Moviegoers who showed up at Cinemapolis to take in "Fried Green Tomatoes" one night this week got something of an unexpected bonus. A gasp was heard in the complex's 125-seat screening room when a guest was introduced: Kathy Bates, one of the stars of the movie and winner of last year's Best Actress Academy Award for her role in "Misery."
Bates, bundled in a sweater, talked to the audience for almost half an hour before the movie began, good-naturedly fielding questions on everything from when she decided to act ("My mother says that when I was born, the doctor slapped me and I thought it was applause") to whether she has actually tried fried green tomatoes, a Southern delicacy (yes, she has).
Along the way, she revealed that after she won her Oscar, "Misery" co-star James Caan sent her a stack of Liberace records (her character's favorite musician), and that although the Oscar now occupies a prominent place on her mantel, she expects to move it around because "sometimes I like thinking about it, and sometimes I don't."
Bates' appearance at the movie house was part of Screening Room, a program the 10-screen Cinemapolis offers every Tuesday night: A feature is moved into the smallest theater, where it is preceded by a "social hour" with a special guest. Often, there is discussion after the film as well.
Previous guests may not have been as famous as Bates; still, there has been some ingenuity at work in the programming. For "Late for Dinner," a movie in which the main character is frozen and brought back to life years later, the theater brought in a representative from a cryogenics company in Riverside to talk about the process. For the rain forest drama "Medicine Man," biologists and medical researchers were invited. The discussions are led by Chris Hood, a film student at Fullerton College who works at the theater.
And there are other perks. Each moviegoer is given a snack bar menu as he or she enters the Screening Room, and attendants take orders. Posters and other prizes are handed out after trivia quizzes.
The point of the program is "just to do something that's really special and different," said Cinemapolis manager Sherry Gartley. The program started a little over a year ago, with onetime showings of foreign and classic films. But attendance was low, so the theater started focusing on first-run films and bringing in the guests.
Advertising has been limited; Gartley said the theater hopes to build the program through word of mouth. Though many in the audience Tuesday were unsuspecting moviegoers who had just come for the regular feature (there's no extra charge for Screening Room), Gartley said the program is starting to build its own following. Indeed, even though Bates' appearance had not been announced, Tuesday's screening of "Fried Green Tomatoes" was sold out.
Gartley said the theater is trying to arrange for a comedian to come this Tuesday in connection with a showing of "This Is My Life," which tracks the fast rise of a comic, played by Julie Kavner.