In the abstract, The Very Last Red Carpet sounds like a sad affair: the crowds, sick to death with celebrity, staying home to catch up on Big Brother or wash their hair; the few bleary-eyed media persons half-assing slow pitches at third-rate stars; the festival’s stranglehold on the city loosened to a weak, failing cling. But nope, nuh-uh, none of that. When Kate Winslet popped up at Roy Thomson Hall Saturday for the premiere of A Little Chaos (the closing gala carpet), fans and media crushed in as if the festival were just striking up—and for a period flick about gardening to boot. The Alan Rickman–directed film follows Winslet’s character, a landscape designer charged to construct the gardens at Versailles, as she squabbles—and then romances—the king’s chief architect. The Oscar-winning actress and mother of three dished about the little chaotic elements in her life and how she wouldn’t want it any other way. Meanwhile, Rickman, asked mainly about what it’s like working in period costume (because, duh, what else could you possibly ask the director of a historical drama?), offered only: “Uncomfortable,” chewing on every syllable just like Professor Snape.
All stories by Chris Hampton
With 10 days of red carpets behind us, we can’t help but pick up on patterns. For instance, the fact that it’s the biggest stars who tend to give the most attention to their fans and the press, while actors like Dax Shepard and Anna Kendrick, who aren’t yet household names, never fielded a single question as far as we could tell. (Did they mistake the red carpet for lava?)
For fans of John Travolta, Friday’s Roy Thomson Hall opening of The Forger was an all-you-can-eat buffet—the guy arrived a full hour before showtime, and his handlers couldn’t peel him off the crowd barricade. The Philip Martin-directed caper stars Travolta as a man sprung from jail to spend time with his terminally ill son, except he has to commit an art heist to repay the mobsters who arranged his release. While Christopher Plummer was shepherded by with the same quiet dignity afforded the crown jewels or some other literal national treasure, Martin jawed on about Travolta’s preparation. The actor apparently interviewed real art counterfeiters and got serious about learning to paint. “His art’s great,” Martin said. “By the end of filming he’d produced what he calls ‘an impression of an impressionist,’ and it’s rather lovely.” For costar Travis Aaron Wade, Travolta was an inspiration. His favourite takeaway? “If you want to become as successful as you possibly can,” Wade recounts, “you never say no to a photograph or an autograph for a fan. And in my time with him, I’ve never seen him say no. Like, look—he’ll be out there forever.”
Sometimes, in the dying days of TIFF—once the stargazing mobs have quieted down and the international press has gone home—you’re handed a present. You show up to a red carpet with three sizable stars, the kind that would have been a zoo on day three or four, and you’re plunked at the front of the rug with just a few other media outlets. Instead of breeze-bys, unruly scrums and publicists yelling “just one question,” you get face time with everyone.
Such was the scene on Thursday at the world premiere of Tom McCarthy’s The Cobbler, a comedy-drama following Adam Sandler’s character, the titular shoemaker, who discovers, by the power of a very special heirloom, the ability to literally walk a mile in another man’s shoes. With the carpet beneath his Adidas-shod feet, Sandler said that he wouldn’t mind swapping places with hometown basketball star Andrew Wiggins. “A Canadian fella, excellent at hoop, baffling all of Canada, smooth, quick, young, happy—yeah, that’d be fun.” Costar Ellen Barkin beamed about good times on set, especially her scenes with Clifford Smith, a.k.a. Method Man. “I’ve been star-struck twice in my life,” said the 60-year-old screen vet, “the first time was Paul Newman, the second was Clifford.” (Barkin’s parting words for us: a totally natural and well-oiled “Dolla’, dolla’ bill, y’all.”)
Method Man, who met director McCarthy on the set of The Wire—arguably also a story about walking in another’s shoes—says even though he’s been acting for nearly 20 years, he still feels green. “I still get butterflies,” he said—which sounds pretty cute from the guy who once, in song, threatened, “I’ll fucking pull your fucking tongue out your fucking mouth and stab the shit with a rusty screwdriver.”
