Breaking the Red Carpet Contract

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So I’ve been granted media credentials for the Australian premier of Paul, the new sci-fi buddy-comedy featuring Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz stars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. I’ll be given a few minutes to interview them as they make their entrance. While I’ve conducted my fair share of interviews before, this is my first time taking part in the bizarre-o media circus that is a celebrity red carpet. So yeah, there’s a bit more urgency to the dippy feeling in my innards than usual.

For forty long minutes local celebrities complete ritual processions past a heavily logo-ed backdrop, flashes flashing and photographers calling out names. Despite the fact I regularly contribute arts and culture pieces to a number of outlets, I fail to recognise any of them. This is my first inkling that I may not be the ideal red carpet reporter.

My second inkling arrives roughly twenty-five minutes later—the time it takes Pegg and Frost to emerge and complete bite-sized interviews with everyone stationed before us. Actually, inkling is understating it. It’s more of a high-speed plummet, a flat-spin requiring not so much an experienced pilot but a miracle to recover. I fuck up royal.

Allow me to dissect my failure:

Knowing Frost to be an avid West Ham United supporter I attempt to establish a quick rapport by asking about West Ham’s current predicament. The result is a savage dawning: methods used in interviews lasting more than 180 seconds turn out to be neither useful nor appropriate in rarefied red carpet environments.

On tape his response sounds misleadingly innocuous, but in person—in the actual moment—the look on his face is so withering, his intonation so derisory that I instantly know I’ve violated some sacred unwritten contract. Simon Pegg stares and says nothing. Can you imagine being stared at disapprovingly by cuddly Nick Frost and loveable Simon Pegg? It’s almost crippling.

On all sides, photographers, reporters and yelling crowds focus attention squarely on the triangle of Pegg, Frost and I. With all personability broken down by my very attempt to establish it, my only recourse is to push on numbly with non sequiturs. In a daze I ask the first question I glance at on my notepad.

Suddenly, the plane rights itself. All pressure lifts. For the next two minutes Frost and Pegg tell me how great is was to work with Spielberg on the upcoming Tintin movie. Pegg talks about Paul as a film about America.  Frost denies rumours that English film Attack The Block will be subtitled upon American release. We exchange vague pleasantries and finish without further incident.

You see, the law of the red carpet is this: inane platitudes not only lose their inanity in such a manufactured context, they are the only permissible form of communication. The red carpet interview is not a conversation in the general human-interactive sense.  It’s a purely formal (if charismatic) method of dispersing PR material with all the warmth of operating a fax machine.

To ignore this law is to assume the disturbing dimensions of a naked man standing on a busy street.  It’s not the material nakedness that shocks and frightens so much as the undeniable proof of just how fragile the insulation afforded by unspoken rules of conduct really are. By opening with a personal (ie: un-film-promotional) question, I exposed for a moment the all-too-real human proximity hidden behind the edifice of the whole red carpet rigmarole.

Needless to say, I won’t do it again.

PAUL opens Thurdsay night.

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