Even after almost 10 years, certain special moments make me pause and shake my head in disbelief at the fact that I live in New York City. For example, sitting on the subway on an unbearably humid summer day, about to crack because I just spent an hour waiting for the L train, dripping with sweat while some creepy bike messenger with a handlebar mustache made eyes at me across the platform. Or when the end of a long day at work is met with a homeless man cheerfully urinating on my front doorstep. Or when a smiling naked person comes up and waves his penis at me while I’m trying to read in the park, or watching on the news how someone in my neighborhood was stabbed over a parking space. The list goes on, and can in some cases cause irreversible neuroses and other possibly permanent damage, like eye twitches and night terrors, both of which I have most certainly developed.
Then, there is a different category of unbelievable moments, like the time I met an African coffee clerk named Zomo who offered to take me and a police officer into the basement of the coffee shop. He proceeded to dress up in a velvet robe and peroxide wig while playing the piano from a giant throne. This list also goes on.
The point of all of these “deep,” sub-par E.B. White-isms is that following the Armani event, one of the next times I had an opportunity to cover a red carpet event for the Daily Beast ended up becoming one of the examples belonging to the latter list, one of those times it hits you that there is no place like New York. The night in question can be summed up by one name: Robert De Niro.
The movie I was assigned to cover, which most of you probably have not seen, was called Everybody’s Fine, and the screening was held at the huge Loews multiplex at Lincoln Center. The cast, which included Drew Barrymore and Kate Beckinsale, was noteworthy, but few of them actually agreed to be interviewed by reporters on the red carpet. Except, that is, the only one who mattered: Mr. De Niro.
As usual, I rushed from work to the 5:30 p.m. press call and barely made it Uptown in time to squeeze my way into the throng of reporters lining the red carpet. By this time, my internship at the Beast was over but I’d been asked to stay on as a freelance entertainment reporter, to which I had gladly agreed. By this time, I also knew what I was doing. I had the unimpressed expression to go with my black clothes and could balance a Blackberry in one hand with a tape recorder in the other. I could recognize and exchange pleasantries with some of the other reporters, and, most importantly, I wasn’t scared.
I had grown to understand and even get a rush from thinking on my feet in the interview while letting the person’s response lead me into my next question. I could exist in the moment and have a real exchange that provoked interesting answers instead of a stiff Q&A. I was still in awe of the Cate Blanchetts of the world (and hope I always will be) but I cared less about impressing people and more about what I could get from them. It was manipulative but there was an art to it and it was my job.
That being said, all of these artful interviewing skills I am claiming to have developed physically exited the Cineplex the second Robert De Niro placed one leather shoe onto the red carpet. Drew Barrymore bounced past in a sequin-adorned Zac Posen dress, smiling at reporters and flirting with her walk as Justin Long, her boyfriend at that time, watched, alone and amused, from the wings. Kate Beckinsale was gorgeous, British and perfectly put together in black, blowing kisses at the crowd but, like Drew, wouldn’t talk to reporters.
I had some good exchanges with several other guests. In addition to recommending the Patrick Swayze autobiography The Time of My Life and wishing me “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Chanukah,” Peter Facinelli, who plays the dad in Twilight, patiently deflected reporters’ questions about Robert Pattinson and whether he was dating Kristen Stewart (I would never be so crass as to try to dig up that kind of dirt).
Sam Rockwell immediately made me wish he was my uncle just by the way he shared how much he liked Precious, and, as usual, the director of the film was the most insightful of anyone. Kirk Jones told me how he liked “short, sharp ideas,” and that Waking Ned Divine was inspired by a newspaper article. “I like to try to identify ideas in a very pure form,” he explained, “…just a couple of lines. And from there, I like to expand and write film scripts. I get a little bogged down when I’m presented with a 600-page novel and I have to work my way through it. I like to start very simply and build from there.”
When Robert De Niro finally walked out onto the red carpet with his wife Grace Hightower, an audible gasp was released from the collective group of reporters, all of whom immediately abandoned their current interview subjects and leaned toward him, ready to pounce when he got close. Violent whispers of “He’s coming, he’s coming” reverberated through the crowd. I just waited patiently, slightly awestruck, not able to wrap my head around the fact that the star of some of my favorite movies — Heat and Goodfellas and Cape Fear — was actually walking toward me. And then, he stopped. Right next to me. He smiled. I smiled. Everyone nearby, including me, began asking him a million questions.
“How was working with Kirk Jones?” one asked.
“Great,” DeNiro replied.
“How did you like taking on a more emotional role?” I managed to yell out.
“Good,” he said.
“If you were trapped alone in an elevator with one person who would it be?” asked another reporter.
His answers were generic or worse, lost, as the recorders couldn’t even pick them up with all the commotion — except his response to the last on this list, asked by a loud and cheeky British television newscaster.
“If I were stuck in an elevator alone, there wouldn’t be another person there.”
Immediate laughter and then woosh, he was gone, his handlers whisking him into the theater, as the British reporter received a slew of reluctant nods of respect from the rest of us for managing to get the only substantive response.
Because the film was part of the Tribeca Film Festival, of which De Niro is the founder, the screening was massive. The multi-level Cineplex was full of stars, reporters and plus ones. Each person even got free popcorn. The screening, which was introduced by a characteristically enthusiastic Drew Barrymore, along with the other cast members — Rockwell and Beckinsale — expressing the joy of working with De Niro and how it was an honor to play his children, was a sometimes touching but overall unremarkable comedy-drama about a family becoming close again after its matriarch had died. De Niro’s acting was as impeccable as ever and if nothing else he deserves kudos for taking on a different sort of role than he usually does.
The movie was followed by a smaller dinner party at Tavern on the Green. Press and guests mingled among the cast and crew beneath the glass ceiling, with extra white tents set up under the stars and the tree canopy of Central Park. I was allotted a plus one, my friend Meagan, and we feasted on appetizers and champagne, roast beef and asparagus, espresso and strawberries dipped in a chocolate fountain — every food and dessert you could imagine all washed down by an open bar of which we took full advantage.
Drew Barrymore and the rest of the cast — except Robert De Niro — flitted around the head table as Kate Beckinsale’s children ran circles around the buffet with the child actors from the film. Society photographers slithered through the crowd snapping pictures. Some of the heavier drinkers threw their suit jackets on chairs and made full use of the DJ holding court over the parquet dance floor. I didn’t get any good quotes from Robert De Niro but I got enough from the others and I’d explain the situation to my editor in the morning. For the time being, a giant Christmas tree lit up the chandelier-filled room as I sipped my champagne and I couldn’t remember a better party, or a better New York night.