Entertainment reporting is a humbling experience. I remember the day I went from Daily Beast intern to Daily Beast red carpet reporter in 2009 very clearly: It was extremely hot, and I was wearing bright red Chuck Taylors. I was sitting at the Beast’s communal intern table researching international women’s rights for Tina Brown, and I was very, very tired.
As one of the Beast’s early morning shift “cheaters” — the person responsible for compiling The Daily Beast’s “Cheat Sheet” (an aggregated list of important news stories as they develop throughout the day) — my day had begun at 5:30 a.m.
Nearing the end of my eight-hour shift, though, all I could think about was shuffling my Chucks out of Barry Diller’s world-renowned IAC building, walking slowly south down the Hudson River as the sunset sunk into the beautiful, dirty water and crawling into bed.
It was not to be. Just as I was crossing the final T’s and dotting the final I’s on my memo for Tina, Andrew Kirk, the Beast’s public relations person, rushed over to the intern table and took a careful look around. Suave, cheerful and British, he had a last minute event that needed to be covered — usually the job of freelance entertainment reporters — and for some reason, his gaze rested on me.
The specifics are a bit blurry, but our conversation went something like this:
AK: “Hey Liz, can you interview Cate Blanchett in about an hour?”
Me: “Excuse me?”
AK: “There’s an Armani event tonight honoring Cate’s theater company; can you cover it?”
AK: “I need you to go to Midtown and cover the Red Carpet at the Armani store. Do you have a recorder? No? That’s fine, I have one you can borrow.”
Me: “I’m wearing Chuck Taylors.”
AK: “You’re fine — you look great.”
AK: “OK? You’ll do it?
AK: “Great, it’s at the big Armani store on Fifth. Here’s the address and the tip sheet. Ask for Shannon at the door. You can come up with beginning questions on the way. Grab my recorder on your way out. You better hurry — call time is in half an hour.”
He shoved a stack of papers into my hands and I stared at him blankly.
Fast forward one hour, and I’m standing behind a red velvet rope in front of a black velvet carpet in the very white Armani store on Fifth Avenue in Midtown. The party was being held in honor of Cate Blanchett and the Sydney Theatre Company, in town for a run of A Streetcar Named Desire at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music).
After making it past the hefty security detail lining the glass-doored foyer and picking up my press pass from a brisk woman with a clipboard, I found myself sandwiched inside a horde of anxious reporters quietly trying to push their way to the front of the rope unnoticed.
To my right: a tall, well-dressed, very annoying girl from Women’s Wear Daily who kept waving her recorder in people’s faces and somehow seemed to know everyone wearing black (the unofficial but universal uniform of publicists); and to my left: a very ambitious “reporter” from US Weekly regaling me with tales of stalking Katie Holmes while she was filming a movie in the woods upstate.
“One time, I got to know some of the PAs in the pub after filming, and then I pretended to be from craft service the next day, and I was there for a whole HOUR before security walked me out! I got three pics on my camera phone! There’s absolutely nothing I wouldn’t do!” she told me, when Cate Blanchett walked through the huge glass doors, an elegant vision in royal purple Armani Privé.
I tuned out the creepy US Weekly girl and gasped. The already-white room became white noise running through my synapses. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing — I wasn’t even confident I knew how to turn on the tape recorder. So I did the only thing I could: I stood up straight, and I winged it.
I waited patiently until Cate got close to the end of the velvet rope — and me — and somehow, in spite of the swarm of sharp-elbowed, star-hungry reporters, I got her attention.
Me: Having just been in such a famous play yourself, are there any contemporary playwrights or plays out right now that you would recommend going to see?
CB: Well, I’m going to see the Mammoth hopefully this week, and probably going to see Hugh [Jackman] and Daniel [Craig]’s Steady Rain. Everyone talks about Broadway but there’s a fantastic diverse array of work. You know PS 1 is a really interesting space and I really do love BAM because of the diversity of work that it presents. It really is like a year-long festival out there. And I think it’s the juxtaposition of the work that actually produces the really interesting culture; it’s not a monoculture here in New York.
