Also I tried to bold the Zac parts
Dinner at Italian restaurant on Gloucester Road. DaMaria’s: 7pm.
That night, we take a cab over. (To procure the taxi on Bayswater Road, I tip the concierge a pound—which he looks at dismissively. Henceforth I tip him/her two pounds.)
The steps of the restaurant seem to bear an engraved inscription concerning Princess Diana, and the cab driver tells us a lengthy story concerning Princess Diana’s automobiles. He keeps talking after we’ve gotten out of the cab. “She wuhz a warm and wuhnderful girl.”
The party is downstairs: two long tables pushed together. Flat round breads and mozzarella chips with parsley.
Lynn [Kaplow's wife] and I are elaborately introduced. I feel a little buffoonish in my ill-fitting gray sports jacket which feels massively oversized on top of my sweater. Lynn looks beautiful in black. Both of us are still hopelessly jet-lagged; I’m trying to smile exuberantly with six hours surgically removed from my face. I meet for the first time, in person, the screenwriters: Holly and Vince Palmo; they’re wonderful and humble and warm-spirited, and they listen. He’s in jeans with longish gray hair, eyeglasses, stylishly unshaved. She’s gracious and a little shy, and she’s a reader: I tell her our hotel is off Bayswater Road, and her immediately response is: “George Smiley lives there.” I like them both immediately, and I sort of apologize for my lengthy e-mails about the various drafts of the screenplay. “You probably thought I was a real officious pain in the ass.” No, they didn’t. And they tell me, at length and with considerable passion, how much they love the novel. They explain to me their process, which was to start by dramatizing every scene in the novel—and then start cutting. Holly tells me that what impressed her was that every scene in the novel was shaped with a beginning, middle, and end. This compliment pleases me greatly, and I tell her that it’s probably a result of having read and analyzed so many plays. We realize that the Palmos are closer to this story than any other reader I will ever have: they’ve weighed every word; debated what to retain or delete. Lynn, who abridges for Random House Audio Books, finds the parallel in what she does: other than the author, no one is closer to the story, sentence-by-sentence, than the abridger; it’s a kind of old-fashioned line-edit.
I recount the story of my stumbling onto Spike Milligan’s house earlier that afternoon: 9 Orme Court. (The doorbell still says 'Sykes' over one of the buttons—which I assume is Milligan’s old comedian buddy Eric Sykes.)
Richard Linklater [director, Me and Orson Welles] is gracious, low-key, and excited. He tells me he’s “nervous about the Shakespeare, but nervous in a good way.”
Christian McKay is now slimmer by 26 pounds from the last time I saw him in New York (in May,) and he looks even more like Welles.
He knows his entire part by heart. His wife Emma will play Virginia Welles in the movie, and she’s lit with enthusiasm and love for Christian. McKay has so internalized Welles’s speech patterns that you feel, even when you’re talking to him casually, that you’re actually talking to Welles (whom Christian refers to as The Old Man.)
Claire Danes arrives with her English boyfriend Hugh Dancy. She’s pale and pretty and all eyes—in her cowl-neck sweater—and she has a quirky and powerful flirtatious energy that she seems very aware of, that she can turn on and off like a blowlamp: or so it seems to me. She asks me where I grew up, and she tells me she grew up in Soho with an artist father. Hugh Dancy has Leading Man written all over him: poised, playful, handsome. He tells me that my friend Marc Lanzoff thrust a copy of Me and Orson Wellesinto his hands outside of Journey's End in New York.
At about nine PM I call Marc’s message machine from my newly-charged UK cell-phone, and Christian McKay leaves him a long, warm-spirited, and very Wellesian message.
Zac Efron and his pal/assistant Andy arrive. Zac is thinner than you expect; filled with energy and charm and a quick smile. “I’m about halfway through the novel,” he tells me. “It’s brilliant.”
He tells me he spent yesterday at Abby Road recording the vocal tracks for High School Musical 3. “Did you walk across the crosswalk?” I ask. “No,” he says, “but I did use Paul McCartney’s old microphone.” He seems legitimately humble, despite his celebrity, and the paparazzi leave us entirely alone in the basement of the restaurant.
Later, the producer Marc Samuelson (unshaved, black sweater, pale-framed glasses) tells me that Zac appeared yesterday at his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. “With a card! He didn’t just bring himself as the present. He’s a real mensch, that boy.”
Sara Greene: blonde, shy, tall.
Ann Carli, the line producer: intense, managerial, focused. James Tupper (unshaved) plays Joseph Cotten and keeps escaping outside with Christian to smoke. He tells me went to Mason Gross, the arts college in New Brunswick. “Were you really inspired by a photo?” he asks me.
“Not really. I wanted to write a novel about people putting on a play.”
Vince and I talk about Preston Sturges. Claire says she named her remote control Preston Sturges.
