It is always exciting to be invited to the screening of a new film and attend the press junket to chat with the cast. It’s nice perk of working in entertainment and living in Los Angeles that I never take it for granted. I often pinch myself at how lucky I am. My experience with the film Gifted turned out to be a little gift of its own. To begin I have to preface this story by telling you that over the last 10 years living and working in Los Angeles I’ve had the privilege to visit every major film studio lot. All of them, that is, except one: Fox Studios. Visiting each lot has kinda been like a personal quest where each lot like a collectable badge of honor. Checking them off one by one as the years go by. If I had to compare it to something, I’d say it’s like being proud of airline miles or stamps in a passport book. Overtime, as you collect more, it symbolizes of all the incredible places and experiences you’ve had. As it turned out, the film Gifted would be screened on the Fox Studio lot, so naturally I was excited.
I invited my good friend Scott to tag along with me. He is someone I knew would understand the magnitude of my situation, and I figured he’d enjoy the film too. At the little reception before the screening we met a some of the other bloggers, some having flown in from New York, then wandered to the bar. We chuckled when we saw the name of the themed signature drink “The Fred.” We learned later it’s the name of the one-eyed cat in the film. After an hour or so of small bites and club soda, the moment had arrived. It was time to head to the Fox Studio lot. Perhaps it was circumstantial but I have to say that I saved the best for last. As if it was right out of a movie, the lot was scattered with sound stages, bungalows, and murals featuring scenes from past films. Incredibly, and much to the surprise of Scott and I, there was even a television shoot happening on one of the exteriors sets. After parking we wandered the lot for a few minutes, took a picture, and then headed to the private screening room to watch the film.
The next day I arrived at the junket with a few prepared questions and grabbed a seat in the small room awaiting the arrival of the cast. Chris Evans and McKenna Grace took their place and the conversation began as usual with the standard opening question, “What was it like to work on this film?” McKenna Grace, clearly excited by the ballyhoo of the whole situation, answered first. She expressed her thanks to have been surrounded by so many nice people on set. Her mannerisms were very similar to her character and the relationship she had with Chris onscreen clearly transferred over into real life. They both teased each other like a typical uncle and niece would. McKenna, when asked about the math, told us that her Mom helped her memorize the formulas by creating a song. Another highlight for her was working with Frank the cat. Chris, jokingly, was quick to point out that McKenna was allergic to cats. McKenna also loved working with her other costar Octavia Spencer, recalling evenings where they would play and sing songs together. She also made a point to tell us that she was able to hide her favorite stuffed animal (a seal) in a few of the film’s scenes. Then to our surprise, just jumped up from her seat to retrieve the seal from her mom who had it on standby. McKenna proudly shared it with all of us, reminiscent of a school room “show and tell.”
Chris began by mentioning that the one thing they tell you in Hollywood is to avoid working with kids and animals because they can be challenging. Clearly he didn’t heed the warning but loved the experience nonetheless citing that it was the sweetness of the script that drew him to the project. He also commented on how lucky he was to have a great costar in McKenna. He complimented her acting ability and how she could evolve into emotion in a scene prodding all of us with an, “I dare you not to cry.” When I got the opportunity to ask a question I wanted to know, for Chris’ character, who he felt was the antagonist of the film. While the custody battle is the central conflict, Chris pointed out that friction with parents, wanting to be a good parent, and the guilt of not knowing the right answer were all sources of angst for Frank.
On the subject of parents, a pair of Girl Scouts who were in attendance, asked McKenna and Chris what was the best advice they got from their mothers? McKenna sheepishly suggested Chris answer first while she contemplated her answer. Chris, without hesitation, patted her on the back, smiled, and told us his personal story. When he was in 3rd grade he had witnessed another kid being bullied. This incident had bothered him for the rest of the day and when he asked his Mom about it, she told him that the feelings he was having is why having a heart matters. It was a great anecdote that resonated with everyone in the room. Now McKenna’s turn to answer, she boldly stated her own mother’s advice that you can do anything you put your mind to. A fitting remark for a young actress with a whole career ahead of her. Our conversation came to an end but not before we grabbed a photo with the cast.
Between the screening and the junket, this experience was perfectly intimate and special. Throughout our lives we are confronted by moments that, for whatever reason, stand out to us. For some it could be hiding a stuffed animal on a film set. For others it is understanding our hearts and emotions. For me, it was seeing Gifted on the Fox Studio lot.
Gifted opens in theaters on April 12, 2017