Julia Roberts performs each night in Three Days of Rain at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater on 45th Street. The audiences chanting her name can be heard through the walls all the way into the theater next door.
That neighboring theater, the Booth, is where Ralph Fiennes performs each night in Faith Healer. And sometimes the chanting takes place during one of his long, quiet speeches.
Mr. Fiennes said that he knew his audience has heard the cheers for Ms. Roberts, but that they are even less a distraction to him than the rare passing siren from the street.
Ralph Fiennes was nominated for a Tony for his performance in Faith Healer, but when Sunday night’s awards show came around, he didn’t win. His co-star in the show, Ian McDiarmid, did. And there, on Tony night, was his loud neighbor, Ms. Roberts. “I just want to take this opportunity to say that you people are insanely talented,” Ms. Roberts said to the theater people before her at the Tonys. There was applause then, but it tapered off with, if it’s possible, a slightly offended question mark: Uh, you people?
Mr. Fiennes isn’t really used to winning. He watched his co-star Juliette Binoche win an Academy Award for The English Patient. That film of his, and Schindler’s List, too, won the Oscar for Best Picture. He lost to Tommy Lee Jones in 1994; to Geoffrey Rush in Shine in 1997; and wasn’t even nominated for The Constant Gardener, which got his co-star, Rachel Weisz, an Oscar of her own.
Mr. Fiennes described being a nominee. It was the suspenseless day after the Tonys, at the Mercer Hotel. “Your adrenaline is in high gear,” he said, “and, however Zen you try to be, you just don’t know; are you going to go up there or are you not? What’s it going to be? And you slightly feel like ‘Oh, why the fuck do I have to be put through this?’”
Mr. Fiennes is a smart and anxious person, and attuned to his discomforts. The icky state of being a nominee probably doesn’t even compare to what he thinks about the horrid state of fame.
Anyway. Mr. Fiennes starts off as a charmer. He arrived carrying only a newspaper, cell phone and sunglasses in hand. He was wearing wheat-colored trousers, a loose-fitting white shirt casually rolled up his arms and sandals—an outfit more appropriate for a Prufrockian walk than his film premiere that evening, a film premiere that he didn’t think would be much of anything, an independent movie with very little market budget.
So why did he put himself there? With his teal-colored eyes and a jaw built for emoting, Mr. Fiennes could have finagled entry into the one-name-only clubs of Toms and Brads. He chose not to, perhaps; or, at least, he did not.
He’s done films like Oscar and Lucinda; the Hungarian family saga Sunshine, where he played three different characters; and David Cronenberg’s Spider, a critically acclaimed and quite little-seen film. Back in an age when movie stars weren’t required to plop themselves down for a gravitas-generating turn on Broadway, he returned to the stage, winning a Tony in 1995 for Hamlet—the only actor to ever do so.
But? You try to make sense of the choices. There was also Maid in Manhattan, that dreaded J. Lo movie. He does the high camp of Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films. And The Avengers, which reminded audiences that they liked Mr. Fiennes best when he was pining. (“It didn’t work at all,” he said—it was supposed to be funny.)
“He is drawn to the darker places of the soul in his work,” said the actress Natasha Richardson, who met and befriended the actor when her husband, Liam Neeson, was co-starring with Mr. Fiennes in Schindler’s List. Ms. Richardson and Mr. Fiennes have worked in two films together—Maid in Manhattan and last year’s The White Countess, “two wildly different experiences,” she said dryly. “Few people who become movie stars like Ralph want to take time out and do plays, and I think it’s tantamount to Ralph to do that. I don’t think a year would go by without him doing a play. It’s his true love.”
“I love what films can be,” Mr. Fiennes said. “But for an actor, it’s often very technical—you train yourself to remain quiet in your trailer and you wait while they change the lights, or wait for a change in the weather. And then sometimes before you do the take, they’re like, ‘Sorry, we need to change the light and go again.’ That grinds you down. And you have to develop the philosophy of ‘Well, it might have been my best take, but they didn’t have the sound running.’” He smiled the smile of a man who clearly doesn’t appreciate losing his best take.
“I love this play so much,” he said. “I love to hear how it lands—some of the audience are not necessarily prepared to hear three hours of monologues set in a remote part of Ireland. But the power of the play can just knock you out.”
