This year I was able to participate in all the Oscar hoopla from a very unique and specific vantage point. I acted in Milk, one of the five movies nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for best picture. More than that, Milk was one of Hollywood’s favorite horses because the movie was about a subject that had gravitas and was on everyone’s mind after the disaster of the passage of the notorious Proposition 8. The film dealt with the exact same issue some 30 plus years earlier with the execrable Anita Bryant’s anti-homosexual initiative in Dade County in Florida.
I was invited to every major Hollywood party, where everywhere I went people made a fuss over me — especially actors. I had about four memorable encounters. At the Oscar party for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button after the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, CAA agent Kevin Huvane introduced me to Meryl Streep, whom I had never met. She is one of a handful of actors that totally intimidate me, so prodigious is her talent. Meryl looked at me, her hand in her chin and said: “You were so great in Milk. I watched you very closely and you just exuded power and confidence. But one thing intrigued me. I had never seen you before. Where did you do your training?”
I answered her truthfully: “I’ve never acted professionally before.”
She looked at me, her eyes squinting: “I hate you,” she said, and pivoted on her heel. She then came back laughing and proceeded to analyze my performance for the next 10 minutes.
“You’re Meryl Streep” I said.
“Yes, I am.”
“I can now die and go to heaven!”
“Well, I look forward to working with you soon.”
Then I was in the elevator going from the American Movie Classics (AMC) party, and John Hamm (from the television series Mad Men) nudged his girlfriend, actress Jennifer Westerfeldt. “There’s the guy from Milk, honey.” He looked at me and said: “Man, you were awesome in Milk!”
Bruce Springstein, Angelina Jolie, and Brad Pitt all had the same reaction about my performance. I am like a pig in shit! Paul Newman called it the power of the 60 foot face.
It turns out in this pre-Oscar party season, Collen Camp has become the party person of note. She threw three very glamorous parties; one for Milk, together with Carrie Fisher at Carrie’s wonderfully warm and cozy home; and one for Slumdog Millionaire and one for The Wrestler, both at Colleen’s beautiful home where her former husband John Goldwyn had grown up. At these parties there were “stars by the yard” and “directors by the foot.” There were so many legends in each room that one would have thought you were in Madame Tussaud’s except that everyone was alive — from Dustin Hoffman, Cameron Diaz, and Gus van Zant, to Forrest Whitaker, Natalie Portman, Danny Boyle, and Melanie Griffith. It’s official. Colleen Camp is now the new social arbiter in Hollywood.
On Friday night, Ari and Sarah Emanuel held a party in their palatial home in Brentwood. The whole back lawn was tented. As soon as I arrived Brian Swardstrom and his partner, Peter Spears (in a beautiful white corduroy jacket), swept in with the incredibly gorgeous Tilda Swinton in a black Dior kind of caped blouse with sleek black pants and black high heels. Whoa! It’s as if Tilda invented chic. Of course, Tilda and I have this faux-project that we are continually developing: a hip-hop version of The Sound of Music, and on Friday night, Tilda was wondering how we were going to translate lederhosen into contemporary terms. Of course, hilarity ensued.
The beautiful screening room looked like the interior of a sleek Cunard ship, the walls and chairs covered in plush blue velvet with dark wood birch trimming. One would have thought they were in Louis B. Mayer’s screening room itself. Congregated in the screening room and tent were the likes of Robert Pattinson, Robert DeNiro, John Malkovich, Michael Lynton, Stephen Daldry, Bazz Luhrman, Josh Brolin, Diane Lane, Emil Hirsch, and Sienna Miller.
Ari plucked me away from my group and took me across the room to meet his brother Ezekiel, who was the former chairman of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institute of Mental Health and is now involved in health policy. The two Emanuel brothers, Rahm & Zeke, now work right next door to each other in Washington, D.C. I don’t know what the mother of the Brothers Emanuel took each time she was pregnant, but whatever it was it produced superheroes. Each brother is so extraordinary that it defies the imagination. The greatest compliment I ever received was when Ari took me over to meet Zeke and said, “This is the fourth Emanuel Brother. You’ll love him. He’s just like us!” The sheer headiness of that remark can energize me for the rest of my life.
The alluring and sexy agent from Endeavor, Stephanie Ritz (who reps the hotter-than-hot Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame), introduced me to a young manager from Three Arts, Nick Frenkel, who manages the coolest young talent around town — to whit, Robert Pattinson, Summer Phoenix, Justin Theroux, Steven Strait, and Lynn Collins. At first we bantered about and told many jokes. Everyone was laughing hysterically. As the conversation wore on and Nick and I began getting to know each other, I discovered that Nick’s father was a Holocaust survivor who was freed from Auschwitz at the age of 12. He went on to make a big success of his life in the dairy business and raised Nick and his sister. So here, in the midst of the most Hollywood of parties, amidst all the glamour and tinsel, with the din of the chatter and music surrounding us, Nick and I had one of the “realest” conversations I ever had in Los Angeles. Here, in the season of the Holocaust dramas, I found, by chance, one person whose father actually experienced the greatest horror of the 20th century. Nick didn’t and doesn’t want to know too much about it now. One day he will go on the journey that every son or daughter of survivors takes, when he feels strong enough and wise enough. I bow at the feet of the survivors — the only time I ever bow to a human being. I love life in Hollywood because in the midst of the most important weekend of celebration I can connect with someone whose real experience mirrors the very movies we are celebrating.
Of course the next morning I went to the David Linde and Felicia Rosenthal Universal brunch in honor of Milk and Frost/Nixon. I then went on to Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg’s picnic luncheon for Graydon Carter where the pages of Vanity Fair come alive, and I wondered what interesting — and real — stories would play out before me. All I have to do is scratch the surface …
My 15 minutes are almost up, and when the Best Picture is announced my carriage will be turned into a pumpkin.