Halle's from Cleveland and maintains ties to the area. So she brought her latest movie, Perfect Stranger, to town for a preview screening on Thursday. And that barely describes the fun ...
What follows is an account of the preview, as seen from behind the velvet rope where the press congregated. Just in case you're curious about the way these things work.
The preview was in a lot of ways a large-scale photo op. Some of us had talked to Halle and to co-star Giovanni Ribisi before the preview, during a press event she did in Chicago. That event was clearly a grind; they were still doing interviews early Thursday afternoon before catching a plane to Cleveland for the preview that night. But it's part of their business, and both were pleasant and accommodating when I talked to them.
Anyway, at the Cinemark Valley View, they set up a red carpet leading from the entrance to the theater and across the lobby, with spots for the individual media operations marked along the way -- print nearest the door, TV and radio in the more visually impressive lobby. About 10 feet back from the press side of the red carpet was another line of velvet rope; people attending the movie stood behind it. Well, some of them, but we'll get to that.
Most of us staked out our spots by the rope about an hour before the stars were due in, then watched the details of the event: the arrival of people with VIP passes (among them the Browns' Braylon Edwards), a publicist handing out welcoming signs -- drawn to look spontaneous and hand-made -- to people in the crowd. Quite a crowd, too. The line snaked across the lobby, past the entrance and along the outside of the theater, where folks endured the rain. The crowd was so big, in fact, that some people were turned finally turned away from the screening. Publicists can usually hand out more passes than they have seats, because a lot of the pass-getters won't show up; with Halle expected, the turnout this time was huge.
The arrival time came and went, and more time after that. The crowd grew larger and more restive, and people began moving from the line across the first velvet rope and over near where the press line was. And then began to meld into the line wherever a spot seemed open. Others formed a line outside the door; autographs would be sought, including on a lot of "Gothika" posters, photographs would be snapped, a personal connection would be desired.
One young woman elbowed her way up to the press rope and kept leaning out to see who was coming. I asked her once to move back a little so the Beacon Journal photographer could get a shot. She moved briefly, then edged in again. In fact, if she had been a little bigger, I am sure she would have body-checked me out of my spot. As the celebrities began to arrive and she shoved forward more, I said, "I don't want to be unpleasant, but I'm working here." "So am I," she said. "I'm writing a paper for my school."
About 40 minutes later than expected, Ribisi arrived. The plan was to go down the carpet, pausing for a minute or two with each media outlet. But the surge of fans made that a little ungainly at the beginning of the line. Still, when he paused in front of me, we shook hands, I reminded him we had talked earlier, and I asked a couple of questions about his feelings about the crowd and the scene. "This is massive," he said, and a few other things, and then we exchanged a few more words before he moved on.
Then Halle appeared. Shrieks. Screams. Crowd charging forward. The print reporter at the beginning of the line didn't get near here. Hands were reaching out on every side of me. Halle paused in front of me, and took off her gold trenchcoat, to more shouts from the crowd. Behind me, someone held out a paper and asked for an autograph. She asked for something to write with. Apparently the seeker didn't have anything. I offered her my pen -- a yellow-and-blue University of Akron Residence Hall Activities pen, by the way. For a moment, she hesitated; I'm guessing she was waiting for me to provide a piece of paper for her to sign. But when I offered the pen again, she took it, signed the first autograph and another one or two after that.
Then she gave me back my pen. The woman knows her manners. As she did that, I reintroduced myself and asked my couple of questions. And yes, I asked what designer she was wearing (Dolce & Gabbana). It was actually the second time I had asked; when we talked on the phone earlier, she had not yet decided what to wear.
Moment over. Halle moved on, still talking to people, still signing autographs, then stopping to chat with a girl on crutches. The talk went on a bit, then Halle hugged her and kept on. I went over the rope, rather clumsily and around to where the girl was to get her name. Danielle Lee, by the way. And very impressed by Halle.
As the stars kept working the red carpet, those of us who were done moved around to watch the scene and check a few details. (I did not figure out by myself that her dress was champagne-colored.) Then we went inside, to sit in the theater where Halle and Giovanni were going to introduce the movie. Quite some time later, the photographers came in, shaking their heads over the wild scene in the lobby, the fans swarming over the media like the "300's" Persians mobbing Spartans.
Then the theater ceremony began. The mayor of Cleveland introduced Giovanni. He said a few words but was uncomfortable, expecting Halle to join him right away. Then she did, to more applause. She spoke a bit and then asked if anyone had questions.
At that point, even though I was interested in what she had to say, my heart sank.
Let me back up and explain the technical logistics attached to this event. The photographer and I are about an hour's drive from the office. It made more sense to transmit the photos and my copy, especially since the office wanted everything around 9. That meant finding a wireless connection someplace close to the theater.
At the office we had mapped out a Panera not far away. But it closed at 9. It was 8:15 when Halle invited questions.
Fifteen minutes of softballs later, Halle and Giovanni said goodbye and headed out the back of the Cinemark. We reporters and photographers zipped to our cars. (I had already seen the movie.) By about 8:45 I was walking into Panera, and saw the photographer at the counter. He ordered a salad, figuring they were less likely to boot us at closing if he had a big salad to eat.
He set up at one table. Armed with a pastry, I sat at another, tapped into the wireless connection, hooked up to the system at the office and wrote a top for today's HeldenFiles about the event. I was done a little after 9, but we were in no danger of them shutting us down. Four other people were sitting and chatting over the remains of their selections. I called the office, made sure the copy had gotten through and signed off. By about 9:15 I was headed home -- and done except for a cell-phone call to the office to add one more detail to what I wrote.