more laid back. I remember talking to Ed Harris, Mary Louise Parker, and Cameron Diaz and seeing Alec Baldwin. Everyone is just running around having fun. I remember having a ribeye and bloody Mary in a nearby hotel restaurant with one of my co-workers afterward. I was always ravenous after covering events.

The first time I covered the Oscars, it was the 70th Academy Awards on March 23, 1998. That was the year of Titanic, Good Will Hunting, As Good As It Gets and L.A. Confidential.

When I say I covered the awards, I should clarify: I didn’t attend the actual Oscars ceremony inside the Shrine. But I did have press credentials to the Governor’s Ball, one of only a few reporters allowed in. Premiere was very well-respected and trusted among the publicity folks. And our West Bureau Chief, Anne Thompson, was and still is a sort of grande dame of Oscars. If the Oscars ceremony is a wedding, the Governor’s Ball is the reception immediately following. From there, everyone goes to after-parties sponsored by Vanity Fair, InStyle, Elton John, and the studios. My lovely co-worker Sean Smith and I divvied up the passes to those after-parties. That’s when my work really began.

Highlights of the night for me: talking to Matt Damon at the Governor’s Ball right after he won best screenplay for Good Will Hunting (just like Brad, a nice guy) and talking to Greg Kinnear at an after-party after he won for As Good As It Gets. Greg = also a super humble and nice guy.

The following year, I covered the 71st Academy Awards on March 21, 1999 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown L.A. I borrowed a beautiful beige gown and Jimmy Choo heels from Pam in the magazine’s Advertising department. I even have a photo of myself with Sean just before heading downtown (I would watch the first part of the show in my apartment and then head down to the Governor’s Ball when it was nearing the end). But I can’t find it! Maybe next year…

The 1999 Oscars were all about Shakespeare in Love, Saving Private Ryan, Life is Beautiful and Elizabeth. It was the year of Gwyneth Paltrow’s famous pink gown and Roberto Benigni walking on the backs of chairs in the theater when he won.

That year, I covered the Miramax after-party at the Polo Lounge in the storied Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. A couple things I remember about that night: my driver’s side door on my shitty Toyota Celica was broken, so when I pulled into valet, I had to get out through the passenger side; Gwyneth Paltrow was there holding court at a table and I lingered like a vulture for a very long time before giving up; I met Kevin Costner, who had brought his daughter as his date; and on my drive home, I saw a lone coyote run across Sunset Boulevard, near the deserted UCLA campus.

That year, I really wanted to just watch the show from home with a bowl of popcorn like I had done for so many years back in Ohio. That was kind of the beginning of the end.

The following year, 2000, I was in San Francisco on Oscars night. I had quit my job at Premiere for a job at Us Weekly that quickly fizzled out, and was planning to move back to Ohio in a few days’ time. I remember walking around San Fran (I had never been and wanted to check it out before moving home) and being beside myself that I wasn’t watching the Oscars — and being ASTOUNDED that anyone would be out instead of at home glued to the show. At that time, I still believed the world revolved around Hollywood.

Once home, it took many months to shake that. I was like a recovering Hollywood insider. I couldn’t stand to talk about movies or hear other people talk about movies. As if they knew anything.

First Red-Carpet Interview

Winona Ryder (The Crucible)

Biggest / Most Memorable Stars Interviewed at Premiere Parties

  • Brad Pitt (The End of the Affair)
  • John Travolta (Mad City)
  • Dustin Hoffman (Mad City)
  • Nicole Kidman (Eyes Wide Shut)

My Teen Idols, Interviewed

  • Olivia Newton-John (annual Women in Hollywood luncheon; she complimented me on my black Banana Republic pantsuit. I’ll never forget it.)
  • Rob Lowe (Austin Powers)

Stars Interviewed at the Oscars

  • Matt Damon (the year he won for writing Good Will Hunting, at the Governor’s Ball)
  • Tom Hanks (at the Governor’s Ball)
  • Kevin Costner (at an Oscars party with his daughter)
  • Greg Kinnear (the year he won for As Good As It Gets)

