I simply adore The New York Times Arts & Leisure Weekend events because some other journalist has to work his or her ass off onstage, interviewing a cultural figure for 75 minutes as I simply lean back in the audience and jot down the highlights.
On Saturday, editor Lynn Hirschberg grilled the gifted Liev Schreiber about Arthur Miller‘s A View From the Bridge, in which he’s a repressed dock worker having, let’s say, complicated feelings for niece Scarlett Johansson. Schreiber said he resisted the play at first because he thought he was too young for the part (though, interestingly, he’s 42 and the character is 40), and, what’s more, he’d underestimated Miller’s work: “But when I read it,” he admitted, “I said, ‘Jeez, this guy can write!’ “
And so can Shakespeare, though Schreiber feels Hamlet is a problem play “because you can’t beat the audience. Everyone in the audience thinks they’re Hamlet!” He played the role in 2000—the poster, he said, made him look like a seal—but he’s since aimed for more offbeat choices, twice playing trans people and deciding, “At best, I look like Barbra Streisand—which is no insult to Barbra Streisand.”
And no insult to musicals, but that’s where the maverick star draws the line. “After I won the Tony,” Schreiber revealed, “I got offered everything. They offered me Guys and Dolls, but I really can’t sing.” Really? Then he might have been perfect for that production!
Carrie Fisher sings in the notoriously odd Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978, and in her Times talk, she said that, as a condition for doing commentary on the Star Wars DVD, she made George Lucas give her a copy of the impossible-to-find special. “So I could have something for parties,” she explained to the crowd. “When I want everyone to leave.”
Everyone stayed throughout Fisher’s talk, which was even better than Wishful Drinking because she went for deeper truths, though she also managed one-liners about her dad (“He was more interested in pursuing pussy than his career”), her gay ex (“I have a certain androgyny which allowed him to remain for a while”), and fame itself (“Celebrity is just obscurity biding its time”). As proof of that last wisdom, Fisher currently does a voice on Family Guy “for scale, for rich Seth MacFarlane.” When MacFarlane wanted her to make fun of Star Wars on the show “for $12,” she refused, but Fisher said he snuck it into the script anyway. She should burn him a copy of the holiday special as revenge.
And then I had to go back to chatting up the stars myself, which was fine in the case of Michael Fassbender, that intense, hot-looking actor from Hunger, Inglourious Basterds, and Fish Tank, a new drama in which he beds the 15-year-old daughter of his new girlfriend. He’s good off-screen, too. At a dinner in his honor last week, the wiry German-born Irishman entertained me by acting out entire scenes from his favorite movies, like Dog Day Afternoon and Glengarry Glen Ross, in between going into great detail about the shimmery beauty of mackerels. I ordered one anyway.
Thanks to saving people from sleeping with the fishes, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger became the subject of Brace for Impact, Sunday’s TLC documentary detailing the water landing that almost rescued all of 2009 from despair. The man outsmarted a whole flock of suicide terrorist birds! At the premiere, I asked the dried-off hero if a large part of a pilot’s motivation is that he’s saving his own ass, too. “I don’t think about it as being a separate issue,” he replied, earnestly. “I think about it in terms of getting everybody to safety.” Which is why I’d be a terrible pilot.
I commandeered my ratty girl’s bike to a testosterone-laden get-together at porn mogul Michael Lucas‘s apartment, where Lucas gushed to me, “There’s such a great mix of people here. Where else could you find such different types in the same place?” I looked around and saw a house full of 32-year-old gay male porn stars, porn-star wannabes, and other professionals on the prowl. “On Manhunt?” I replied.
At nightclubs, a healthy mix is sometimes avoided on purpose, perversely enough. A friend of mine was just turned away by the doorman at a trendy club and argues, “But I’m good filler! I’m not A, but I’m between B and C, and any good club needs that element. I dress, I buy drinks, I know people inside, and I dance energetically. You have to have good filler to make a club. I wouldn’t want to be in a room of all A’s.” I know! So many of them are A-holes.
At the East Village fondue boîte the Bourgeois Pig, A-plus types come to gaze into each other’s eyes while dipping bread into oozy pots of cheese and chocolate. “The place used to be Richie Rich‘s apartment,” creative director Miguel Calvo told me there, referring to the designer known from Heatherette. “When Richie came here, he ran into the kitchen saying, ‘This is my bedroom!’ The kitchen help looked confused.” But professionally enough, they kept on dutifully cranking out the fromage.
Moving on to head cheese, Michael “Formika” Jones has resurrected the weekly gay bash the F Word—it’s now at Rebel on Fridays—and vows, “I’m making it really whorey this time.” How appalling! Put me on the list! Also threatening a return, the Mr. Black people moved their place so many times that when the last incarnation went kaput, a lot of people didn’t realize it was there in the first place. This thing travels more than a boozy country singer.
The Tuesday-night gay hangout Beige is still there, and though the crowd gets sparser in the winter—bring on the filler—they’re way less inhibited than usual. Last week, a young gentleman barreled up to my table, impulsively pulled out his scrotal sac, and acted out some delightful puppetry of the testes, obviously in hopes of an Obie nomination. But for the life of him, he could not do a scene from Dog Day Afternoon.
Also in place forever, the atmospheric West Village piano bar Marie’s Crisis attracts a spunky crowd right out of Awakenings—you know, the kind who’ve had strokes and can’t remember anything except showtunes. But the pianists there know exactly what they’re doing, and if Nine had been making any kind of big impact, they would surely be playing a song or two from it. They’re not! They’re saying nein to Nine! It would break their unspoken rule of never going past the ’70s anyway.
A bigger screen hit, Sandra Bullock is the top box-office star of the year, but now that she’s clicked bigger than ever, Sandra freely admits that she has no acting on her gold-trimmed plate for two years. “I can’t even look through the pile of scripts I have,” she told a reporter friend of mine, exasperated. I guess Sandy’s custody battle against that porn star is enough to keep her creative juices flowing. And that isn’t happening on Manhunt, by the way.
And, finally, Ethan Hawke‘s name got the futuristic vampire film Daybreakers greenlit, resulting in his saying lines like, “Life’s a bitch and then you don’t die.” At the premiere, the directors swore the filmmaking experience “was good, gooey fun,” though Ethan ended up with his undies full of fake blood after a mishap one day. Rather than perform some kind of red puppet show, he nicely agreed to a clean-up and a reshoot. Jeez, that guy can act!