That Time When Sir Anthony Hopkins Called
Friday, December 16, 2022 2:43 PM
As I manoeuvred my way through a sea of film festival executives, actors, directors, media and publicists at the super crowded Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) opening night cocktail party, a colleague nudged me and said, “Susan, your phone is ringing." As someone who is hearing impaired, it’s a prompt that I was quite used to hearing, and while I always appreciated the flag - it embarrassed me every time. It was September in 2005, and I had yet to accept the fact that I needed a hearing aid.
I answered my phone as I tried in vain to find a quieter spot, “Hello, Susan speaking," I said as I elbowed my way through the boisterous crowd. On the other end of the line, I could barely hear the soft-spoken male voice who responded back with, “Hello, Susan. It’s Tony." My mind raced. “Tony, Tony who?”. I could only think of one Tony that I knew (my old boss who I adored) but I hadn’t talked to him in ages and his timing was weird. I wondered why on earth is was calling me now? So, I responded with, “Hey Tony, long time no speak - how are you? I’m at the opening night cocktail and I’m having trouble hearing you - what can I do for you?”. He went on to say, “Well, I’m wondering if you could help me out, I have a little bit of a security issue." My mind raced even faster wondering why he was calling ME of all people to pick my brains about some kind of security issue.
So, I asked him patiently, “what kind of security issue are you having, Tony?” as I finally was able to navigate to a slightly quieter spot. He responded with, “Well – every time I leave the hotel, I’m swarmed by fairly aggressive people who are asking me for my autograph." Huh??? I paused to think for a second and then I immediately clued in and started tripping over my words, “ANTHONY! Oh my GAAAAWD, I am so sorry. I thought you were someone else, I’ve never known you as a “Tony”, I am so sorry. OF COURSE we can get you security!! I’ll get right on it!!”
Much earlier that week, I picked up Sir Anthony (AKA Tony!!) and his lovely wife Stella at the airport in Toronto. He was starring in two films at the festival that year - PROOF, which we were handling, and THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN. When it came to TIFF, we typically arranged for talent to arrive a day or two before their premiere so we could do media interviews with them while they were here. But in this case - he asked to come in a few days earlier so he could spend time on his own studying/learning a script before it was time for us to work with him.
I think I should be doing mostly Canadian interviews while I’m here, right?!?”
He really was such a lovely man (I’m sure he still is! His Instagram feed is really fun) and we had an interesting chat in the car on the way to the hotel. We talked about a lot of typical things like the films he was here for, what he thought of the city and so on. I briefly went over his general itinerary for the days leading up to the premiere of PROOF and that’s when he asked me, “So - how much Canadian press am I doing? I think I should be doing mostly Canadian interviews while I’m here, right?!?”.
His question really caught me off guard - I actually didn’t know how to respond. What I WANTED to say was, “YES, you absolutely should be doing a lot of Canadian interviews considering your film is screening at a Canadian festival!!” But in reality, his publicist had only approved a couple - not even close to “mostly”. Leading up to TIFF we had tried really hard to negotiate for more (OK, we begged) but to no avail - clearly he had not been involved in the dialogue. I carefully replied with, “Well, that would be awesome, however, your publicist has only approved a few for us” and Stella quickly piped in and said, “let’s leave that to your publicist to decide” and the subject was quickly dropped. Stella, STELLLLLAAAAA!!!!
One of the HUGE frustrations that we all share (Canadian publicists and the Canadian entertainment media in general) is the dwindling number of Canadian interviews that actors are willing to do when they are in Toronto for TIFF. In earlier days, talent would come here to work. They were really excited and passionate about their projects and they wanted to help to get the word out.
Back then, we typically would split the talent’s time evenly with our US partner (we worked with New Line Cinema and The Weinstein Company as well as other independents). So, for example – if an actor was in for two days – we would take one day and set up a full press schedule and our US partner would take the other day and do the same. We could typically get in about 12-15 interviews and manage to hit all of the key Canadian outlets and be guaranteed blanket coverage across Canada for the opening of the film.
I think it was around this time, in the early 2000s, that we were starting to see the erosion of the interview time blocks, and it has become So. Much. Worse.
I appreciate that TIFF is considered a campaign launch pad for the award season, and there are outlets, mostly US, that are a major priority to cover off. I get that. I also appreciate that international media need to have access to talent during this time - how can they justify the exorbitant expense of traveling and accommodation here to cover the festival if they have no access? I think the problem lies in that talent now often will only give 2-4 hours of their time PERIOD, and that time has to be split between the Canada, the US and the world. Why even bother?!?
It's a shame too because our Canadian journalists, for the most part, are VERY good at what they do. It’s pretty common for talent to praise our media at the end of their press days. They often feel happily challenged with the line of questioning and they find our journalists to be very well-researched and refreshing (most of them!). We used to hear that all of the time, and I always loved hearing it – it made me feel proud.
"I love that you still care"
A few years ago, we said farewell to a beloved fellow publicist, Nancy Yu, who lost her battle with cancer - I still cannot believe she is gone, she was such a wonderful force and is terribly missed by us all. Nancy timed her exit PERFECTLY, just a few days before TIFF back in 2019. After her funeral, a few of us gathered for a drink to collect ourselves and joked that it was her way of getting out of having to work the festival 😊. With TIFF still on our minds, the conversation eventually came around to our collective frustration over the limited access to talent that we had for our press, and it really triggered me. I was visibly frustrated and went off on a tirade about how ridiculous it had all become. While I was lamenting on it - out of the corner of my eye, I could see a smirk on the face of my former colleague, Carrie Wolfe, who was seated next to me. I turned to her and said, “What?!?” She paused, and then looked at me incredulously and replied, “I love that you still care,” which took the edge off and we all burst into laughter.
I’ve often thought of that moment and still laugh, but it also made me realize that I always will care. The screen-based industry is a challenging business to work in and I am happy to have stepped away from it, it was time. While there were many, many exhausting and frustrating experiences for sure, there were many good ones too. I’ll never lose my passion for filmed entertainment and for some of the truly amazing people that I got to work with over the span of my career, many who are still some of my closest friends. My passion(s) fueled me then and it's what keeps me going now and I am most grateful.