Leave it to TIFF to turn a movie about something as quiet and intellectual as chess into a frenzied, shrieking star encounter. Appearances by ex-Spidey Tobey Maguire and Liev Schreiber—yes, Ray Donovan himself (or, as noted by one particularly boisterous fan, “Wolverine’s brother!”)—were enough to set off the crowd at the world premiere of Pawn Sacrifice Thursday night at Roy Thomson Hall. The Edward Zwick–directed picture takes us behind the scenes of the 1972 chess match between American prodigy Bobby Fischer and Russian defending champion Boris Spassky. Maguire and Schreiber both copped to being pretty bad chess players—unlike co-star Peter Sarsgaard, who’s known to play a good game. When we asked The Killing star if he had any quick tips on how to finally beat the Mac chess computer, he offered only the following: “Turn the difficulty down.” Thanks, Sarsgaard, we’ll do that.
It was a dark and stormy night. Keira Knightley pulled up to Roy Thomson Hall for the world premiere of Laggies to nary a cheer, nary a chant, only the drumbeat of rain battering the red carpet tent, the few fans huddled there clutching their umbrellas with both hands lest they flip inside-out or fly off. The Lynn Shelton film follows Knightley’s character Megan, who, after an abysmal high school reunion and unwelcome marriage proposal, decides to reassess the boring, going-nowhere thrust of her life with the help of a new teenage friend. While photographers tried to snap Knightley between gusts of wind, Shelton and co-star Sam Rockwell took the carpet, talking about what they’d do differently if they could start again from high school (Shelton: “I’d try to worry less”; Rockwell: “I’d sleep with more women”). Knightley shared that she hated high school, didn’t really have much fun, and she wouldn’t want—and then a particularly violent blast butted in, nearly sucking the whole tent up into the night sky. “Aren’t we having fun?” said our crowned-that-minute Red Carpet Trooper of the Year.
With the camera flashes so plentiful, it’s no wonder hometown auteur David Cronenberg showed up to Tuesday’s Roy Thomson Hall red carpet for his new film, Maps to the Stars, wearing heavy-duty Julbo mountaineering sunglasses. Julianne Moore, who won Best Actress at Cannes for her role in stylized Hollywood satire, praised the script by Bruce Wagner. John Cusack shuffled by, while Cronenberg’s latest muse, Twilight star Robert Pattinson—who, unsurprisingly, elicited the loudest cheers from teenagers in the crowd—praised the director for being brave enough to be weird. We’re not so sure “bravery” is the whole story, though.
Even if half the self-professed Cumberbitches haven’t a clue how a cryptanalyst earns his keep or what on earth a logician does, Benedict Cumberbatch (also last year’s festival it-man) caused enough of a stir to close off King Street outside the Princess of Wales Theatre Tuesday for the red carpet opening of his latest film, The Imitation Game. Director Morten Tyldum’s biopic follows famed Cambridge mathematician and pioneering computer engineer Alan Turing as he cracks the Nazi Enigma code and gives the Allies the upper hand in the battle for intelligence in WW2, only to be prosecuted a few years later for being openly gay. A sweaty Cumberbatch skipped the back half of the rug for the cooler climes of the theatre, but co-star Keira Knightley pinch-hit on questions about injustice and genius gone unsung, noting that her character, Joan Clarke—Turing’s fellow code breaker, confidante and one-time fiancée—was brilliant in her own right and fought a criminally uphill battle for recognition. Like Cumberbatch, cast mates Matthew Goode and Downton Abbey’s Allen Leech made a quick break for the theatre, so we mostly bugged film impresario Harvey Weinstein, who we found glad-handing by the stairs. Does he think The Imitation Game will win anything shiny for his mantle? “Oh, I don’t know,” he laughs. Isn’t it cute when the rich and incredibly powerful play coy?
