The promotional campaign for Kingdom of Heaven, Ridley Scott’s $140 million epic, has blitzed the airwaves and stampeded across early-morning and late-night talk shows as ruthlessly as the 12th-century Crusaders it portrays. But it all finally came to an end where so many such campaigns do, at the movie’s May 4 Ziegfeld Theater premiere.
A little more than an hour before the film was scheduled to begin, Fox publicists raced up and down the red carpet jabbering anxiously on headsets, trying to make themselves heard over the wailing wall of young women trapped behind the barricades screaming, “Oooorlandoooo!!”
The film’s leading man, Orlando Bloom, was as yet nowhere in sight.
But anticipation didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the teeming masses for this unlikely stud, who, after all, made his name playing a fairy.
Some even held action figures fashioned after the character of the elf, Legolas (Mr. Bloom’s role in Lord of the Rings); others waved copies of the current Rolling Stone, the cover of which featured Mr. Bloom gazing Mona Lisa–like from the cover, clad in a white tank top.
Studio reps whipped the crowd into greater frenzy, tossing out T-shirts emblazoned “Mrs. Bloom” on the front.
Yes, I said, yes, I will. Yes! the teenage girls and overweight suburban moms-along with a few misguided gents-seemed to be saying by promptly pulling them on.
It was 30 minutes before the first Town Car pulled up in front of the theater and Liam Neeson appeared, a tall drink of water wearing a dark blue suit.
“I don’t think they’re all here for me,” he deadpanned, pausing to expound on the merits of his young co-star. It was the usual spiel: good work ethic, professionalism.
“Right. He’d better well say something nice about me now,” Mr. Neeson concluded as the crowd obligingly switched their cries to “Liam!!” They were not rewarded with “Mrs. Neeson” T-shirts for their efforts, but the actor signed autographs and posed for photographs taken with camera phones. (Everyone’s a paparazzo now.)
The chant switched back to “Orlando!!” as Brendan Gleeson and Martin Csokas, foils to Mr. Bloom’s Balian in the movie, strode along the narrow defile of the stars, looking semi-dazzled by the attention.
“Ooh, I loved playing bad,” said Mr. Gleeson, who in the movie is the villainous Reynald. He paused to give Mr. Neeson, his fellow Irishman, a manly bear hug.
“I’ve just finished the next Harry Potter-I play Mad Eye Moody, another lunatic,” Mr. Gleeson said.
“I loved the horses,” said Mr. Csokas cheerfully. But a roar had risen up to engulf his little non sequitur: Orlando had arrived at the end of the red carpet.
In short order, a lineup of B-list celebrities was shunted along the carpet like a row of ducks at a carnival to make way for Balian. There was Bryant Gumbel, X-Men’s Famke Janssen, Salman Rushdie and MTV TRL-er Vanessa Minnillo (who, according to the tabloids, would go on to become quite cozy with Mr. Bloom later that evening at the Flatiron nightspot Gypsy Tea). Inexplicably in attendance was also the formerly scandal-ridden ice skater Oksana Baiul, tiny in a red slip dress, who happily did a quarter-turn for the cameras. “I’ll give you a triple Lutz!” she said gamely.
Finally, it was time for the Heartthrob to arrive. Dressed all in black with a rakish scarf-perhaps still in Pirates of the Caribbean mode (he’s currently filming back-to-back sequels)-Mr. Bloom seemed to drink in the Beatles-like hysteria generated the crowds around him.
“No, I don’t suppose you ever get used to this,” he said, gesturing vaguely at the frenzied masses, a hint of exhaustion at the corners of his dark eyes. “But I’m very grateful to all of them. Ridley cast me in this multimillion-dollar movie, and it’s my first time out as the lead-so if it wasn’t for these guys, I’m not sure Fox would have taken a chance on me.”
Asked about his director, Mr. Bloom broke into a grin.
“He’s the man,” he said. “I mean, this is the guy who gave us Gladiator, Thelma and Louise and Bladerunner-he’s a genius!
“He takes historic material and makes it cool,” he added.
“I almost never say this, but this is really one of the movies I’m most pleased with,” said Mr. Scott moments later, arm in arm with girlfriend, Giannina Facio. “I think it’s really difficult to take a mainstream movie and mix intelligent subtext to it.”
Right, thought The Transom. Wouldn’t want to put the intelligence where mainstream audiences could just grab it, would you?
As to the pressures of a high-budget film opening in a summer ripe with expectations, the twinkly-eyed director shrugged.
“I hope it does well, but you’re never guaranteed anything in life, are you? We try to do the best we can, make the best movie, and hopefully people will like it and come out to see it.”
The time was now 7:15, 15 minutes past the scheduled start time for the film, and Orlando Bloom was still signing autographs. Further down the carpet, Mr. Bloom’s on-screen co-star Eva Green was being hustled into the theater. “No! No more questions,” barked her handler, as Ms. Green continued to pose.
“I’m going to think about doing a cowboy movie next,” laughed Mr. Scott, as he too was pulled into the theater, adding with a wink toward his leading man, who still glad-handling the crowd: “There’s far too many pirate movies now.”