Me: Is your next project film or theater and do you have a preference?
CB: I think they both feed into one another really. I’ve had the great fortune to work in both. My husband and I run a company in Australia, so that’s our primary focus. Next time on stage is Tamás Ascher who runs the Katona József Theatre in Hungary. He’s coming out with us to direct a production of Vanya so I’ll be onstage soon.
It was short and sweet. She was perfect and polished, almost like a dream: sincere, gracious, poised and beautiful, but not quite all the way there. A warm, well-oiled machine. As an intelligent woman, she knew this was part of the job; as a gifted actress, she was good at it. Which, in turn, made mine easy.
It got easier from there. Starting with Cate Blanchett as a first interview subject is like starting on a black diamond run as a first time skier. Point being, it got better. Compared to Cate, the other interviews felt like a breeze:
ROSE BYRNE (Film and television actress most known for her role in the TV show Damages and films Bridesmaids and X-Men First Class.)
Me: Current and fresh television show that you’d recommend?
RB: Breaking Bad. I thought that was great. I don’t know how big their viewer-ship is, but I think it’s fantastic. It’s like film — it’s very Tarantino-esque and really funny and great performances, and a really tight script and I thought it was excellent.
Me: Are there any American television shows that have really struck a chord in Australia?
RB: Oh, we get everything. EVERYTHING. Two and a Half Men is huge in Australia. All the stuff over here is very big at home. We get all the CS, NS, IS, NYPD, everything.
EMMA ROBERTS (Notable roles: It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Scream 4)
Me: Since you spend so much time in front of the camera, when you do have time to relax on your own, what kind of movies do you like to watch and is there anything you’d recommend right now?
ER: I love comedies. I like everything. It depends on what I’m in the mood for. I love seeing comedies with friends. I don’t like seeing scary movies when I’m alone because I live alone now so I get way too freaked out. I love romantic comedies. I love some dramas.
Me: What about Twilight?
ER: I love the books, I really do. I’ve read every single book, and yeah the movies are cool.
Me: Have you seen New Moon?
ER: I did see New Moon. It was cool. Whoever directed it — Chris Weitz I think? — he did an amazing job. I would love to work with him. Between the first and the second, the second was just amazing. And other movies that are out right now that I’d recommend — I saw An Education, which I thought was really great. I’d love to do something that Nick Hornby would write for me to be in because I’m just a huge fan of his.
COLIN EGGLESFIELD (Recent roles: All My Children and Something Borrowed)
CE: You gotta get a shout out T-shirt for the holidays.
Me: OK great. Can you tell me what that is?
CE: Yeah it’s my T-shirt company. I’m going to do some shameless plugging. A shout out T-shirt is a Velcro T-shirt that has, obviously, Velcro letters that you can move around to spell out and say whatever you want to so you can create your own T-shirt — customize it. It’s a million shirts in one. Velcro letters. Yeah. Velcro letters.
Me: I thought you meant the laundry detergent.
I can’t say I actively enjoyed doing the interviews. It struck me as more high-anxiety schmooze fest than real journalism, but I would come to appreciate the challenge of getting people to a real place in a short conversation, and the thrill of asking that one question that made a subject pause and decide to speak to me out of a long line of reporters.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that event would be the first of many. The night of the Armani event, I stayed up late to transcribe my quotes for Andrew, still riding the adrenaline rush I had achieved from somehow managing to interview one of show biz’s most elegant stars in my dirty red sneakers. The quotes I got from Cate and the others ran in the Beast’s now-defunct “Buzz Board” section, a homepage item that listed celebrity “recommendations” for film, books, theater, politics, worthwhile philanthropic organizations and the like.
Andrew liked how I did, and what I thought was a one-time job turned into a long-term freelance gig. And as I attended more events, in heels with less sweaty palms, I really did begin to enjoy it.