Mr. Fiennes has an hour and 45 minutes of backstage privacy while the other actors perform their own monologues. He spends his time tidying his dressing room.
“I’m quite prone to anxiety,” he said, “so I love to come into my dressing room and be organized. It makes me feel calm.” He’s been reading Samuel Beckett, and a biography of Beckett. “Our play deals with memory and this film deals with memory, and that’s why Beckett is interesting to me at the moment. Maybe as you get older, your sense of mortality becomes stronger. I suppose you reflect on how you behaved and the choices you’ve taken, and what the implications of those choices have been and what would have been.”
The wolf has a dark side. But is he also a cad? In 1995, Mr. Fiennes’ love life was a juicy scandal. He left his wife, Alex Kingston—best known for playing Dr. Elizabeth Corday on ER—for the stunning Francesca Annis, 18 years his senior, who played his Hamlet’s mother. It sent the press—the U.K. press, at least—into an Oedipal frenzy.
Then, this February, when a young Romanian singer, later claimed by some Brit tabloids to be a high-class dominatrix, came forward with allegations that she and Mr. Fiennes had been carrying on a two-year affair, Ms. Annis and Mr. Fiennes split after 10 years. Headlines like “The Constant Philanderer” and “Love Rat” came fast.
“His private life is his private life and he doesn’t want to go there,” said Ms. Richardson. “He’s incredibly loyal—he’s someone you can count on.”
“He is reserved,” said Robert Edwards, the writer and director of Mr. Fiennes’ new film, The Land of the Blind, which opens this Friday. “But if you get beyond that, he’s a lovely guy.”
In the political satire Land of the Blind, the film that would premiere that night, Mr. Fiennes plays an idealistic soldier who participates in a rebel overthrow of power. The film is not easily digestible; even the director refers to it as being noncommercial. (“Imagine Ed Wood attempting Brazil,” wrote film critic Lisa Rose.)
Mr. Fiennes put his high-beam gaze on to talk about the politics of the film. His eyes are really big. “We’re sitting here and it’s a lovely hotel,” he said, which he really meant, as he has spent a great deal of time this year living at the Mercer Hotel, in fact, “but these horrendous things are happening. 9/11 proved how fragile all this is. A few blocks away a few years ago all this was just shattered. It’s so fragile. And it could be anything—it can be a trip across the road, it could be that trip to the doctor and he says, ‘I’m sorry, you only have a few years to live.’”
Interviews are, he said, “too exhausting to hate.” He folded his napkin; he folded his napkin again. Faith Healer’s run is up in August. Then he’ll take a vacation before doing his few weeks’ work on the next Harry Potter.
“It’s a great lot of fun,” he said, and broke into a sunny smile. “I think I’m going to get to do a great duel against Michael Gambon, who plays Dumbledore.” After that, he plans to start raising money, because, guess what? That’s right: Next, he’ll direct.
Entourage of One
At the premiere for the third season of Entourage, no one The Transom spoke to admitted liking Los Angeles better than New York—except 59-year-old James Woods’ well-cleavaged blond girlfriend, 20-year-old Ashley Madison.
“You know, I like them both—they’re different,” said Mr. Woods of the two cities. Mr. Woods plays himself in Entourage’s forthcoming season.
Ms. Madison, in a low-cut white-and-black geometric-patterned sleeveless top with snug white cropped pants, strappy black stilettos and a flashy black beaded cross around her neck—and, more importantly, a large diamond on her left ring finger—couldn’t help chiming in.
“We love Los Angeles. We love Los Angeles,” she said, and turned to Mr. Woods. “You love—I love New York, but you have your—”
“Well, the one thing I like about L.A. is I can play more golf, you know?” Mr. Woods said. “Poker and golf—those are my hobbies. I get to play them in Los Angeles more. But I lived here for 20 years and I never get tired of it.”
“I don’t know,” Ms. Madison said. “I’ve only been here, like, three times. So he’s taken me and shown me all this great stuff. But I guess, yeah, I like L.A.,” she said.
“It was my birthday yesterday,” she said.
“Well, yup, it was her birthday yesterday,” Mr. Woods said, “so we went to dinner at Town and had a great time, and just sort of had a romantic dinner together, which was a lot of fun and—”
“He bought me more presents than anyone ever bought me in my life,” she said.
“Awww,” he said. “A couple of things—”
“Can I tell?” she asked. “Or no?”