We talk about Oliver Sacks. Samuelson tells me he describes Me and Orson Welles like The Devil Wears Prada: a kid gets involved with an overwhelming personality; a monster and a genius. And his life changes. Samuelson talks about the humorous similarity between his nameand “Samuels.” Tells me he likes the novel because it’s got heart. “Have you seen the nominated films this year? They’re all so mean. I would rather have my name on Me & Orson Welles than any of them.”
Thursday Feb. 21, 2008
I walk down to the Gaiety [Theatre} with my bag/camera/notebook. End up camped out in the second balcony:
—Claire’s in a hat/scarf. She tells me she’s waiting for her dog Weegee (Ouiji?) to be released from quarantine. She’s also waiting for her sister to arrive.
—Leo Bill in funny red woollen hat.
—Zac in purple striped hoodie, white socks, sneakers. He’s got a paperback copy of Me and Orson Welles, and it’s studded with yellow Post-it notes: about 50 of them.
—Chaplin in black peacoat—with “belt” when in costume.
—Marsan in his brown three-piece suit as Houseman. He’s superb during rehearsals. “This is the essential Orson Welles moment, in’n’t?” He sits reading my old paperback copy of Run-through while he’s waiting for his next scene.
—Zac quotes the novel to me at lunch, a line he likes concerning how Richard ended up with the two least serious members of the company.
—Al Weaver (Leve) corners me in the balcony and asks whether Leve really does deserve the credit. I tell him: “In his mind he certainly believes that.”
—Kelly asks me: “What does Evelyn really think about Richard?” I tell her, with as much authorial pomposity as I can muster without laughing: “She’s in love with him. That’s her tragedy.”
—Lunch is catered in the lobby and eaten up in the bar: actors relatively quiet; focused in on their performances.
—Chaplin memorable in his funeral oration on that pulpit, and deliciously caustic in his “Elsie Fogerty” speech. He really is magnetic; that elusive star quality that almost no one else in the cast has—a real alpha-male—and you see it in the Gaiety. He’s almost always sitting by a woman, entertaining her with stories, laughing uproariously out of the darkness.
—By four o’clock I’ve got a headache, a neck ache, my teeth hurt, and my gums are bleeding. In some ways I’m glad to be leaving tomorrow. I feel a little like a guest who has overstayed his welcome. I’m like the polite smiling visitor whose smile is getting a little tired.
But I’ll miss this old theatre with its phoney chipped paint, and the lights that read “Property of Dick Pope,” and the eternally-running porcelain water-wall in the Gents, and the old framed theatre posters of The Beggar's Opera, and Libby’s dog in her handbag and Chaplin doing a little vaudeville jig at his curtain call, and saying, “Friends, Romans, Yorkshiremen. Just chill out, won’t you?” And Cotten (Tupper) massaging Evelyn’s shoulders as Welles does his director’s notes, and the comic Fascist salutes, and the security guard at the door who knows me and opens the door for me. This little world.
A call from Sara Green (clipping in and out) asks Lynn and me to dinner. “Could you meet Rick in the lobby of his hotel?” The Sefton—which adjoins the Gaiety Theatre.
Later that night Lynn and I take a windy walk down there, pressing the traffic buttons: WAIT… The arcade with the white tents set up behind. Apparently they’re doing makeup and costumes in there. The Sefton is much more affluent than our hotel. The artwork is abstract. White wood and glass tables. Sara and Ann Carli are waiting. “Two fans want to meet you.”
It’s two actors; I can’t remember whom they play. “I loved the novel.”
Zac and Andy have already ordered at a private table, but they join us: Sara, Zac, Rick, Ann Carli—Andy, Vince, RK, Lynn. The beginning of the dinner is all film-crew jokes. (“They had one tent with the food set up, and it consisted of exactly one chocolate cake with no utensils. And by the middle of the afternoon the tent had collapsed and the cake was covered with flies!”) After awhile we get more personal:
—Ann shows us digital pictures of her Toto-like dog, Nutmeg. One of them has the dog wearing pink rabbit ears. “This is going to be my Christmas card for next year. That’s the name of my company, Fuzzy Bunny Productions.”
—Rick tells us that Zac is a gifted poker player—learned his tricks from an old woman in California.
—Zac tells us about Oprah’s 45 acre estate in Hawaii where apparently he is allowed to surf.
We talk about 49-UP. “Suppose she wants me to eat greens. But I don’t like greens.” “If the schools were open, all the poor people would come rushing in.”
TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL
Friday, September 5, 2008
How many people will ever make a trip like this? I so want the movie to be miraculous: funny, fast, poignant—soaring high on the energy currents that animated Capra and Sturges when all the cylinders were firing. I want there to be music and colour and burning, forward-driving narrative—and, finally, tears and a hard-won joy. How can any film meet these requirements?
We arrive at the Ryerson in front of an authentic red carpet and a modest crowd. Zac looks male-modelish in his slim, gently-iridescent suit, and Claire, in her elegant green dress, looks very Hollywood, and they are suspended in a twin orbits of light and video and digital cameras. The crowd chants: “Claire!” and “Zac! Over here!” A green cardboard handwritten sign reads: Zac Please Give Me a Hug.
