In a world where all famous people are shorter than you expect, diminutive ex-president Jimmy Carter has a huge presence and doesn't seem that small. I grab another look at him as he and I, his wife, Rosalynn, director Jonathan Demme and a basketful of Secret Service men ride an elevator into the bowels of the Elgin/Winter Garden theatre complex.
Thick-necked men in suits whisper into microphones hidden in their sleeves that we're turning "left" when we emerge.
I've slid backstage in the company of Demme for the premiere of his excellent Jimmy Carter bio-doc, Man From Plains, but I'm aware that all time in proximity to a president is somewhat stolen.
Meeting Carter is like watching Che walk off a T-shirt. When I greet the toothy, soft-spoken and smiling small-town-peanut-farmer-turned-superpower-bigwig, strangely, the image from the Patrick Swayze flick Point Break of a machine-gun-toting crook in a Jimmy Carter mask flashes across my mind.
As his blue eyes meet mine and he shakes hands like he means it, I realize how deeply socially skilled someone has to be to become president of the United States. And I get the feeling that Carter must have revelled in people mistaking his hokey-dokey approach for weakness - only to kick their asses when provoked.
I want to blurt out my respect for Carter's work on the Middle East and the courage it took to call his latest book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. But I'm afraid of being the political equivalent of the music fan who, upon meeting a favourite singer, barks, "I love your new album, man."
The book has an obviously incendiary title, but in the film, Carter makes a compelling case and is as critical of Palestinian terrorism as he is of Israeli policy. And he is unequivocal in his defence of Israel's right to exist - in peace.
As current presidential policy piles up the body bags, this pacifist prez seems almost saintly. His decision to negotiate the release of American hostages in Iran in 1979 - rather than bombing that country into the Stone Age - looks inspired, not impotent, as the U.S. sinks deeper into its bloody Iraq quagmire.
His Carter Center in Atlanta has signed on to what has to be the most ambitious ex-presidential mission in history - "Waging peace, fighting disease, building hope" - as it circles the globe supervising elections, battling HIV/AIDS and building Habitat for Humanity homes.
I try to melt into the walls among the Secret Service staff when Carter heads off for some photos. A few minutes later, the dressing room door opens and Rosalynn Carter says, "Why don't you all come in and sit?"
The Carters' filmmaker grandson is already in the room, and we're later joined by Barack Obama's young brother-in-law. We're all quickly in Rosalynn's thrall as she asks questions of us, and I later tease my buddies that I've never seen any of us quite that polite before. We sit up straight, and one foul-mouthed friend repeatedly mutters "Gosh" instead of his usual expletives.
But it's not a sycophant sit-down. Rosalynn talks pointedly, reminding me of other on-the-road A-listers I've met who make sure their small talk is filled with the big issues that are important to them. I'm no admirer of U.S. iconography, but when she mentions leaving the White House, it's impressive to recall that she's not talking about the end of a guided tour, but about a move that involved vans and change-of-address cards.
She's sincerely pleased to meet an Obama supporter, but the smiles disappear when talk of an endorsement is mentioned."We have never endorsed a Democratic candidate at the primary level," she says, firmly closing that conversation.
The grandson's excited talk of the Carter clan's annual Christmas vacation ("We take 26 people with us," Rosalynn says - "Jimmy and I have a lot of airline points") leads to a conversation about the justice system. She reveals that one of their "family" is a nanny who was once a convict-worker at the Georgia governor's mansion.
"She basically brought [the Carters' daughter] Amy up," says the First Lady, whose talent for putting strangers at ease was finely honed chatting with the wives of Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat and Pierre Trudeau. Rosalynn is integral to the tenacious team, often public-speaking on her own. Together they're the best ex-president and First Lady ever.
Half an hour later, the door pops open and Jimmy Carter ambles in. "I guess I've been in the wrong place," he laughs, "This is where all the fun is."
After a little more graceful gabbing, the Secret Service herds us back into the elevator so the former president can make his way to the packed theatre to introduce the film.
As we loiter side-stage, Rosalynn quietly admonishes me for not introducing her properly to one of my colleagues. I had mumbled the intro, obviously interfering with her social networking, but the smile returns as the intro is clarified and the couple rush out of the theatre to catch a plane.
I join the audience and, as the doc screens, am not the only one surprised to find tears in my eyes during the archival footage showing Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin embracing at the Carter-brokered Camp David meeting. The days of an actual statesman in the White House seem so desperately and tragically long ago.
The president Demme has chosen to celebrate continues to make the Middle East peace process a key component of his post-presidency calling - and that ain't peanuts.
Jonathan Demme?s Man From Plains opens in the U.S. in October and in Canadian theatres in email@example.com