“Well, yeah,” said Mr. Woods.
“Like, he bought me a Mac computer. And a digital camera, and like—”
“A movie camera and stuff,” Mr. Woods said. “She’s a great singer, which people don’t sort of realize because, you know, she’s more of an actress. But I said, it’s a great opportunity for you to set up your own—make up your own DVD’s and stuff like that. And I mean, I’m a Mac fanatic—I love it.”
“I can’t believe he did that for me,” said Ms. Madison.
Also in disbelief was a Daily News reporter, Katherine Thomson, Lloyd Grove’s stringer, who ganked part of the conversation for a bit of Mr. Grove’s column the other day.
—Amy L. Odell
On Wednesday, for the Young Lions Fiction Award ceremony, the interior of the New York Public Library murmured class. Tables were festooned with, of all things, books.
At one table, Stacy Leigh of PEN talked about censorship. Also under discussion was Uzodinma Iweala, hotly tipped from the pool of five nominated writers to win the night’s $10,000 prize. “He’s so young! 1982 he was born,” she said. People laughed. “I was not being asked to the prom in 1982.”
Indeed, Mr. Iweala wrote his novella, Beasts of No Nation, as his senior thesis while still at Harvard. (Supervised by Jamaica Kincaid!) He was sleepless, but wired, that night. “It’s exciting, it’s like your first kiss,” he said. “I don’t mind coming across as dirty, because that’s what I am!” He was stoked about Ethan Hawke, who is always at this thing. (“It was like this awkward thing,” said Sukey Tamarkin, a high-school librarian and Young Lions member, “because it used to always be Ethan and Uma. And then, that difficult time …. ”)
This year, Mr. Hawke was joined by a white-suited Terrence Howard, whose reading Mr. Hawke later admired as “un-fucking-believable,” and Famke Janssen. Ms. Janssen, her dress covered in tiny white polka dots, with elbow-length puffed sleeves, those enviable legs visible from the knee down, admitted she hadn’t read all the nominated books. “Ethan just asked me to do this a few days ago,” she said. “It was a last-minute thing.” Apparently Julianna Margulies had dropped out. (No lie.)
The night’s prize did indeed go to Mr. Iweala. New York Public Library president Dr. Paul LeClerc, in his presentation, condemned much of current American culture as a “sea of mediocrity. There are just oceans of crap out there.” He suggested that the nominated writers should be elected “to the highest positions of government.”
Mr. Hawke descended from the platform and ordered the evening’s signature vodka-cranberry-ginger concoction, the Leo Bloom. “Next year I want to nominate myself,” he said. “I think it’s time for me to be a judge.”
Andrew Sean Greer, last year’s Young Lions winner, said that the end of his secretarial career was the start of his literary one. “I got fired,” said Mr. Greer.
“I got fired from every job I ever had,” nearby Rick Moody said.
“I was a secretary and I embezzled,” Mr. Greer said.
“He embezzled for art,” said Mr. Moody.
“I stole some stationery,” said Mr. Greer, “and I embezzled about $100. I needed it for rent.”
Mr. Hawke came by and talked with Mr. Moody about the funding of his own recently completed film, based on his own book. Japanese backers had handed over a couple of million, “upfront, no questions asked,” but Mr. Hawke remained concerned because of its low-profile star. “The trick now is getting it distributed. A film starring Mark Webber?”
That night, Mr. Iweala seemed unsure what impact the award might have on his career. Andrew Sean Greer has had a year to figure it out. Does winning the prize make the next book easier? “Nothing ever makes any book any easier,” Mr. Greer said.
“That’s for shit sure,” said Mr. Moody.
The next night, Thursday, was the Library’s Young Lions gala. Uzodinma Iweala was now in a solid fuchsia raw silk gown, over plain Western dressy clothes.
Mr. Iweala was with his friend Elliot. They had taken creative-writing electives together at Harvard. They are both 23.
Mr. Iweala said that he’s living in New York now. He works in health administration. $10,000 literary prize or no, later he is planning on med school.
The gala’s theme was “The Beautiful and Damned: The Lost Generation.” The original Lost Generation consisted of expatriate writers fighting fascism–whether for (Pound) or against (Hemingway). Anyway, damned or not, Ethan Hawke went on about the cultural value of culture. “This event is about substance,” he said. “And I don’t mean substance abuse. I mean the substance of our ideas.”