One gets the sense that Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Valée might be looking forward to snapping up a few more awards with Wild, his new film starring Reese Witherspoon. The actress spent an hour at Monday’s premiere drumming up pre-awards-season publicity by traipsing the Roy Thomson Hall red carpet, where she talked to major television news outlets and small-time bloggers alike. Wild takes its story from Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir about her 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Coast Trail. Witherspoon kvetched about how physically challenging the role was. Her backpack wasn’t stuffed with silk scarves; she was equipped like a camper, she said: “Shoes, water, food, books, two sets of clothes, rain gear, snow gear, a light, a shovel, toilet paper, a compass, a cup, a pan. I could go on and on.” The ageless Laura Dern said she turns to things like exercise and meditation, rather than long journeys thorough the wilderness, when she needs to recover and recharge, but we feel more on novelist and screenwriter Nick Hornby’s level. He goes to the gym, yeah, and he listens to music, but the celebrated author and essayist’s real stress-melting secret? “I tend to play stupid games on the Internet…like Jelly Defense, things like that—anything that helps me stop thinking.”
“Chan-ning, Chan-ning, Chan-ning.” If you were within three blocks of Roy Thomson Hall for Monday’s red-carpet premiere of Foxcatcher, you could probably hear the fans chanting (channting?) for Channing Tatum. In the film, Moneyball’s Bennett Miller directs Steve Carell in the role of John du Pont, the millionaire Olympic wrestling sponsor whose deep obsession and deeper paranoia famously spiralled into murder. On the carpet, Tatum was little more than a beefy blur, stiff-arming by us. Mark Ruffalo and screen vet Vanessa Redgrave were also short on words, but Carrell was happy to talk about pinning down the minutiae of his extraordinary performance. He studied tapes du Pont had made of himself, learning his tics and the cadence of his—”Chan-ning, Chan-ning.” Damn it, guys. Pipe down a sec. He’s already inside.
Just when you start to think the inevitable TIFF fatigue has gone airborne, Jennifer Aniston shows up. The actress walked the red carpet at the world premiere of Cake at the Elgin Theatre on Monday afternoon, and suddenly Yonge Street was once again full of shrieking fans, autograph hunters and scads of bewildered onlookers. The film, directed by Daniel Barnz, is about Aniston’s character, Claire, a woman who becomes obsessed with the suicide of a member of her chronic-pain support group, played by Anna Kendrick. Critics have praised Aniston’s performance, tossing around words like “fearless,” “breakthrough,” and “career-defining”—which suggests a departure from the box-office comedian we’ve seen in titles like Wanderlust or We’re the Millers. Despite the hubbub outside, Aniston, Kendrick and costar Sam Worthington made quick work of the carpet. They were shepherded inside along with Aniston’s fiancé, Justin Theroux. Introducing the film, Barnz organized a cheer from the roughly 1,500 viewers in attendance, for his daughter’s 13th birthday.
If my girlfriend and I have something we might consider “our song,” it’s “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys. I told this to its author, Brian Wilson—i.e. the storied, reclusive genius behind America’s favourite band—on Sunday evening at the premiere of Love and Mercy, the Bill Pohlad biopic that lays bare Wilson’s lifelong troubles and triumphs. “What does it mean when someone tells you something like that?” I asked. Wilson looked at me and said, “It means love between two people. Thanks.” Then he shuffled off toward Elgin Theatre, leaving behind him a wide-eyed fanboy (i.e. me) and seeming pretty satisfied with his six-word response. I was told he would be “childlike” and “otherworldly,” but I had no idea what that meant—until I did.
Elizabeth Banks had no reservations about calling The Beach Boys, categorically, “the greatest American band of all time” (and she dished a bit about The Hunger Games, too). Paul Dano, who stars as young Wilson, shared an early memory of riding in the backseat of his parents’ car on a family roadtrip with “Surfin’ U.S.A.” on the radio. He pointed out how Wilson’s music has become enmeshed in the fabric of our lives. As he spoke, his partner Zoe Kazan (of The F Word fame) flew in and squeezed up to his shoulder. Cute! Unfortunately, John Cusack, who plays older Wilson, skipped right by, but I imagine that he must have fielded tons of questions about music in life, in film and in general. But never mind that—guys, remember when I met Brian Wilson?
