Freaks and Geeks

So many starlets in the sky, plus a sprinkling of comic-book characters

I got my geek on at Mike Carbonaro's Big Apple Comic Book Convention, which brought swarms of aggressive nerds to the Penn Plaza Pavilion to rassle over graphic art, trinkets, and a chance to gawk at stars from the A to Z list. The scene had arrested children (and some real ones) taking the guilt out of pleasure by openly exploring their culty passions while quietly picking at their scabs. The day I showed up, Jedis were prancing around wielding large sabers, a fistfight was almost breaking out among artists jockeying for space ("They're very territorial," explained an official. "Even Picasso had an edge"), and by another booth, a dad was telling his son about one three-headed action figure: "Put it back. We'll add that to Santa's list." (Sure, and just blame the fat freak when it never materializes.)

Free autographs of a former Heroes star were being handed out, but for Hayden Planetarium—I mean, Hayden Panettiere—the teen blonde who still plays the cheerleader on that same show, you had to wait in line and fork over 25 bucks. Hayden's manager/mother watched over her the whole time, looking like a cross between Lindsay and Britney's mamas and driving a hard bargain by saying I could talk to her daughter if I mentioned SavetheWhalesAgain.org (which Hayden is a spokesmodel for) and also didn't bring up her personal life. Desperate to ask if she's ever dated a whale, I whorishly agreed anyway.

So what's the weirdest thing Hayden had to autograph so far? "One guy just had me sign an entire book of my life," she said, bemused. "He paid $600 for it!" Uh oh. Get out the restraining order. Speaking of legal action, Japan has issued an arrest warrant for Hayden for trying to interfere with dolphin hunting there. It's kind of refreshing to have a starlet arrested for saving wildlife rather than for driving drunk and licenseless with three tots on her lap. Will she get thrown in the clink if she sets foot in that country again? "It depends," she said. "Part of this could be them trying to scare me away from coming back, because obviously they don't want me there." You don't mess with the sushi industry, honey!

As I left, a man in a very tight baseball cap actually asked for my autograph, and I lit up like Elvira on Halloween. "That'll be $25," I tried, and the guy laughed a little too emphatically.

Freaks and geeks are forced to grow up in The Savages, Tamara Jenkins's dark, eloquent tale of two siblings (Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman) having to take care of their unpleasant and now fully demented father while dredging up unresolved childhood issues. At the premiere, Jenkins told me: "I had two loved ones suffering from dementia at the end of their lives." Party! And what has she learned about death, pray tell? "I have a funny story," she said. "When I was in L.A. doing screenings of the movie, my driver, who'd take me around in a black sedan, told me that by day he was a mortician. I asked him, 'How has proximity to death made you feel?' He said, 'It's acceptable. I'm not looking forward to it, but it's acceptable.' " Not for me—I'm planning to keep the receipt and bring it back to customer service. "I mean, here's a guy who drives corpses by day and Paris Hilton at night!" added Jenkins. Same difference!

By the way, Hoffman is having quite a year—first robbing and killing family members in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and now putting them in nursing homes in The Savages! He's also doing the movie of Doubt, and some cynics have expressed anguish over that casting, insisting it tips the scales: He definitely did it!

In an even darker part of the cineplex, the upcoming Atonement, which is being deafeningly buzzed about in Oscar circles, actually has a plotline that centers on the use of the word cunt. Honey, that's my kind of art film!

No stranger to the C-word, Dan Savage is having his book The Kid turned into a stage musical, as I reported last week. Scott Elliott confirmed to me that he's directing the project for the New Group and said, "It's touching and hilarious. It's Dan's exploration of figuring out what it means to be a father as a gay person." Maybe they can call it The Savages.

For the set designer, let me suggest Tony Walton, who was just honored by the National Arts Club with a medal of honor to go with his three Tonys and 16 nominations. At the event, I weirdly wondered if Walton ever had to throw out a design concept he came into a show with. "Yes," he admitted. "For the first act of The Apple Tree, I started with a very elaborate Garden of Eden, but it turned out it's just two people and the snake. All you needed were sawhorses and ladders." So the recent revival—which used just that and was dismissed as "minimal"—was actually just recreating the original? "Yes," he said. "And with the revival of Chicago, everyone assumed it's a radically stripped-down reworking of a full-on, flamboyant production. But in the original, we just had a bandstand and some neon signs!" Still, with Gwen and Chita dancing around them instead of reality stars and ex-boy-banders, it seemed a lot fuller.

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