Linklater gets a few requests for interviews/autographs from the older crowd. The rest of us walk by in the stars’ publicity vapor trail; the school-girls with Hairspray CDs they’re hoping to get autographed, holding their little silver cameras. The Toronto Film Festival women wears lime green t-shirts and earphones and microphones: like a cinematic Secret Service.
“You want to wait in the Green Room?” asks Vince. Claire and Zac both recognize and remember me from the shoot—and give me a hug.
They stand around nervously in the no-man’s land of the wings, waiting for the lights to go down before taking their seats.
Neither Zac nor Claire nor I have seen the movie, and we’re a little nervous.
Vince, Holly, Lynn, and I scramble off to find the bathrooms downstairs. “You’ll probably miss the introductions,” the head-phoned woman tells me. We don’t.
The lights go down; flashbulbs are firing all over the theatre.
“No photography once the introductions are over.
We have very sophisticated software to detect it.”
“…An old friend to the Toronto International Film Festival who first came here 15 years ago with a film called Dazed and Confused (spirited applause); will you welcome, please, Richard Linklater!"
Previously Linklater had said to us in the lobby of the hotel.
“Look at us. God, we’re all in sports jackets. What’s happened to us? I only do this, like, twice a year.” And he’s onstage now, in his sports jacket, holding a handheld microphone introducing some “members of the cast.” There’s Claire, looking light enough to lift with one hand. There’s Zac with his silky suit looking as if he’s ready to dance.
“And here’s a guy you don’t know yet, but you will. He plays Orson Welles. Christian McKay!”
I whisper to Lynn that my heart is hammering.
Then the screen goes dark for too long; the audience laughs; the screen goes gray and then we hear period jazz. CinemaNX and Isle of Man Films in association with Detour Film Productions—and then the simple words in Deco type: Me and Orson Welles. I begin noiselessly crying, and I am unable to breath. I hold Lynn’s hand. The tears pass quickly; there’s my own name: Based on the novel by Robert Kaplow. And we’re in a classroom tracking away from Dr. Mewling, and Zac is slipping Noel Coward’s Present Indicative behind his textbook, and we’re off and running. Now there’s Zac looking at his reflection in the train window; John Gielgud's Hamlet. Now there’s a peanut vendor in NYC, and Zac is tossing nuts in the air and catching them… And the rolling cymbal…and Sonja-with-a-J… Danes looking doe-eyed and radiantly ironic and Zac falling in love with her right before our eyes.
“I did him a very small favor.” The film moves beautifully: chockfull of pure story. The pastepot; the letter from Selznick; the ukulele; the sprinklers; the radio station. And some wonderful touches: Welles pausing for a half-second with the backers: “Thank you, Mercury subscribers;” a flashbulb fires, and he’s off again. The match turns into a rose. “Nervous?” Zac sitting lost and bewildered with the uke as everybody in the production streams on behind and around him. Claire’s goodbye kiss—and she turns right down the alley, out of Zac’s life forever.
Zoe Kazan’s eyes glowing as she tells Zac about her New Yorker acceptance.
The Ryerson crowd, which is huge, applauds warmly and genuinely—for the film and for Linklater. I applaud and holler as loudly as anyone, and I kiss Holly’s hand for the wonderful job she and Vince did.
Questions from the audience. “This one is for Zac.” “I’ve got a question for Zac.” “Has anybody got a question for Claire?”
“Tell us about your experience on My So-Called Life.” “Well, I did the pilot when I was 13.”
Zac is amusingly casual in the Q&A: “Uh, yeah, I don’t know. It was fun.” Claire is more focused: “I liked her complexity.
There’s something vulnerable about her as well as ambitious.”
Christian tells the crowd he’s available for weddings.
We’re hustled backstage into a staging area; more women with headphones. Zac asks his handlers, “When we leave, do I sign stuff?”
He sees me approach. The author is about to make his judgment.
I look him right in the eye. “You. Were. F*****. Great.”
He hugs me.
“Hey, thanks, man.”
“I couldn’t imagine anyone better.”
I see Christian.
“The film is great, and you were f****** magnificent.”
“It’s better than the last time I saw it,” he says.
We ride our ludicrous stretch limo to the Empire bar. Marc Samuelson, astonishingly, already has reviews on his palm pilot and he’s reading them aloud—including a long, loving piece in the LA Times.
At the Empire, Lynn and I are not even on the guest list, but Vince hustles us in.
I’m trying to tell people specific scenes and lines and visual bits I loved.
I hug Claire and tell her how good she was; how she took that single line: “That’s what my whole live has taught me,” and makes us completely understand Sonja. She’s pleased with my praise, but I can also see that she’ll never be completely convinced of her worth. It’s what’s going to drive her entire professional life. I compliment her boyfriend Hugh on his Gap ad—which is on every billboard in Toronto. He laughs it off and hopes it wasn’t a complete sell-out.