When Ken Burns goes to the movies, he sits wherever he wants. Not through any kind of documentarian intimidation tactic, but by showing up very early. On Monday night, at the New York premiere of Cairo Time, Mr. Burns arrived 45 minutes before the rest of the crowd to secure seats in the make-out section for him and his wife, Julie Deborah Brown. Before darting into the dark, cool theater, however, he took a moment to talk a little baseball.
“It’s the best game that’s ever been invented,” he said, his voice as measured as a DVD commentary. “It’s also a precise mirror of American culture, and where we are as a society. It’s all about money and greed and also about spectacular play.”
Mr. Burns was sporting his trademark bowl cut, and his wife wore the slack expression common to all baseball widows. Though she probably wasn’t listening, he went on. A Red Sox fan, he called Derek Jeter his favorite active player-”Everything we love to hate”-and offered some gentle ribbing for Yankee fans still hurting over their humiliation at the hands of the Sox in 2004.
“There was never a curse,” he said of that historic comeback. “You should know that. There’s no such thing as curses.” He started rattling off the seasons of Red Sox heartbreak, but by the time he got to the current century, his wife had led him away.
On the red carpet, Laurie Dhue, a Fox News blonde and former anchor of Geraldo at Large, wandered in front of the photographers. “I’m probably not on your list,” she demurred, before posing for pictures and dutifully spelling her name several times. Then Al Roker swooped in wearing a purple jacket, shirt and pocket square, explaining,”I’m trying to go to as many air-conditioned movies as possible.”
If he had come for the A-C, however, he must initially have been disappointed-the lobby was broiling! Cairo Time‘s leading man, Alexander Siddig, called the unassuming indie romance “a nice cool glass of water,” and in the lobby, a nice cool glass of water sounded like a good idea.
The heat didn’t phase director Ruba Nadda, who shot the film in the middle of an Egyptian summer so hot that one of her cameras melted. A graduate of N.Y.U.’s film school, she stared blankly when told that construction in Washington Square Park has seen her alma mater’s graduation ceremony moved to Yankee Stadium.
“Wait,” she said, baffled. “Are you serious? I’m so jet-lagged, I don’t know if you’re pulling my leg or not.”
Patricia Clarkson is tougher than any movie camera, and with the help of ice water and cold compacts, the film’s star finished shooting “as fresh as a daisy.” New York’s recent heat wave has been more troublesome, bothering not her but her aged dog Beaux, whose exposure to the elements she limits to “very short walks” on the shady side of the street.
Neither the heat nor the premiere’s small scale dampened Mr. Siddig’s spirits. He was gushy about Ms. Clarkson, whom he called “a jewel.”
“I never worked with Katharine Hepburn,” he said, “but it’s gotta be something like that.”
Asked if he saw the movie going big places, he gave a cheerful “No,” with the kind of glibness permitted only to those who have his brand of English accent. Half-Sudanese, with a birth name that is 14 words long, he is best known for his roles in Syriana and TV’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Tall, tan, wearing leather shoes and a snakeskin belt, he looked like a cowboy fresh off the trail who had just traded his duster for a suit, custom-tailored to his frame. His goofy grin was that of a man having “the coolest summer in a very long time,” which he’s spent playing video games with his rarely seen 13-year-old son, Django.
“I’m sure I’m going around shooting other people’s children,” he said, “but hey, no sweat off my back. Occasionally he gets bored and shoots me for fun. That’s parenting.”
Such family bonding is comparatively low key next to the summers of Mr. Siddig’s childhood, when his “really glamorous mom”-a sister of Malcolm McDowell-would either drag him to parties or leave him alone in a Paris flat. One late night, on his own and bored, he switched on the TV and was greeted with Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
“I was scared pantsless,” he recalled.