As I arrive at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, I can’t help but feel a bit nervous. I’m not exactly sure what to expect nor am I certain of what I’m even supposed to do. Truth be told, this isn’t the first movie junket I’ve attended, but rather my second. Back in 2008, when I was a fresh-faced, wide-eyed college student at UCLA, I somehow landed a film marketing internship with Disney. Of the handful of films I’ve worked on, the biggest assignment was working the junket for Enchanted.
Stepping out of the elevator on the 12th floor, I begin to get flashes of that first junket. Like deja vu, everything around me is new but strangely familiar: a fancy hotel, a hallway of press rooms, and the hustle & bustle of media folks adorned with ear-pieces, laptops, and notepads. Me, a stranger in a strange land where it seems everyone knows each other. So imagine my relief when I spot a familiar face from my intern days. We briefly exchange pleasantries before I let them get back to their job — someone on a walkie-talkie is muttering something about “Angie.”
I check in, get my round-table group number, and learn that I have about 45 minutes to wait. I find a quiet little room nearby, take a seat and once again my mind wanders back to the Enchanted junket. I’ll never forget the moment when I sheepishly made eye contact with Idina Menzel. Fresh off her star-making turn as Elphaba in the Broadway hit ‘Wicked’, she flashed me a smile from across the hallway and I turned bright red (a fact that my boss made a point of mentioning).
At this point, I’m joined in my quiet little room by (as I learn later) a middle-aged Spanish-language blogger and a much older Russian-language blogger. Its about this time that I realize I’m one of the youngest people here. The awkward silence in the room is only broken by the clinking of silverware as these two ladies have found food! I venture outside of my room to grab a plate of my own and make myself a hot tea. Again I recall the Enchanted junket where my big task for the day was to make a hot Green Tea with honey for Susan Sarandon. I suddenly make the connection that Ms. Sarandon’s character in Enchanted drew a lot of inspiration from none other than Maleficent! Both vilenesses turn into dragons in their respective films’ climax. I’ve come full circle.
Finishing my lunch just as they call my group number and I’m off to the round-table. The moment I’ve been waiting for. I enter my designated press room to find a much smaller than expected table with seating for about 9 plus one marked ‘Talent.’ I take my seat and patiently listen to the other media members in my group discuss the finer points of the film. Is Vivienne Jolie-Pitt adopted or biological? To my right are two French reporters incessantly jabbering in their native tongue, then almost without warning Sam Riley (Diaval) saunters in and takes his seat. All of us snap to attention as we press play on our audio recorders. The first round-table begins.
Like clockwork, each actor comes in, chats with us for 20 minutes, then leaves. And each time the actor is asked a different iteration of the same question, “Have you seen the original Sleeping Beauty?” In each session the conversation evolves into a discussion about their favorite Disney character. Sam Riley retorts that “Mowgli was more [his] icon” and I can certainly see why as the two are a bit roguish.
Sharlto Copley (King Stephan) answers with a charming anecdote of how he was cast as “Happy” in a school production of Snow White. So despite the grisly characters he often plays — King Stephan included — he makes a point to inform us that a happy child still resides in his heart.
Finally Elle Fanning (Aurora), whose beaming smile and youthful presence brightens the room, gives an endearing but predictable answer: Princess Aurora.
The impressions I get from each actor differ greatly. Sam Riley, with hair and complexion reminiscent of musician Jack White and a voice like that of a more gravelly Jeremy Irons, is all about his character’s look — a “Rockin’ Raven,” the perfect marriage of Rock Star and “birdiness.” Sharlto, well-spoken but a tad frenetic, focuses much of his attention on the film’s central theme expertly summarizing that
“Love will save you if you let it.”
Something to keep in mind when I watch the film later. And Elle, effervescent and confident in speech, shows her age and subtle nervousness by fidgeting with her water bottle lid.
At the close of the round-tables (alas no Angelina for us), my time at the junket is through. I step into the elevator and come back down to reality, full of new memories to take with me to the next.
MALEFICENT opens in theathers everywhere Friday, May 30 and is rated PG
All images copyright Disney.