We are living in an age of Red Carpet Revolt. So read the headline of a recent article in The New York Times, about the growing number of female celebrities who are fed up with the Glam Cams and Mani Cams and Fashion Police. As The Guardian recently put it, “This is a strange pocket of the Western world where it is still deemed utterly acceptable to take smart, successful women and reduce them to beauty pageant contestants.” But the red carpet is a minimizing, borderline-dehumanizing experience for everyone involved. It’s the high-profile equivalent of that awful work party you have to attend. Nobody really wants to be there. Except maybe publicists. And Kim Kardashian.
Between 2008 and 2009 I worked as a red-carpet reporter, covering premieres and opening nights and other promotional gobbledygook. When I tell anyone this, a common response is, “Wow, that must’ve been cool!” Yes, technically the act of meeting and talking with noteworthy people about their work should be incredibly cool. But as with anything job-related, lots of unfortunate factors come into play that make it completely suck.
When people think of the red carpet, they usually think of the Oscars, where an entire city block is paved in crimson. In reality, most red carpets cover maybe 10 feet of sidewalk. On one side is a marketing backdrop, slapped up against the front of some restaurant. On the other is the press, about 15 reporters plus their respective cameramen, all tied back with velvet rope, all pretending—very badly—to keep out of each other’s way. The goal is simple: Get a soundbyte from anyone who passes by. But since the majority of guests arrive in the same 20-minute stretch, there’s lots of pushing and shoving and yelling over who gets time with whom, before whomever turns and vanishes for good.
It’s imperative that you get everyone. While you might think a certain celebrity is less-than-essential, your boss might see the Getty photos from the event and bark, “You didn’t get Rue McClanahan?!” (Remember, this was 2008.) This can make one act strangely. I’m not a violent person, but once, when an innocent bystander landed between me and Colin Hanks, I seized this stranger by the back of his collar, threw him aside and shouted, “Get the f*ck outta here!” I’d suddenly become Joe Pesci from Goodfellas, and all because of … Colin Hanks?
I can’t say I treated Jane Fonda any better. At the end of a long night, I was the last of a few gazillion goons who approached her. “I’m cold,” she told me, looking feeble and helpless. “I need food and a drink and my family.” In the rational world, I wouldn’t ignore that plea from a 71-year-old woman, but in this moment, I had one choice: Stick a microphone in her face and squawk, “Tell me why you’re here tonight!”
To Fonda’s credit, she brightened up on cue and answered flawlessly, a professional who knew her job wasn’t finished. The worst celebrities think your questions are dumb and maintain an air of “I’m an actor, not a PR automaton” superiority. Look, I’d rather be talking about Chekhov and the Strasberg Method, too, but since neither has anything to do with why we’re here tonight, please play along and tell me about your character in Mince Meat VI? (Fortunately, I only encountered this type once, and though I won’t get into specifics, I will say his name rhymes with Faurence Lishburne.)
There were some good nights. If there was actual elbow room and everyone played by the rules, I’d go home thinking, “Wow, my job is cool!” I’m still convinced Susan Sarandon was undressing me with her eyes. Patrick Wilson is even more gorgeous from two feet away. And Kristin Scott Thomas is the most elegant creature on the planet. If only I’d had the balls to tell her there was an eyelash on her cheek before my cameraman stepped in, mid-interview, and picked it off, exposing me as a grinning, bootlicking phony. I’ll always be grateful to have been in her company, but it would be nice to watch The English Patient and not feel like I’d failed completely as a human being.