It was time for the seated dinner. “We’ll get you in,” said Elliot to The Transom. “Me and Uzo”–that is what they call him–“we remember what it is to be a student.”
Later, Men’s Vogue associate editor Hudson Morgan hit the dance floor. He was in spectator glasses and a velour blazer. “We’re velveteen rabbits,” he said, indicating his plushy friend.
Rattawut Lapcharoensap and Eric Puchner, writers, made their way downstairs to the ballroom. “It reminds me of a school dance,” Mr. Puchner said. He said he was an awkward, gangly boy who once made a girl burst into tears just by asking her to dance. “She came up to here,” he said, hand to his chest.
The other writers came to the dance floor. “Writers aren’t that different from normal people,” Mr. Puchner said kindly. Ander Monson, in seersucker and with a whacky Hun-like bush of hair, flailed about all of his appendages from neck to legs.
Uzo and Elliot returned. Then Damon Dash. “You want to know Uzo, you gotta know about music,” Mr. Dash yelled over the music. “Me and Uzo, we’re big into everything.”
L.A. Nights: Paris Hilton and Brandon Davis
Friday night, in the balmy hills of Hollywood, Paris Hilton hosted a party for her good friend Caroline D’Amore. Ms. D’Amore, an actress, model and minor pizza heiress, was turning 21.
“It was literally, like, a party for Caroline, but not really–I mean, it always ends up being about Paris,” said an attendee.
Ms. D’Amore and Ms. Hilton, 25, wore matching black cocktail slips, which came to a frilly end around the mid-thigh region. “Paris’s house has, like, a stripping room,” said the attendee. “There’s a pole and, like, some stairs. It’s really weird. The two of them were constantly pole-dancing.” There were more than 60 people there; a vast majority were men, though one was Ms. Hilton’s aunt, who hit the pole for a while herself.
There was another surprising attendee–“Starving Nachos!” said the source, meaning Stavros Niarchos, whose relationship with Ms. Hilton officially ended in May. (A very thorough party report on PerezHilton.com confirmed Mr. Niarchos’ attendance.)
The Greek shipping-heir ex-beau spent the night at Ms. Hilton’s house, the source said, but did not know in what capacity. Later that weekend, according to another source, Mr. Niarchos bragged that his overnight presence had been, well, let’s call it romantic.
The house, up Kings Road, is not “obnoxious” in size, but it’s “very well decorated. It’s very Viceroy,” said the attendee, meaning the hotel. “Everything’s white and pink and black. And then there’s a teeny pool.” Ms. Hilton’s recent music video played continuously on several flat-screen TV’s. Pictures of her adorned her walls.
The next night, near midnight, Ms. Hilton’s party pal, Brandon Davis, the former model and current oil heir, found himself on the bad side of a velvet rope on Sunset Boulevard. Was it because, on May 17, Mr. Davis had made a startling disquisition to the press–to the cackles of Ms. Hilton–regarding the hair color and freckly-ness of Lindsay Lohan’s pelvic region, thereby severing him from some of the comforts of celebdom?
“Not tonight, Brandon,” was the verdict on Saturday from doorman at the nightclub Hyde.
“What are you talking about?” said Mr. Davis, according to an onlooker. Mr. Davis had, among others, his brother and Sonia Kinski, daughter of Nastassja, in tow.
The doorman said it again. “Not tonight, Brandon. Tonight’s not your night.”
“He was shocked,” said the onlooker, who was in line behind Mr. Davis. “This might have been the first time someone has ever told him no.” But also: “What the fuck do they care what he says about Lindsay’s vagina? The guy’s a billionaire.”
(“I think she’s worth about $7 million,” Mr. Davis had said of Ms. Lohan on May 17, “which means she’s really poor. It’s disgusting. She lives in a motel in New York.”)
“Hyde only has a capacity of 100 people, so many people are turned away on a nightly basis,” e-mailed a representative of the nightclub’s owner, explaining that the carb-faced boy billionaire had arrived with a party of 12. The rejection had nothing to do with “other friends,” such as Ms. Lohan, of the owner. The Transom’s source, in a party of four, sailed in not long after Mr. Davis was rejected. So did Michelle Trachtenberg. So did Justin Timberlake.