The always-adorable Reese Witherspoon reeled in big crowds outside of the Elgin Theatre on Sunday afternoon for the red carpet opening of The Good Lie—the first of two films she’s premiering at the festival. Quebecois director Philipe Falardeau’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar, The Good Lie is the story of a group of Sudanese civil-war survivors who win a lottery for refuge in the United States. Carrie, played by Witherspoon, is charged with helping them settle into their new strange home. Sudan’s “lost boys”—the group of 20,000 or so Sudanese boys displaced by the country’s twenty-year-long conflict—is a subject Falardeau told reporters had haunted him since he visited the country as a documentary cameraman in the early ’90s. On the carpet, Witherspoon gushed about her recent work with Canadian directors (last year: Atom Egoyan, this year: Falardeau and Jean-Marc Vallée). While everyone was busy fawning over her, though, House of Cards’ Corey Stoll and the handsome troupe that played the Sudanese refugees—Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, and Kuoth Wiel (the latter three of whom were actually, in real life, displaced by the Sudanese civil war)—walked right by.
In years past, the festival has begun to taper off around day four. The stars become less dazzling, the press less rabid—but that wasn’t so on Sunday at Roy Thomson Hall. The world premiere of Shawn Levy’s This Is Where I Leave You—an ensemble comedy about a neurotic family brought back under the same roof by the death of its patriarch—was a genuine Rug-O-Stars. Tina Fey said she’d had “100 funs making this movie” and, no, her own family can’t compete with her on-screen clan in terms of craziness, “plus,” she leaned in, “they’d kill me if I said anything.” Jason Bateman, who seems drawn to stories about dysfunctional families, couldn’t explain the obsession, offering only, “I’ll take it, though. It’s nice to have a job.” Then, when Jane Fonda, who is powerfully saucy at 76, was asked if this was the first lesbian love scene she’d done, she stared down the barrel of a nearby news camera and said, “On film—yes.” Suits’ Abigail Spencer was immaculately dressed in a slinky mosaic print by Dolce & Gabbana, and she was happy to show it off at every stop. Costars Adam Driver, Dax Shepard, Kathryn Hahn, and Connie Britton didn’t feel much like talking, but Jonathan Tropper, who adapted his own novel for the screen, had this to say about his decision to set his story, like so many others before it, at a funeral: “There’s basically marriage, death, and sex. If you really want to explore characters and boil them down to their essence, you have to see them in joy or grief. Nobody’s really interested in joy.”
At Sunday afternoon’s world premiere of Miss Julie, the 1890-set drama by Norwegian writer and director Liv Ullmann, no one could concentrate on anything but costumes—perhaps not totally surprising for the debut of a richly adorned period piece. The film focuses on an upstairs-downstairs affair that unfolds over the course of a single evening between an Irish count’s daughter, played by Jessica Chastain, and his valet, played by Colin Farrell (unfortunately, not present at this year’s TIFF). To be certain, the buttoned-down, laced-up world of late 19th-century Britannia is a particularly charged backdrop against which to explore themes like repression and class structure. But nope, none of that talk here today at the Elgin Theatre. The most common questions: “Jessica, what did you keep from wardrobe?” (The corset.) “Who are you wearing?” (Dior.) “Do you like walking red carpets and getting your picture taken?” (Yes.) Good grief.
If the TIFF slogan “This is your film festival” has been thrown into question in the last few years—what with the bash becoming noticeably more corporate and industry-serving—the Midnight Madness program stands out as something that’s totally for fans. Case in point: at the red carpet premiere for Kevin Smith’s Tusk late Saturday evening, Justin Long didn’t retreat inside Ryerson Theatre until literally every single person waving some kind of signable had received his autograph (and considering those giveaway paper masks everyone was handed in line, there was plenty to sign).
In Smith’s creepy, campy horror, Long plays a podcaster in search of a good story who gets taken hostage in the backwoods of Manitoba and slowly transformed into a walrus by his captor. Kitschy marine-mammal hook aside, Smith says the film is his love letter to Canada—”my MASH note about the girl next door.” You should be warned that “aboots” are sprinkled liberally throughout the film, but they’re all in good jest. Haley Joel Osment appeared on the carpet alongside co-star Genesis Rodriguez (they both appear in Smith’s next project, too). We were pleased to see that Osment has turned himself into a scruffy-faced sweetheart of a dude, and even more pleased with his resolve—no matter how many times the TV guy standing next to us asked him to do it, he would not say “I see dead people.”