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How to get high with the stars
What's a lowly civilian's best bet to get close to a celebrity during the film festival? Try an elevator

By LIAM LACEY, The Globe and Mail
September 6, 2002

If you want to get close to a celebrity at the current Toronto International Film Festival, here's a hot tip. You best chance to ride with the stars is on an elevator. These small rooms allow you to be intimate with people with whom you're not even really familiar, and give you your best shot at having a special moment with someone special.

Remember that elevators can be scary places for celebrities. Fear of height, enclosed spaces and strangers all crowd in together, and their cellphones won't work. Elevators figure in movies such as Dressed To Kill, Single White Female and The Shining (where they gushed blood into the corridor). In numerous other films, they're chambers of kinky exhibitionistic sex (especially in Adrian Lyne movies, including Fatal Attraction and the recent Unfaithful). Between the possibilities for death and weird sex, it's understandable the stars are timid.

Some stars, reportedly, refuse to get in elevators with mere civilians at all. Nearly all of them travel with a handler (a dedicated service elevator is reserved for them.) Besides, the elevator setting - close-up and with bad overhead lighting - tends to sap their movie-star mojo. The elevator, says John Bain, a publicist for Lion's Gate Films, is a strange intermediary area. Stars, who are 30 feet high and beautiful or heroic or hilarious on the giant screen, are "mythical creatures." But the human beings behind those facades are nervous, and sometimes very ordinary. "On an elevator," says Bain, "they're human."

Sometimes, stars they like to throw their celebrity power around a bit. Alfred Hitchcock, when recognized on elevators, liked to begin telling gruesome stories. I heard of a lawyer who was coming up from his gym on an elevator when he realized Daniel Day-Lewis stared at him "with eyes like a wolf." Day-Lewis told the lawyer he liked his tie.

Once you find yourelf in an elevator, or anywhere else with a celebrity, there is a rulebook of behaviour, although you have to go to Universal Studios in Los Angeles to get it. "A Pocket Guide To Celebrity Etiquette-How To Keep Hollywood A Fabulous Place For Celebrities" was published last February and written by studio tour guides with contributions from agents, publicists and such celebrities such as Jamie Lee Curtis, Daryl Hannah, Sela Ward, Clint Black, Martina Navratilova, and Adrienne Barbeau.

While it's not specific about elevators, it does offer some useful general observations.

"Skip the `I know you don't like to be bothered' and go right to what you want graciously," says Sela Ward.

The book also suggests a series of don'ts: Don't stare, don't tell stars their last movie was awful; don't imitate their characters. If offering compliments, avoid mentioning specific body parts. Jamie Lee Curtis says you shouldn't tell performers they look better in real life, because their job is to look good on real screen. Alternatively, it's not polite to tell stars they look much better on screen than they do in real life.

What follows are some illustrative stories of how to deal with celebs in elevators. Each involves a journalist but this profession is easy to fake during the festival. It will probably involve some dressing down - black canvas bag, scuffed shoes, blood-shot eyes - or, if you're pretending to be a TV journalist, you can simply immerse yourself in hairspray. If confronted by hotel security, say you're working for a digital channel.

The Misses you miss when you're submissive
Once, while riding down a hotel elevator, I was kneeling, head down, rummaging through my big black bag, when the door opened and someone loomed over me. After a few floors, I did a slow pan up the grey knee-high boots, stove-pipe black jeans, to a powder blue top, a Wonder Woman body topped by long flowing blonde hair and huge blue eyes. I thought a impression of a Japanese erotic anime character come to life.

The apparition smiled benignly before stepping around me and out the door. Heather Graham! As the movie star emerged, and I became aware of the people in the lobby, gazing like friendly cattle, at the emerging movie star and me on my knees behind her.

Well what would I have said to her? Your performance as Roller Girl in Boogie Nights changed my life? Your Felicity Shagwell in The Spy Who Shagged Me set new standards for Bond movie parody sidekick babes?

Moral: Sometimes, as country singer Alison Kraus has observed, "you say it best when you say nothing at all."

Be a good audience
A woman reporter was on an elevator when Robin Williams and a handler, carrying a suit bag, got on. She decided to pretend to be going up to a high floor when she really just needed to have some Robin time.

Naturally, the elevator stopped at her real floor and opened but no one is there. Williams reeled back and pretended to look around furtively about. Without thinking, she repeated his schtick. Williams was happy. He performed for her all the way up to the elevator, working comic bits about his suit bag.

Moral: Some stars always feel the need to work the room, even if its only about a metre square.

The art of praise
Johanna Schneller, the Globe columnist who does lots of celebrity interviews, turns the celebrity elevator ride into an art form that requires careful timing to ensure satisfaction for both parties.

She believes the best strategy is to secretly ogle the celebrity until near the end of the ride, then offer your comment shortly before the ride ends, preferably something flattering and amusing, to "pay them back" for the entertainment they provide.

Once in an L.A. hotel she even saw Canadian celebrity and former Stratford star Colm Feore. She waited the appropriate number of floors and finally told him how much she enjoyed his work in Thirty-two Films About Glenn Gould.

Feore expressed relief. He said he was afraid he was going to be congratulated again for his performance in the television movie of the week about Liberace. Liberace: Behind The Music, which came out five years before, starred Canadian actor Victor Garber.

Moral: Keep your eccentric pianists and Canadian stars straight. It shouldn't be all that hard.

Your day will come
One February morning, following an interview with writer Eric Bogosian for the small movie Suburbia, I was on an elevator with one of its stars, Steve Zahn, who I thought I could safely pretend not to recognize. Suddenly he started pointing at me, "I recognize you!" I figured he must have been high.

"I don't think so," I said.

Then I remembered. I'd sat at a round table for his first film at the Toronto International Film Festival five months before, where the press pretended to speak to the unknown cast so we could get quotes from director Tom Hanks.

"The That Thing You Do junket," I admitted.

"That's it," said Steve, bouncing up and down with pleasure at his memory feat.

Moral: When riding with fans in elevators, certain guidelines should be followed. Dress neatly - press photographers may be waiting in the lobby - but not provocatively. If approached by an excited fan, do not betray fear or encouragement, but an impersonal friendly response. Whenever possible, situate yourself near the security phone and use your assistant as a buffer.


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