Mite in the Piazza
Victoria Clark is gearing up to shop for a tiny tuxedo. Following her Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, the rising star of The Light in the Piazza has already picked an escort for awards night: her 10-year-old son, Thomas Luke Guest. “It’ll be cute,” she enthused. “He jumped so high when they announced it that I think he landed on top of my shoulders.”
While young Thomas was unabashedly confident in his mother’s success, holding her hand throughout the announcement, Ms. Clark admitted that the rest of the home team-herself, one cat and a dog-had been feeling a little queasy.
They needn’t have. Before the announcements, Ms. Clark topped the critics’ lists as a likely nominee for her performance, which has been roundly praised this season, even as The Light in the Piazza met with mixed reviews. Based on a novella by Elizabeth Spencer and directed by Bartlett Sher, the show tells the story of a young American who embarks on an Italian vacation with her protective mother-played by Ms. Clark-and falls in love with one of the dashing young locals.
Other leading women who got the nod were Sutton Foster from Little Women, who won the award in 2002; Erin Dilly from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; and Sherie Rene Scott of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Last, and probably least, was striver Christina Applegate, who survived both her résumé (remember Kelly Bundy, the tawdry teen temptress on Married … With Children?) and a broken foot to star in the revival of Sweet Charity.
Ms. Clark was gracious about leading in the standings and expressed excitement for all her colleagues.
Her son’s allegiances are less complicated. He has already composed a song to honor the affair, which Ms. Clark gladly sang for us. It went something like this: “We’re going to the Tony Awards, dah dah dah dah dah.” Is this a harbinger of Mr. Guest’s own nascent Broadway ambitions? Probably not. “He’s a jock,” she explained. “We just need to make sure he eats enough.”
About 20 members of the Broadway Special, the official New York branch of the national P.G. Wodehouse Society, met for dinner recently at trendy Tribeca eatery Dekk before heading out to see the film adaptation of the Wodehouse novel Piccadilly Jim. It was only a matter of time before the subject of flying bread rolls came up.
“Only at the national conventions do these morons throw bread rolls and act like the asses Wodehouse wrote about,” said David Jasen, the 67-year-old former friend and original biographer of the late humor writer P.G. Wodehouse.
Bread throwing, a standard practice at the Drones, the fictional men’s club frequented by such timeless Wodehousean creations as Bertie Wooster and Ronald Eustace Psmith, became taboo among Wodehouse Society members after an errant roll landed in a wine glass and caused red wine to soil one lucky diner’s white tuxedo at the 1997 national convention in Chicago. According to Mr. Jasen, Wodehouse fans commonly suffer from arrested development.
However, group founder Amy Plofker pointed out that Wodehouse’s constant theme of extreme silliness offers a “profound strategy for dealing with life.” Mrs. Plofker, a medical writer who lives in Sleepy Hollow, has read “at least 80″ of the prodigious author’s 90 books and says she started the group in an effort to bring some joy to New Yorkers in the aftermath of 9/11.
Indeed, most group members cited therapeutic benefits when asked the reason behind their obsession. “Wodehouse is my cure to depression,” said Barbara Weider, a 35-year-old historical preservationist who has read more than 70 Wodehouse books, “some of them 10 times over.” And member John Baesch, proudly donning the Society’s official tie, comprised of green, red and gold stripes, credits “The Master” with saving his life. Bedridden after suffering a heart attack, Mr. Baesch immersed himself in a six-month regimen of pure Wodehouse. “The not-so-subtle message of Wodehouse is ‘relax and enjoy,'” he said.
As with any good literary-society function, the evening culminated with a test, which turned out to be a nail-biter. Out of 15 Piccadilly Jim–related stumpers-including such doozies as “Name the female socialist detective operating in the Pett house as a maid”-Evelyn Herzog and Ms. Weider both answered three questions correctly. Ms. Herzog won the tiebreaker and was awarded a collection of stories entitled Women in Wodehouse.
“That’s bullshit,” Ms. Weider muttered upon learning that Ms. Herzog had just finished the book on the train in from Maryland. The Transom slid a breadbasket in her direction and she gladly whizzed a slice down the table. Her husband, Tom, joined in with two stealth no-look over-the-shoulder tosses. No one at the other end of the table seemed to notice. “The Dorothy Parker Society is more rowdy,” Ms. Weider asserted.
Before the screening, hosted by the Tribeca Film Festival at the Stuyvesant High School auditorium, the current club president, Philip Schreffler, reviewing the film for the Society’s quarterly, Plum Lines, had some pointed questions for the film’s director, John McKay, about how faithful his movie had been to the novel.
“When Jim speaks in the novel he’s got the Psmith or the Bertie Wooster cadence to his speech, will we see that?”
“You’ll see a little of it,” responded Mr. McKay, and started to say something about the film’s star, Sam Rockwell, before being rescued by a publicist.
Fortunately for Mr. McKay, who said he hopes to rouse as many Wodehouse fans “from the bath chair” as possible, Mr. Schreffler was pleased with the film and felt it had been true to the novel.
“Yes, only one very minor subplot is missing,” said Mr. Schreffler. “I’m planning to review the film as if it were a Broadway musical, updated from 1917 to the 1930’s.” Got that?