Strangest Interview

Gene Simmons (at a party I was covering for InStyle Magazine, a freelance gig)

Interview I Had to Literally Run Down

Jim Carrey, at the height of his career when he was the first actor to earn a $20 million payday

Stars Who Didn’t Look as Good in Person as They Do Onscreen

Hugh Grant (sorry Hugh)

Stars Who Look Better in Person Than They Do Onscreen

  • Sandra Bullock (stunning)
  • Michelle Pfeiffer (magical)
  • Jeff Bridges (more leading man, less The Dude)

Sit-Down Interviews That Lasted an Hour or More

  • George Clooney (on the set of O Brother, Where Art Thou?; charming, funny but also a lot more everyday than you might expect)
  • Jeff Bridges (in his hotel room, doing press for Arlington Road and I was sick as a dog, coming down with the flu)
  • Ashton Kutcher (I think it was a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Sunset Boulevard)
  • Peter Facinelli (some lunch place in the valley)
  • Lisa Kudrow (some lunch place in Beverly Hills)
  • Vincent Perez (in the Hotel Peninsula’s beautiful dining room, for I Dreamed Of Africa)

Stars Interviewed on a Movie Set

  • Peter Berg (Very Bad Things)
  • Kevin Bacon (Hollow Man)
  • Charlize Theron (The Astronaut’s Wife)
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Haunting)
  • Liam Neeson (The Haunting)
  • Lindsay Lohan (The Parent Trap)
  • Natasha Richardson (The Parent Trap)
  • Dennis Quaid (The Parent Trap)
  • Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween: H20, one of my all-time favorite scream queens from one of my favorite movies ever, the original Halloween)
  • Geoffrey Rush (The House on Haunted Hill)
  • Josh Hartnett (Halloween: H20)
  • Paul Walker (Joy Ride)
  • Steve Zahn (Joy Ride)
  • Leelee Sobieski (Joy Ride)
  • Clint Eastwood (Space Cowboys)
  • Matthew Lillard (Spanish Judges)

Other Interesting Women I Interviewed

  • Drew Barrymore (at the annual Women in Hollywood luncheon)
  • Eva Marie Saint (one of Hitchcock’s leading ladies!)
  • Debra Hill (she produced most of the Halloween movies)
  • Cindy Crawford (she was at the same party where I saw Madonna)

Memorable Interviews at Premiere Parties

  • Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic; again, what a nice guy)
  • Jerry Seinfeld (Sour Grapes)
  • Harrison Ford (Air Force One)
  • Jared Leto (Gattaca)
  • Uma Thurman (Gattaca)
  • Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth)
  • Vince Vaughn (Return to Paradise)

Most Memorable Stars I Saw at Events But Didn’t Interview

  • Madonna (tiny, like so many of them)
  • Robert Deniro (it was at the premiere for Ronin and when he entered, the entire room got quiet, like the Queen of England had arrived)
  • David Schwimmer (I was staring into space and when I re-focused, he was doing that hand-wave thing you do to people, like, “Hello? Earth to reporter?”)
  • Chris Farley (I passed him on the stairs of a premiere party and he asked me if I had a boyfriend)
  • Bruce Willis & Demi Moore (at the G.I. Jane premiere; they were such a gorgeous power couple)
  • Jennifer Aniston (tiny with a golden tan)

Stars Who Waited Me Out

  • Gwyneth Paltrow (at the Oscars after-party, the year she won for Shakespeare in Love)
  • Ben Affleck (some premiere party I don’t remember)

 

The Biggest One That Got Away 

Tom Cruise (he was holding Nicole Kidman’s hand while I interviewed her on the red carpet of the Eyes Wide Shut premiere. He was being interviewed by some other red carpet reporter. This was right before they broke up.)

Stars I Thought Were Jerks

Billy Zane (at the Titanic premiere) and Winona Ryder (she apparently had some long-standing beef with Premiere magazine)

The Biggest Stars of the Era That I Never Even Caught a Whiff Of

Julia Roberts

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