DAY NINE: Friday, Jan. 18:
OK, so Thursday night I managed to get invited to a Miramax cocktail party for two of its movies: "Birthday Girl," starring Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin, and "Texas," the documentary about Russell Crowe's rock band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, playing a show in Austin.
This was the ideal kind of Sundance party: set in a spacious room of a nice restaurant (The Riverhorse) overlooking Main Street, not too crowded and offering the chance to encounter some major star power up close. I'd like to interject here that I'm not a particularly star-stuck person, and I try to counteract the general lionizing of celebrities as best as I can. But I admit it: I dug the idea of meeting Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. (No offense to Ben Chaplin.)
Nicole (again, please excuse the first-name basis) came in first: blond, tall and with a glamorous movie star sparkle. Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein, who's built like a rock and has a gravelly voice and complexion to match, was introducing some journalists to her; the L.A. Times' Ken Turan was first in the pecking order. Eventually, I wound up in her circle along with Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gleiberman, a friend of mine since we worked together at the Boston Phoenix more than a dozen years ago, and EW editor Maggie Murphy.
Upon meeting Owen, Nicole peeled with laughter, grabbed Owen's hands and said with a grin in her native Australian accent, "You've been really hard on me." Owen, who's probably a bit shorter than Nicole's ex, returned semi-bashfully, "I didn't realize you'd be so tall."
Granted, movie stars' jobs at such events - as well as in interviews - is to be as charming as possible, but still, if Nicole was giving a performance, she gets rave reviews.
The conversation was heavy on "Moulin Rouge" and its exacting, eccentric creator - and fellow Aussie - Baz Luhrmann, as well as her penchant for working with crazy-genius-type filmmakers; she was flying out later that night to return to Europe to work on "Dogville" with director Lars Von Trier ("Dancer in the Dark," "Breaking the Waves").
Crowe (I'm too intimidated to call him by his first name at this point) arrived about 40 minutes later and was giving off the opposite of Nicole's warm vibe. His hair longish and flipping up at the back of his neck, his face sporting what looked like a week's worth of beard, he talked to people he appeared to know and showed no inclination for "working" the room.
At one point I found myself next to Harvey (people just call him Harvey), who was next to Crowe, and I asked in a low voice, "So, are you introducing people to him?" Harvey turned to me and said softly, "Let it go. He just wants to relax."
I relayed this intelligence to Owen, who admitted he too would have liked to meet Crowe. I said something like, "Well, heck, we were invited to this party because these people would be here, so there would be nothing rude about introducing ourselves politely. If he doesn't want to talk to us, that's up to him."
Of course, meeting a star is a tricky business because you don't want to be another one of those idiots who says, "Hey, I just LOVED you in so-and-so." You know: What we both have in common is that we think you're great.
Sometimes you don't have anything to say to someone, so you just let it go. But sometimes you just find someone interesting enough that you're willing to risk looking like a fool to get perhaps some sense of what makes the person tick.
Crowe had finished talking to someone and was a free agent when I turned to him and introduced myself and Owen. He mumbled politely in return. I then mentioned that months earlier he and his band had visited my wife's radio station in Chicago, and his eyes lit up a bit.
Then Owen mentioned he'd met someone who worked on "Texas" who received a pinata full of condoms and sex toys as a gag gift from Crowe, who got a wry look on his face - his sense of humor is Aussie deadpan - and said the pinata originally came from Jodie Foster for his birthday. (I interviewed her today, and she said she thought she'd sent it to him when he won the Oscar.)
The ice broken, he chatted with us about the documentary - which he called a "home movie" - and various details about his 18-year-old band. The movie was set to screen at 11:30 p.m. that night. He said to us, "There's a party after the screening. Come up to me afterwards, and I'll tell you where it is."
You may recall my mentioning two days ago that this festival was wiping me out. Having gotten up for an 8:30 a.m. screening Thursday, I wasn't in any better shape that evening. But, hey, when Russell "Unleash hell" Crowe invites you to a party, you don't decide to catch up on sleep that night.
(I'll write more about the movie screening and Crowe's gruffly humorous introduction and Q&A in Monday's feature story.)
After the program ended, at about 1:15 a.m., Harvey told us which club they were all headed to, Cisero's on Main Street, and we drove over there, arriving at the door at the same time as Crowe. He saw us and led us to a table in the back, ordered some drinks, and there we sat for almost three hours.