Does size matter?
At TIFF, the answer is yes.
There is, for example, the size of the star. The two biggest here are probably Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Big star equals big press coverage, which in turn leads to big room needed for press conferences. So instead of the tiny ballroom at the Sutton Place, the pressers for Michael Clayton and The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford took place in a huge set of suites at the Four Seasons yesterday.
But that’s not all.
Knowing what a zoo it would be, I arrived more than two hours ahead of time for Clooney’s presser, and found maybe a half-dozen people already in line. Cool, I thought. I should get a pretty decent seat.
But remember, size matters. When the doors opened and half the world’s media, apparently, was in the hallway, the broadcast people (big equipment) got to go in first, followed by the still photographers (slightly smaller equipment).
So by the time the people with cameras or the people with the people with cameras or the people who’d made friends in line with people with cameras got in, I found myself two-thirds of the way back in the room, suffering from a serious case of lens-envy.
The Michael Clayton show was the first on the programme: Clooney, Tilda Swinton, director Tony Gilroy and some producers showed up (sadly, there was no sign Sydney Pollack or Tom Wilkinson). Clooney was looking very grey – jacket, hair, beard – but seemed to be in a good mood; unlike some mega-stars he’s usually pretty respectful of the media.
The trend this year seems to be to open the floor to questions sooner rather than later, which tends to be a good thing, although it did give some chick the chance to call Clooney a “cunning linguist” which… oy.
Somewhat funnier was the woman who asked Clooney on behalf of some male friends to be their wingman that night. (Clooney’s response: “Okay, I’ll do that, that’ll be good fun for me.”) Still, way to demonstrate Gilroy’s point that the questions from European journalists have all been about globalization and politics while here, not so much, ladies.
Gilroy was quick to point out, though, that the picture shouldn’t be ghettoized as a political film, and Clooney agreed: “You could take these characters and put them into a medical drama… [Michael Clayton is a] character looking for redemption.”
Asked if he brought anything of himself to the role, he allowed that “We’re the same height, Michael Clayton and I. Have pretty much the same hair.”
Which was about as personal as the answers got: when an American tabloid-TV reporter asked Clooney about his new 28-year-old girlfriend, he answered “Good for you, good question. Next question.”
Gilroy talked about Clooney acting as his “security blanket” during the whole film, up to and including the last shot, a tricky-to-organize cab ride through the streets of New York. The reason they were able to do that, Gilroy said, is that “the cops want to hang out with George.” Oh George. Is there any problem being a handsome movie star can’t solve?
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking Pitt might crash Clooney’s panel or vice versa, but it didn’t happen. They were grilled about each other, however. Asked if he, as the only other person besides Pitt to be named “Sexiest Man Alive” twice, felt any competition with his Ocean’s Eleven/Twelve/Infinity co-star, Clooney joked, “I don’t like him, I’ll say that right off the bat. He’s very short. But I don’t feel any competition with him. I feel competition with Matt Damon, I’d like to kick his ass.”
And Clooney’s favourite film of Pitt’s? “Johnny Suede.”
Proving that he’s come up in the world since that classic was made, Pitt arrived with the rest of the Jesse James team looking sleek and summery in a white jacket and tan-coloured newsboy cap. He had reason to look pleased with himself: he’d just won the Best Actor award at Venice for playing the famous outlaw.
Although he acknowledged how happy he was to be recognized for the work, he was effusive about Casey Affleck, who plays Robert Ford. The moderator had introduced Affleck as “no longer the brother of Ben” and Pitt was quick to agree that this was going to be Affleck’s break-out role: “To see Casey score like this was just amazing.”
A lot of Jesse James was shot in Canada. Director Andrew Dominik, a New Zealander who for some reason looked to me like an intellectual race car driver, said the cold was hard to get used to: “You dress up like an astronaut to go to work.” But it was worth it to get a never-ending “golden hour,” the time of day most directors love to shoot outdoors: “The sun takes three hours to set. You get great light at the end of the day.”
A reporter from Missouri, Pitt’s home state, asked what it was like to go from the heartland to being under the media microscope 24/7.
“I’m not really under a microscope,” Pitt said as the cameras clicked madly. (Yeah. Tell that to the cops in front of the Elgin Theatre last night, where Yonge St. was shut down because of the teeming mass of Brad fans. Again, size matters.) “It can be discombobulating, but you acclimate.”
The only time it really bothers him, he said, is when it intrudes on the soccer team he’s raising with Angelina Jolie. Then, just to give the cameras what they wanted, he mugged and pretended to pick his nose.
Oh, and his favourite Clooney flick?
“Red Surf, go see it.”